Current Cabinet Activities (Winter 2004)

by Robert Wilson Hoge

Items in the Collection, and Some that Are Not

Now that the Society’s coin room has reopened, it is a pleasure for us once again to welcome visiting researchers to the world-famous ANS cabinet. This terrific resource has been developed over the past 146 years by dedicated numismatists who fervently believed in the cause of bringing their precious holdings together for preservation, comparison, research and educational sharing. Unlike pieces in personal collections, the cabinet of the ANS is routinely available for researchers, kept in a context of relevance, and professionally maintained. Part of the importance of the cabinet, in addition to its celebrated rarities, is the great depth that it contains in terms of multiple examples of many issues, so essential for establishing minting sequences and historical relationships. The collection has been consulted and utilized for virtually every significant numismatic study in this country and abroad, so our reopening in the new facilities is an event to be widely celebrated!

Andy Lustig and David J. McCarthy stopped in recently, hoping to view an 1827 quarter, an 1894-S dime and an 1878-S half dollar, but alas, these are all famous rarities of which the Society has never been given an example! We were able, however, to show them the rare 1907 pattern and trial pieces by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and the phenomenal specimen of the 1921 double eagle which graces the collection. The Saint-Gaudens patterns were an interesting gift from Martin Kortjohn; the $20 gold piece, a 1922 purchase from the Groh Fund. This magnificent specimen has resided in the cabinet since it was purchased as a new issue. It has never been mishandled by the public and never cleaned, as have been so many choice coins found in private and commercial numismatic hands today.

United States. AV 20 dollars, 1907. High relief reverse pattern by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, electrotype shell. (1949.156.10, gift of Martin F. Kortjohn) 34.3mm

United States. AV 20 dollars, 1921. A coin of spectacular quality and condition. (1922.3.1, ANS purchase, Edward Groh Fund) 34.2mm

The famous “Strawberry Leaf” cent of 1793, one of the signal rarities and one of the most curious issues in American numismatics, has become the focus of renewed attention recently with the reappearance of the “Staples” specimen. Several serious students of early large cents have made inquiries about our example as a result. It may be of interest to reexamine this issue, which was studied by former ANS curator John Kleeberg in the Proceedings of the Coinage of the Americas Conference, in 1998. The ANS example was donated to the Society in 1906 by the great early benefactor John Sanford Saltus as part of an essentially complete type collection of half cents and large cents. In his examination, Kleeberg noted that the irregularity of the letters in the legends seemed to indicate that they could not have been placed on the dies by punches, hence the dies would not have been regular U.S. Mint products. He found no match between the edge lettering of the Saltus coin and that on any of the other examples of 1793 Wreath cents in the cabinet, and concluded that the rare issue must be a circulating counterfeit of 1793-1795. Other opinions differ, but all concede this to be a most unusual variety.

United States. CU cent, 1793, Wreath type, with trefoil “cotton boll” strawberry leaf-like ornament on the obverse and lettered edge. This coin is one of three examples known from this die pair. Sheldon NC-3 (ANS 1906.99.52, gift of J. Sanford Saltus) 28mm

The ANS’ excellent collection of early United States gold coinage brought John Dannreuther to the cabinet as one of our first visitors after the reopening this summer. He was especially interested in documenting the die states of the varieties present, demonstrating once again the value of a large public collection of this kind. This field is certainly one in which we hope that future funding may permit adding images of the coins to our on-line catalog data base. We invite everyone to “adopt” sections of collection for photography by paying the expenses of capturing and mounting, as it were, pictures of particular items. The early U.S. gold pieces have come from three important gifts: the collection donated in 1908 by the famous financier J. Pierpont Morgan; the collection of ANS Life Fellow Bernard Peyton, presented in 1960; and the bequest of Arthur J. Fecht, which came to the Society in 1980. These are among the greatest of all the donations which have come to the Society. Dannreuther noted that among the various rarities present, for example, our 1825 $2.50, Breen 6128, in die state A with thin top “5,” is one of four pieces known.

United States. AV quarter eagle, 1825, reverse of 1821-24. (ANS 1960.166.59, gift of Bernard Peyton) 18.5mm

Sculptor and Saltus Award Committee member Mashiko Nakashima visited the cabinet to have a look at some box thalers; Serge Nacheyev and David Vagi, to make use of the card files of auction record photos. Tony Deutsch sought information about coin grading. Gary Crossland inquired about medallions with images by the American Painter Grant Wood. Dr. MacGuire Gibson of the University of Chicago contacted us seeking information about an issue of counters from Nuremberg by a member of the Lauer family. Graeme Murray was looking for help with a collection of coins and currency needing to be evaluated.

