Pre-Federal America Numismatic Notes and Monographs

by Philip L. Mossman, MD

Among his many generous donations to the American Numismatic Society, the New York philanthropist and former Society president, Archer M. Huntington (1870-1955), established an endowment for the support of the Numismatic Notes and Monographs series (NNM). The subjects of the 166 issues published between 1920 and 1996 covered multiple aspects of ancient and modern numismatics (editor’s note: titles for all ANS series can be found online at: During the ten years I spent doing research for my book, Money of The American Colonies and Confederation (Numismatic Studies, no. 20), I collected and read all the issues of the NNM series pertaining to my area of interest, namely the coinages of pre-Federal America. I was so impressed with the content of those eleven specific publications that I conceived of the idea of someday writing an annotated synopsis of these works to share them with other colonial enthusiasts who may not be as familiar with them as I have become. I have finally completed this project and present my thoughts in this brief thematic outline.

By reading only the titles, I gathered that the most frequent subject in the entire NNM series dealt with the classification and history of specific coinages, both ancient and modern (60 monographs), while the next most common topic (44 instances) reported the content of recovered coin hoards. In fact, booklet no. 1 entitled Coins Hoards (1920) was by Sydney P. Noe, the editor of the series and a versatile numismatic scholar of both classic and modern coinages. In addition to many other professional articles, he contributed 15 titles to the NNM series and is particularly well known to students of colonial American numismatics for his monographs on the Castine Hoard and the three on Massachusetts silver, all four of which will be described next. Noe first served as Society Librarian (1915-38), next as Chief Curator (1938-53), and was Secretary from 1917-47.

As part of a 1942 ANS exhibit of early coinages that circulated in America, Noe contacted the Maine Historical Society, the repository of 26 residual coins from the famous Castine Hoard discovered in 1840, and secured their loan for the exhibition in New York. Noe, who had a great interest in hoards, having already written five monographs on the subject, was so inspired by the numismatic implications of this find that he asked permission to conduct further research and the result of his efforts were published in NNM no. 100 (1942), The Castine Deposit: An American Hoard. This book presents a detailed numismatic description of the available survivors together with a discussion of the speculation surrounding the putative deposition of this cache in 1704.

Early twentieth century newspaper clipping about the Castine hoard.

Included in this 1942 ANS exhibition of early American money were nearly 500 examples of Massachusetts silver borrowed from several large private and institutional collections, including those four specimens from the Maine Historical Society. In reference to this event, Noe wrote,“[a]lthough the representation of the Spanish American pieces was of high order, it was surpassed in importance, for most of those who saw the exhibition, by the display of pieces usually grouped as ‘Pine Tree Shillings.’” The popularity of the coins from the Massachusetts Bay Colony Mint seemed to be a natural stimulus for Noe to expand upon the work of Sylvester P. Crosby by adding information that was not available to that author in 1873-75. As a result, over the next ten-year period, Noe produced three of the most famous numismatic studies and standard references relating to classical Americana: The New England and Willow Tree Coinages of Massachusetts, NNM no. 102 (1943); The Oak Tree Coinage of Massachusetts, NNM no. 110 (1947); and The Pine Tree Coinage of Massachusetts, NNM no. 125 (1952). These monographs are so chock-full of material on this popular series that any meaningful summarization of their content is not practical. More biographical information about Mr. Noe, together with photographic plates of Massachusetts Bay coinage can be found in another ANS publication, “Appendix 1: A Catalogue of an Exhibition of Massachusetts Silver at the American Numismatic Society,” by John M. Kleeberg, which appeared in the Proceedings of the Coinage of the Americas Conference, May 4, 1991, no.7, pp. 181-214. I should further refer to the 1976 American Numismatic Society publication, Studies on Money in Early America (edited by Eric P. Newman, with Richard G. Doty, associate editor), for the article by Richard Picker, “Variations of the Die Varieties of the Massachusetts Oak and Pine Tree Coinage” which supplements Noe’s original work by listing several more recently identified examples of coins with earlier and later die states. Also see below the comments regarding the The Secret of the Good Samaritan Shilling for the report of other additions to the series. (One might parenthetically insert here that the original 4” by 6” format of the booklets [1920-47] was discontinued in favor of a larger 6” by 9” design starting with The Oak Tree Coinage of Massachusetts).

Massachusetts: Boston, AR “pine tree” shilling, 1652 (ANS 1939.99.2).

