Archivist’s News (Winter 2006)

by Joseph Ciccone

The New York Numismatic Society and the Revival of the ANS

One of the more historically valuable groups of records that we have in the ANS Archives is our set of minute books. These books document the earliest meetings of the Society—and of the organization with which it merged in 1866, the New York Numismatic Society.

The New York Numismatic Society was formed in Manhattan in January 1864. The ANS itself had been founded several years before, in April 1858, becoming the first such organization in New York. In fact, it was only the second numismatic society in the United States, the Philadelphia Numismatic Society having been founded in December 1857.

Although the ANS initially met with great success, it entered a dormant period after 1859. There are a number of possible reasons for this—the lack of a permanent home and the hotly contested national election of 1860 being two. Regardless of the reason, however, the result was still the same: after October 1859, the ANS stopped holding meetings.

Robert Hewitt, Jr., undated. The new society initially met in Hewitt’s home. (ANS Archives)

This was still true in January 1864—almost five years later—when eleven individuals gathered at the home of Robert Hewitt, Jr., at 32 West Twenty-first Street, to form a new numismatic organization. The driving force in arranging this initial meeting was Joseph N. T. Levick, a collector of U.S. tokens and large cents, and, later, founder of the American Journal of Numismatics. In January 1864, however, Levick was twenty-nine years old and a veteran of the Union Army, in which he had served from 1861 until May 1863. A native Philadelphian, he had moved to New York City around 1860—thus he had not been involved with the ANS during its initial burst of activity in 1858 and 1859. Also at the at January meeting was Frank Norton. Unlike Levick, Norton had been very involved with the ANS during 1858 and 1859; he had succeeded Augustus Sage as Corresponding Secretary when the latter resigned from that position in November 1858.

Joseph N. T. Levick, undated. Levick was the driving force behind the creation of the New York Numismatic Society. (ANS Archives)

The minutes of the New York Numismatic Society indicate that Norton spoke briefly “concerning the past and present condition of the old American Numismatic Society.” After his speech (or despite it, perhaps), the attendees decided to proceed with forming their own group and agreed to meet again two weeks later, on February 6, to draft a constitution and take further action.

Before that February 6 meeting, Norton apparently was busy contacting colleagues: on February 5, he met with five other men at the home of Dr. George Perine for the first meeting of the American Numismatic Society in almost five years. Of those in attendance, only Edward Groh, in addition to Norton, had previously been involved with the ANS. According to the minutes, the main topic of conversation at that February 5 meeting was Norton’s report that he “had received an invitation and had attended a meeting for the purpose of forming a Society to be called the ‘New York Numismatic Society.’” By the end of the meeting, Norton had agreed to approach Levick and the others in the new society to see if the two groups could merge.

Based on the New York Numismatic Society minute books, it does not appear that Norton ever attended another meeting of that group. He is certainly not listed as a founder in its Constitution. Nonetheless, he does appear to have met with Levick or some other representative of the NYNS, because on February 18 he reported at another meeting of the ANS that he had approached members of the NYNS but that “no arrangement concerning a junction of the two Societies could be effected.”

From that point, the two organizations continued on separate paths. By March 1864, the revived ANS had met a number of times and was quickly reorganizing itself. Officers from the 1858-1859 period, like President Robert J. Dodge, were contacted to see if they wished to remain active in the reformed Society. For those, including Dodge, who could no longer participate, successors were chosen. Frank Norton was elected President. By April, the Society had completed work on a revised Constitution.

At the same time, the NYNS membership was busy drafting its own constitution and bylaws. Although Levick was the chief proponent of the NYNS, he did not run for office. Instead, the presidency was filled by William C. Prime, a professor of art history at Princeton University and editor of the New York Journal of Commerce. Both the governing structure and membership classes of the NYNS were similar to those of the ANS, although there was no overlap in membership, at least initially.

The NYNS minute book ends after April 1864, with that organization having drafted a constitution and bylaws, elected officers, and begun work on a new seal. It is unclear whether the NYNS discontinued activities after that meeting or whether they continued to meet but just did not record subsequent meetings in the minute book. Regardless, even if the NYNS did exist for only four months, it had a significant influence on the future of the ANS. First and foremost, its very existence was the impetus for reviving the ANS from its long dormancy. The NYNS also eventually contributed its membership to the ANS. Most famously, Joseph N. T. Levick would join the ANS in December 1866 and within four months propose the creation of the American Journal of Numismatics. Levick subsequently served as ANS Treasurer from 1867 through 1874. Robert Hewitt, Jr., at whose house the first meeting of the NYNS was held, would join the ANS in February 1866 and serve as a vice president from 1880 through 1885. William C. Prime would serve as a vice president from 1867 to 1868.

As for the NYNS itself, that organization was formally dissolved in July 1886 and its assets merged with the ANS. Therein lies the final contribution of that entity to the ANS, because by the spring of the following year, the ANS had invested the monies it received from the sale of the NYNS’s assets and created the Society’s first permanent fund: the New York Numismatic Society Fund.

Minute book of the New York Numismatic Society. (ANS Archives)