|by Robert Wilson Hoge|
A great deal of the American Numismatic Society’s routine curatorial work consists of answering questions from members and the public. We are contacted daily by individuals who have encountered various coins, medals, paper money and related items, and who want information. What are they? Where and when were they made? Are they genuine? Do they have value? What do certain markings mean? Where can we go to learn more?
A quick survey of relevant sections in the ANS cabinet, our data-base catalog, or the ANS Library can normally enable us to answer questions which require more information than we may already have at hand. The Society is a private non-profit organization, but it offers a great deal of public service at all levels. For planning purposes, it can be instructive to review a few of the many questions that have arisen. And to be sure, some members have informed me that they enjoy reading about numismatic by-ways that have occupied much of the staff’s time. Let’s have a look at several areas of recent activities.
William Safire’s research assistant for the The New York Times magazine’s “On Language” column, Kathleen E. Miller, asked for help with a special issue on money. Specifically, she wanted background on colloquial terms or phrases like “greenbacks” and “the color of money.” Well, we could go on at some length about the history represented by words like these. Many numismatists—but perhaps few others—know that the U.S. “greenback” got its name from the first federal issue of paper money, during the Civil War. These “demand notes” were elaborately printed on the back in green ink, a novelty at the time. This was primarily an anti-counterfeiting measure. Most notes (private chartered bank notes) of the pre-Civil War era had no printing on their backs or, if they did, it was usually in ordinary black ink, or sometimes red. Green ink became an established tradition for the back of most United States government notes.
But now, what color is money really? For us, maybe green (we’ve got the “greenbacks,” and look at our comic strips!), but the color of certain metals or other valuables has typically characterized names for money of other times and places. In German, money (geld) is cognate to gold; in French, money is silver (argent). You may remember “a pocket full of tin,” or brass, or copper. To the ancient Romans, money (pecunia) meant having to do with cattle, and members of the bovid family come in quite a few hues. In the Middle Ages, there was “white money” and “black money” depending upon the quality of silver (coins of base billon would darken through tarnishing in a fairly short time). Ah, to ramble pleasantly through numismatic nomenclature…
Noticing Numismatics in America
Providing data on American coins and paper money is an important part of our activity, since perhaps most inquiries fall into this wide-ranging category. Francisco Becerra wondered about a series of miscellaneous pieces including what turned out to be modern counterfeits (from China) of such coins as the United States dollars of 1804 and 1799, the Trade dollar and the Morgan dollar. Tourists beware! Linda Womack asked the reason for the large “P” on the back of a 1942 five-cent piece—the familiar “war nickel” which today many numismatists take for granted, but which represents the first instance in our history when the Philadelphia Mint signed its product. Sometimes people are surprised to learn that the change in mint marks was to indicate the emergency composition of the coins: the normal 25% nickel and 75% copper mixture was replaced by one of 56% copper, 35% silver and 9% manganese, so that the 1942-45 “nickels” are really a billon coinage!
The Learning Channel broadcast my participation in a segment of the “Hunt for Amazing Treasures” on May 1, 2003, having to do with the fabulous 1933 $20 gold piece, now on display in our exhibition “Drachmas, Doubloons and Dollars” at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. K. Miyagawa, of the publishing company Shoshinkan (which issues a magazine for numismatic collectors), contacted us to introduce information about this coin to Japanese readers. It and its auction price are now famous in Japan, too, it appears. Miyagawa described the record sale, “759 man dollars” (man is the number “10,000” in Japan), as “beyond unique…as if supreme alchemy turns $20 into $7.59 million.” Graciela Matteo, from the Superintendencia de Seguros y Reaseguros of the Banco Central del Uruguay, had a reference question regarding the 1907 (Arabic numerals) version of the Saint-Gaudens double eagle coin.
