The Mysteries of Oak Island: The Coins of Oak Island

Could it be? an article? about Oak Island?

It most certainly is, and it doesn’t mention Aztecs or Phoenicians once!

Over the many years searching, a number of artefacts have been found during digs and excavations at the fabled Oak Island in Nova Scotia, Canada, the site of the legendary “Money Pit.” A number of these finds have been highlighted on the History Channel’s The Curse of Oak Island and range from shards of pottery and nautical equipment to militaria and of course, coins.

One of the entertaining aspects of The Curse of Oak Island is cutting through the realms of bunkum and historical woo to find the interesting and valuable historical information on the history of Nova Scotia and the Money Pit legend found within. It is in this spirit we take a look at the many coins dated pre-1800 found over the years across the island and attempt to put them into some context. By no means an exhaustive list, these however would seem to potentially be the most notable.


1890s

c.1890: Unknown Copper Coin (1317 or 1713) – LIKELY LEGEND

Alleged to have been found on the island by a young man (possibly a visitor to the island), the coin is noted in the Oak Island Treasure Company’s share offering of 1893.

“Only a very short time ago, a young man found on the island a copper coin, weighing an ounce and a half, dated 1317, on which, were various strange devices.” – Oak Island Treasure Company’s Share Offering (1893)

There is a second version of the story where the young man in question is said to not be an anonymous young man at all but rather be Anthony Graves, who was the major landholder of Oak Island during the era and leased search rights to several syndicates. Graves, ploughing some 80 feet from the Money Pit, claimed that the ground gave way and he ended up falling into a tunnel where he discovered the coin. The coin “disappeared” before it could be inspected.

Graves, whom legend also says was frequently seen in Chester, Nova Scotia, spending handfuls of Spanish coins, was the major landowner on the island, owning the pit area (lot 18) after the death of John Smith in 1857. Graves died in 1887, which would date the tale a little earlier than 1890.

Yet another version of the tale dates the coin to 1713 rather than 1317.


1930s

1930: Silver Spanish Coin (1785) – Likely Legend

Very little is known about this coin besides it being found at Joudrey’s Cove near the foundation of Anthony Graves’ house. The finding of the coin is almost certainly merely legend as Graves’ own Granddaughter, Florence Eisenhauer, denied having ever heard of the tale when speaking to Mel Chappell in 1955.

However, even if it was true, it might not even be as unusual as it would seem at first glance. It should be noted that all manner of coinage was in circulation in Canada for a very long time, with settlers not only dealing in the minted currency of the age but perhaps more predominantly all manner of other metal and currency, including Spanish coins though trade with the Caribbean. Other coins circulating included those from England, France, Portugal, the Spanish colonies and astonishingly even Roman coins that had been brought from Europe. The Spanish dollar was much preferred to the British guinea in working class areas such as Chester, the Guinea being much too high a value to trade effectively. This is all before you even consider the fact that European and colonialist fishermen had also been fishing the waters off Canada since around the year 1500 and, though a near state of perpetual war, British coins were often in short supply which led to older coins being in circulation for quite some time after they were supposed to be.


1937: Unknown Coin – Unverified

In 1937 Gilbert Hedden, searching at Joudrey’s Cove, uncovered an old dump of flasks while searching the island for markers linked to the “stone triangle” on the island. The dump contained thousands of broken pottery flasks alongside a boatswain’s whistle and an old coin, from which Hedden judged that the dump was “very old”.


1960s Finds

1960: Billon Double Stuiver (Reign of Charles the Bold, 1467 – 1477) – Unverified

Allegedly found by James Martin circa 1960, “The Martin Coin” is one of the most intriguing finds in the history of Oak Island and an item that we can date to a very definite period. Reigning for only 10 years as Duke of Burgundy, any coins baring his likeness will have been minted between 1467 and 1477 in the region of the modern Netherlands.

Prosperous during the age, money was in abundant circulation and many of the coins are both large and intricate in their detail, following the late gothic style of design. The coin will be made of Billon, a naturally occurring alloy which contains in the region of 50% silver with a wide margin of variation.

In an agreement that was made between Charles The Bold and his ally Edward IV of England, these coins were made legal tender in England, this remaining the case for 60 years afterward until well into the reign of Henry VIII, having been found in hoards from that period. They vanished from circulation around the time of the Henrician debasements and wouldn’t be seen in British coinage post-1540.

While it is claimed that the coin was found on Oak Island by Martin, unfortunately there is no verification for the claim, but equally there is no ready reason to doubt the claim either.


