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Title:coin: oak tree sixpence
Date Made:ca. 1660-ca. 1667
Place Made:United States; Massachusetts; Boston
Measurements:overall: 13/16 in; 2.06375 cm
Accession Number:  HD 62.451.2
Museum Collection:  Historic Deerfield

Oak tree sixpence silver coin with the obverse legend "MASATHVSETS IN" between two beaded circles and an oak tree within the inner circle; and the reverse legend "NEWENGLAND. ANO" between two beaded circles and "1652 / VI" within the inner circle. The early colonies in North America were always poorly provided with currency. They lacked accessible local bullion supplies and the home countries were reluctant to ship out their own bullion and coin. As the new colonies in New England and Virginia grew, so did their need for currency. They resorted either to accessible foreign coins (mostly Spanish), or other items completely. Wheat, deer and beaver skins, and tobacco are recorded as being used as currency. In 1630, William Bradford (1590-1657), the Governor of Plymouth Colony, wrote: "They began now to highly prize corn as more precious than silver, and those that had some to spare began to trade one with another for small things, by the quart, pottle and peck, etc., for money they had none, and if any had, corn was preferred before it." At other times, the wampum money (shell beads strung on leather strings to form necklaces, belts and lengths of shells) of the local Indians, musket balls (valued in 1634 at a farthing each) and imported English tokens were also used. The scarcity of money meant that merchants could not sell their goods, and the price of land and cattle fell drastically. Taking matters into their own hands, the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony established a mint in May 1652 in Boston to ensure the colony had a reliable medium of exchange, which was run by goldsmiths/silversmiths John Hull (1624-1683) and Robert Sanderson (1608-1693). The two were soon striking silver coinage with the coins with the 1652 date (with the exception of the later oak tree sixpence series dated 1662), which was the date of the Boston legislation authorizing the production of the threepence, sixpence, and shilling coins. The first pieces bore the letters "NE" and the denominations "III", "VI" or "XII" for threepence, sixpence, and a shilling. The coins were smaller than the equivalent sterling coins by 22.5% - about the size of a modern half-dollar but weighing only one-third as much. Later pieces, struck between 1652 and 1660 or 1662, bore the image of a willow tree, with an oak tree appearing on coins produced between 1660 or 1662 and circa 1667. However, the most famous design was the final one to be issued, the pine tree type, struck between circa 1667 and 1682. John Hull's and Robert Sanderson's partnership in this lucrative venture lasted until their last contract expired in 1682, as a result of closer royal scrutiny of the operation and political pressures. The coins circulated widely in North America and the Caribbean. Massachusetts coinage not only circulated within that colony, but was generally accepted throughout the Northeast, becoming a monetary standard in its own right. At some point Hull and Sanderson either acquired a roller press or a rocker press, the former not being unlike the old-fashioned clothes wringers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This minting machine was used to produce coins of higher quality and clarity than the earlier “NE” coins or the “Willow” tree coins, and was used to strike the Oak tree and Pine tree coins. By the late 1670s Hull and Sanderson had acquired a screw press which enabled them to create small Pine Tree shillings with very clear devices and legends. This type of press was used to make American coins up until the 1830s.

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