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Summer 2003

CASTINE; AND THE OLD COINS FOUND THERE.

Second half of a paper by Joseph Williamson.
First printed for the Maine Historical Society, 1859.

Most of the coins were French crowns, half-crowns, and quarters, all of the reigns of Louis XIII. And Louis XIV., and bore various dates, from 1642 to 1682. With a few exceptions they were bright and but little worn, and when placed where they were found could not have been long in circulation. Their excellent workmanship, compared with that of English or Spanish coins of a similar date, shows the superiority of the French in the arts, even at the period. The regularity of the letters, and the general appearance of each piece are but little inferior to those of the present age. On the obverse of all these French coins is a profile of the reigning sovereign, surrounded by the inscription “LVD-XIII.- (or XIV., according to the date,) D-G-FR-ET-NAV-REX, ” for “Ludovicus XIII. (or XIV.) Dei Gratiâ Franciæ et Navarræ Rex: ” “Louis XIII. (or XIV.) by the Grace of God King of France and Navarre. ” Some of the specimens contain, between the letters G and FR, a small figure, such as a star, lion, &c., indicating under whose dictation the coinage took place. The profile on the crowns bearing date 1652 represents the king as a child, while that on those of 1680 exhibits the mature features of a stern man.(1) The two would not be recognized as the face of the same person. The reverse has the figure of a plain shield, surmounted by a crown, with a legend extending around as follows: “SIT-NOMEN-DOMINIcharacter symbol BENEDICTUM,” that is, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” The letter A, which appears inverted before the last word on most of the pieces, denotes the mint mark of Paris.(2) At the left of the top of the shield is the date.

French crowns of the time of Louis XIV. are now seldom to be found, except in the cabinets of numismatologists. A few years ago they were occasionally brought from Canada to the United States mint for recoinage, being so much worn as to be no longer passable.(3)

Photo of old coins found at Castine Maine

A large part of the money, numerically considered, consisted of the old Massachusetts or Pine Tree currency, of which there were fifty or seventy-five shillings, and nearly as many sixpences. They are of rude manufacture, very thin, and not uniform in diameter. The intrinsic value of a shilling, when unmutilated, is sixteen cents and two-thirds.(4) Both shillings and sixpences are simple in design. On one side a double ring around the circumference encloses the words “IN MASATHVSETS,” and in the center is the figure of a pine tree. A similar ring on the reverse surrounds the legend “NEW ENGLAND, AN DOM,” that is, “Anno Domini.” In the interior is the date, 1652, and beneath it the figures XII. or VI., according to the value of each piece in pence. This money was the first coined in the colonies, and with the exception of similar coins issued in Maryland, the only ones struck until the Revolution. The earliest emissions of the Massachusetts mint hardly deserved the name of money.(5) Their only inscriptions were the letters NE for New England, and figures indicating the value. Such rude impressions soon became the subject of fraudulent imitations, and in a few months more elaborate designs were substituted. Specimens of the first kind are exceedingly rare, as their circulation was of short duration. All the Pine Tree money bears the same date, viz, 1652, although the mint was in constant operation for nearly forty years after. The reason of this is, that subsequent to the restoration, the coining of money by the colonies was declared an encroachment upon the royal prerogative,(6) and further issues were forbidden. This order was evaded by retaining the original date on all the pieces.(7) The Massachusetts mint was probably discontinued at the commencement of the reign of William and Mary, in 1688. Its products are said to have been current in this country down to the Revolution, although Judge Hutchinson, afterwards governor of Massachusetts, in 1761 sent a Pine Tree shilling and six pence to England, “as something of a curiosity.”(8)

