British Museum collections, £12.99
Diameter: 15.000 mm
Gift of Sir Joseph and Lady Banks
CM SS Banks 168-82
Room 46: Europe 1400-1800
Silver 'Pine Tree' shilling of Massachusetts
Massachusetts, North America
Dated AD 1652, but issued 1667-74
An early coin from North America
The early European colonies in North America were always poorly provided with currency. They lacked accessible local bullion supplies and the home countries were reluctant to ship out their own bullion and coin. As the new colonies in Virginia and New England grew, so did their need for currency. They resorted either to accessible foreign coin (mostly Spanish), or other items completely. Wheat, deer and beaver skins, and tobacco are recorded as being used as currency.
'They began now to highly prize corn as more precious than silver, and those that had some to spare began to trade one with another for small things, by the quart, pottle and peck, etc., for money they had none, and if any had, corn was preferred before it.'
Journal of Governor Bradford of the Plymouth Plantations (1630)
At other times the wampum money of the local Indians, musket balls (valued in 1634 at a farthing each) and imported English tokens were also used. The scarcity of money meant that merchants could not sell their goods, and the price of land and cattle fell drastically. For 30 years from 1652, in desperation, the Massachusetts colonists issued their own coins, with the design of a tree. This example has the commonest design: a pine tree, then one of New England's few viable exports.
P.L Mossman, Money of the American colonies (New York, American Numismatic Society, 1993)
J. Williams (ed.), Money: a history (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)
R. Doty, Americas money, Americas story (Iola, WI, 1998)