The pound was the currency of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and its colonial predecessors until 1793. Like the British pound sterling of that era, the Massachusetts pound was subdivided into 20 shillings, each of 12 pence, but the Massachusetts and British pounds were not equivalent in value. British and other foreign coins were widely circulated in Massachusetts, supplemented by locally-produced coins between about 1652 and 1682 and by local paper money from 1690.
The paper money issued in colonial Massachusetts was denominated in pounds, shillings, and pence. Initially, six shillings were equal to one Spanish dollar. After years of high inflation, in 1749 Massachusetts withdrew its paper money from circulation and returned to specie.
Coins were issued in denominations of 3 and 6 pence and 1 shilling. The first pieces bore the letters "NE" and the denomination "III", "VI" or "XII". The coins were smaller than the equivalent sterling coins by 22.5%. Later pieces, struck between 1652 and 1660 or 1662, bore the image of a willow tree, with an oak tree appearing on coins produced between 1660 or 1662 and ca. 1667. However, the most famous design was the final one to be issued, the pine tree type, struck between ca. 1667 and 1682. The coins circulated widely in North America and the Caribbean.
The coins nearly all bore the date "1652". This was the date of the local legislation sanctioning the production of coins. The date was maintained by the Massachusetts moneyers in order to appear to be complying with English law that reserved the right of produce coins to the crown, since, in 1652, England was a Commonwealth (King Charles I having been beheaded three years previously). The coins were struck by John Hull and Robert Sanderson, two Massachusetts settlers. The image of the pine tree on the later coins may symbolize an important export for Massachusetts - pine trees for ships' masts. The mint was closed by the government in 1682.
The Massachusetts shilling was initially worth 9 pence sterling. However, the value of this first issue of notes declined relative to silver coins and, in 1704, the "Old Tenor" notes were introduced, again at a value of 1 Massachusetts shilling = 9 pence sterling. The value of these notes also declined and they were followed, in 1737, by the "Middle Tenor" issue, worth 3 times the Old Tenor notes, and, in 1741, by the "New Tenor" issue, worth 4 times the Old Tenor notes. In 1759, all previous issues were replaced by the "Colonial" issue, worth 10 times the Old Tenor notes.
- Newman, The Early Paper Money of America, 185–86.
- N E Coinage Introduction
- Willow Tree Introduction
- Oak Tree Introduction
- Pine Tree Coinage Introduction
- NMAH | Legendary Coins & Currency: Massachusetts Pine Tree Shilling, "1652" (struck 1667-1674)
- Doty, R. G. (April 2006). "When Money Was Different". www.common-place.org. Retrieved December 21, 2009.
- Willow tree coinage at the American Numismatic Society
- Oak tree coinage at the American Numismatic Society
- Pine tree coinage at the American Numismatic Society