US Coins

Early Massachusetts silver coins star at Goldbergs’ auction

An undated 17th century New England shilling that had been off the market since 1976 topped bidding at Ira & Larry Goldberg Auctioneers’ Feb. 14 auction session, bringing $198,000 on an estimate of $150,000 and up.

Graded Extremely Fine 45 by Professional Coin Grading Service and bearing a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker, the auctioneer states that it is one of just 16 examples known of the Noe 3-C die marriage, several of which are in museum collections.

The cataloger observed, “The surfaces are glorious, with full definition on the simple devices,” noting, “One minor scuff resides in the lower flourish if the N which hallmarks this specimen. A few planchet waves are present as well, par for the course on these rarely offered and historic coins.” As evidenced by the green CAC sticker, the eye appeal was unusually nice for the issue with a “classical array of pale gold and a touch of pastel blue iridescence.”

Writing in The Silver Coins of Massachusetts, Christopher J. Salmon describes the Noe 3-C variety (which he lists as Salmon 3-D) as having a “diagnostic small linear die break in the middle of the space between the X and the first I that is angled upward and to the right, nearly parallel to the upper right stroke of the X,” located in “essentially the geometric center of the reverse punch.” This die break is seen clearly on the offered example.

The NE (New England) coins are dated to 1652 and three denominations were struck — threepence, sixpence and the shilling. The Whitman Encyclopedia of Colonial and American Coins writes, “Although no precise record has survived, it is presumed that each piece was made by striking it twice, once on each side.”

The simplicity of the design left it prone to the trimming of silver from the edges, known as clipping, and the dissolving silver metal by nitric acid, called washing. The undated coins were soon replaced with the Willow Tree, Oak Tree and Pine Tree issues, though the Whitman reference says, “While some historians have suggested that clipping and ‘washing’ were problems at the time, surviving specimens of the NE coinage rarely show evidence of such damage. This is paradoxical, for later issues with tree designs often are found with extensive edge clipping.”

A rather bushy canopy on this Oak Tree

A 1652-dated Oak Tree shilling graded Mint State 65 by PCGS sold for $150,000. Despite the 1652 date, the Oak Tree design was struck between 1660 and 1667 and served as a transitional design between the Willow Tree and Pine Tree types.

The term “Oak Tree” had long been used by collectors, and the coins were produced in several denominations, all dated 1652. The offered coin is the finest-known of the Noe 4 and Salmon 2-D marriage. 

The cataloger writes, “The tree demonstrates a very full and rather bushy canopy of leaves that nearly fills the field defined by the inner circle,” while commending the reverse, where “The inscription, date and denomination are minimally irregular, but of fine style.”

The auction catalog entry reports, “A loupe reveals the intricate die polish lines created when the dies were given their final touch up by the engraver, a feature that disappears after the briefest circulation,” adding, “Here these minute details are preserved in their precision through well over three centuries of careful handling.”

A bold strike and “delicate antique gold hues and glowing luster,” enhance the eye appeal.

The offered coin was exhibited at the American Numismatic Society in 1991 and was sold at Heritage as part of its offering of the Alan V. Weinberg Collection, where it realized $87,000 at the 2020 Florida United Numismatists auctions. There they called it “the quintessential Oak Tree shilling, combining stunning eye appeal with an extraordinary level of detail.” On its sale in 2020 Weinberg wrote, “An utterly magnificent, superbly toned and fully lustrous Oak Tree shilling, probably the finest Oak Tree shilling I’ve seen of any variety. Every engraving detail is superbly brought up. To see an American-produced colonial from the era before the Witch Trials in such condition is simply amazing.”

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