1965: Spanish 11 Maravedi (1598) – Verified

Found at Smith’s Cove (Although a few reports also suggest Joudrey’s Cove) in 1965 by students from Philips Academy in Andover led by Peter Beamish, the coin is one of over 1000 artefacts recovered by Beamish during exhibitions in 1965 and 1966, including axe heads, old irons, files, iron rings, china and an anchor. The 11 Maravedi, or 1/4 Reale is a Spanish coin with unfortunately no other details known.

After the discovery of America in 1492, copper Maravedis were, along with silver Reales, the first coins minted for use in the new Spanish colonies and were given a unique design to denote their status as colonial money. First minted in Seville in 1505 for shipment to the island of Hispaniola, the coins were used as small change and would have been shipped to the colonies as cargo on the infamous Spanish treasure fleet. The danger and cost of making the shipments led to the establishment of mints in Mexico and Santa Domingo, beginning production in 1536 and 1542 respectively.

Found near the shore, there is also the possibility that the coin might have washed up on the tide and the aforementioned situation regarding circulation in Canada must also be kept in mind.


1966: The Troutman Finds – Verified
The Oak Island finds of James Troutman, as pictured in the July 10 1966 edition of The Register, accessed via http://www.oakislandbook.com

Acting as an advisor to Robert Dunfield, mining expert James Lee Troutman made some interesting finds of his own, most notably perhaps four differing and quite unique coins. They are, as pictured, a Mexican Reale coin, dated 1800, a Carolus IV, a Stuber, dated 1787 and an unnamed short cross coin, which we shall attempt to identify.

Mexican 2 Reales (1800)

Pictured at the back in the Troutman image above, the Two Reales was dated 1800, making it a coin minted after the alleged discovery of the Money Pit. Its presence on Oak Island would seem a mystery but possibly linked to trade out of ports in Nova Scotia, its dating would put it past any inclusion in the fabled treasure, yet remains an interesting find.

Duchy of Jülich-Berg 1/2 Stuber (1787)

Pictured at the back is a 1/2 Stüber, perhaps the most interesting and unusually placed of the coins found. Dated 1787, the coin shortly predates the Money Pit and comes from the Duchy of Jülich-Berg which is now part of North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany and the Netherlands, an interesting link perhaps to the alleged find of the Charles The Bold coin, all be it separated by some considerable time.

The ruler as of 1787 was Duke Charles Theodore, famous for disbanding the order of the Illuminati in 1785 and perhaps being something of an ineffectual monarch, the Scottish historian and philosopher Thomas Carlyle saying of him:

“[He was a] poor idle creature, of purely egotistical, ornamental, dilettante nature; sunk in theatricals, bastard children and the like; much praised by Voltaire, who sometimes used to visit him; and Collini, to whom he is a kind master.”

In 1794 the Kingdom was invaded by the armies of revolutionary France and by the time of his death in 1799 it is said the population of Munich celebrated for days.

Mexican 1 Real (1788 – 1808)

Referring to Carlos IV of Spain, its unknown why the coin was referred to in this way without a more detailed description. Presuming the coin is the one that is on the right in the image, which gives us a little clue as to its value going from its relative size and could quite possibly be a 1 Reale which measured 7mm less in diameter than the 2 Reales we see pictured on the left.

Carlos IV of Spain reigned from December 14 1788 to his death on March 19 1808, giving us a 20 year period of minting as we don’t have a listed date. This date is in-keeping with the other coins found by Troutman.

Unknown Short Cross Coin
The “short cross” coin found by Troutman

The unnamed short cross coin is the most intriguing given the possibilities.

The 1966 Register article in which Troutman is seen holding his finds refers to the coin simply as a “short cross coin” while the main body of text refers to Troutman having “several silver pennies (short cross coin)” inferring that the coin in the picture is the same.

Short cross coinage refers to 8 classes of coins that were issued between the years 1180 – 1247, encompassing the reigns of British monarchs Henry II, Richard I (The Lionheart), John and Henry III, all with some form of “short cross” on the reverse and baring the name “HENRICVS”. Finding a coin from these dates on Oak Island would certainly be notable.

Some examples:

However, the cross design is significantly different to the designs we see on British short cross coins, clearly forking at each end in what is called the cross fourchee and without the pellet design. The cross fourchee first appeared on coins as far back as 422AD.

The cross fourchy or cross fourchee (croix fourchée meaning “forked”) is a heraldic symbol, its origins perhaps from the time of Theodosius II, Emperor of the East Roman Empire from 402 AD to 450 AD. The symbol was used on a stepped base cross constructed at Golgotha during this time around 420 AD, Golgotha or Calvary being the place outside the walls of Jerusalem where Jesus was said to have been crucified. The symbol seems to have been popular with Theodosius as a few years later it appears again on a coin from his reign.