The next largest proportion consisted of the clumsy, shapeless Spanish coinage, commonly called “cob money” or “cobs,” and sometimes “cross money,” from the figure of a cross, which always characterizes it. The meaning of the word “cob” is unknown. In Mexico, this currency was termed “maquina de papalote y cruz,” that is, “windmill and cross money.”(9) None of the specimens appear to have been made by machinery, but seem like lumps of bullion flattened and impressed by the means of a hammer. The figures and inscriptions are extremely rough and imperfect, and sometimes entirely illegible. The largest of these coins were originally made for dollars, and when new were of the lawful standard. Some of the specimens are what old writers frequently called pieces of eight. Those among the collection of Dr. Stevens are of different weight, and present every variety of form except that of a circle. In the center of the obverse are the pillars of Hercules, with the letters “PLVS VLTRA,” “more beyond,” crowded in without regard to order, and around the circumference “PHILIPPSVS IIII.,” or “CAROLVS II.,” according to the date.(10) The figure 8 between the pillars on one of the largest pieces, and 2 on the smallest, indicate the value in réals.(11) On the side of the pillars are letters, which vary according to the date, and are probably mint marks. The reverse has a cross with arms of equal length, loaded at the ends, and of an unusual form, resembling the fan of a windmill.(12) The legend which surrounds the exterior, but which is usually mutilated by clipping, was originally “D-G-HISPANIARVM ET INDIARVM REX,” “By the Grace of God King of the Spains(13) and of the Indies.” There are mint marks at the ends of the cross, similar to those on the opposite side. Some of the specimens have a date on each side, which generally omits the thousandth and hundredth parts, so that “78” and “82” on the pieces preserved are meant for 1678, and 1682. The full date, 1659, appears on another piece.

One of the cob dollars differs in some particulars from those already described. It is so much worn and battered that the inscriptions are almost obliterated. Instead of pillars, the obverse has a shield enclosing the national arms. The letter G and M, surmounted by O, are the only ones which remain, the latter being the mint mark of Mexico, showing that the coinage took place in that city.(14) This coin is probably the oldest one in the collection.

Photo of old coins found at Castine Maine
Obverse view of coins. Both photos from Wilson Museum Archives. These coins are in the collection of the Maine Historical Society, Portland, Maine.

Among the Spanish coins were a few pillar dollars, which in size and execution resemble the cob money. The one secured by Dr. Stevens is of a hexagonal shape, and is much worn and clipped. The inscriptions upon the obverse are somewhat confused by having received two impressions from the same die. A double circle contains the legend “PHILIPPVS IIII. D-G,” and within are the arms of Spain, enclosed in a shield. The value in réals is indicated by the letters VIII. at the right. On the reverse is “HISPANIARVM ET INDIARVM REX,” as on the cob dollars. The pillars of Hercules, each surmounted by a crown, with “PLVS VLTRA” below, occupy the center. At the right of the pillars is the date, 1657. The letters “ORM” at the left hand, and “OR” beneath, are mint-marks.

Some Spanish half dollars, or pieces of four réals, were also found. These were made in Spain, and are superior in form and manufacture to the coinage of the colonies.(15) They appear to have been impressed by means of machinery, although the edges remain uneven. The obverse has a shield like the pillar dollar. The surrounding legend is the same as that on the cob dollar of 1659. On the right of the shield is IIII., the number of réals, and the letter R, which is a mint mark, occupies the other side. On the reverse is the date, 1640, and “HISPANIARVM REX.” The omission of the remaining part of the inscription which the other Spanish coins contain denotes that this piece is not of American coinage. A plain cross, quartering the national arms, fills the center. Between two of the arms of the cross the figures 300, enclosed in a parallelogram, are impressed in such a manner as to efface a part of the legend.

There were several pieces of Portuguese money found. That preserved by Dr. Stevens is a twenty reis piece, and in size and shape resembles an old-fashioned pistareen. Its value by weight is twenty-two cents and a half. The inscriptions and figures are quite simple. The obverse has a plain shield surmounted by a crown, with a cypher on each side to signify its value in reis. Around the edge is the legend “IOANNES-IIII D-G-REX-PORTVGALIE,” that is, “John IV., by the Grace of God King of Portugal.” On the reverse a double circle contains the motto “IN-HOC-SIGNO-VINCES,” “By this sign thou shalt conquer.” A plain cross with arms of equal length fills the center, with the letter P at each angle, which are probably mint-marks. There is no date, but from the name of the sovereign, which is impressed upon the obverse, it must have been coined between 1630 and 1636.(16)