Dr. George Selgin, Professor of Economics at the University of Georgia is completing a book about Great Britain’s 18th and 19th century commercial coinage episode. For this, he asked about the 1812 Sheffield half-guinea gold piece in the collection, a little known token purchased from a 1984 Joseph Lepczyk auction for the cabinet by former curator Richard Doty. This Yorkshire rarity showing a phoenix in flames was issued by the firm of Younge, Wilsons & Younge. It was recorded as No. 37 in Richard Dalton’s not altogether appropriately titled The silver token coinage mainly issued between 1811 and 1812, the principal reference on this series.

Great Britain: Yorkshire. Sheffield AV half guinea token of Younge, Wilsons & Younge, 1812. (ANS 1985.21.1, purchase) 19.9mm

Trying to locate as many as possible of the 18 specimens of Great Britain’s 1817 Pattern Crown of George III by W. Wyon, with the reverse inscription containing the word Incorrupta, Marvin Finnley naturally contacted us for an example. But, unfortunately, there is no specimen of this rare item in the collection. This request illustrates the point that the ANS is still in need of vast numbers of interesting items, which many donors can help obtain. Richard Taylor, from Australia, also contacted us regarding questions on other English coins—commonplace pieces of which we do have excellent representation in the cabinet.

Chilean coinage specialist Carlos Jara visited the cabinet to examine some of the Society’s rare Spanish Colonial pieces and to order photographs of pieces for inclusion in his forthcoming research publicaton. Among the items that were of particular interest to him was a 1777-DA Santiago 4-reales piece of Charles III; our example is reportedly one of three known specimens.

Chile. AR 4 reales, 1777-DA, Santiago mint. (ANS 1988.28.1, gift of Ray A. Johnson, Jr.) 33.0mm

For a publication he has in progress, Dr. Peter Ilisch of the Westfälisches Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte asked about the Society’s holdings of the coinage of the old German Abbey of Corvey (also known as New Corbie, or Corbey), near the town of Höxster on the Weser River. He is preparing a corpus of the coins of this great medieval establishment, founded by the Carolingian emperor Louis the Pious (814-840) and St. Adelhard, the abbot of the parent house of Corbie, in Picardy, from which the new abbey derived its name. This institution was a Benedictine monastery in the Diocese of Paderborn, in Westphalia. Established around 820, Corvey became famous for its school and its scholars, who were dedicated to the arts and sciences (we owe to them, for example, the survival of the first five books of Tacitus’ Annals). The abbot was recognized as one of the princes of the Holy Roman Empire and in keeping with other high clerical dignitaries, in 833 he was accorded the right of coinage. After the Middle Ages, the abbey and its prosperity declined until in 1803 it was secularized and given to the family of the princes of Orange-Nassau-Dietz. The principal older reference for the series is Joseph Weingärtner’s Die Gold und Silber Münzen der Abtei Corvey (Munster, 1883). The Society holds at least 23 of the coins, plus two from the municipal mint of Höxter.

Germany. Abbey of Corvey, John Christopher, AR gulden or 2/3 thaler, 1683. KM 79 (ANS 1938.127.155, gift of the former Defendorf Collection) 39mm

National television’s The History Channel has been looking to the ANS lately for help with several projects. Stacy Shapiro Mello contacted us for assistance with a “History vs. Hollywood” program looking at American money in relation to the feature film National Treasure. Tania Castellanos of Atlas Media came to us for information about casino gaming tokens in relation to a History Channel series called “Breaking Vegas.” Now, this sort of thing might conceivably be good publicity for the Society, but one has to wonder. The sad aspect is that the ANS has no examples of recent issues of U.S. paper money in its collection—in fact, there is not a single note dated after 1963. The collection is also, unfortunately, deficient in modern gaming pieces. So here are some nice opportunities for would-be donors to help develop an area in which benefactors have been lacking. Our U.S. paper money collection as a whole is weak when it comes to the Federal issues. Past efforts to build the collection of National Bank Notes, for example, have not progressed. And we have virtually no casino tokens!

