The American Plantations Token of 1688: Introduction

Following a depression in the English tin industry during 1679-1680, the owners of several tin mines in Cornwall and Devonshire convinced royal authorities to mint tin farthings and halfpence for domestic use. Having succeeded in this endeavor, in August of 1688 they asked to expand the project to include the "American Plantations," that is, the American colonies. Richard Holt, who acted as the agent for a number of tin mine owners, petitioned the King for the right to produce American Plantations tokens. Holt's petition is extant but we do not have a copy of the royal patent granting him permission to actually produce and distribute the coins. It may be the patent was never granted or simply that it is lost.

Unfortunately, without the patent we cannot be sure of the status of these coins. We do know on June 26, 1688 Holt requested the use of Skinner Hall and the use of the minting presses and tools which were there to produce his patterns. This was where James II had produced his regal tin farthings for domestic use. The domestic production had been completed and the lease on the hall was not due to expire until August 8th of that year (subsequently the lease was renewed). Holt employed the engraver John Roettier to design and cut dies for this American Plantations token. On July 27, 1688 Holt sent a letter to the Lord Commissioners of the Treasury with pattern examples of the coin for the King's approval. On August 13th the Commissioners sent the examples to the Officers of the Royal Mint for comment. There are no records after this. We do know that production was started for examples from seven different sets of dies exist. The coins were composed of 97.5% pure tin with an average weight of 135 grains. However, we do not know if the pieces were ever approved or if they were ever shipped to the colonies. Eric Newman has summarized the problem quite well as follows:

It is therefore somewhat doubtful whether the circulation of the Plantations farthings was formally approved as no record to that effect has been found. It is also possible that even if approval had been obtained the few remaining months of the reign of James II had elapsed before distribution in America had been planned or carried out. Even though many pieces were struck in anticipation of formal approval and actual distribution it is unsound to conclude that any reached America until evidence of their circulation in the American plantations is found.       [Newman, 1964, p. 324]

On November 5, 1688 William of Orange landed in England to fight for his claim to the throne. On December 11, 1688 James II fled to France and on January 28, 1689 he was declared to have abdicated the throne and William III and Mary were proclaimed King and Queen. No doubt this abdication precluded either the authorization or the dissemination for any coinage bearing the image of James II, including the American Plantations tokens.

Interestingly, this token was not denominated in pence but was valued at 1/24 of a Spanish real, which, in the colonies, would have equalled one and one half farthings. This was done because of the predominance of Spanish coinage in the colonies and the hope that it would improve acceptance of the new coin. In British documents discussing the production of this piece it is generally referred to as a "farthing."

The obverse of the coin shows James II on horseback with the legend, IACOBVS . II . D G . MAG . BRI . FRAN . ET . HIB . REX . (James II by the grace of God King of Great Britain, France and Ireland). On the reverse are the four crowned shields of England, Scotland, France and Ireland (clockwise from top) linked together with chains and the legend, VAL . 24 PART . REAL . HISPAN . (translated as: Value a 24th part of a Spanish real). Beads similar to those found on the obverse and reverse rim were added to the edge. Eric Newman has identified seven obverse (1-7) and seven reverse (A-G) dies used for the American Plantations token. The combinations are 1-A, 2-B, 2-G, 3-C, 4-D, 4-E, 5-D, 6-F and 7-F. The differences in the obverses are primarily based on the specific position of the head in relation to the letters in the legend while the reverses are distinguished by the number of strings on the harp (A has 6 strings, B has 7, C has 8, D has 11, E has 7, F has 6 and G has 5). Newman reverse die C has a sideways 4 and Newman reverse die G has the Irish harp and Scottish lion rampant shields transposed. A and F can be distinguised in that the lowest lion's head is left of the two others on A and to the right on F. Varieties 1-A, 2-G, and 3-C are very rare.

In 1828 the London coin dealer Matthew Young obtained many of the Roettier dies. He then sold most of the coin and metal dies to the British Museum. Among these dies he apparently acquired and retained two pairs of the original American Plantations token dies as well as the bars used to make the beaded edge. From these dies he produced a few hundred restrikes in a pewter based metal. The majority of the restrikes are 5-D but he also made some examples of 4-D and 4-E. Besides the metal composition restrikes can be identified in that they are usually in much better condition that the original tokens. Tin is a poor metal for coins in that it corrodes easily, especially in colder climates. Most of the restrikes (made with obverse 5) show a break in the die on the obverse as in the example on the following page.


See: Eric Newman, "First Documentary Evidence of the American Colonial Pewter 1/24 Real," The Numismatist,  7 (1955) 713-717; and his, more extensive "The James II 1/24th Real for the American Plantations," Museum Notes, 11 (1964) 319-332 with a table and explanation of die varieties; Alexander, p. 15; Breen, pp. 21-22 and Mossman, p. 111.

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Section Contents American Plantations Tokens

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