Gerald C. Morris inquired about a gold-colored token of Theodor Bollenhagen & Co. that he had acquired. This firm was a 19th century New York importer and vender of numismatic miscellany, whose pieces (like Morris’ example) feature on the obverse a head of Liberty Head and the words THEODOR BOLLENHAGEN & COM. 49 MAIDEN LANE (or M. LANE). It was located near where the Federal Reserve Bank, with the major ANS exhibit, resides today! On the reverse is an office building with the sun shining above and the words CITY HALL/ NEW YORK in the exergue. This firm marketed its brass tokens in the 1850s, in four sizes to correspond with the contemporary $20, $10, $5 and $2 1/2 U.S. gold coins. They were “store card” advertisements but are also considered game counters or spielmarken (the German name for such counters), used like modern-day “poker chips.” According to Russell Rulau’s Standard Catalog of United States Tokens, (p. 205, Miller nos. 69 to 72A):
Bollenhagen was a toy and fancy goods dealer who imported his gaming counters from Germany. Lyman H. Low said Bollenhagen packed counters in the boxes in which his playing cards were sold. Bollenhagen is also believed to have been responsible for the general Liberty Head/Eagle spiel marken in the country, according to Low and also Bushnell, and for the generalized City Hall New York counters.
(U.S.A., New York, T. Bollenhagen, Brass counter, ca. 1855: ANS 1864.34.22, gift of George B. Mason) 19mm
Some other questions involving numismatic Americana came from Neo Kiangyi, who wanted to know about an 1895-dated U.S. $10 gold piece; from another correspondent, who asked about an 1882 example of this issue; from Mathivannan Narasiah, inquiring about the 1875 U.S. Trade dollar; and from Elizabeth Ann Arey, who wanted to know about an 1855 gold dollar and dime of 1842. Several individuals, including Jewel Huffman and David Sharpes, sought information about the 1776 Massachusetts Pine Tree Copper (indeed, we are frequently asked about the recent, common replicas of this equivocal issue). Kyle M. Stephenson asked about the 1792 Washington pattern half dollar.
The Virginia Historical Society sought images, for exhibition and publication, of a variety of Early American items from the cabinet. These included a Georgia 20 dollar bill of 1776, a New York 1776 five dollar note, a Massachusetts shilling note of 1779, a 1776 Continental Currency Six dollar note, a “Pine Tree” shilling (ca. 1667-1675), a 1793 Chain cent, a half dollar of 1796, and the Libertas Americana (ca. 1782) medal.
(U.S.A., North Carolina, 20-dollar currency note, 1779: ANS 0000.999.29308) 106 x 70mm
Another example of current research involving American holdings came from R. Neil Fulghum, the Keeper of the North Carolina Collection Gallery at the Louis Round Wilson Library, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. To prepare a survey of the locations of surviving specimens, Fulgham requested a listing of the ANS’ 1779 North Carolina currency, printed by Hugh Walker in Wilmington. Unfortunately, all of the notes (listed below) are in rather sad condition, having been backed with tape or old card stock. Accession data is lacking for all of them, but they can be found in our on-line data-base (Nos. 0000.999.29304 through 0000.999.29311):
- $5, The “BE FREEDOM…” type, No.2230; with the signatures of Taylor (in red ink) and of Hunt.
- $5, The “GOOD GOV….” type, No.1436; sigs. Hunt (red), Taylor.
- $10, The “AMERICAN…” type, No. 2076; sigs. Taylor (red), Hunt.
- $10, The “VIRTUE EXC…” type, No. 8319; sigs. Taylor (red), Hunt.
- $20, No. 9519; sigs. Hunt, Taylor (red).
- $25, The “A FREE COMM…” type, No. 1964; sigs. Hunt, Taylor (red).
- $25, The “AMERICAN…” type, No. 6623; sigs. Taylor, Hunt (red). N.B. this serial no. is higher than the number actually printed, according to Eric P. Newman’s The Early Paper Money of America.
- $50, No. 2486; sigs. Taylor (red), Hunt.
