Oak Tree Coinage: Introduction

(ca. 1660, or possibly 1662 - ca. 1667)

The Willow Tree series was replaced because of a new technology. Rather than simply using the older hammer striking method Richard Doty has suggested Hull changed to a rocker arm press. The dies needed for a rocker arm press were quite different from dies used in the hammer strike method. A rocker press used large-sized rectangular shaped dies with a curved face so that the die could rock back and forth. The image for the coin was then engraved on the curved face of the rocker, one rocker for the obverse and another for the reverse (click here for picture of rocker dies). The two rocker dies would then be mounted face to face in the press. By pulling a lever the upper and lower rockers would press against each other with a rolling motion (click here for picture of a rocker press). As long as the two dies were properly aligned a blank planchet placed between them would be impressed with the design of the dies.

In a 1996 letter to the editor of the C4 Newsletter in the fall of 1996 (vol. 4, no. 2) Michael Hodder wrote on p. 20 that Doty had borrowed the idea of the rocker die technology from several catalog descriptions Hodder had done. When Doty asked him if he could use the idea to write an article Hodder consented. However, Hodder whet on to state that he now believes the Willow Tree series was produced with rocker dies and Oak Tree coinage (as well as some large planchet Pine Tree shillings and Pine Tree sixpence) were produced using a roller press. A discussion of the roller press is found in the Sommer Island section. Hodder also suspects some Oak Tree coins were minted on a standard screw press.

During the Oak Tree period a new twopence coin was minted with the date 1662. This is the only Massachusetts silver to have a date differing from 1652. In the past it had been assumed that the date on Massachusetts silver was suppose to represent the same thing the date represents on present day coinage, namely the year of minting. Based on that presupposition several theories were put forward for the continual use of 1652 over the thirty year life of the mint. However, as is now thought, it appears the twopence was first authorized in 1662 and thus carried that date, while the shilling, sixpence and threepence had all been authorized by the act of 1652 and thus always carried their date of authorization.

If the twopence coin, which is only found in the Oak Tree series, was authorized at the time the Oak series was initiated then we could date the start of the Oak series to 1662. However, the legislation of May 7, 1662, enacting the twopence coin (see Crosby, pp, 73-74) is rather brief and does not mention a new series nor does it refer to any other coins. It simply states that for the first year of production half of the mint's silver would be used for the new twopence, hence fifty pounds of twopence would be minted for every one hundred pounds coined. Then, for the next six years, production would drop to one fifth of the silver inventory, twenty pounds of twopence for every one hundred pounds of silver coined. As rocker dies were very difficult to make, there was only one set made for the twopence but they were recut on six occasions to keep the image sharp.

The Oak Tree shilling was produced using seven obverse rocker dies and eight reverse rocker dies joined in ten different combinations (assuming the reverse of Noe 9 is not a recut of Noe 8). Most notable in this series is the first obverse die (used in Noe 1-3) which begins the legend "IN" at 9:00 o'clock and positions the letter "M" in Massachusetts at about 11:30 o'clock. All other obverse dies start the legend near the bottom of the coin between 5 and 7 o'clock. Also notable is the final variety in the series (Noe 13 and 14), know as a transitional or spiny tree variety as the tree looks more like a pine tree than an oak. Breen suspected Noe 13 and 14 to be a recut of Noe 12 rather than a new die, but no one else appears to have followed this unusual theory.

Noe divided the Oak shilling into fourteen varieties. Of these ten represent different combinations, three represent varieties made with dies that had been recut and one variety, Noe 12, is not even based on a recut but simply a more worn form of a recut die. Noe's classification system has led to confusion as it is limited to a single number for a coin and does not follow the more usual pattern of giving a number to each obverse die and a letter to each reverse die. For additional information on the problems with Noe's system and a conversion table of Noe numbers with obverse and reverse dies listed click here.

The Oak Tree sixpence are found in three obverse dies and three reverse dies in six different combinations. Noe lists eight different varieties, two of which are recuts and three of which are now considered to be counterfeits. As with the shillings, for a conversion table of Noe numbers with obverse and reverse dies combinations click here.

The Oak Tree threepence are found in six obverse dies and three reverse dies in six different combinations. One of these is a new variety discovered by Walter Breen, first described by Eric Newman and now listed in Picker as Noe 35 (the Noe numbers stopped at 34). Breen believed this Noe 35 to be the recut dies previously used for Noe 28 but no one else has agreed with this theory. For a conversion table of Noe numbers with obverse and reverse dies combinations click here.

The Oak Tree twopence is both the simplest and the most complicated coin in the series. It is simple because there was only one obverse die and one reverse die, thus there is only one possible combination. However, Noe distinguished six different states in the recutting of the reverse die and gave each state a number (Noe 29-Noe 34). Since then other intermediary stages have been described, several of which are not recuttings but show the growth of a die break that occurred between the A and the N in "ENGLAND." Many extant examples of this coin are worn and it is virtually impossible to assign a precise number to them. An unusual situation when only one set of dies exists! This situation led Michael Hodder to publish his "Plea for Reason" in the use of the Noe numbers [Michael J. Hodder, "A Plea for Reason," The Colonial Newsletter  34 (November 1994, serial no. 98) 1476]. This coin is the only twopence denomination in the New England silver series and is the only coin in the series to bear a date other than 1652 (it is dated 1662), thus it is highly sought by collectors, but probably the most difficult coin to catalog in a precise fashion given the current taxonomy.

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Section Contents Oak Tree Coinage

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