US Coins

Revere box a 'tangible attachment to all that happened before us'

Editor's note: The following is an article from the Jan. 26 Coin World Weekly issue that brings together information from several previous online posts about the Boston time capsule. Click the links for past online coverage.

A 220-year-old time capsule originally placed in a granite cornerstone at the Massachusetts State House in Boston was recovered in December and opened in January, revealing contents that include coins with dates as far back as 1652. 

The time capsule was originally placed by a group of statesmen that included Paul Revere and Gov. Samuel Adams. 

The opening of the time capsule, a brass box, was done Jan. 6 during an evening press conference organized by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Inside were silver and copper coins with dates that range between 1652 and 1855, a silver plaque thought to be engraved by Revere himself, a copper medal featuring a depiction of George Washington, newspapers, a paper impression of the Seal of the Commonwealth, a number of calling cards, and the title page from the Massachusetts Colony Records.

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Michael Comeau, the executive director of the Massachusetts Archives, said during the press conference, in a statement captured by Boston’s Fox 25, that the contents of the time capsule teach us about the past as well as the present. They are symbols of “our collective memory and shared heritage,” he said.

“I think that’s why we get so excited seeing these things,” Comeau said, “because it is literally that tangible attachment to all that happened before us. It’s really kind of exciting.”

The time capsule was originally placed inside the granite block in 1795 by Revere, Adams and Col. William Scollay. It was discovered and its contents added to during renovations to the building in 1855 before being put back in place. Modern officials were aware of historic accounts of the capsule, though its existence wasn’t confirmed until a water infiltration investigation in the summer.

Coins of several eras

Coins found inside included those originally placed in the time capsule in 1795 and others from the 1855 additions.

According to CNN, which covered the press conference live, coins inside the capsule include a half cent, half dime, dime and quarter dollar. 

A 17th century Pine Tree shilling dated 1652 was also in the group.

COLUMN: Time capsule found in Boston has sparked numismatic speculation about what's inside

The date on the Pine Tree shilling does not actually give us its exact age. It’s very likely a bit younger. 

The Pine Tree coinage was the last of the three “Tree” coinage issues of Massachusetts, all of which followed the brief New England or NE silver coinage of 1652. 

The featureless and undated NE coinage of 1652 was replaced first by Willow Tree coinage, issued from 1653 to 1660 and all dated 1652; then by the Oak Tree coinage of 1660 to 1667, featuring 1662-dated twopence and 1652-dated threepence, sixpence and shillings; and finally by the Pine Tree coinage.

At press time, Coin World was still in the process of obtaining a full list of the coins the time capsule held. Details will be published as they become available.

Recovering the capsule

On Dec. 11, 2014, MFA conservator Pam Hatchfield spent seven hours removing the capsule from the block on Dec. 11. Tools used included old-fashioned chisels and hammers as well as modern metal probes and a flexible shaft drill.

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An X-ray was performed on the copper container on Dec. 14, and state records noted what was placed in the time capsule in 1795 as well as when it first resurfaced and was added to in 1855. So officials had an idea of what was inside before the Jan. 6 opening.

The MFA says it will at some point display the contents of the time capsule. However, the current plan is to repack and rebury it at the State House eventually. 

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