Cross Fourchee, Garway church © Copyright Philip Halling and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The cross forchee above appears at Garway Church in Galway, south-west Herefordshire, England.

While highly sceptical of any link between the Knights Templar and Oak Island, much of the legend in this direction seemingly consisting of psuedohistory and wishful thinking, it is interesting that in 1180 the Knights Templar built a round church in honour of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem in this location, Galway. The Templars built their churches on a circular foundation to emulate the Temple of Solomon and this one, the only visible circular nave left in England, was once the most powerful Templar Church in the area. A rectangular building was created out of the original church in the 1300s and the chancel arch of the original Templar church was reused as the chancel arch for the later building. The location of the cross fourchee? The side of the chancel.

While the presence of the cross indicates that Templars may have used the symbol, it must be noted that there are many engravings on the walls of the church including a Maltese cross, a swastika, the Lamb of God, a Patriarchal Cross, a winged dragon, and a Dextra Dei, or Hand of God, emerging from a cloud. As a common heraldic symbol, no link between the possible Templar usage of the symbol and the coin in question should be automatically inferred.

Initially, thoughts went toward the coin being either a British Norman penny prior to 1182, an Italian Quattrino (1435-1442) from L’Aquila or a variation of the medieval French Denier, perhaps a Charles I. d’Anjou Denier (1278-1285), which of course would again please the Knights Templar theorists.

There are few examples of an encircled cross fourchee found in numismatics, the symbol frequently seen extending to the edges of the coin rather than being enclosed. Also note the Troutman coin has a visible anomaly in one of its quarters. Both coins featured here could be seen to have similarities to the Troutman find and both would be of some note,  while many other possibilities either don’t feature a cross fourchee or don’t have a clear addition in a single corner.

Many Charles I d’Anjou Deniers do not feature the markings in the quarter as seen below, however some do.

The L’Aquila Quattrino features a Lilly in one of its quarters as seen above.

Charles of Anjou was a member of the Capetian dynasty and the founder of the second House of Anjou. Amongst his many titles he was Count of Provence and Forcalquier in the Holy Roman Empire, Count of Anjou and Maine in France, King of Sicily, Prince of Achaea, King of Albania; and from 1277 he purchased a claim to the Kingdom of Jerusalem. He partook in both the Seventh and Eighth Crusades.

It should be noted there is nothing to suggest that the coin is indeed either a Denier or a Quattrino and this merely stands as a “best guesses” scenario from the single low resolution image provided. Unfortunately the popularity of the cross within a circle design throughout Europe make identification very difficult without being able to read the legend and no contenders truly could be said to be satisfactory. the coin must go down as an unknown.

2010s Finds

2013: Spanish 8 Maravedi (1652)
8 Maravedi, Dated 1652, found in the Oak Island Swamp

Possibly the most famous coin find on the island, it’s discovery coming at the climax to the first season of History Channel’s The Curse of Oak Island. The 8 Maravedi was found in the Oak Island swamp and this is the second confirmed find of a Maravedi on the island following the 1965 find of 11 Maravedi at Smith’s Cove dating to 1598.


2013-2017: The Gary Drayton Finds
2014: British 1 Penny (1797), Unnamed British Coppers (Late 1600s- early 1700s), Unnamed Silver Coins, Unnamed Coin (Early 1600s)

One of the named finds of Gary Drayton’s 2014 searches was a 1797 British “cart-wheel” penny, depicting George III on its obverse. Little is known about the other finds beyond the fact that they are British, copper, and date from the late 1600s/early 1700s, suggestive that (if this date is based on a visible monarch as opposed to a more generalised dating) they are probably from the reign of William of Orange who reigned from 1689 to 1702. The coins were found on various beaches around Oak Island.

One of the coins found is a 1770 English copper coin, possibly a half penny. The coin was found at the site of an old wharf on the shoreline. Also found was an early 1600s coin, with no more information and several silver coins that were found on the beaches. These beach finds include 1800s Canadian silvers and two United States Indian head cents dated 1905 and 1908.

2016: British 1 Penny (1743 – 1760) & Other British Coppers
Marty Lagina inspects the finds by Gary Drayton during Season 4 of The Curse of Oak Island

George II coinage was minted between 1727 and 1760,  we can date the one clearly shown for the camera as being post 1743, the King having had a later old head portrait from this year of mintage. From an image posted by Mr Drayton over at Minelab.com there appears to be 8 pennies in all and a half penny.

1 Penny Obverse & reverse (Example) Dated 1749

Detecting on lot 23, formerly owned by freed slave Samuel Ball, Drayton found a significant amount of evidence to suggest a British military encampment had once occupied the site.