When famed researcher and ANS benefactor Eric P. Newman inquired about the 19th century Camden and Trenton, New Jersey, State Bank notes, I found that we have only three identical $3 bills from Camden (January 2, 1862, issue, plate letter G, serial nos. 296, 962 and 1467-late counterfeits), but 17 of the Trenton notes, ranging in date from 1812 to 1825. A couple have the printed date 181- with the second ‘1’ overwritten with a ‘2’ of ’20s date. Eric Newman noted that the State Bank at Trenton failed in 1825-6 and some of its notes, being worthless, were altered into State Bank at Camden counterparts because there was so little to change.
J. R. Landress was curious about the $500 and $1000 notes seldom seen today but still occasionally encountered in circulation by the lucky few. Jonathan Oaks asked about Confederate States of America notes in various denominations, while Len Sadowski inquired about the Confederate States half dollar and its common modern replicas. Emily Marra and Bob Lessard asked about the “five cent” coins dating from the turn of the 19th century; the 1883-1912 “Liberty Head Nickel” has not been commonly seen in circulation now for years, so people other than numismatists are generally unfamiliar with them. John L. Guerriero ran across a copper specimen of a copy of an 1852 California fractional souvenir dollar about which he wanted to know more. Amy Kurlander, Curator of the New York Transit Museum, in Brooklyn, contacted us looking for typical early 20th century coins; earlier, they had been looking for specific transit tokens.
Ancient and Medieval Inquiries
I do not always learn of our inquiries about ancient coins—these are often handled quickly by other staff members—but sometimes I help with these areas too, as with Herbert F. Klug’s communication regarding ancient Persian silver sigloi and James A Papapanu’s about two ancient bronze coins reportedly found in the area of Kavala, in Greece. One of these was an issue of Thessalonica, in Macedonia, from ca. 158-149 BC, featuring a head of the god Dionysus on the obverse and a goat on the reverse; the other, possibly an eroded issue of Thurii, in Lucania—part of Magna Graecia, in southern Italy—dating between about 400 and 300 B.C.
In the ANS cabinet, the Medieval Department category includes handstruck (and contemporary cast and machine-made) coins and other items ranging from the fall of the Roman Empire in the West to the adoption of minting machinery by European states, whenever that occurred. It encompasses European-style coins of this period from Asia and Africa as well, such as the issues associated with the Crusades. So, for instance, Louie T. Joo, who inquired about how to obtain information concerning early examples of AD-dated (pre-1501) European coins was tapping the resources of the Medieval department (although what he needed primarily was help to access the ANS’ collection data-base catalog). Another question concerned a French demi teston of 1606, struck during the era between the introduction of machine minting and its thorough-going implementation some years later.
Dr. Charles M. Rosenberg, of the Department of Art, Art History and Design at the University of Notre Dame, contacted us to order for publication a photo of a handsome Ferrarese coin struck in 1546 under Ercole II d’Este (1534-59), a medallic silver mezzo scudo by the important 16th-century artist Pastorino de Pastorini. It bears an armored, bust-length youthful image of Ercole facing left on its obverse, and on its reverse, an image of Hercules wearing the Nemean lion-skin (his club raised in his right hand and holding on to the cloak of a fleeing soldier with his left). The reverse legend reads MIHI VINDICTAM ET EGO RETRIBVAM.
(Italy, Ferrara, Ercole d’Este, AR medallic half scudo, by Pastorino, 1546: ANS 1937.146.53, bequest of Herbert Scoville) 35mm
We received an unusual inquiry concerning four Frankish deniers of Greece which were purchased for the cabinet from the Sotheby’s, March 6-7, 1997, auction of the John J. Slocum Collection. This was a notice from the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, regarding the settlement of International Auction Case Litigation in connection with this sale. Happily, the society is due to receive a slight adjustment on the price paid. The late ANS Council Member Slocum had formed a fine collection of coins of the Crusades which was broken up following his death. These four rarities from the Pylia Hoard, published by Michael Metcalf in our American Numismatic Society Museum Notes, Vol. 17 (1971), represented varieties absent from our cabinet. They now at least perpetuate in small measure Slocum’s connection with this area of collecting and scholarship. The acquisition was reported in the Society’s 1997 Annual Report (p. 27).
