20 Shillings Massachusetts Note, February 3, 1690 [1691 New Style] Massachusetts Bay Colony. Raised Denomination Bill.
In 1690, the Massachusetts Bay Colony issued the first Colonial currency. Other colonies soon began to issue their own paper currency. Usually denominated in Spanish Milled Dollars, Colonial notes were also denominated in British shillings, pounds, and pence. In 1764, the British declared Colonial currency illegal.
No.1009. Signed by John Phillips, Penn Townsend, and Adam Winthrop. Printed on thin, but sturdy laid paper. 10.5cm by 13.5cm. Dimensionally, a "tall" style Bill of Credit of the period. Printed in black, on both sides, from engraved copper plates. Curvilinear scroll indent at the top face and top back, the verso wider and more spaced. The rest of the back is blank. At the lower left is the Colony seal with Indian holding arrow and bow, mirror-image slogan COME OVER & HELP US within patterned oval surrounded by motto SIGILLVM: GVB: &: SOCS: DE MATTACHVSETS BAY. IN:NOV: ANGLIA: (Seal of the Government of Massachusetts Bay in New England). As with all the known examples of this 1690/91 issue, this is a "Raised" denomination from a genuine note. The note was raised from a Two Shillings Six Pence note to "Twenty Shillings" by using the engraved "Tw," and erasing the "o" then adding the rest of "enty" on the first line; on the next line, "Six Pence" was replaced with "Shillings." At the top right center, the "2 6s" was altered to "20 S" as well. In this second authorization, there were no Twenty Shilling notes, or Ten Shillings bills for that matter, the latter raised from genuine Two Shillings notes (see the census). The Newman Plate Note. Pictured on page 185 of the fifty. Publicly exhibited at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Although a private bank was organized in Boston in 1686, it failed to issue any bills. The first Bills of Credit came in an emission of December, 1690 following the succession of William III and the fall of Governor Sir Edmund Andros. Andros, arrested and deported to England for trial for his loyalty to James II, later became Governor of Virginia. In some respects, the origin of Bills of Credit in North America is the result of the gross miscalculation of the leaders of an invasion of Canada and the failure to find sufficient plunder to pay off their mutinous soldiers and sailors. Commanded by Sir William Phips, a combined naval and land invasion of Canada was planned for the summer of 1690. However, news of the plans reached Quebec, which received reinforcements in time to thwart the attack. In addition, the organizational delay forced the invasion fleet to retreat from the St. Lawrence for fear of being frozen in. Overall, the operation was a disaster. With winter coming the entire force retreated back to Boston, leaving the government to face the consequences of this failure. Nothing had been paid for in advance, including supplies, charter fees for private vessels, and most importantly, pay for the soldiers and sailors. It was fully expected that the usual looting would more than pay for the expedition and leave a profit for those who stayed home to count future revenues. As one contemporary commentator noted, "...The soldiers were upon the point of mutiny for want of wages. It was utterly impractical to raise in a few days such a sum of money as would be necessary." [Hutchinson, History of Massachusetts, Vol.I, p.356]. The government could not look to the local merchants to float a loan of three or four thousand pounds because the new government did not have the full support of the colony and its instability was not helped by the throngs of mutinous soldiers looking to be paid for their military service. The colony had to settle its debts speedily and spur the flow of commerce if the government's future was to be secured. The solution, effected by the Act of December 10, 1690, was to print Bills of Credit in an approved form and in amounts of no less than Five Shillings (the second issue allowed bills at Two Shillings) nor more than Five Pounds. They were to be equal in value to money received by the treasurer and his subordinates in public payments. The first issue, December 10, 1690, was for 7,000 Pounds Sterling. The second, of February 3, 1690 (1691 new style calendar), was for 40,000 Pounds Sterling. The bills were a success and filled the financial coffers in this emergency. However, some of those bills were altered upwards in denomination. The existing examples are raised from lower denomination genuine bills. The format, obligations and payment structure were used on all issues until the 1737 New Tenor notes. The majority of these 1690 bills were redeemed for specie, tax payments or future notes as attested by the great rarity of these first North American bills.
