Fresh discoveries at Stack’s Bowers sale

Collectors with a close eye and enthusiasts with metal detectors continue to find treasure, as seen in Stack’s Bowers Galleries presentation of early American coins at its Nov. 23 session, which served as the official auction of the Colonial Coin Collectors Club.

This annual tradition included the Norm Peters Collections of New Jersey and Connecticut coppers along with the Pierre Fricke Collection of Fugio Coppers, in addition to many exciting individual consignments.

C4, as the club is known, was formed in 1993 to provide a forum for collectors of all numismatic material related to the Early American era.

Starting off the offering was a 1652-dated Willow Tree shilling, listed as Noe 1-A and Salmon 1-A in the references to early Massachusetts coins. It was found by metal detectorist Jerry Bates in Plymouth County, Massachusetts, in March 2021, and showed surfaces consistent with its long-term burial.

The auctioneer wrote, “the planchet is wavy with two noticeable bends, the reverse also with several significant scrapes. That side of the coin is also curiously bright, which suggests a cleaning to remove steely-gray roughness that remains over much of the obverse. The latter side is quite smooth in hand, however, and both retain most design elements that include, among other features, a bold tree and denomination and partially legible date.”

It was graded by Professional Coin Grading Service as Genuine, Very Fine Details, Damaged, and despite the roughness, significant detail remains on both sides.

It realized $36,000.

In his book The Silver Coins of Massachusetts, Christopher J. Salmon called the Willow Tree coins the “misbegotten of the Massachusetts silver series,” citing earlier writers who called them “rudely stamped,” “cheated of feature,” and “sent before (their) time into this breathing world, scarce half made up.” Still, they were the first coins struck in North America made with a representational motif.

Salmon believes that the Willow Tree series is a hammered coinage, pointing out, “The inadequacy of the minting methods of the Willow Tree coins necessitated the switch to a more sophisticated and powerful coining technology” that would be used on the later Oak Tree and Pine Tree Massachusetts coins.

Salmon comments on the offered coin’s obverse die’s somewhat abstract representational nature, writing that it depicts a, “tree formed by bold abstract strokes, including several pairs of strokes in the margins of the canopy with opposing shallow convexity that intersect peripherally in sharp acute angles or points.” He also observes, “The trunk walls are continuous on both sides with an array of roots rather than a defined ground line.”

All examples show striking irregularities of some sort, consistent with the handmade nature of these early coins.

Lord Baltimore shilling

Another recent discovery was a newly discovered undated Lord Baltimore shilling unearthed near Suffolk, Virginia, in the summer of 2021. It is graded About Uncirculated Details, Scratch by PCGS.

Stack’s Bowers calls it one of the sharpest examples known, writing, “Generally untoned and dove-grey, it exhibits scattered regions of olive patina on both sides.”

The cataloger states, “Significant marks are minimal, with only minor friction to be noted in the obverse fields. It was virtually brand new when it entered the soil over 400 years ago, and the portrait detail including the eyes, hair, and profile are truly astounding.”

Metal detectorist John Lambert shared his story on the find: “I have been hunting since 2012 and started out on local beaches finding rings and lots of dropped change. On a late summer day, myself and a few friends were hunting a farm field in Suffolk, VA that has produced Civil War relics, Barber silver coins, Mercury dimes and even Spanish reales. I was digging everything that sounded promising and soon got a tone on my Minelab Equinox detector. I leaned back and saw a large round silver disc gleaming in the sunlight. My heart jumped and I got on the radio: ‘Guys, I got silver!’ Staring back at me was a bust I had never seen. As I passed the coin around nobody could identify it, so we went to our phones and a couple minutes later we identified it as a 1659 shilling. It was a find of a lifetime and the oldest coin I had ever unearthed in almost 10 years of metal detecting. Our history may be brief in America, but we have an abundance of Colonial Artifacts just below our feet.”

His find sold for $13,200.

The Lord Baltimore coinage of Maryland consisted of shillings, sixpences and groats that were ordered from the Royal Mint in London and shipped to Maryland for local use around 1658 where they circulated, along with an extremely rare copper penny.

The issues show a portrait of Cecil Calvert on the obverse with a Latin legend calling him “Lord of Mary’s Land,” and the silver issues bear his family’s coat of arms and the denomination in Roman numerals.

Circulating counterfeit

Another fresh discovery was a 1777 circulating counterfeit halfpenny, related to the production at Machin’s Mills, graded Very Fine Details, Environmental Damage by PCGS. It is listed as Vlack 10-77A in the series reference and is a rare die pairing.

Stack’s Bowers comments on the grade, “The PCGS ‘details’ designation is apparently for the light but even porosity seen across both sides, but there is little else to point to in explanation and, in fact, the surfaces are comfortably as choice as the last one of these we sold, called ‘VF-30’ by the same service.”

Supporting the eye appeal is “pleasant deep chocolate brown” color with some lighter accents on the higher points, though, “Some very faint and ancient scratches can be detected under close study, but none is distracting in the least.”

It is a counterfeit English halfpenny, approximating the George III coinage, and though its exact origin is unknown, the variety is thought to be American. Stack’s Bowers noted five or six examples known of the rare variety, and one that was holed and graded Fair 2, with little remaining detail, sold for $2,760 back in a 2008 Stack’s auction.

The coin in the November auction has soft details — as made — to approximate a worn, circulating coin, and the auctioneer predicted that it would “easily be recognized as a very choice specimen overall.”

It realized $6,600.

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Deb Morgan has been a coin collector since she was young. She loves researching and reporting news about the numismatic community, and also about bullion coins, including silver, gold, platinum and palladium.

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