The Maryland Coinage of Lord Baltimore

Discussion in 'US Coins Forum' started by johnmilton, Apr 7, 2020.

  1. johnmilton

    johnmilton Well-Known Member

    Greetings fellow inmates!

    “The Warden” says that we shall go grocery shopping early tomorrow, but that will be our last venture out for the week UNLESS I get a set of coins I recently won in an auction. So here I am, working on coin related projects to pass the time.

    Here is an article I wrote seven years ago for my local club.

    Many coin collectors as well non-collectors have heard of the Massachusetts Pine Tree shillings. Those who are familiar with American history also know that the Massachusetts Bay Colony was founded by people who immigrated to America in search of religious freedom. Far fewer people are aware that a very similar set of circumstances occurred in the Maryland colony which offered more religious freedom and a colonial era coinage.

    In 1632 Cecil Calvert, who is also known as Lord Baltimore, obtained a land grant from King Charles I of England. Calvert's land extended west from the Atlantic Ocean to the Potomac River and north to the 40th parallel. In return the king was to receive one fifth of any gold or silver that the colony produced plus an annual tribute of two Indian arrowheads. Cecil Calvert's father, George, had initiated the proposal for the new colony in his on-going effort to establish a safe haven for Catholics in the New World. Since King Henry VIII had broken with the Catholic Church and established the Church of England, Catholics were often persecuted in their English homeland.

    In 1634 two ships, the Ark and the Dove set sail from the Isle of Wight and landed in Virginia. After a three month's stay in Virginia, the settlers moved to their new home. Although the colony was well run and took advantage of the temperate climate, it still faced political turmoil from within and without. Some residents of Virginia resented the fact that Maryland had been carved out a piece of what they considered to be their land and laid claim to Maryland soil wherever they could. Internally, religious differences resulted in conflicts within the colony. In addition, a civil war broke out in England over religious freedom and royal authority. Constant unrest at home forced Cecil Calvert to stay in England so that he could protect his proprietary interests. Although Calvert never stepped foot in Maryland, he did appoint two of his brothers as governor.

    There was a large measure of democracy because the colony had a legislature with an upper and lower house that could pass laws. One of the most important of those laws was the Tolerance Act which passed in 1649. That legislation stated than any religious sect that adopted Jesus Christ as their savior could practice their faith in Maryland unmolested. Although the law did not specifically apply to Jewish citizens, they too were welcome to practice their faith.

    Although the new law was a major step forward for human rights, it came with a price. Puritans who had been poorly treated in Virginia moved to Maryland and formed the city of Annapolis. After Puritan, Oliver Cromwell, gained control of the British Government in 1651, the Maryland Puritans overthrew the Calvert Government in 1654. During their rule they persecuted those who did not practice the Puritan faith. Cecil Calvert regained control of the colony in 1657, and in 1658 he addressed the issue of establishing a monetary system for Maryland.

    Like any growing economy Maryland had reached a point where the barter of goods and services was no longer working well. Very few coins were available, and the use of various commodities, including corn, furs, wampum beads, gun powder and shot was unsatisfactory. Calvert looked to the north and saw that the Massachusetts Bay Colony had been issuing its own coinage since 1652. Given the fact that the terms of his land grant gave him more powers than the Massachusetts Puritans had, he saw no reason why he could not introduce a Maryland coinage.

    After gaining permission from Oliver Cromwell, Calvert went to the Royal Mint and had an unspecified number of coins struck in four denominations. The coins included a very small number of copper pennies and three silver coins, a groat (four pence), a six pence and a shilling (12 pence). The obverse of each piece bore an image of Cecil Calvert and the reverse included the Calvert family coat of arms. Although the silver coins contained the same sterling silver alloy (92.5% silver, 7.5% copper) that was in regular British coinage, each piece was 25% lighter than its English counterpart. The idea behind this was to discourage the export of the Maryland coins back to the mother country once they were circulating in the colony. It is interesting to note that the Massachusetts silver coinage had similar weight standards for the same reason.

    Here is an Oliver Cromwell Shilling, dated 1658. Cromwell's earlier coinage had stark designs, but after he warmed to the idea of acting like a king, he put his portrait on his coins.