By 1692 major trials for witchcraft were proceeding in Salem. This may have been about land, status and jealousy issues more than anything. Close to twenty people were hanged. Meanwhile, for the crime of disruption of Colonial commerce and the altering of these 1690/1 bills (no altered notes are known of the December 10, 1690 act notes), the perpetrators not only didn't forfeit their lives (as would have been the case in England), but pretty much were allowed to go on their way. Counterfeiters were always busy working on coinage (clipping, etc.) when given the chance. The new bills, representing cruder productions to a populace who had never seen paper money before, seemed to be easy bait for men like Robert Fenton and Benjamin Pierce. They were charged in August, 1691 with altering several notes to 10 and 20 Shillings from lower denominations and then selling them for cash at 14 Shillings per Pound. Case record documents link Fenton to counterfeiting in Pennsylvania in 1683 and also include many depositions of those defrauded and the conviction documents. The documents concerning this court case were offered for public auction sale by NASCA in the November, 1979 Brookdale sale. This priceless group brought $2,000.00 back then. Interestingly, for this particular crime, the punishments were not as severe or grotesque as would be meted out in the mother country or later in the Colonial era for note altering and counterfeiting (a 1740 Rhode Island case featured branding and ear cropping for example). Fenton was required to compensate double damages, received three day pillory duty and faced imprisonment until compensation was made for costs and damages. Pierce had many friends (46 neighbors against his conviction) and was allowed to appeal his case. Despite the attentions of forgers like Fenton these notes were still needed for commerce and would not be retired completely for awhile. After the July 2, 1692 order, the notes were to be endorsed on the back by Jeremiah Dummer or Francis Burroughs for validation under the new Colonial provincial status. The December 15, 1692 Act gave these bills legal tender status whether endorsed or not. In 1693, all bills paid out were to be endorsed and by 1693-94, most of the bills were to be redeemed. From time to time, a bill would be re-issued, but after June 22, 1694, all unendorsed bills were called in. Finally, the reissue of all bills was prohibited on November 21, 1702.
The Census of Known Examples of December 10, 1690 Massachusetts Colony Bills
1) Five Shillings. No.174 [?}. Genuine bill and considered Unique by most experts. In the Essex Institute, Salem, Massachusetts. Appears Good to Very Good, rounded corner, body hole, small edge chips. Yellowed paper. The Newman Plate Note, all Editions. Plated in 100 Greatest American Currency Notes by Bowers and Sundman. A Census of Known Examples of the February 3, 1690/91 Massachusetts Bills of Credit
1) Ten Shillings. No.832. Raised from a Two Shillings genuine bill. Very Fine to Extremely Fine, minor stain. Ex Smythe CPMX Auction Sale, February 19, 1999, lot 1025. Purchased by a New England area private collector. This is the only Ten Shillings raised bill we are aware of in a public or private collection. This may be Unique. 2) Twenty Shillings. No.7. Raised from a Two Shillings Six Pence genuine bill. Very Fine to Extremely Fine, minor back stains. Ex Smythe CPMX Auction Sale, February 19, 1999, lot 1026. Purchased by the same New England area private collector.
3) Twenty Shillings. No.112 (the "2" weak?, or 110). Raised from a Two Shillings Six Pence genuine bill. Appears Very Fine to Extremely Fine, two horizontal folds. Currently in The Massachusetts Historical Society. Plated in their monograph Massachusetts Paper Money, 1690-1780: The Collection of the Massachusetts Historic Society. 4) Twenty Shillings. No.419. Raised from a Two Shillings Six Pence genuine bill. Appears to be Very Fine, with some edge flaws or foxing marks. The National Numismatic Collection example in The Smithsonian. Obtained from the late Leonard "Lenny" Finn who reportedly had two examples. He was so proud of this note that he made small note pad sheets from it to pass out or send short personal letters. The complete pedigree is unknown, but it was first published in Harper's Weekly in the late 1850's in an article about the American Banknote Company bound into the George Peyton's Treatise on the Detection of Counterfeit Banknotes... The note is plated on page 198 of The Beauty and Lore of Coins, Currency, and Medals by Elvira and Vladimir Clain-Stefanelli.
5) Twenty Shillings. No.701. Raised from a Two Shillings Six Pence genuine bill. Nearly Extremely Fine, rim mounted on card stock. The F.C.C. Boyd Note, plated in all editions of Newman. Ex John J. Ford Jr. Collection Part III: Lot 501 at $161,000.00. Discounting the rim mounting, perhaps the finest known.
6) Twenty Shillings. No.1009. Raised from Two Shillings Six Pence genuine bill. The present example. About Very Fine, bright and vivid from the face. The back shows a distinct vertical fold and two other harder to see folds. The left hand margin has a tear and a few other flaws. From a private collection.
7) Presumably, Twenty Shillings. No.Unknown. The second, rumored, Lenny Finn note. Several sources have confirmed that Mr. Finn owned two 1690 notes in the 1960's. One went to the Smithsonian and the other is grade and location unknown.