Among the many treasures featured in our upcoming 2017 November 1 & 3 Eric P. Newman Collection Part IX US Coins Signature Auction is the unique Noe-12 1652 Pine Tree Shilling with large planchet and reversed N’s. This coin has been graded VF30 by NGC, but more importantly, it is the only example available in any grade.
The central obverse device is a distinctive tree with short branches beginning nearly halfway up the thick trunk: six branches to the left of the trunk and seven to the right. A heavily but neatly punched circle of dots surrounds the tree, with the irregularly spelled legend MASASTHVSETS vIИv around the margins, an external border of dots being barely visible between four and seven o’clock. The reverse features the usual 1652 above XII in the center, within a tightly circumscribed circle of dots. The legend, ИEWùEИGLAИDùAИ:DO: continues the use of the reversed Ns. The dotted outer border is almost entirely visible. Both sides show a weak central strike, most obvious on the reverse. The color is a uniform gray with brown tones; the surfaces show a light granularity that is not distracting. The eye-appeal remains strong, with the coin being well-centered and the dies neatly laid out.
This is the only-known specimen of this fascinating variety, long a favorite of Colonial specialists, who have spent much time since its discovery attempting to understand it. The unusual spelling MASASTHVSETS (the sole instance of this spelling on a Massachusetts silver coin) attracts attention, as does the distinctive tree (whose branches begin higher up on the trunk than on any other variety). Much discussion has been made of the planchet size of the Noe-12 and its status as a regular mint product or a contemporary circulating counterfeit. It is generally accepted that Noe-13, 14 and 31 are circulating counterfeits of the period; this doesn’t detract from their historical interest, but does affect how we fit these pieces into the Massachusetts silver series. Crosby and Noe both felt this coin was a legitimate product of the mint at Boston and included it in their listings as such.
In more recent times, Eric P. Newman, Q. David Bowers and Tony Terranova have agreed with this perspective. Walter Breen felt it was more likely a circulating counterfeit, basing most of his reasoning on the light weight of this sole existing specimen. Richard Picker, Don Taxay, Philip Mossman and Chris Salmon have deemed its status as uncertain.
On the question of planchet size, the authorities are also split: Noe and Bowers categorize it as a Large Planchet piece; Lou Jordan, Terranova, Breen, and Taxay consider it a Small Planchet variety. It is stylistically similar to Small Planchet pieces in terms of the shape of the tree and style of lettering. The diameter, as well as the manner of planchet preparation, more closely resemble Large Planchet pieces.
Eric P. Newman has been firm in his defense of the Noe-12 as a legitimate issue of the mint at Boston. Both he and F.C.C. Boyd considered it an integral part of any complete collection of Pine Tree coinage. Indeed, the two agreed to share the coin under an unusual arrangement.
Newman wrote to Boyd on August 18, 1958:
“As you know, I acquired this coin through B.G. Johnson from the Green collection (ex Newcomer) and have owned it for many years. This variety will fill an important gap in your marvelous collection of Massachusetts silver pieces. You have been so kind and generous to me I agree that you are to have this coin as long as you personally retain ownership of your collection of varieties of Massachusetts silver.
“If I die while you are retaining this coin in accordance with the above conditions the coin shall become your property absolutely and my estate shall have no further rights with respect to it. If you transfer ownership of your collection of varieties of Massachusetts silver or if you predecease me the coin is to be returned to me as my property and your estate shall have no further rights with respect to it.”
This arrangement, which can only be called gentlemanly, is remarkable for what it tells us about the personalities of these two giants in the numismatic field. It demonstrates a level of trust and generosity that would be easy to think of now as a thing of the past were it not for Newman’s continuing philanthropic work and his dedication to sharing his collections with the world.
Adding to the coin’s mystique is its provenance as part of the Castine Deposit, a hoard of 17th-century silver coins buried around 1704 in what is now Penobscot, Maine near Castine. The hoard was uncovered in 1840 by Captain Stephen Grindle and his son Samuel, and this specific coin was brought to the attention of numismatists in 1863 when it was offered at auction by W. Elliot Woodward. As part of Woodward’s promotional efforts for that sale, he inserted a brief article in the October 1863 issue of the Historical Magazine. This is our source for the attribution of this coin to the Castine deposit and the only record noting early owner Charles Payson:
“Unique Pine Tree Shilling.-In a collection of coins recently belonging to Chas. Payson, Esq., of Portland, Maine, I find a very rare and probably unique specimen of the Pine Tree coinage. The piece is peculiar in several respects, but it differs from all others which I have ever met with in the legend, which in this reads Masasthusets instead of Massachusetts, as on the usual type. The coin is from the celebrated deposit found at Castine in 1840.”
While Noe suggested that the illustration in Crosby depicts a second example, this is incorrect. Crosby’s illustration, taken from a cast, shows less detail than the present coin, but the centering and edges are a perfect match, making it clear that this remains a unique coin.