The Manager of the Photography Department of the Rosen Publishing Group, in New York, Cindy Reiman, sought our help with an image for a book intended for elementary school readers, grades 3-5. It is to be one of a series called A Kid’s Guide to Drawing the Presidents of the United States, in which each chapter is illustrated with an artifact or image from that president’s lifetime and/or presidency and then shows the students how to draw it. For President Martin Van Buren, they decided to use a note from the Second Bank of the United States issued under his administration. The Bank had by this time lost its federal charter due to the opposition of Andrew Jackson and his constituency and supporters, among whom, of course, Van Buren was prominent. This is an especially appealing issue to have illustrated, in my opinion, because of the numismatic mischief that has been caused by the common modern replicas of this issue, $1000 bond notes with the serial number 8894. This well-known forgery, made of chemically-aged, parchment like paper, is quite close in appearance to our genuine example shown here.

United States. Bank of the United States (Second Bank). $1000 bond, Dec. 15, 1840, serial number 8726, with payment endorsements. (ANS 1981.170.1, purchase) 92x186mm

Some Meanderings among Medals

ANS President Donald Partrick took advantage of a visit to our new facilities to have a look at examples of George Washington Indian Peace Medals and to discuss these issues, as well as other points on Early Americana, with me. Personally, I cannot help but be partial to the wonderful silver oval medals, which represent our country’s first diplomatic gestures toward the native peoples, because some of the surviving 1793-dated pieces and all of the 1795s were made and engraved by the prominent Philadelphia silversmith Joseph Richardson, Jr. Why so? I actually own a spoon by Richardson, passed down from my great-great-great-great-grandfather whose initials are engraved on it. (By the way, my heirloom, which bears the same hallmark found on the medals, is presently on loan for exhibition at the museum of our sister organization, the American Numismatic Association, in Colorado, where I served as the Museum Curator for twenty years.) The Society’s collection of American Indian Peace Medals is justifiably renowned, representing a field in which we always receive inquiries, but it does not yet include any examples by Richardson, who became the assayer of the U.S. Mint in 1795.

We seem to be lacking in information regarding Bela Lyon Pratt’s beautiful “New Theatre” medal, concerning which we received an inquiry from Don Latino. This was one of the handsome series of medals which the Society commissioned for several decades around the turn of the last century. We do not have a file of records on this medal in our archives as we do for the other ANS issues, alas, but medals specialist Scott Miller was able to help in this regard. He informs us that the medals were issued in two sizes: 106 and 77mm. Apparently, there were fifty large and fifty small ones made of bronze, and fifty small-sized of silver in addition to one gold piece, presented to Ellen Terry. According to Howard Adelson’s 1958 History of the ANS, fifty were issued in silver and fifty in bronze for subscribers. Our medals ledger entries, which lack details, account for only a very small number of examples, and mention others being “junked” (presumably they were melted, or maybe sold off in bulk, unnumbered).

United States. The American Numismatic Society, New Theatre of New York, AE Medal by Bela Lyon Pratt, 1909. (ANS 0000.999.4405) 75.6mm

Curiously, while looking for information to answer this and another inquiry, I ran across a wax model for Gutzon Borglum’s version of the New Theater medal. It was in an old cigar box upon which was written “Wax impressions of Gutzon Borglum medals from Mr. Huntington.” Borglum’s medal was, if anything, even more impressive than Pratt’s.

United States. Sculpting wax model of New Theater medal, by Gutzon Borglum, 1909. (ANS 0000.999.55027, gift of Archer M. Huntington) 99.8mm

As usual, we received more inquiries about the popular 1909 Hudson-Fulton celebration medal which was sponsored by the Society. Probably because it is the most common commemorative medal ever issued in this country, and because it it nevertheless not widely known, many people are curious about the various sizes and metals in which it is found. One individual had inherited a specimen from his grandfather, who had been one of the Commissioners at the time. Only the Commission members and Principal guests were given 4-inch, solid silver examples. As I have mentioned previously, the main available reference on this medal would probably be Scott Miller’s “The Medallic Works of Emil Fuchs,” in Coinage of the Americas Conference, Proceedings No. 13, The Medal in America, Volume 2, edited by Alan M. Stahl (New York: American Numismatic Society, 1999).