A few Belgic coins were found among the collection, — all three-guilder pieces, and also several rix dollars of Holland. One of the latter bore a date anterior to that of the landing of the Pilgrims. That which Dr. Stevens selected was struck in 1641, and is well preserved. In weight and size it resembles a modern Mexican dollar. The obverse has the figure of a knight in armor, his left arm resting upon a shield which encloses the figure of a lion rampant, the arms of the confederacy. Extending around is the legend “MO-ARG-PRO-CONFOE-BELG-GELD,” for “Moneta argentea provinciæ confoerationis Belgicæ,” or translated, “Silver money of Gelderland, a province of the Belgic confederacy.”(17) The figure of a lion rampant occupies the reverse, with the motto “CONFIDENS-DNO-NON MOVETVR,” the contracted word being DOMINO, and the whole translated being “He that trusts in the Lord is not moved.”(18)

The three-guilder piece is larger than the rix dollar. Its value in our currency is one dollar and seventeen cents. The figure on the obverse is that of a female leaning her left arm on a pedestal, that encloses a device that is too much defaced to be distinguished. Around is the legend “HANC TVEMVR, HAC NITIMVR,” i.e., “This we support, on this we depend.” The reverse has a shield, surmounted by a crown. Within the shield are the figures of two lions rampant. Over the crown is the date, 1682, and on the side of the shield “3 G,” for Three Guilders. The surrounding legend is “MO-NO-ARGENT-ORDIN-WESTF,” or “New common silver money of West Friesland.”

It is a somewhat remarkable circumstance, taking into consideration the extensive intercourse which the American colonies always maintained with England, that among so many and so various coins, but a single piece of the money of that nation was found in the collection. This was a shilling, of the reign of Charles I., and is one of the specimens belonging to Dr. Stevens. It has evidently seen some service, but is in a tolerably perfect condition. The obverse of this piece bears a profile head of the king, crowned and facing the left, with the figure XII., denoting the value in pence, behind the head. The surrounding inscription is “CAROLVS I.D-G-MAG-BRI-FRA-ET-HIB REX,” “Carolus I., Dei Gratiâ Magnæ Britanniæ, Franciæ, et Hiberniæ Rex,” that is, “Charles I., by the Grace of God King of Great Britain, France, and Ireland.” Immediately over the profile is the mint-mark, a diamond enclosed in a circle. On the reverse are the royal arms quartered on a plain shield. Separated by a circle is the motto “CHRISTO AVSPICE REGNO,” “I reign under the auspices of Christ.” There is no date on either side. According to Snelling,(19) the mint-mark on this piece was first used June 15th, 1641, and as Charles I. was executed seven years afterwards, the coin must have been struck between 1641 and 1649. The reverse of all the money coined during the reign of Charles I., from the penny to the crown, has the royal arms impressed.(20) In the first issues they were enclosed in a square shield, quartered by a cross. The edges of this coin are slightly mutilated by the process of clipping, an evil which became of fearful magnitude in England after the restoration. Macauley says that till the reign of Charles II. the art of milling, or manufacturing coin with a raised inscription around the edge, was not employed, and that the English money was struck by a process many generations old. The metal was divided with shears, and afterwards shaped and stamped by the hammer. A disparity in weight and size was therefore common; few pieces were exactly round, and there was no impression upon the edges. Clipping a half penny worth of silver from each shilling became a common and lucrative species of fraud, and the most rigorous laws were enacted for its prevention. The evil was remedied by calling in all the defaced money, and recoining it by the means of machinery.(21)


Click to see larger version
A letter from Joseph Williamson to Dr. Joseph stevens regarding the Castine Coins.
One of several letters from Williamson in the Stevens Collection, Wilson Museum Archives

Many conjectures and opinions have been raised to account for the deposit of these coins in the place where Capt. Grindle found them, but the most satisfactory conclusion which can be arrived at, is that they originally belonged to the Baron St. Castin. This is rendered probable from the location where they were discovered, from their age, and from the fact that a great proportion of them were of French manufacture. Johnson’s Narrows are exactly in the route which it is reasonable to suppose Castin would have taken to escape from the English when his residence was attacked by them. It has been shown in another part of the article that the peninsula was repeatedly invaded during King Williams’s war, and the Baron obliged to fly to the woods for safety. Probably it was on the occasion of one of these invasions that the treasure was lost or concealed. On the approach of the enemy Castin placed his most valuable articles in canoes and retreated with them up the river to the Narrows, and from thence crossed over to Frenchman’s Bay or to Mount Desert. In the haste of conveyance, the coins, enclosed in a covering which was not proof against the action of the elements, were either lost, or laid down for some temporary purpose on the rock where they were found.(22) If it had been intended to conceal them, the earth would have been removed and a more substantial envelope provided. As none of the coins bore date subsequent to 1688,(23) it was probably between that year and the Peace of Ryswick, in 1698, that they were lost. The treasure therefore remained undisturbed for nearly a century and a half.(24)