(Frankish Greece, Achaia, William I de Villehardouin, Billon denier tournois, Clarentza mint, 1245-1278: ANS 1997.78.1) 19mm
Maureen Collins, a picture researcher for Loyola Press, a Catholic not-for-profit book publisher, got in touch with us regarding preparation of a new religion textbook series for grade-school children. A Fourth Grade section will feature a portrayal of St. Louis (King Louis IX of France; known in Spanish as San Luis Rey), for which we were able to provide a fanciful effigy from a latter-day French medal. No actual contemporary issues bear portraits of the saintly monarch well-known to numismatists for having introduced the first high-valued coin into the Medieval French monetary tradition (the gros tournois, first struck in 1266, which was valued at 12 deniers tournois; its English equivalent, introduced a few years later by Edward I, was the 4-penny “groat”).
Modern, Oriental, and Latin American Requests
As a result of seeing it mentioned on our website, Anders Frosell inquired about the Society’s Robert Robertson Collection of Swedish coins, an important part of our holdings of material from the Middle Ages as well as more recent times. Researchers do need special help with named collections because the donors and vendors are not usually included in the part of our data-base that is searchable on-line by the public. This purchase has been almost entirely catalogued onto our database, however, so the descriptions of individual coins are available for consultation on-line at http://numismatics.org/collection although these records would not indicate the pedigree.
(Sweden, Gustav Vasa, AR riksdaler, 1543: ANS 1929.103.2109) 33mm
The main part of Robertson’s collection (2382 pieces; ANS Accession no. 1929.103), consisted mostly of “modern” Swedish issues, but included several hundred medieval coins. He specialized in coins of Sweden and the Swedish Possessions, although he also collected other kinds of material (for instance, German Medieval bracteates—perhaps as a complement to his holdings of Swedish bracteates). Robertson made a series of smaller gifts and sales to the Society in the 1920s and ’30s. These too are nearly all entered onto our database catalog (Accessions 1928.83, 1928.124, 1928.153, 1929.14 and 1934.95).
(Sweden, Interregnum, AR ortug, 1465-1467: ANS 1929.103.1984) 20mm
Betty C. Buschette inquired about an example of a “shooting Thaler” of Aalen, in Swabia, dating from 1894 (one of the numerous awards presented as prizes in shooting contests held in the wilder, mountainous and forested areas of central Europe). A. Bernard Olij, from Indonesia, sought help with the means for authenticating traditional cast Chinese coins, and Teresa Reading wanted to know about soapstone lithography plates for national bank bonds (something rather outside the normal realm of numismatics!). Dr. Robert Grynszpan, Director of Research at the Laboratoire de Chemie Metallurgique, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, in France, contacted us in the course of conducting a survey for analysis of the 1786 Strasbourg mint “horned bust” louis d’or of King Louis XVI, of which fewer than 30 specimens are known (sadly, the Society’s holdings of French gold from this era are not strong; there is no example of this peculiar anomaly in the cabinet).
One correspondent wanted help with identification of a gold piece found in California. It turned out to be a relatively common Medieval Islamic piece, an issue of the Fatimid (Shiite) Caliph of Egypt Al-‘Aziz Abu al-Mansur Nazar, who ruled from AD 975-996 (AH 365-387). The coin was a standard gold dinar of this dynasty, with legends written in typical Medieval Arabic “unpointed Kufic” script. Marc Pelletier wanted to know about a Moroccan Essai 1/2 Dirham Essai of Fez, dated AH1311. Hans E. Lee sent images of a wedding ensemble (pieces of ornamental bridal apparel consisting of traditional Chinese “cash” coins) from East Asia, brought to Canada in the 1920s by a missionary.