“I also found flat buttons, musket lead, grape-shot and other signs of a British military presence on Oak Island. Unfortunately, I cannot reveal other items recovered in the area that made me come to the conclusion the site was a 1700s British navy camp or encampment.” – Gary Drayton

Dating this encampment may not be as easy as first appears given the aforementioned issues surrounding coin circulation in Canada, these coins still being in circulation long after the death of George II. Hopefully further archeological study at the site might reveal some new information to this interesting side of Oak Island history.

2017: British FarthingS (Possibly 1673 and 1694)
British Charles II Coin found on Oak Island

Found on Lot 16 amongst the spoils from Robert Dunfield’s 1960s Money Pit excavation, two coins were found during the fifth season of History’s The Curse of Oak Island. One of the two coins (pictured above) is suggested as having a date of 1673 by Rick Lagina while his brother, Marty, suggests 1694 for the second coin which is more worn.

Worth 1/4 of a Penny, there were an abundance of Farthings in circulation in the 1660s during the early years of Charles’ reign, The Royal Mint not ready to produce copper coins of the denomination until 1672. The copper Farthings were produced during the years 1672 – 1675 and again in 1679, all featuring the inscription we can see in the image “Carolvs a Carolo” (Charles, son of Charles) on the obverse and Britannia on the reverse with the date of mintage. Charles II Farthings from 1684 and 1685 were significantly different to those prior and somewhat unique in British coinage, being the first issue that was made of tin with a central copper plug and featuring the date on the edge of the coin as opposed to the reverse.

With a date of 1694, the second coin would be from the joint reign of William and Mary.

1694 Farthing (Example)

Being very easily corrosive, the tin Farthings that had begun under Charles were now becoming unpopular, having being produced under William and Mary during the years 1689-1692. The mint returned to the use of copper in 1693 and 1694, which again from all appearances would make a dating of 1694 within the realm of possibility.

Also found during Season 5 of the show by Gary Drayton was an unknown copper coin speculated to be from the 1700’s, possibly English or French in origin, a cut coin, speculated to be a Maravedi and another with no information.

Unknown 2017 Finds
The Curse of Oak Island, Season 5 finds

As seen in the Season finale of The Curse of Oak Island Season 6, there were more coins on the conference table in “the war room” than have actually been featured in the show. The show not highlighting every find is understandable if the find adds little to any investigations of the Money Pit legend, that being dated post-1795.

The finds appear to include all the coins already highlighted as being found during the season, as well as many other coins that are impossible to identify without further information. Interestingly they appear to include a second cut coin and a very irregularly shaped hammered coin.

The Curse of Oak Island will return on the History Channel this Fall.


Further Reading

Oak Island Obsession: The Restall Story – Lee Lamb
Oak Island Obsession: The Restall Story, Dundurn, 2006.

As Bob and Mildred Lee, they amazed audiences with their death-defying motorcycle act. In reality they were Bob and Mildred Restall, parents of three, who balanced their glamorous show-business career with a happy, stable home life.

In October 1959, the Restalls embarked on the ultimate family adventure, as Bob led his family to the east coast of Canada to dig for the famous treasure of Oak Island. For nearly six years they lived without telephone, hydro, or running water while newspapers and magazines chronicled their attempts to solve the mystery of the Money Pit. On August 17, 1965, their quest ended in tragedy when four men died.

This biography, compiled by their daughter, includes material written by each family member. Lyrical descriptions of nature, amusing anecdotes, details of the dig, and numerous photographs help to tell the story. This book is a must for Oak Island enthusiasts.


Oak Island Family: The Restall Hunt for Buried Treasure – Lee Lamb
Oak Island Family: The Restall Hunt for Buried Treasure, ReadHowYouWant, 2013.

A fabulous treasure lies buried deep within an island on Canadas East Coast. Or so they say. For more than 200 years, treasure – hunters have come to Oak Island, spent fortunes, worked long and hard, and left empty – handed. When Bob Restall and his family got their chance to search for treasure on Oak Island, they believed they soon would succeed where others had failed. But the island resisted. For nearly six years the Restalls lived and laboured on Oak Island, spurred on by small successes and tantalizing clues. And then one August day, the Restall hunt for buried treasure came to a sudden and tragic end. Oak Island Family, written by Bob and Mildred Restalls daughter, gives a clear account of Oak Islands strange history and the Restall family’s attempt to change it. Personal notes and more than 50 never – before – published photographs and sketches help make Oak Island Family an engrossing read. Anyone who loves mystery, adventure, and a good human interest story will enjoy this book.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Justice Bennett says:

    I just realized that I have a couple of these coins that seem to be recovered from oak island the one with the eight on it and the one with a cross on it and I have a lot more that I don’t know about if possible I need somebody to get a hold of me ASAP to figure out the history of my coins!

    Like

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