Early American CoinsConverted for the Web from "American Guide To U.S. Coins: The Most Up-to-Date Coin Prices Available" by Charles French and Scott Mitchell
Were we to transport ourselves back three and a half centuries to the early days of Colonial America, we would find that industry was very small and that business, for the most part, was conducted by barter and trade. While there was a need for coins, the shortage was not as problematic as it proved to be later, when Colonial America became more industrialized and began acquiring wealth. Even so, attempts to issue coins were made.
The first New England coins -- crude silver pieces with a simple "NE" design on the obverse, and the denomination indicated as "XII," "VI," or "III" on the reverse -- were the first coins struck in the Colonies. Shortage of change and the inability to get relief from England prompted the Massachusetts Colony to embark upon this coining venture.
Following quickly came the Willow, Oak, and Pine Tree series. Some found use in circulation, for in those days a coin was a coin regardless of who issued it, and the amount of metal it contained determined its value. The famous Pine Tree coinage was the last type in this four design series struck by coiner John Hull.
After several years, when the coining operations were brought to the attention of King Charles II of England, action was taken to prohibit any further issues. While the majority were dated 1652, it is generally acknowledged that the production of the four design types collectively spanned thirty years, despite the King's disapproval. These crude and early pieces are actively sought by collectors and bring good prices today. They were coined in shillings, sixpence, threepence, and twopence pieces.
There were other very early experiments in coinage in other Colonies. The Mark Newby farthing and halfpenny, struck in Dublin in the 1670s, were originally coined for Ireland but found their way to New Jersey. There were also the Lord Baltimore pieces for Maryland, which were coined in England and brought over for circulation here. Other seventeenth-century coins which circulated in the Colonies include the American Plantations token and the Elephant tokens.
After these early attempts, we find little coining activity until the first part of the eighteenth century, when a small flurry again occurred. The Gloucester tokens of 1714, the Woods Hibernia series and Rosa Americana coins of 1722 through 1724 are among the issues of this period. There were also the early French Colony copper and billon coinages. With the exception of the Gloucester tokens, of which little is known, the rest were struck in foreign lands and shipped here for use, due to the dire need. The Higley, or Granby, coppers of 1737-39 saw considerable circulation, even though they were unauthorized and coined on this continent.
A gap of just over twenty years without any significant additional colonial coinage production ended in 1760 with the Voce Populi coinage. The 1766 Pitt tokens and 1767 French Colony pieces followed shortly thereafter.
The next and most important era commenced around the time of the beginning of the American Revolution. From this time until the opening of the first United States Mint, in 1792-93, we find innumerable varieties and experiments -- in fact, all types of coins. Some received recognition and actually circulated. Others should be classified as pattern or experimental pieces.
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