• Section Contents
  • Willow Tree Introduction Introduction

    Joseph Jenks

    We do not know if John Hull or Robert Sanderson made their own punches or dies. Both Hull and Sanderson were accomplished silversmiths and presumably were skilled engravers. However, unlike later colonial silversmith/minters such as John Chalmers and Ephraim Brasher, Hull and Sanderson were not able to simply purchase the punches and dies needed for their operation. Clearly in 1652 there were few people in Massachusetts Bay that had the skill to make hardened steel punches and dies. The most logical place to look for such skilled labor was to the master ironsmith at the only iron foundry in the colonies. That was Joseph Jenks sometimes Jynks or Jencks) who worked at the iron foundry in Hammersmith, which is now Saugus, Massachusetts. The foundry regularly produced nails, ax heads and blacksmithing tools for the colony. No doubt John Hull's father, the Boston blacksmith Robert Hull, acquired tools from Hammersmith. Jenks, who was actually an independent contractor associated with the foundry, made the more difficult special order items. For instance it was agreed at the Boston town council meeting of December 1, 1653 that "The select men have power and liberty hereby to agree with Jospeh Jynks for Ingins to Carry water in Case of fire, if they see Cause soe to doe." (Boston Records, p. 118). Just what these engines were or how they transported water was not mentioned, nor is it known if they were actually produced. However, it does show how Jenks was called on when a difficult special order item was needed.

    There is no document linking Jenks to John Hull or the mint. However, there is a document from May 15, 1672 stating that the Massachusetts General Court denied a petition by Joseph Jenks in which he requested permission to be allowed to open a mint. From this document it is generally assumed Jenks would not have gone through the expense and trouble to submit a petition unless he knew the trade and felt he could have successfully competed with the aging Hull. (When Hull and Saunderson's contract was renewed for a third time in 1675 the renewal stated it was for seven years "if either of them live so long"). If Jenks produced the punches and dies necessary for the continued operation of Hull's mint he would certainly be in a position to enter the coining business. Based on his reputation as a master ironsmith and interpreting his unsuccessful petition in the manner stated above it has been assumed Jenks made the dies for the Hull mint.

    Just what the terms punches and dies signified is unclear. Punches would most probably refer to the punches used directly to impress letters and numbers onto each of the NE coins and but could also include the die punches used to impress the letters, numbers and designes into the dies for the other varieties of Massachusetts silver. Also, specifically what making the dies refers to is not fully clear. It may mean Jenks only produced the hardened steel casings; these would be steel cylinders for either a screw press or hammered coinage, rollers for a roller press or rockers for a rocker press. It might also mean he engraved the coin images onto those casings, thus turning them into dies.

    In the past few years many long held assumptions concerning the minting and emission of colonial coins have been modified or overturned. It is now no longer assumed that the smaller St. Patrick coins were considered farthings and we know that some New Jersey coppers dated 1786 were produced in 1787. In this climate the question of who made the dies for Massachusetts silver is now often passed over without comment. Sometimes, as in the recent editions of R. S. Yeoman's guide known as the "Red Book" it is stated Jenks may have made the punches, without commenting on the dies. This is probably based on the idea that several of the die were recut. If we assume the partners did the recuting it is also possible they did the original engraving on the dies. In this scenario it is thought the partners did not have the skill or did not have the necessary furnace to make hardened steel punches (and presumably also needed to acquire the steel casings that would be engraved into dies). We do know throughout the colonial period punches were highly prized and difficult to obtain, as few individuals had the necessary tool and die skills to make them. Jenks is identified as the otherwise unknown craftsman who made the punches necessary to impress the letters and images into the dies.

    The situation is compounded by the fact that we do not know a great deal about the life of Joseph Jenks. He appears to have set up shop in 1648 but sold his house and gristmill to the Hammersmith iron factory in 1652. This seems to have been a period of financial difficulty for Jenks, as shortly before this, in 1651, he had mortgaged his forge and working houses. Exactly what happened during this period is unknown. We do know Jenks obtained some of the assets of Hammersmith when the company closed in 1656. Apparently he mortgaged the Hammersmith items in 1657. Jenks remained in the area until his death in 1683. Interestingly, Hartley, in his book on the Saugus Ironworks mentions Jenks had been credited with making dies for the Pine Tree shillings as well as constructing the first fire engine, but he was suspicious of those claims. Certainly, John Hull and Robert Sanderson knew silversmithing for they melted down and refined Spanish silver and silver plate in order to produce the correct weight and fineness of silver bullion needed for minting their coins. It also seems quite probable they were the ones to recut the dies and probably did the original engraving. It is also possible they knew ironworking as well and did their some of their own tool and die work but, at least in the 1650's, the only blast furnace in the colonies hot enough to melt iron to make hardened die punches and die caseings was located at Hammersmith.

    Latest revision: January 24, 2000

    Bibliography - E.N. Hartley, Ironworks on the Saugus, Norman: University of Oklahoma press, 1957, pp. 208-210; William Appleton and William Whitmore, editors. Second Report of the Redord Commissioners of the City of Boston, containing the Boston Redords, 1634-1660, and The Book of Possessions, 2nd ed., Boston : Rockwell and Chruch, 1881; Hermann Frederick Clarke, John Hull: A Builder of the Bay Colony, Portland, Maine: Southworth-Anthoensen Press, 1940, p. 66; Richard Kenney, Early American Medalists and Die-Sinkers Prior to the Civil War, New York, Sanford Durst, 1982 (reprint of 1954 edition by Wayte Raymond), p. 13; and Crosby, pp. 79-80.

    ^ ->
    Section Contents Willow Tree Introduction

    For viewing tips and information on optimal computer settings click here.
    For our copyright statement click here.

    For questions or comments contact Louis Jordan by:
    , telephone: (574) 631-0290, or mail:
    Department of Special Collections, 102 Hesburgh Library,
    University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN 46556