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Joseph J. Mickley diary, 1866-1869, Archives, American Numismatic Society.
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Pioneering numismatist Joseph J. Mickley (1799-1878) was born in Catasauqua, Pennsylvania. He moved Philadelphia in 1818 to study the repair of pianos and other stringed instruments and by 1822 was operating his own business in the city. He was twice married and the father of six children. Over the years, Mickley became a regular visitor at the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia, becoming close friends with mint curator William E. Dubois, who dubbed him the “Father of American Numismatics.” Mickley was present at the groundbreaking Lewis Roper coin sale (1851) and attended the meeting that created America’s first organization of coin collectors, the Numismatic and Antiquarian Society of Philadelphia (1857). He served as the group’s first president. His Dates of United States Coins and their Degrees of Rarity (1858) was among the first coin collector reference books. Mickley, a victim of several coin robberies over the years, suffered a burglary on April 13, 1867, that motivated him to sell much of his collection to William Woodward, who offered it at auction from October 28 to November 2, 1867. Later that same year, Mickley became an honorary member of the American Numismatic and Archeological Society (later the American Numismatic Society). From 1869 to 1872 he traveled throughout Europe gathering coins from the mints of different countries for Dubois’ U.S. Mint collection. He died in Philadelphia.
The diary entries begin on August 13, 1866, and end on June 5, 1869, with Mickley in New York preparing to embark to London to begin his four-year European excursion. Nearly every entry contains an account of the day’s weather, and most note Mickley’s repairing of violins and other instruments and the tuning of pianos. It includes a mention of the repairing of a violin “for the first violin player of the Italian Opera, Mr. Padovani” (January 18, 1868). There are numerous references to his collecting of books, manuscripts, and coins, and he refers to correspondence with coin collector Charles Wyllys Betts at Yale College (January 6, 1867); seeing one of the collectors of the Cohen family of Baltimore at an auction (March 19, 1867); a visit from Edward Cogan of New York (April 27, 1867); attending Louis Brechemin’s coin auction (June 6, 1867); and correspondence from the London coin dealers Lincoln and Son (e.g., July 24, 1867). He reports seeing the new Hill engraving machine at the mint (September 17, 1867) and becoming an honorary member of American Numismatic and Archeological Society (December 25 and 27, 1867). An entry dated December 16, 1866, relates his feelings about what appears to be an offer to buy his entire collection, with Mickley declining, noting the expense of building it and the pleasure it had given him. Three months later, on April 13, 1867, he mentions the burglary that would change his mind, citing his fear of being robbed again in his decision to sell what was left of his collection to William Woodward (April 30, 1867). There are several entries mentioning the subsequent sale of his collection (September 27, October 28, and November 2, 1867, and January 2 and 7, 1868). Mickley makes frequent mention of performing musically in small groups as well as attending musical performances, including one by African American composer and pianist Thomas "Blind Tom" Wiggins (September 18, 1867) and another by the “newly established” Philharmonic Society (January 16, 1869). He also refers to attending lectures at the Franklin Institute and the Academy of Music, and meetings of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the Numismatic and Antiquarian Society of Philadelphia. Also mentioned are an extended trip visiting family and examining coins in Allentown, Harrisburg, Wilkes Barre, Wyoming, and other towns in Pennsylvania (June 1867); an experience at orphan’s court where James Diver chose him as guardian (April 2, 3, and 4, 1867); an explosion at Goehman’s steam mill (June 6, 1867); various ailments and medical treatments (e.g., May 17, 1867 and November 6, 1867); a house he owned and rented out in Mauch Chunk (now Jim Thorpe), Pennsylvania (e.g., May 26, 1869); his son Joseph, including mention of his service at Litka in Russian America (e.g., December 12, 1867, and January 2, 1869); the murder of Dorcas Magilton, and the subsequent trial and hanging of her murderer (e.g., April 25, May 6, May 10, May, 11, 1867, August 29); his visit to and impressions of New York City (October 30, 1869); and the selling off of his effects and his preparations to leave on his European trip (May 1869).