Coins in the American Colonies

Posted by Derek Sawchenko on

Spanish American Cob Coinage. Obverse features a cross. The Reverse features a shield.

Coins are a necessary feature of any new country. In the United States, coins have a rich interesting history dating back to the Colonial era. 

Prior to 1652, there was no local coinage circulating in the colonies. The only currency in use were coins which were brought in from foreign countries. Many of these coins were of British, Spanish, or Spanish-American origin. The value of foreign coins were based more on the metal content of the coins than the issuer's reliability. Indeed, foreign coins were so widely used throughout the colonies that they continued to be accepted as legal tender until the Coinage Act was passed on February 21, 1857.

​Here are a few examples of coins that circulated in the colonies:

Cob Coinage -- King Philip II (1556-1598) to King Charles III (1760-1772)

These Spanish-American mints were struck anywhere from Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Peru, to Santo Domingo.

British Silver Coinage of King Charles I (1625-1649) to King George III (1760-1820)

English copper coins were widely circulated in the early Americas. 

Sommer Islands (Bermuda)

This coinage, issued in 1616, was the first strike for the English colonies in the New World. The pieces were made with brass or copper, and came in four denominations: shilling, sixpence, threepence, and twopence.

New England "Wampum" Coinage (1652)

Wampum was the first authorized medium of exchange in the New England settlements. Wampum was issued in various colors, and a hole was drilled through each coin so that it could be strung on a leather strap for convenience.


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