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  • Lord Baltimore Coins

    Lord Baltimore Coinage 1658-1659: Introduction

    During the earliest decades of the Maryland settlement, the primary medium of exchange was tobacco. During the 1650s Calvert lost control of his colony temporarily to a group of Puritans supported by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Commissioners appointed to "reduce" royalist strongholds in the colonies. After Calvert regained authority and the commissioners surrendered power to Calvert's governor Josias Fendal on March 24, 1658, Calvert on once again had uncontested control in the province. AT that time Calvert planned to mint coins for Maryland. This was to be a profit making venture, since the coins were to be about 20-25% below sterling weight and it was a method for Lord Baltimore to demonstrate and proclaim his authority over the colony. The charter his father, George Calvert, had negotiated with King Charles did not specifically mention coining privileges, but the charter did give Calvert all the rights and privileges enjoyed by "any bishop of Durham, within the bishopric or county palatine of Durham" subject to approval of the populace. Calvert may have assumed he had coining rights because the Bishop of Durham had produced coins or he may have believed coining was an unstated prerogative he had as Lord Proprietor of a colony, as coining privileges had been specifically included in the Virginia charter.

    Lord Calvert pursued his coinage project in London. His Baltimore coins were first minted during 1659, probably at the Tower of London mint. Richard Pight, the Clerk of Irons at the Tower of London, learned about the coinage and informed the authorities who issued an arrest warrant for Calvert on Tuesday October 4, 1659. On Wednesday Calvert appeared before the Privy Council to answer why "... a great quantity of Silver is coyned into peeces of diverse rates & values, and sent into Maryland by the Lo. Baltimore or his Order." It appears the Privy Council ordered him to testify before the "Committee of the Council for the Plantations" which was given the task of investigating the affair. From the charges brought forward Hodder has suggested Calvert's crime was not simply the coining money without permission as has usually been thought, but rather that he was coining money that differed from the Tower of London standard (Baltimore coins were deliberately made 30% lighter than their British equivalents so the coins would not be sought outside of Maryland) and that he was exporting silver coins (according to British law only coppers could be exported).

    It seems Calvert's position was upheld by the Committee of the Council for the Plantations but, as was required by the charter, he had to get the approval of the people. We have no records of the Committee's decision but on October 12, 1659 Calvert wrote a letter to the governing council in Maryland stating he had procured the "Necessaries" for a coinage and recommended the colonial assembly pass a law authorizing his proposed coinage be accepted as legal tender and outlining punishments for clipping and counterfeiting. The same day he sent another letter to his brother Philip, who was the Colonial Secretary in the colony, enclosing a sample of the new money (Hodder states this sample did not include the denarium) and asking that the coinage legislation he had proposed be enacted into law.

    Lord Baltimore's situation fared better in London than in the colonies, where problems continued to mount. Calvert's October letter on coinage legislation took about four months to reach Maryland; it was first discussed in the council meeting of March 3, 1660. Ten days later the governor of the colony, Josias Fendall, led an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow Calvert. This immediate threat pushed the coinage issue into the background. By November 1660 the rebellion was crushed and Calvert's brother Philip assumed the governorship. He soon took up the coinage legislation which was finally enacted in April of 1661.

    It has long been assumed that Calvert's minting operation was suspended following the hearings in October 1659, however the evidence does not bear this out. Clearly coins were being made at that time but we do not know how long his minting venture lasted. Coins were certainly sent to Maryland after the hearings. In the colony an act was passed on April 12, 1662, requiring the head of every household to exchange sixty pounds of tobacco for ten shillings in Calvert's coins for each taxable in the household. (calculated to be slightly less than £1,436 in coins, which is based on the 2,873 taxables for following year, 1663, which is the only year fo which we have records during that period). It appears the coins were in circulation for at least a decade longer.

    Lord Baltimore coins were minted in silver in denominations of four, six, and twelve pence. There was also a pattern produced for a copper penny, called a denarium, but it was never put into production. The obverse of the coins depicted the bust of Lord Calvert, with the legend + CAECILIVS : DNS: TERRAE - MARIAE : & CT . on the shilling (with the final T left off the smaller sized denominations). In this phrase the DNS stands for DOMINUS and the "&" sign for the Latin "et" which, when combined with the c, gives us the abbreviation etc. (with ct we get the full et cetera); thus the legend reads, "Cecil, Lord of Maryland etc." The reverse of the silver denominations displayed the family shield with a palatine coronet above and the denomination in roman numerals to either side of the shield (either X II, V I or I V) and the legend CRESCITE : ET : MVLTIPLICAMINI . (Increase and be multiplied). The reverse of the copper denarium pattern had a palatine coronet with two pennants and the legend + DENARIVM : TERRAE - MARIAE (Denarium of Maryland). The use of the cross in the legends is a religious symbol, the Calvert family was Roman Catholic and the Roman Catholic faith was practiced in Maryland (which was named for the Catholic queen Mary).

    The silver coinage is found in two varieties, large bust and small bust with a few variations in the reverse legend. According to Hodder's catalog of the Norweb Collection the varieties are as follows: For the denarium there is only one variety, of which there are only very few extant examples. Breen knew of only five examples of the denarium. For the four pence or groat there are two varieties a large bust with a TERRAE-MARIE reverse and a small bust with an unhyphenated reverse. For the sixpence there are the two obverse dies (small abnd large bust) joined with four reverse dies in five combinations. The shilling is found in a large bust variety with a reverse having the shield point between the MV and a small bust variety with a reverse in which the shield touches the V. A third obverse with a different reverse is mentioned by Crosby but is unverified.

    William Idler of Philadelphia made copies of the denarium pattern in the 1850's. In his copies the obverse portrait is somewhat different from the original and they have Idler's advertisement around the portrait. Also the legend the Idler copy ends with CT while the original denarium legend ends with just the letter C.

    revised March 18, 2004


    See: Breen, pp. 18-20; Crosby, pp. 123-132; Michael Hodder, "Cecil Calvert's Coinage for Maryland : A Study in History and Law", The Colonial Newsletter 33 (February 1993, serial no. 93) 1360-1362; and his, The Norweb Collection, Part III , Bowers and Merana aution of November 14 and 15, 1988, New York City, "The Maryland Coinage" on pp. 232-238; Mossman, pp. 90-91 and Richard D. Kenney, Struck Copies of Early American Coins,  Sanford J. Durst: New York, 1982 (rpt. of 1952), Idler, no. 2, p 7.

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