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  • Sommer Islands Hogge Money Coins

    Sommer Islands "Hogge Money" 1615-1616: Introduction

    The Bermuda Islands were named after Juan de Bermúdez, who first landed there in 1505. Little did Bermúdez realize this discovery would later save his life. In 1532, while on his way to Cuba, Bermúdez was shipwrecked near these islands and, because of his knowledge of the area, he was able to safely make it to shore. Apparently on this second voyage he had several live hogs as cargo, some of whom were saved and over time proliferated throughout the islands. A century later, in 1609, an English ship the Sea Adventurer, left Plymouth, England, with eight other ships to head for the Virginia plantation. On July 25th, as they neared their destination, the Sea Adventurer was separated from the small fleet by a hurricane and three days later ended up in the Bermuda Islands, which were then known as the Bermoothes or the Hogge Islands. The crew remained on the islands for several months, claiming the land for England and constructing two new boats. On May 10, 1610, the new boats were completed and the crew finally departed for Virginia. About a month later on June 19, 1610, one of the original crew, Sir George Sommers, was persuaded to return to the islands where he died in 1611. Soon thereafter the islands were renamed the Sommer Islands.

    By 1615 a colony was founded on the islands. However, having no available currency, the colonists resorted to using tobacco as legal tender, as had been done in Virginia. Then on June 20, 1615, in order to encourage commerce, James I granted the plantation permission to produce coinage. The governor of the islands, Richard Tucker, arranged for an English mint to produce the coinage. To keep the coins from being exported out of the islands they were intentionally made in a crude fashion from a low-grade, brassy copper. Their appearance was enhanced by a thin wash of silver, which unfortunately did not hold up well in the salty Bermuda environment. Made in denominations of two, three, six, and twelve pence, the obverse showed a hog with the denomination in roman numerals above the animal and the legend "SOMMER ISLANDS" within two circles of beads (the two and threepence coins have only a single circle of beads and lack the legend). The reverse displayed a ship, probably the Sea Adventurer, with a single circle of beads around the border and no legend (the two and threepence denominations have an S to the left of the ship and an I to the right for Sommer Islands). From the few well preserved examples we do know there are shilling varieties with either large or small sails and sixpence varieties with either large or small portholes. Also, Breen has discovered there are small "secret" marks visible on the obverse under the hog, probably identification marks of the diemaker. These marks are as follows: on the shilling there is a single pellet between the front and rear feet; on the sixpence a diamond shaped group of pellets between the front and rear legs; on the threepence there are four pellets in a square with another pellet in the center, this design is found in front of the forefeet; and on the twopence there is a star between the front and rear legs. He also noticed the twopence came in two varieties, one variety being distinguished by a larger star and also having the second I in the denoination II being lower that the first, with the other variety having a smaller star and the II in the denomination being of equal height.

    Most commentators have considered these crude coins to have been produced using the hammer strike method. However, based on an analysis of a clipped example of the small sail shilling, Michael Hodder has suggested the coins may have been made on a roller press. The clipped example he studies is probably the finest know Sommer Island specimen and is quite unusual as it is on a thick planchet, weighing 175.9 grains. Hodder noticed on the obverse of the coin the clipped area was beveled outwards while that same area when seen from the reverse was not. If blank planchets has been cut out and then stamped into coins the stamping would have flattened the beveling. This beveled edge could only occur if the coin had been cut from a metal strip after it had been stamped. Thus Hodder suggested the coins were made in strips on a roller press, then the strips were put through a hand operated "cookie" type planchet cutter to produced individual coins. Hodder described the process as follows:

    The operator of the roller die machinery hand-turned a crank which rotated the two rollers in a clockwise fashion and counter-clockwise (upper and lower rollers, respectively). The rollers were positioned with an interval between them slightly thinner than the thickness of the strip they were intended to impress. Both the upper and lower roller dies were positioned so that the "obverse" and "reverse" die faces would line up directly atop each other as the rollers were turned. Another operator fed [the] strip into the rollers, which, as they were turned, impressed the strip with the intended coin design. The "struck" strip was then taken to the planchet cutting bench, where the cutter was positioned directly over the pressed impressions and individual coins were cut from the strip.         (Norweb Catalog, Part I, p. 327)

    Hodder went on to state this is still only a theory. He suggested roller presses usually produced more die varieties that we find in the Sommer Island coinage; there are only five obverse and six reverse dies known for the entire series (two obverses for the twopence and two reverses each for the shilling and sixpence). With roller dies one would expect at least two to four different obverse and reverse dies per denomination, as there would usually be more than a single impression on a roller (assuming different rollers for each denomination). Also, coins stamped between roller dies usually appear somewhat bent (either convex or concave depending on the side you choose), as the coins are slightly bent as they come out of the rollers; but this does not seem to be the case with the Sommer Islands coins. The presence of a beveled edge on a single example is interesting but certainly is not conclusive in formulating a theory on the method of minting for this series. Further research is needed to determine the actual method used to produce these coins.

    The Sommer Islands tokens were the first English coinage made for use in the Americas. The weight/value ratio of the coins was based on a weight of tobacco, not the weight of the metal, thus the metal content was far below the stated value on the coin. Based on Breen the weight variations are as follows: large sales shilling 73.6-107 grains; small sale shilling 63.5-177 grains; large portholes sixpence 33.6-58.5 grains; small portholes sixpence 36-63.1 grains; threepence 21.6-23.7 grains (based on the British Museum and the heavier Norweb examples only); large star twopence 16-21.2 grains; and the small star twopence 19.5-26.9 grains. These crude, light weight coins were not well received and went out of use by 1624. After their experience with this so-called "Hogge money," Bermuda did not have another coin of its own until the 1793 copper penny which was produced in Birmingham at Boulton's Soho Mint. After 1793, no other coins were produced in Bermuda until the commemorative crowns of 1959 and 1964. It was not until 1970, with the introduction of decimal system in the United Kingdom, that Bermuda began regularly minting coins. Interestingly, the current Bermuda cent depicts a hog on the reverse.

    Before the 1960's few Hogge coins were known to have survived. However, with the widespread use of metal detectors in the past few decades, about fifty additional examples of Hogge coins have been uncovered in Bermuda, but most are in very poor condition. Very few readable examples are extant. The best recent illustrations and descriptions of these coins can be found in the first volume of the Bowers and Merena sale of the Norweb Collection, from October 12-13, 1987. In Philadelphia, during the 1850's, Montroville Wilson Dickeson made several copies of the shilling, one of which is displayed below.

    Latest revision: April 26, 1999


    For reprints of two 1877 articles on Hogge money see, The Colonial Newsletter  5 (March 1965, serial no. 14), 136-41; also see, Robert Chalmers, History of Currency in the British Colonies  (London: n.p., 1893), 150-51; Walter Breen, "Weights of Sommer Islands Coins," The Colonial Newsletter, vol.16, no. 3 (November 1977, serial no. 50), 612; also Breen, 9-11 for updated weights and much information; references to Hodder refer to The Norweb Collection: Part 1 Early American and U.S. Coins, a public auction sale of October 12 and 13, 1987 in New York City by Bowers and Merena Inc., Wolfboro, N.H.: Bowers and Merena, 1987, pp. 323-327, lots 1140-1145 (on p. 10 of the catalog L. Arlin, R. Bagg, M. Hodder, D. Bowers, R. Merena and T. Becker are listed as the catalogers, I assume the colonial introductions and descriptions are by Hodder).

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