New England coins
The shilling sold at Morton & Eden was found in a collection stored in an old Barker & Dobson sweet tin.

Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

One of the very first coins to have been struck in North America, it had been spotted earlier this year by specialist James Morton in a collection of coins from Bywell Hall in Northumberland. It had been stored, unceremoniously, alongside other rare colonial issues in an old sweet tin.

New England shillings assume a rudimentary and rustic design, bearing the initials NE for New England, together with the Roman numerals XII (indicating the denomination of 12 pence).

To address an acute shortage of coinage in Boston during the Interregnum, they were produced for a short period in May-June 1652 using silver bullion obtained mainly from the West Indies.

Morton recounted his discovery: “There were several hundred coins in an old Barker & Dobson sweet tin – completely varied and ranging in date from ancient times right up to the 1970s.

“I could see straight away that there were plenty of interesting pieces alongside some ordinary modern coins but there was one simple silver disc which immediately jumped out at me.

“I could hardly believe my eyes when I realised that it was an excellent example of a New England shilling, struck by John Hull in 1652 for use as currency by early settlers in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.”

Hull and Sanderson’s first coins used puncheons similar to hallmarking tools. This specimen was made when the ‘NE’ punch had been re-cut for the third and final time, while the ‘XII’ is from the second of four separate reverse punches.

Finest known

It is one of about 40 New England shillings known to survive (only 10 with this combination of punches) and has been certified as genuine and graded by (Numismatic Guaranty Corporation). NGC accorded the coin the grade ‘MS61’, making it the only example of the issue to have been graded as mint state.

Also found in the sweet tin were a Massachusetts ‘Pine Tree’ shilling, the more sophisticated successor to the original New England issue (sold for £5500 plus buyer’s premium), two ‘Continental Currency’ pewter dollars dated 1776, graded MS62 and MS630 (£48,000 and £50,000), and a fine ‘Libertas Americana’ bronze medal graded from 1781 (£11,000).

These newly discovered early American issues were consigned to Morton & Eden by the art adviser, the Hon Wentworth ‘Wenty’ Beaumont, whose family seat is Bywell Hall.

One of Beaumont ’s ancestors, William Wentworth (1616-97), arrived in New England as early as 1636 and several members of the family were later to occupy prominent positions in colonial America, including John Wentworth and his son (also John), both of whom represented New Hampshire in the Continental Congress of 1774-81.

Beaumont recounts: “My father recently found the tin in his study. If he knew it was there, he had long since forgotten about it. I’d never seen it before and I thought it was just a rather bizarre collection of random old coinage.

“However, I felt it was worth checking out so I took it to show James Morton and I’m very pleased I did.

“I can only assume that the shilling was brought back from America years ago by one of my forebears.”

The coin, estimated at £150,000-200,000 after grading, attracted half-a-dozen bidders from the US and was purchased by Kent Ponterio and Patrick Richey of the firm World Numismatics LLC in Carefree, Arizona.