A referral from the Smithsonian Institution brought an inquiry from Thierry Depaulis, of Paris, France, who is researching George B. Glover and his collection of “Far Eastern” numismatic items. This was an acquisition—the most important in this category at our national museum—donated to the Smithsonian by his widow, Lucy H. Glover, arriving May 5, 1897. We were at least able to help Depaulis by providing the notice in Bruce Smith’s East Asia Journal, Vol. 1 (1982), No. 1, p.42-3, in which this Chinese numismatics expert stated that “Glover was an American who, as early as 1861 was commissioner of the Imperial Maritime Customs at Canton.” This would have been before the Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs Service was set up by Robert Hart in Shanghai, in 1863, according to Depaulis, who also states that “We have good reasons to believe…[Glover] was living in Shanghai in 1875.” In 1895, Glover’s collection was cataloged and published posthumously by James H. Stewart Lockhart under the title Currency of the Farther East. It listed nearly 2000 pieces, including quite a few rarities (among them, two of the ten known T’ai P’ing silver cash). The Glover collection helps put into perspective the vastly greater holdings in the cabinet of the ANS, largely consisting of the great John Reilly, Jr., collection of some 37,000 items.
Another individual contacted us after having purchased part of a hoard of milled Spanish silver two-reales pieces from the second and third decades of the 18th century, said to have been found near Cap Haitien, Haiti. Other visitors came to the ANS to learn about some late 17th century “cob” coins from the mint of Potosí, in what is now Bolivia (small-denomination pieces reportedly found on a beach on the coast of Ecuador) which seemingly came from a sunken treasure. Alina Sokol, of Dartmouth College, needed a photo of a gold escudo clearly showing the Habsburg arms of Philip III; we provided a Segovia Mint milled example of 1607. Raúl Ramírez Peña, from Cuba, asked about an 1807 gold two escudos of the Madrid Mint. James Hearn contacted us while researching the 1835 Peruvian eight reales of the Cuzco mint (unfortunately, the ANS has an example of neither the 1835 nor 1836 issues—in spite of holding an outstanding general collection of coinage from Peru).
(Spain, Philip III, AV escudo, Segovia mint, 1607: 1001.1.16843, Hispanic Society of America) 19mm
Researches on Medals
The Society is renowned for its cabinet of medallic works, but when I hunted on researcher Marvin Lessen’s behalf, I learned of one, unfortunately of which we hold no example—the issue of British monarch Charles II (1660-1685) commonly known as the IAM FLORESCIT medal (Medallic Illustrations, p. 475-6, no.83). However, Anthony Bongiovanni, Jr., had a question about the identification and references for an historical medal of the Netherlands of which we do have a fine specimen. This is a piece by Christoph Adolfzoon commemorating Admiral Michael de Ruyter, who was mortally wounded in battle with the French off the coast of Sicily near Messina, on April 22, 1676. This issue referred to an occasion when the Dutch Republic had allied with Habsburg Spain to oppose Sicilian rebels who were supported by France. The fight was one of the bloodiest naval engagements recorded up to that time. The Society is fortunate to have an example of this piece in the cabinet (Van Loon, Histoire metallique, No.176).
(Netherlands, AR de Ruyter memorial medal, by Christoph Adolfzoon, 1676: ANS 1908.277.6, Gift of Daniel Parish, Jr.) 70mm
As usual, several inquiries concerned the famous American Indian Peace medals. For reference purposes, the Society’s holdings and data-base often prove helpful for many areas of study of this kind. One sought the rare British issue of George III from New York, the “Happy While United” medal of 1766 by D. C. Fueter. Timothy Shannon, of the History Department, Gettysburg College, requested photography of the James Madison Indian Peace Medal of 1809 for inclusion in a forthcoming article entitled “Queequeg’s Tomahawk: A Cultural Biography,” to be published in the in the academic journal, Ethnohistory. Mary C. Porter contacted the resource center at the National Museum of the American Indian’s George Gustav Heye Center, in New York City, and was referred to us for help with an historic photograph. This was an image of her great grandfather, the famed Chief Joseph, of the Nez Percé, wearing a medal that appears to be a decoration consisting of a floriated cross on a pendant ribbon with a pin-back bar. Regrettably, so far we have not been able to “pin it down.”
