Pine Tree shilling by James McCartney – Senior Numismatist, Stack’s Bowers ……
Featured in Stack’s Bowers November 2019 Baltimore Auction is a remarkable 1652 Pine Tree shilling with an infamous counterstamp that has captured the attention of specialists for nearly 150 years.
Placed just below the roots of the tree on the obverse is an inverted counterstamp of the monogram NE, imitating the authentic NE punch used on the eponymous shillings of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Close study reveals that the counterstamp is triple struck, and only the very bottom portion of the E is visible at the edge. The corresponding area on the reverse shows a slightly rough texture that obscures the rosette.
We can trace this Pine Tree shilling back to Strobridge and Woodward’s December 1871 sale of the Dr. Charles Clay Collection of Manchester, England. It was offered in that sale not as a fabrication, but as an authentic example of the NE punch alongside several other Massachusetts silver coins displaying the exact same mark. Believing it to be genuine, Dr. Charles Clay himself suggested that it “almost proves [Pine Tree coinage] to have been in circulation before the N.E. coins, or that the impression may have been a freak with the old N.E. punch.” Held in high regard, this piece was even featured on the very limited photo plates included with the sale.
It was purchased by James Carson Brevoort of Brooklyn, New York for $6.50. Brevoort’s collection was later sold by Thomas Elder in November 1925, and this coin is likely that described as “large flan, die broken through date.” in lot 1885.
By the middle of the 20th century, the infamy of this piece begins to build among collectors.
It is mentioned explicitly by John J. Ford, Jr. in his article “Untraced Curiosities in the American Colonial Series” that appeared in the April-October 1947 issue of Numismatic Review. Ford calls the 1871 Clay sale “notorious” and notes that it was “the talk of early numismatists for many years and contained a large number of extremely questionable colonial coins.” Referring to this particular specimen, he regards it as “nothing more than a curiosity” and an example of “careless handling of an imitation N.E. punch.”
It was later featured in Eric P. Newman’s The Secret of the Good Samaritan Shilling (1959), where he exposes dozens of counterfeits or fabrications that had infiltrated the market over the previous century. Newman suggests that this Pine Tree shilling and the others in the Clay sale were from a “dangerous fabricator” and that they were allegedly found in a “hoarded mass”. He also remarks that this piece was already in the Norweb Collection at the time of writing.
It most recently appeared in our sale of the legendary Norweb Collection, Part I in October 1987, where we called it a “chronological and logical inconsistency.” Even so, this Pine Tree shilling remains an important piece of numismatic history and colonial Americana. While not contemporary, the countermark seen here adds considerable intrigue and has been the focus of significant scholarship and study. Advanced collectors will relish the opportunity to add this remarkable Noe-1 to their cabinets.
Our Official Auction of the 2019 Whitman Coin & Collectibles Winter Expo will be available for viewing and bidding on our website www.StacksBowers.com, or you may contact our offices to secure a printed catalog. To feature your collection in one of our auctions, speak with a numismatic representative today at 800-566-2580 or email [email protected]. Also, download our mobile app to view and participate in our auctions via your Android or Apple device.