Current Cabinet Activities (Winter 2002)

by Robert Wilson Hoge

Fulfilling the requests and inquiries of visitors and other researchers involves the Society’s cabinets in a constant hum of curatorial activity. The fame and extent of the collections assure that we are asked and are able to offer a great deal of aid and illustrative material. We may note a few of the areas which have been under investigation, and those who are pursuing them. Columbia Art History student and former ANS Curatorial Assistant Sabina de Cavi sought information on some of the Renaissance architectural medals of Domenico Fontana. Ray Czahor, studying Philippines coinage and medals in connection with updating the Standard Catalog, noted quite a number of pieces of importance, while Pete Carrigan examined part of the extensive Canadian collection.


Naples, Bronze 40 mm struck medal of Domenico Fontana, architect for Philip II of Spain, 1598. Gift and Bequest of Mr. and Mrs. R.J. Eidlitz.

Emilio Ortiz, working on Cuban coinage, made a discovery while examining some of the tokens: a specimen of what may be the first coinage of Cuba, a mid-18th century bracteate 1-maravedi copper issue of the municipality of Bayamo. Eric M. Krauss pursued his study of the die varieties of Classic Head United States gold, as Edward Kasinec, Jim Risk and Scot Ruby examined Russian coins, medals and decorations on behalf of the New York Public Library in preparation for an upcoming exhibition.


Cuba. Copper 1-maravedi Spanish Colonial emergency issue struck (embossed) by the municipality of Bayamo, ca. 1740 Donated by E. W. May.

Manuel Castro Priego, recipient of a study grant from the International Numismatic Commission, made an extensive survey of the Society’s outstanding collection of Visigothic gold as part of the work on his doctoral thesis in Spain. Our colleague at the British Royal Mint, Curator Graham Dyer, made inquiry on 18th century Irish coppers. Jerry King inquired about the Duncan Ingraham medal, while Christian Teulings asked about Netherlands guild tokens and the work on them by the late Wittop Koening. Garo Kurkman, working on a study of Ottoman weights, came to check items in the Society’s outstanding holdings in this area. David Vagi sought information about Roman medallion in the Society’s famous photo files.


Spain, Visigothic Kingdom. Gold tremissis of Ervig, 680-687, Emerita mint. Purchase: former W. Reinhart Collection.


Spain, Visigothic Kingdom. Gold tremissis of Wittiza, 698-710, Toleto mint. Purchase: former W. Reinhart Collection.

Young sinologist Jay Feldman examined some of the items in the Society’s magnificent cabinet of Far Eastern materials. Mrs. Mary A. Mitchell checked parts of the collection in relation to her biographical work on Archer M. Huntington, the great benefactor of the ANS and the Hispanic Society of America. Al and Jill Flyr looked at the various anti-slavery medals in the cabinet, undoubtedly one of the best in existence. Professor A. K. Narain studied several Indian series in relation to a major project he has underway. Sharon Rodgers examined American colonial 17th century issues in connection with the preparation of her doctoral dissertation at Harvard University. Jim Tippett continued his examination of the die varieties among the Society’s outstanding cabinet of American Civil War tokens.

Merely to recapitulate some of the items which have been recently withdrawn from their storage locations for various research projects may serve to offer a smorgasbord of a few pieces from the magnificent range of materials in the collection. I have selected several examples of these items to bring to your attention in the hope that the contemplation of them they may please you as it has me. Surely, every one of the hundreds of thousands of coins, paper currencies, medals, decorations, tokens, weights, seals, bars, tools, models, studies and sketches, barter items and other pieces in the collection could tell us a story if we had but the patience and the knowledge to let it. But we must probably admit that some pieces are indeed more evocative than others.

A Coronation Medal Of The Holy Roman Empire, 1711

A photo request from Marvin Finnley brought to my attention a splendid coronation medal in the Society’s cabinet. The obverse of this product of the Frankfurt mint features medallic portraits of the emperor and, around him, the six imperial electors in ovals, each with its own legend. The reverse bears the Habsburg imperial double-headed eagle; on its breast is a heart, inscribed CAESARI/ ET/ IMPERIO, beneath the Hungarian crown of St. Stephen; in the field above is VNA CORONA COR VNVM (“one crown, one heart”); in the exergue, CORONATIO/ OPT. PRINC./ MDCCXI. Unfortunately, over the years this specimen has become separated from its documentation, and has had to be entered onto the ANS’ data base with a “dummy” accession number.


Holy Roman Empire. Silver coronation medal of Charles VI, 1711, Frankfurt mint

An Early Feminist?

The Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI (1685-1740) occupies an interesting position in history. Through much of his reign, he was concerned with warfare, registering some early successes which were for the most part eventually transmuted into failures. But rather than as a militarist, in certain respects he may be recognized today as a precursor to the feminist movement by virtue of his promulgation of the “Pragmatic Sanction” of 1713. In it he decreed that, contrary to established law and custom, his realm was to be bequeathed undivided to his female progeny. It was thus that his famous eldest daughter, the Empress Maria Theresa (1717-1780), came to the Habsburg throne upon his death (though long and bitterly opposed by other European states).

As second son of the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I (“Leo The Hogmouth”) of Austria, Prince Charles became heir to the Habsburg empire of Spain upon the death without issue of his kinsman, King Charles II, in 1700. His accession to the Spanish throne was strongly opposed, however, by Louis XIV of France, the traditional enemy of the Habsburgs, who put forward his own grandson Philip as the Borbón claimant. Charles’ English, Dutch, German and Portuguese allies helped him win a number of important victories (such as Marlborough’s triumph at Blenheim, in 1704) in the ensuing War of the Spanish Succession, known in British North America as Queen Anne’s War. In Spain itself, however, the Habsburg supporters succeeded in holding only the region of Catalonia.

How Much Power Is Too Much?

Upon the death of his elder brother, the Emperor Joseph, in 1711, Charles became heir to all of the Austrian Habsburg possessions and was elected Emperor as Charles VI. His coronation as emperor was held at Frankfurt that same year—an event of magnificent splendor and powerful auspices celebrated by a variety of High Baroque medallic commemorations including the ANS piece. Paradoxically, the resplendent imperial grandeur and potency of this accession may have been more than his allies could bear, and the event really marks the high point of Charles’ political career. Fearing a return to the Habsburg mega-power of his ancestor, the Emperor Charles V, the allies turned against the new emperor and, by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, recognized Philip as King of Spain.

A Testone Of Modena, 1505-1510

Italian researcher Ing. Franco Saetti requested a photograph of a silver testone of Alphonso I d’Este, the famous Duke of Ferrara, from the mint of Modena. Our coin is a bequest of Herbert Scoville, from the Ribotti Collection—a rare and evocative reminder of the time when portraiture was first reappearing on coinage (this specimen is of the type of Corpus Nummorum Italicorum IX, 5). The testone, of course, was the new portrait coin par excellence of the Renaissance potentates.


Modena, Italy. Silver testone of Alphonso I d’Este, Duke of Ferrara, 1505-1510 Bequest of Herbert Scoville.

Lucrezia Borgia’s (Surviving) Husband

Alphonso d’Este (1476-1534) was a Renaissance man. He is perhaps best remembered today as the third husband of the celebrated Lucrezia Borgia (1480-1519), daughter of Pope Alexander VI (the Spanish Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, 1431-1502). Although her public persona may be that of a libertine and poisoner, Lucrezia was a patron of Renaissance artists and scholars and a seemingly devoted wife and mother. Alphonso’s father, Ercole I (1431-1505), and sister Isabella (1474-1539), wife of the powerful the Prince of Mantua, are both also important figures in the history, politics and art of their time. All of these figures helped lay a foundation for Ferrara’s reputation of greatness in sponsoring the arts and letters of the era.

The Este-Borgia marriage came about as a matter of politics. One of the leading potentates of Northern Italy, Alphonso was a principal opponent of Venice, and a key power broker. All of Lucrezia’s notorious engagements and marriages were arranged (and, in all but that to Alphonso d’Este, terminated) in accordance with the machinations of her father and brother, who sought to ensconce her in Ferrara. Alphonso took Modena in 1505 and occupied it until 1510, the period during which our rare coin was minted. He was excommunicated by Pope Julius II in 1509, but in 1512 was able to seize Ravenna upon defeating the pontifical army. Late in his reign, Alphonso made a triumphal return to Modena. The famous portrait issues of the Renaissance are as much a significant reflection of the rulers’ aspirations of glory as were their politically-motivated marriages and other alliances.

Boston’s Columbia And Washington Medal, 1787

Peter Lane, President of the Numismatic Association of Australia, inquired about the Columbia and Washington medal for an article he is planning for the journal of the NAA. This piece commemorates the voyage of the first American vessels to trade in the Northwest (later, under Commander Robert Gray, Columbia was to become the first American ship to circumnavigate the globe). The medal was commissioned by the prominent and visionary Boston merchants who had outfitted the ships. The formal description of this rarity is as follows:

Obverse: within a rope border, a three-masted ship on the left, a sloop on the right, both at full sail to l.; legend: (above) COLUMBIA. AND WASHINGTON., (below) COMMANDED BY J. KENDRICK. Reverse: within a rope border, BY/ J.BARREL,/ S.BROWN, G. BULFINCH,/ J.DARBY, C. HATCH,/ J. M. PINTARD,/1787.; legend: starting at the top, FITTED AT BOSTON. N. AMERICA FOR THE PACIFIC OCEAN. Size: 40mm.


