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Mass. time capsule from 1795 should include 350-year-old shilling

Pam Hatchfield of the Museum of Fine Arts found a coin during the excavation of the time capsule from 1795. Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe/Globe Freelance

The time capsule that was chiseled out of a stone block at the State House on Thursday likely contains a collection of more than a dozen coins, including one colonial shilling that dates back more than 360 years, the Massachusetts secretary of state’s office says.

The coins include a silver Pine Tree shilling from 1652. The other coins, made of silver and copper, date to the late 18th century and the mid-19th century, according to records, the secretary of state’s office said.

Depending on the condition of the coins, they could range in value from $25 to several thousand dollars, said Martin Deeran, owner of the Boston Towne Coin Exchange.


Deeran said a shilling from the time in good condition could be worth about $1,000 today, but other, rarer versions — those made with molds that didn’t last as long as others — could be worth more.

“A shilling was 12 pence, and people worked for basically a few pence a day,” Deeran said. “It was a significant amount of money.”

The 18th-century coins include pennies from New Jersey and Massachusetts, made at a time when states made their own coins, instead of federal mints.

Some of the coins are for denominations no longer in circulation, like one that was worth 3 cents from 1855. Deeran said a postmaster pushed for that denomination because it was the going rate for postage at the time.

The time capsule was first placed in 1795 by Governor Samuel Adams, Paul Revere and William Scollay. It was unearthed during emergency repairs to the State House’s foundation in 1855 and then buried again, with additional contents.

Records indicate the capsule likely also contains two inscribed silver plates, one from 1795 and one from 1855, plus some documents from 1855.

A conservator from the Museum Fine Arts dislodged the capsule, a corroded copper alloy box a little smaller than a cigar box. It was taken by State Police escort to the Museum of Fine Arts, where it was to be X-rayed.


Five coins fell out as the conservator chipped away at the plaster that held the box into the stone. Officials said those coins were probably tossed into the mix by those standing by when the box was being put back into place in 1855.

Secretary of State William F. Galvin told the Globe Thursday that the box would likely be opened sometime next week. The contents would be examined, then ultimately reburied. He said officials had not yet decided whether to add any 21st-century items to the box.

The capsule was discovered during the course of a water infiltration investigation at the State House, which identified the corner where it was hidden as an area of concern.

In October, a century-old time capsule was opened after it was removed from its perch in the head of a golden lion statue that had sat atop the Old State House in downtown Boston. Its contents included sealed letters, photographs, and newspaper articles in near-perfect condition.