Chronologically speaking, Counterfeiting in Colonial Pennsylvania, NNM no. 86, was the first actual booklet to appear dealing with a colonial American subject. This was written in 1939 by Harrold Edgar Gillingham, a Philadelphia collector of Americana, who also published several other monographs on war medals and decorations within the NNM series. In his introduction, Gillingham mentioned that he never detected much collector interest in either counterfeit colonial paper or coins; he further acknowledged that the minor differences between the genuine and imitation items were so subtle that they could not be demonstrated by photographic comparison and thus he illustrated only two paper bills. This monograph, covering Pennsylvania from the earliest times to 1788, was the pioneering opus dealing with the problem of colonial counterfeiting.

In 1955, as part of his own ongoing series on colonial counterfeiting, Kenneth Scott published Counterfeiting in Colonial Pennsylvania as NNM no. 132. Although this new volume extended only to 1776, it was a far more inclusive study than NNM no. 86 — perhaps five times the size — since Scott drew heavily on both published and unpublished court records and utilized other resources untapped by Gillingham. Scott published two other monographs in the NNM series: Counterfeiting in Colonial New York, NNM No. 127, in 1953; and Counterfeiting in Colonial Connecticut, NNM no. 140, in 1957. These four NNM monographs follow the same general format relating in a lively“true detective” fashion, from“crime to punishment,” the activities of unscrupulous individuals and organized rings engaged in the nefarious practice of counterfeiting coins and paper money. (Professor Scott has published in other journals and books several more studies on counterfeiting in colonies of Rhode Island, New Jersey, Virginia, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maryland, and North Carolina.)

A very interesting account of early New England paper money was written by George L. McKay, Early American Currency, NNM no. 104 (1944). This was a unique edition in that it was the combined publication of two organizations, the ANS and The Typophiles, an informal association of persons working in the printing trades, book arts, and libraries who shared a love of typography. This “chapbook,” as McKay called it, focused on how colonial paper money was printed; the author expanded his discussion beyond the typographic techniques used in the printing of type-set notes to include other graphic designs available from the use of copperplates and woodcuts. Since he dealt solely with New England, some were disappointed that he could not include the creative genius of Benjamin Franklin. The anti-counterfeiting measures incorporated into the physical structure of this early paper currency were his prime focus. For additional and more recent information on paper money typography, I recommend the profusely illustrated ANS publication by Eric P. Newman, “Unusual Printing Features on Early American Paper Money” which expands upon the subject of the printing eccentricities employed in colonial currency (In: Money of Pre-Federal America, edited by John Kleeberg, COAC, May 4, 1991, pp. 59-83).

Massachusetts, paper shilling, 1779 (ANS 0000.999.29713).

The last two monographs concerning colonial numismatics are those by Eric P. Newman, who needs no introduction to students of the colonial period. Coinage for Colonial Virginia, NNM no. 135, (1956) outlines the history of these 1773 halfpence together with a descriptive classification of 22 die varieties. As expected with the introduction of any new series, more hitherto unreported die combinations were bound to surface. Newman requested readers to contact him if they had any new discoveries in their cabinets and thus five new varieties were added in 1962 in “Additions to Coinage for Colonial Virginia,” appearing in The American Numismatic Society Museum Notes X, pp. 137-43, with plates XXVII-XXIX.

Virginia, AE penny (electrotype), 1773 (ANS 1989.99.174, gift of Mr. and Mrs. R. Byron White).

The last NNM publication, no. 142 (1959), is a virtual numismatic “who-done-it.” For the years the origin of a single elusive silver coin defied definition but thanks to the persistence of Eric P. Newman The Secret of the Good Samaritan Shilling is no longer a secret! As the author examines the evidence leading to the unraveling of this mystery, the connection of the Good Samaritan shilling with both genuine and fabricated Massachusetts silver coins is skillfully unfurled. The monograph concludes with the addition of three major new die varieties and four other subvarieties of Massachusetts silver as distinct transitional states.

Massachusetts: Boston, AR “Good Samaritan” 6 pence (counterfeit), 1652 (ANS 1959.101.3, gift of Catherine E. Bullowa).

From among the 166 issues of the Numismatic Notes and Monographs series, I have elected to report briefly upon those eleven issues which continue as prime resources for those devoted to the collection and study of early American numismatics. I am obviously speaking for myself but I am sure that I reflect the attitude of those others who constantly refer to these monographs. Apart from these actual monographs being collectors’ items in and of themselves for numismatic bibliophiles, these volumes contain a treasure trove of valuable, timeless information which is as applicable today as it was some 65 years ago when the first one was published.