United States, Massachusetts. White Metal 40 mm medal, Columbia and Washington, 1787.

The ANS specimen of this important piece of Americana is one of the great rarities in the cabinet. It is a white metal example in essentially uncirculated condition, it was purchased from the former Chase Manhattan Bank Collection in 1932. Unfortunately, it has suffered corrosion damage as a result of “tin pest”—perhaps as a result of cool, humid climatic conditions in the region of the great river valley which bears the name of the stalwart vessel Columbia. Although it is believed that possibly hundreds of the copper and pewter pieces were taken on the voyage and distributed to the native Indians of the Northwest Coast, very few have survived. In the ANS cabinet there is also an example of the piece in lead (cast?), a copy mislabeled as “pewter.” The Columbia and Washington issue is one of the earliest and most important in United States history, so the Society is fortunate to have any examples at all.

Perhaps the best-known reference on this medal is Malcolm Storer’s “Numismatics of Massachusetts” originally published as volume 76 of the Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 1923 (republished by Quarterman Publications, 1981). Storer included the claim that the piece was by famed early American silversmith Paul Revere, and noted examples struck in silver and copper; evidently the pewter examples may have been unknown to him. Lot 1960 in the great Garrett Collection Sales, by Bowers and Ruddy Galleries (Part 4, March 25-6, 1981), included about as much as is known on this issue.

A Penny Of Carlisle, England, ca. 1136-1143

Another scarce and interesting specimen in the ANS’ cabinet of Medieval coins required attention when a photograph was ordered by Peter J. Cherry. This was a silver penny struck at Carlisle, England, during the period of the civil wars under Stephen (1135-1154). Its moneyer, Erebald, had been the last to strike for Henry I (1100-1135). In 1136, Carlisle was captured by David I of Scotland (1124-1153), who there proceeded to strike the first recorded coinage of the Scottish kingdom. The moneyer Erebald continued minting under David and his son Henry, Earl of Northumberland.


England, Scottish Border. Silver penny of Stephen (or David I of Scotland) minted at Carlisle by the moneyer Erebald, ca. 1136-1143. Bequest of L. Cabot Briggs.

Our penny, although struck in the name of Stephen, may well be one of the earliest Scottish issues. This “Watford Type” penny (named after the 1818 English hoard in which a large number of pieces of this kind was found), having a reverse of a cross moline with a fleur in each angle and representing Stephen’s first issue, was a bequest of Dr. L. Cabot Briggs. It was published by former ANS Curator of Medieval Coins Jeremiah D. Brady in Sylloge of Coins of the British Isles 30, as No. 807 (Scotch Border Coinage). The Erebald coinages in the names of David and Henry of Northumberland continued Stephen’s type.

The 1943 Cent

Some questions come again and again. With roughly one billion 1943 steel cents out there to confuse people, questions about that issue and its elusive copper-alloy errors have little chance of abating. We receive many contacts from those who have “found” one of these “rarities” and want to know what it could be worth, and how they might “market” it. This is frustrating, since this is something I cannot highlight in this column as I would like: the Society has no genuine examples of the copper pieces, nor of their 1944 zinc-coated steel counterparts. (For those of you who could use a nice income tax deduction, please do take this as a hint for what would be a wonderful gift to the Society!) We are here for everyone, a resource to be tapped.


United States of America. Copper-coated, zinc-plated steel cent, 1943—alteration. Donated by R. Byron White.

The Decoration For The Battle of Sabine Pass, Texas, 1863

Working on a book on the battle of Sabine Pass, September 8, 1863, Ed Cotham contacted us to verify and obtain a photograph of this exceedingly rare decoration. The Civil War engagement, in recognition of which this popular rarity was issued, was fought at the mouth of the Sabine River near Port Arthur, Texas. It was a result of the Union efforts to blockade southern shipping, disrupt the ports and waterways and begin an invasion of Texas. In the face of overwhelming superiority, the battle turned out to be a memorable Confederate victory. This was very important at the time because it occurred not long after the disappointments of Gettysburg and Vicksburg—and thus served as a morale-booster—even though its long-term effects on the outcome of the war were negligible.


Confederate States of America, Texas. Silver 27 mm decoration for the Battle of Sabine Pass, 1863. Donation of J. Coolidge Hills, via the Wadsworth Atheneum.