    1658 Cromwell Shilling O.jpg 1658 Cromwell Shilling R.jpg

    In 1659 Calvert sent samples of his coinage to the Maryland governor, Josias Fendall, and his brother, Philip, with instructions to present a proposal for the acceptance of the coins by the governor's council, and the General Assembly. Calvert's message included the usual recommendation that there should be severe penalties for anyone who tried to manufacture and distribute counterfeit coins.

    Here is the one Maryland colonial piece in my collection, a Lord Baltimore six pence. This is the most common type of Maryland colonial coin. This coin has quite a pedigree, which dates back for more than a century. It was in the Boyd and Stickney Collections.

    Maryland 6d O M.jpg Maryland 6d R M.jpg

    Calvert's coinage legislation ran into several roadblocks. First, Governor Fendall tried to lead a bloodless coup in which he and a group of protestants attempted to take over the government. The coup was put down and Fendall was tried for treason. Fendall's punishment was disenfranchisement and disqualification from holding office. Cecil Calvert promoted his brother, Philip, to governor.

    Here is a Charles II shilling dated 1663. The British invited the monarchy back in 1660 after Cromwell's son, Richard, was unable to hold on to power. Unlike his father, Charles I, Charles II didn't want to rock the boat. He enjoyed the high living connected with being a king and enjoyed his many mistresses. He fathered at least 16 illegitimate children but could not produce an heir to the throne to succeed him. I have always thought that he looks a bit like a playboy on his coins with that rakish little mustache.

    1663 Charles II Shilling O.jpg 1663 Charles II Shilling R.jpg

    In 1660 the English monarchy was restored to the throne which left the leaders in Maryland in a quandary as to what they should do about the coinage proposal. How would the king react if the Maryland were to authorize a colonial coinage? Further complicating the issue was the fact that Cecil Calvert had been indicted in England for exporting large quantities of silver out of the country. The results of this legal action have been lost to history, but it further discouraged the colonial officials from taking any action on the Maryland coinage proposal.

    Finally in 1662 the Maryland Assembly acted and authorized the Lord Baltimore coinage. To get the coins into circulation, the legislation required every householder and freeman in the province to accept 10 shillings in exchange for 60 pounds of tobacco. At the time tobacco was the major cash crop for the province, and many farmers raised it for export. Using census figures from the period the total distribution of coinage may have been as high as £1,436 10s in Baltimore silver. Cecil Calvert had planned to profit from the transaction, but when the price of tobacco fell, the project became a financial loser for him. There were also proposals to establish a mint in Maryland, but those ideas never came to fruition.

    In the coming years there was at least one published report that the Lord Baltimore coinage was circulating in Maryland. In his Description of the New World, John Ogilby stated that while barter continued to be the main method of exchange, English and other foreign coins and "some of his lordship's coin," was circulating in Maryland. By 1700, however other reports stated that none of the Lord Baltimore coins were seen in circulation. This was not surprising given that the useful life of most silver coinage is often limited to 20 to 25 years.

    Today there are probably less than 170 Lord Baltimore coins in existence. Nearly all of them show signs of wear, usually extensive, and a number of pieces have been mutilated with a hole or other damage. Many collectors, aside from noting the half page listing that appears in The Red Book (pages 41 and 42 the 2020 edition) have never seen a Maryland colonial coin.

    One option that is a readily available to collectors is the 1934 Maryland commemorative half dollar. The design of the coin, which is roughly patterned after the Lord Baltimore coinage, features a three quarter facing portrait of Cecil Calvert on the obverse and the Maryland State Seal on the reverse, which is a partial recreation of the Calvert family coat of arms. Choice Mint State examples (MS-64) of this coin can be obtained for less than $200. The Maryland commemorative half dollar offers a glimpse into a period of American history that has been obscured by the mists of time.

    A 1934 Maryland commemorative half dollar

    MarylandO.JPG MarylandR.JPG

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  3. Parthicus

    Parthicus Well-Known Member

    Great write-up, thanks for sharing. Since I live in Maryland, I've been intrigued by the Calvert coinage for a while, but it's just too rare and expensive for me. The closest thing that I have is a coin of neighboring Virginia, a halfpenny of 1773:
    Virginia halfpenny.jpg
    CircCam and furryfrog02 like this.
  4. furryfrog02

    furryfrog02 Well-Known Member

    Great write up! Fellow Marylander checking in as well! I don't have anything that fits the bill to post but I look forward to seeing what others post :)
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