WILLIAMSON’S FOOTNOTES (numeration adjusted for format)

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  1. Louis XIV., often styled the Great, ascended the throne in 1643, in the fifth year of his age, under the regency of Anne of Austria, his mother. He died after a reign of seventy-two years: one of the longest on the pages of history.
  2. “The coinage of each of the French mints may be known by its mint-mark or letter; that of Paris is the letter A, ” &c. — Eckfeldt and DuBois: Manual of Coins, 55.
  3. Eckfeldt and Du Bois, 57.
  4. Dictionary of Coins.
  5. Coll. Mass. Hist. Soc., 2d series, ii. 274.
  6. Soon after the accession of Charles II, Sir Thomas Temple, Governor of Acadie, being at London, held an interview with the king, in the course of which his majesty expressed great dissatisfaction against the people of Massachusetts, for invading his right by coining money without authority. Gov. Temple exhibited some of the coin to the king, who seeing the pine tree, inquired what it was emblematical of. The immediate reply was that it was a figure of the royal oak which saved his majesty’s life. This answer mollified the king, and induced him to favor the pleas which the Governor made in behalf of the colony.–Felt’s Historical Account of Mass. Coinage, 39, 39.

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  7. Barry, Hist. of Mass. i. 344, note.
  8. Felt’s Hist. Account of Mass. Coinage, 49.
  9. Eckfeldt and Du Bois, 119.
  10. Philip IV., of Spain, reigned from 1621 to 1662, and was succeeded by his son Charles II., who continued on the throne until 1700.
  11. The Spanish réal varies in value from twelve and a half cents down to ten, according to the time of its coinage.
  12. Eckfeldt and Du Bois, 119.
  13. By the marriage of Ferdinand of Arragon to Isabella of Castile, in 1469, the two kingdoms of Arragon and Castile were united, and afterwards called “The Spains.”
  14. Eckfeldt and Du Bois, 119.

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  15. The silver coins of Spain and Spanish America are obviously distinguished: those of the Peninsula have on the reverse the national arms enclosed in a shield, while the coins of the colonies have the two pillars. —Eckfeldt and Du Bois, 119.
  16. John IV. was proclaimed king of Portugal in 1630, and died in 1636.
  17. “The coinage of the Netherlands displays something of the intricacy of its political history. Several series of coins were minted contemporaneously, for many years previous to the Revolution. Each of the seven provinces had its own mint, but the variety in the coinage is not materially due to this fact, since, in most cases, they conformed to a common standard, making only a difference in the legend.” — Eckfeldt and Du Bois, 91.
  18. Charles Folsom, Esq., late librarian of the Boston Athenæum, furnished me with the correct reading of this inscription.
  19. Snelling: View of Silver Coin and Coinage in England, 36.
  20. Kelly’s Cambist
  21. Macauley’s Hist. Eng. iv. 562, 563.

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  22. Mr. William Hutchins, who is the oldest inhabitant of Penobscot, stated in 1855, that when he was young, he knew a man named Conolley, who informed him that a great many years ago, he found near Johnson’s Narrows, at the shore, a chest or box covered over with moss, as if it had been exposed for a long time to the weather. Upon opening it, he found remains of goods.
  23. In 1852, there was picked up on the site of Castin’s fort, a French half crown, of the same appearance as those discovered by Mr. Grindle.
  24. Penobscot is not the only place in the eastern part of Maine where hidden money has been found. About fifteen years ago, in the town of Sullivan, at the head of Frenchman’s Bay, a farmer in plowing a neck of land in front of where the “Ocean House ” now stands, turned out an old earthen pot containing nearly four hundred dollars worth of French crowns and half crowns, all bearing date about 1724. (Machias Union, July 8, 1856.) The coin wore a bright appearance, but the pot crumbled in its contact with the plow. This money was sold to a silversmith in Boston, but before it all found its way into the crucible, William G. Stearns, Esq., of Harvard College, secured some specimens, which are preserved with his valuable collection of coins.

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