(U.S.A., James Madison, AR Indian Peace Medal, by John Reich, 1809 (ANS 1915.144.1) 62mm
W. Lancaster inquired about a souvenir item from a set of medalets representing the US Presidents acquired, oddly enough, during a visit to Singapore in 1969. This one was a piece featuring the 12th President, Zachary Taylor. Often people think such items may have value because when they see “1849” or “War of 1812” they suppose the token to be an antique. Another souvenir of this kind about which we had an inquiry was an “1801” Thomas Jefferson token with the familiar designs of the Jefferson Indian Peace medal.
Debby Friedman made an inquiry regarding the Erie Canal medal of 1826. This work was designed by Archibald Robinson, engraved by the outstanding die-cutter Charles Cushing Wright and struck by Maltby Pedetreau. Those struck in silver are quite rare; the “white metal” (pewter or similar alloy) examples much less so. The Erie canal medals are often found with their original turned and fitted wooden cases. These can pose a serious conservation problem today due to shrinkage of the wood. Large “copies,” in white metal and bronze, were made nearly contemporaneously by Edward Thomason, in Great Britain.
The early ANS Member’s Medal, long a feature of the Society, was manufactured to order by George Hampden Lovett of New York, a noted engraver and die sinker known for his Washington medals beginning in the 1860s. (He was the brother of Robert Lovett, Jr., of Philadelphia, who is possibly best remembered today as the minter of the famous cent intended for the Confederate States of America. See ANS Magazine, Vol. 2, No. 2, p. 43). The Lovetts were among the leading medallic minters from the 1860s through the ’80s. Gar Travis inquired about this issue after finding one issued to Alfred Rowell in 1884. A number of these handsome pieces are today in the Society’s cabinet.
(U.S.A., New York, ANS AR membership medal of Benjamin Betts, 1868, by G. H. Lovett, ca. 1875: ANS 0000.999.3345) 42mm
George V. Huse, Jr. wanted background regarding Adolph Alexander Weinman’s designs for the medals presented at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair-Louisiana Purchase Exposition. Fortuitously, these beautiful pieces, by this illustrious American master-sculptor, figure in our exhibition “Full Circle: The Olympic Heritage in Coins and Medals,” presently on display at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, since St. Louis at that time was also the venue for the games of the third modern Olympiad. The cabinet is fortunate to have received gifts of the awards won by Dr. George F. Kunz, among other examples.
(U.S.A., Louisiana Purchase Exposition, Gilt AE Prize Medal, by A. A. Weinman, 1904: ANS 1933.64.2, gift of the estate of Dr. George F. Kunz) 65 x 74mm
James O. Sweeny contacted us several times as he wrapped up the revised edition of his catalog of British calendar medals. One question was regarding clarification of two Kempson calendar medals, of 1821 and 1822. Both had been inaccurately described in our inventory as “square calendar in center, at top LEAP date YEAR / A CALENDAR.” In neither case was there truly a reference to a “leap year.” Another question concerned the reading “Jas. Davies” on that individual’s issue of 1800. The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery had inventoried an example reading “James Davis (sic) – 1800,” and we had recorded “James (sic) Davies” for one in our data-base. (ANS 0000.999.4574). Yet another question concerned details of our rare W. Foster calendar medal of 1685. Thus do our correspondents continue to help with the ongoing project of updating and expanding the catalog of our collection.
The Society of Beaux Arts Architects medal by the French sculptor Jules Edouard Roiné (1857-1916) interested Mike Lahey, whose uncle had won this prize in 1931. Roiné emigrated to the US in 1886 and had a successful career as a sculptor both with medals and architectural ornament. He taught modeling at the Trade Mechanical School and is known for his commemorative medals and portraits, particularly those with “industrial” themes. His beaux-arts style owes much to the French master Louis Oscar Roty (1846-1911). Roiné won a gold medal for his work at the Paris Universal Exposition of 1900 (another Olympic venue, featured in the new ANS Olympic exhibition at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York).
