The 1652 New England sixpence.

The 1652 New England sixpence. Credit: Handout

A rare Colonial Massachusetts silver coin found by an East Hampton woman in an old potato field almost 23 years ago was auctioned for more than $430,000 last week in Baltimore.

The 1652 New England sixpence had been off the market in a private collection for 21 years and was expected to sell for $100,000, but was resold for four times that price, auction officials said.

"We knew it was a very rare coin and we knew it would reach six figures," said Lawrence R. Stack, a senior numismatic consultant for Stack's Bowers Galleries, a Manhattan rare coin dealer and auction house. "And it brought in $431,250, so I guess we did well."

The auction took place at the Colonial Coin Collectors Club annual convention in Baltimore, where there were more than 200 bidders in the room, Stack said. The 360-year-old coin, one of only eight known to exist, was first auctioned for the woman who found it in 1992 by Sotheby's in Manhattan and purchased by Stack's for $35,200.

Stack's then sold it to John "Jack" Royse, 86, who decided a few months ago to put the coin up for sale, along with 102 others, because he wanted to "see them in the right hands" before he died, Stack said. The buyer is a collector who prefers to remain anonymous, Stack said.

Lillian King unearthed the coin using a metal detector in 1990 during one of her regular hunts through a potato field whose location she has not disclosed. King, now 65, had been searching in the frozen field with her boyfriend at the time, now her husband Ronald King, when she made the lucky find. The discovery made national news and even found a place in Ripley's Believe It or Not newspaper strip.

"It makes me think that I wished I had waited to sell it and put it away in a safe-deposit box," said King, adding she used the coin's sale profit to put a down payment on her East Hampton home, bought in 1992. "But I am very happy for whoever bought it. It was a priceless object."

The New England sixpence, one of the first coins minted in the colonies, was commissioned by the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Its design was altered quickly because it was easy to counterfeit. Other similar coins are in museums such as the American Numismatic Society in Manhattan, the British Museum, the Massachusetts Historical Society and the Newman Money Museum at Washington University in St. Louis -- and others are held by private collections.

"In the colonies, they were trying to make it easier for commerce to happen," said Stack, adding the sixpence is roughly the size of today's nickel. "As the society evolved, they needed a currency."

Stack said the coin was minted just three decades after the original Thanksgiving was held between the pilgrims and American Indians in Plymouth, Mass., in 1621.

"The coin is about as Thanksgiving as it gets," Stack said. "Back then, they probably bartered, 'My coin for your turkey.' "

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