Massachusetts Bay Colony Mint

The Massachusetts Bay Colony boasted of the first and only mint in the American colonies before the American Revolution. The colonial economies fought against a currency shortage that acted as a brake on economic activity. The largest component of the circulating coin in the colonies was the Spanish dollar or pieces of eight, but all currency tended to leave America faster than it came in because of the huge need for imported products from Europe. There were no local coins per se, and the mint of Massachusetts was erected on the initiative of the Massachusetts colonial government to meet the need for a colonial currency.

The mint was erected in 1652 and remained in operation for 30 years, eventually falling victim to the royal displeasure of the English Crown. Apparently, it was subject to the orders of the General Court of Massachusetts. The first order issued on 27 May 1652 said:

That all persons whatsoeuer have libertie to bring into the mint house, at Boston, all bullion, plate, or Spanish coyne, there to be melted and brought to the alloy of sterling siluer by John Hull, master of the sd. Mint, & his sworne officers, & by him to be coyned into twelue pence, six pence, & three pence peeces.

(Watson, 1970)

These silver coins were of small denominations for the time.

The mint house was a square building constructed of wood, measuring 15 feet on each side, and 10 feet high. The coins were legal tender in the area under the jurisdiction of the General Court.

The Massachusetts mint debased its coins about 22 percent relative to the silver content of English coins of the same denominations. The officials of Massachusetts approved of this debasement in an effort the keep the coins from going to Europe in payment for American imports of foreign goods. The European merchants, however, simply raised the prices of their products in Massachusetts coin, and there remained the problem of hard specie leaving the American colonies.

The English government complained about debasement of the coins, contending that coinage should be uniform throughout the empire. To be sure, the English government occasionally changed the silver content of its own coins, but was unwilling that the silver content could vary among colonies. It also objected to the coinage of copper or other inferior metals that would solely support internal trade.

The operation of the mint contributed to the friction that led the English government to revoke the first charter of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1684, which was the last year that the mint operated. Other colonies asked for permission to establish mints, but the English government refused. The coins from the mint continued to circulate in the American colonies until after the Articles of Confederation authorized individual states to establish mints. The constraints that a coin shortage placed upon the colonial economy helped lift the discontent of the colonists to a revolutionary pitch.