Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Coin Monday on a Tuesday: Finding the Willow Tree

July 6, 2010
Written by John Dale

(Thanks to the long weekend, Tuesday is this week’s Monday at Heritage. Enjoy! – Noah)

Before talking coins, I have to share something that caught my wandering eye: Bruce Lee’s jumpsuit from Game of Death. Yes, that jumpsuit, the one Quentin Tarantino cribbed from to outfit the Bride in Kill Bill; the one that’s had so many imitators in arcade-style fighting games; the one that has its own section on Game of Death’s Wikipedia page. Yes, it’s that awesome. Look. Drool. If you have Tarantino-level money, bid.

Today’s coin feature is of a much older vintage than Bruce Lee’s jumpsuit…more than three centuries older. The piece was scheduled to go in the July Summer FUN Auction (friendly reminder: bidding ends this week!), but it was moved back to the Boston ANA Auction. Believe me, it’s worth the wait.

I had the coin on my desk. Massachusetts silver. The holder said “Oak Tree Shilling, Good Details.” It wasn’t much to look at, or rather, there wasn’t much to look at on it, as worn as it was. Even so, I figured I would be able to match it to a die pair and give it an attribution.

I couldn’t attribute it. Nothing matched. It showed parts of designs from at least two strikes, so I was expecting the attribution to be complicated, but still…

Two runs through reference books later and about thirty seconds after I went from frustrated to flat-out vexed with the coin, I admitted defeat and showed it to Senior Cataloger Mark Borckardt.

He went through the same stages I did, until he had a brain-wave: what if this “Oak Tree Shilling” wasn’t an Oak Tree at all?

“Maybe it’s a Willow Tree.”

I murmured something noncommittal. Willow Tree shillings are very rare, regardless of condition. Could his suggestion possibly be correct?

Then, in a flawless who’s-your-sensei moment, he showed me exactly how the remaining detail on the coin synced up with the 1-A variety in the Crosby and Noe systems. The multiple strikes that had annoyed me earlier suddenly took on new meaning; most Willow Tree shillings show multiple strikes, so that was one more piece of proof.

The coin came out of the Summer FUN auction and took a direct line back to NGC for re-attribution. It came back with two sweet words on the holder: “Willow Tree.”

With those words, the coin got a massive catalog upgrade, from a short text-only entry in the Summer FUN auction to a plush half-page hangout between the purple covers of the Platinum Night catalog for Boston. Massachusetts silver going home…what could be finer?

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-John Dale Beety

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