(U.S.A., Society of Beaux-Arts Architects, AE Award Medal, by J. E. Roiné, 1913: ANS 1940.100.1961, Bequest of Robert J. Eidlitz) 56mm
Cabinet Activities, Considered and Reconsidered
In conclusion, I would like to digress from our current cabinet activities to mention an inquiry of another nature—one which looks more at our past. Ken Biele contacted us for information relating to a business formerly run by his family, which brings up an interesting perspective on the move to our new location (at 140 William Street, on the corner of Fulton Street). In many ways, the kinds of functions that museums perform do not change. The imperative to preserve and interpret collections has always necessitated consideration of appropriate environments and hardware.
From an old envelope, Mr. Biele knew that there had been contact between his family’s business, known as C.F.& E. Biele and later as Charles F. Biele and Sons, and the Society in 1893. This firm specialized in custom showcases and cabinets for museums and private collections in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, providing contract work of the sort that is still of paramount interest to us in the new facilities. Did they do this for the ANS? Searches through our archival records after the move to William Street might tell us. A December 31, 1938, article from the New York Sun, provided by Biele, describes the company shortly before it folded, a casualty of the Great Depression:
Biele Company Since 1867 Has Served Both Collec-tors and Museums
The Charles F. Biele & Sons Co., calling itself simply “artisans in metal, glass and wood” and usually referred casually as makers of show cases and vitrines, is far from being as humdrum as it sounds. A going concern since 1867, at 33-39 Bethune Street for the last twelve years, it has been in the Greenwich Village neighborhood for forty years.
Museums from Massachusetts to California use Biele show cases. Important private collectors, such as Benjamin Altman, Charles L. Freer, E. S. Harkness, Childs Frick, Michael Friedsam, John Gellatly, have called upon Biele for special cases; President Roosevelt for his ship model collection; Theodore Roosevelt for his Japanese art objects, and the present John D. Rockefeller.
Mr. Biele is a registered architect, and personal supervision of individual orders seems to have been the keynote of his success. From the raw materials, every step of the work progresses under one roof—with 40,000 square feet of space devoted to metal working, woodworking, glass polishing, grinding and finishing equipment.
Biele has made cases for the Metropolitan for more than thirty five years and for the Morgan Library going back to the elder J. P. Morgan. The dealers in paintings, sculpture and antiques bring their special show-case problems to the old firm. Special orders may call for anything, insetting a carved stone sculptured fragment in a wood background and building a case around it, for an art gallery; a pair of doors (just finished) for Chinese porcelain cabinets for Mr. Rockefeller’s Park avenue home; a recently made glass cabinet for the Bell Telephone Laboratories to house a piece of railroad track, so mounted that when one breathes upon it a pointer turns and marks the deflection of the steel; a bronze and glass casket for the cathedral at Santo Domingo.
The last, delivered in 1937, was made to fit over the ancient lead casket which Santo Domingo claims contains the bones of Christopher Columbus. Visitors at the Cunard office, at 25 Broadway, gaze at a one-ton model of the S.S. Majestic, housed in a bronze and glass show case made by Biele, about twenty two feet long, and itself weighing about a ton, with a chassis of structural steel and teakwood sliding platform.
Moldings in all commercial metals, copper, bronze, brass, aluminum, chromium, nickel-silver and stainless steel, used in everything from baby carriages to hearses; special glass and metal shower-bath doors for ocean liners; and elaborate mirror and shelf arraignments for dressing rooms are among their manifold products.
It’s entertaining to try to envision these fine, old-fashioned storage and display fixtures whose enduring purpose still defines the seriousness of curation today. As they are developed, we invite all members to visit the new headquarters facilities and to see how our modern conservation and exhibition counterparts continue to perform the vital functions of an active museum. Meanwhile, we’re always ready to help fulfill numismatic requests of all kinds as best we can.