Among the many impressive prices realized at our recent Official Auction of the November 2012 Whitman Coin and Collectibles Baltimore Expo is the sum of $431,250 paid for lot 6002, the famous New England sixpence rarity from the John "Jack" Royse Collection. The coin was sold as part of our first ever Early American Coin Session held in conjunction with the annual convention of The Colonial Coin Collectors’ Club (C4). Prior to this event not a single example of this noteworthy numismatic rarity had been offered at public auction since 1991, when we (Stack's) acquired this same coin from a Sotheby’s sale for $35,200. The recent price realized of $431,250 is certainly impressive, and may even be a record for a New England sixpence.
In a truly memorable sale full of rarities and coins with great stories, this piece stands out. It was discovered in East Hampton, New York, at the eastern end of Long Island, in February 1990 by a metal dectorist. When it sold the following summer, the story made international news, and newspaper columnists across the country spilled ink on the joys of metal detecting. It was the most valuable coin ever found with a metal detector on American soil.
Eastern Long Island had more in common with New England than New York in the 17th century. The Connecticut River, just across the narrowest part of Long Island Sound, was the main north-south thoroughfare into the interior of New England. It is no accident that an interstate parallels its path from Hartford to northern Vermont. The town at the mouth of the Connecticut River, Old Saybrook, was founded in the 1630s by a group led by John Winthrop, and Massachusetts held a firm grip on its commerce and governance for the better part of a century. It is no coincidence that this coin would turn up, perhaps 20 miles away as the crow flies.
The sixpence survived its time in the ground well, attracting a pleasing deep gray-brown patina over most of the obverse and reverse. A lighter area of silver is present near 8 o'clock on the obverse and directly beneath the NE punch, with similar texture at central reverse. The punches are both good and strong, matching the other known specimens of Noe 1-A -- the only genuine variety of NE sixpence -- in both shape and depth. A long old scratch runs from 10 o'clock on the obverse rim past center to near 3 o'clock opposite on the obverse; two lighter scrapes parallel it at top. A thinner, newer scratch is present from center of obverse to 6:30 or so. The earthen patina on the reverse side minimizes light scrapes. The shape of the planchet is nearly round, about the same as other NE coinages, hand cut to size and weight at the time. The weight is essentially full for the issue; the Garrett coin weighed 33.7 grains, this piece weighs 31.8 grains.
There are just eight examples known of this rarity, four of which are in museums: the ANS, the British Museum, the Massachusetts Historical Society, and the Newman Money Museum. The other surviving specimens are the Bushnell-Garrett piece, the Roper coin, the Lauder specimen, and this one. The Lauder coin, now in a well-known Long Island collection, may be the best of them, though each has issues. The Noe 2-B sixpence is a counterfeit of uncertain age; Ford's last sold for $13,800. As a denomination, the NE sixpence is multiple times rarer than the NE shilling, and examples of the former appear on the market at a rate even less frequent than its numerical rarity would suggest.
This particular specimen was added to the census of known specimens in February 1990, when Lillian Rade of East Hampton, Long Island, found it in frozen ground with a metal detector. The find made national news, published in nearly every major American newspaper via wire services, and even found a place in Ripley's Believe It or Not. It was auctioned by Sotheby's and purchased by Stack's for $35,200. It was the most valuable coin ever found in American soil with a metal detector at that point, surpassed by the $41,400 realization for a Maryland denarium sold in our (Stack's) sale of August 2007; now, this coin has regained its prior status in that regard, and it has done so with a vengeance!