A Surprising Confederate Victory

A flotilla of four gunboats and seven troop transports steamed from the Gulf of Mexico up the Sabine River the morning of September 8. Sabine Pass, the narrows leading into Lake Sabine, was defended by a small Confederate earthwork called Fort Griffin, with a garrison of less than fifty artillerists. They were the “Davis Guards,” Company F of the 1st Heavy Artillery, Spaight’s Texas Battalion. Under the command of Lt. Richard W. “Dick” Dowling, this troop was made up almost entirely of immigrant Irish longshoremen, or “dockwallopers,” from Houston and Galveston. As it approached Fort Griffin, the Union task force and its 4000 troops came under their devastating fire.

Dowling’s gunners had been practicing with their six cannon, four 6-inch 32-pounders and two 5-inch 24-pounders, by training them on range markers and a sunken schooner on the river. They laid low in the fort’s “bombproof” dugout until the Federals were in perfect position. In a bravura demonstration, the fort’s small force managed immediately to destroy or disable the first two gunboats. Some 350 prisoners quickly surrendered, and the Union forces were obliged to withdraw. This was a cause for great celebration in Texas, and Dowling and his Company were each awarded a medal in essentially the form of a large “Love Token.” These decorations were made from smoothed-down and engraved Mexican 8-reales pieces, to which a curved and twisted wire was soldered to the edge for mounting; the edges were apparently hand-cut with diagonal reeding.

The ANS has the specimen stated to be that actually issued to Lt. Dowling himself. It is listed in Bauman Belden’s War Medals of the Confederacy and was once part of the J. Coolidge Hills Collection, formerly belonging to the famous Wadsworth Athenaeum. Dowling’s name, if it was ever present on the piece, has evidently been eradicated by wear; only the slightest traces remain of any engraved lines on that part of the surface. Interestingly, the impressive Hills collection had been given to the Wadsworth many years earlier with the stipulation—not so unusual in the past, in some museums—that it be exhibited. The WA determined that it could not comply with this stricture, and turned the collection over to the ANS in accordance with the donor’s specified wish.

Conclusion

It is a pleasure for me to assist the researchers who bring these items my attention and also feature them here for many others to appreciate. People need to remember that when an item sits in a museum collection it is not so much “impounded” (as I have seen this fact occasionally expressed) as made readily available in a way it would not be if it were lost in the limbo of private collections. If it were not for the great institutional collections, numismatic identification and cataloguing would probably have made very little progress over the past few centuries. But as might well be expected, large institutional cabinets can accumulate embarrassing backlogs of items requiring attention. The “dummy numbers” applied to specimens for entry onto our data base, which I have mentioned previously, represent this sort of failing. Our effort to rectify this situation is a constant one, a project which has to be made to fit between fulfillment of our various researchers’ requests. As a final note, I offer an example of a coin I just happened upon as I was working to continue the “catch-up” work of my predecessors.

An English Silver Penny Of Henry II, ca. 1170 Tagging a “Tealby”

One day, while searching through trays of as-yet-unprocessed items that had accumulated over years past, I recognized a Medieval coin lying amongst miscellaneous unidentified acquisitions; this unhappy specimen was unaccompanied by any accessioning or attribution data, or even a little storage holder (the ANS cabinet’s standard box, or small tray) of its own. It was clearly a “Tealby” penny of Henry II of England (1154-1189), the Plantagenet great-grandson of William the Conqueror. (Henry is possibly best known to us as the husband of the redoubtable Eleanor of Aquitaine—mother of Richard “The Lionheart” and John “Lackland,” and the only woman to have been married to both a king of France and a king of England; remember Peter O’Toole and Katherine Hepburn in Lion in Winter?)


England. Silver penny of Henry II minted at Ipswich by the moneyer Robert, ca. 1170.

For nearly two hundred years, this series has been named, familiarly, after the site where the greatest known hoard of this class of coinage was found, in 1807, near Tealby, in Lincolnshire. Generally known to numismatists today as the “Cross-crosslet” type after its principal reverse features, the “Tealby penny” marked a significant change in English monetary practices. With it, Henry became the first English monarch to introduce the continental concept of an “immobilized type.” It was struck, with only slight changes, from about 1158 until the introduction of the even more obdurate type fixé called the “short cross” coinage, in 1180.

The coin is a rather nice example from the mint of Ipswich by the moneyer Robert, with the relatively late bust type “F.” The “Tealby” series is infamous for the poor quality of its die-sinking and strike, with many examples having had to be relegated to remain without attribution. Ipswich cross-crosslet coins are among the least scarce, and Robert was the principal office-holder there for many years. Our Medieval English collection is weak in many respects, so this single penny, now attributed and catalogued, makes a nice addition to the cabinet!