Richard Margolis visited the coin room to examine medals of Theodore Victor van Berckel (1739-1808), in particular the unsigned 1766 issue commemorating the accession of William of Orange-Nassau as Stadtholder of the Netherlands. This issue has been attributed to van Berckel although it lacks the signatures T.V.B. or T.V. BERCKEL usually seen on his work. Leonard Forrer, writing in his Biographical Dictionary of Medallists (1904), declared that van Berckel’s works were “much sought after by collectors.”

Netherlands. AR medal Commemorating of the accession of William V as Stadtholder, 1766, by T. V. van Berckel. (ANS 0000.999.55026, gift of Daniel Parish. Jr.) 51.8mm

Referring to another contemporary Dutch issue, James O. Sweeny, while completing his researches on pocket calendar medals, inquired about an issue minted in the Netherlands in 1767 by a medalist who signed himself “Visser”—an individual unknown in any other numismatic context according to Forrer. We have two examples of this interesting piece, with a calendar on one side and the bust of William V, Prince of Orange, the Stadtholder, on the other. Sweeny also reviewed our data base catalog of medals related to the turn of the centuries and millennia, and brought to light questions regarding some of the entries. A seemingly little-known example comes from Frankfurt, at the end the 19th century.

Netherlands. William V Brass Calendar medal, 1767, by Visser. (ANS 1925.60.1, gift of Charles N. Schmall) 37.8mm

Germany. Frankfurt am Main, AR New Year’s Celebration medal, 1900, by W. Schwind (ANS 1990.29.1, gift of Erich Wronker) 54.9mm

Flora Goldman contacted us for information on medallic works of the prominent 20th century French medallic sculptor Raoul Benard (1881-1961), who might be best known to most of us as the designer of the Paris Olympic Games Participants’ medal from 1924. He also created a 1919 commemorative medal celebrating the Treaty of Versailles, among others. Regrettably, our files do not appear to be of much help, and I noted that we seem to have confusing entries in which we may have misspelled the artist’s name. Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ Massachusetts Civil Reform Association Women’s Auxiliary medal was the subject of an inquiry from John Eshbach, but in this case it seems that there is no example in the cabinet.

Continuing with his research on the medals of the period of the English Civil Wars, Dr. Jerome Platt inquired about the choice example of the 1650 Battle of Dunbar medal by Thomas Simon in the cabinet. This important rarity, presenting the effigy of Oliver Cromwell as commander of the English forces in this pivotal affray with the Scots, was actually intended as the first British military decoration to be presented to troops who fought in a particular engagement. The battle may be seen in miniature in the background on the obverse, while the reverse portrays the parliament in session.

Great Britain. Parliamentary AR medal commemorating the Battle of Dunbar, September 3, 1650, by Thomas Simon. (ANS 0000.999.52935, gift of Daniel Parish, Jr.) 34.2mm

As a result of the remarkable sale of examples from the impressive collection of ANS Library benefactor John J. Ford. Jr., renewed attention has been given to the United States Diplomatic medal authorized by President Washington and commissioned by Thomas Jefferson for recognizing the services of specific individuals among our allies during the Revolutionary War. The U.S. Chargé d’affaires in Paris, William Short, engaged the French engraver Augustin Dupré to cut the dies, but due to various problems the project was not completed although two gold and six bronze medals were known to have been minted in addition to the enigmatic trial pieces. Our Board members John Adams, David Simpson and Dr. Arnold-Peter Weiss all asked to have a look at the lead splashers—trial pieces—of the obverse and reverse of the medal which were obtained by purchase for the Society in 1935 (for $5.00!). I believe the Ford collection cataloguer for Stack’s, Michael Hodder, was correct in returning to the descriptions of the obverse and reverse of this piece utilized years ago by the Chapmans, so I have undertaken to revise our own data base cataloguing from that followed in the publication of these pieces by former curator Alan M, Stahl in his “Medals of the Comitia Americana Series in the Collections of the American Numismatic Society and Other Public Institutions” in the Coinage of the Americas Conference, Proceedings No. 11 (New York: American Numismatic Society, 1996). This fascinating issue is not nearly as well known as it ought to be, due to its great rarity.

United States. Diplomatic Medal, lead trial of obverse, n.d. (1790-1792). Stahl 111, with provisional accession number 1935.999.296 (ANS 1935.126.23, purchase) 69.1mm

Same; reverse, provisionally numbered 1935.999.295 (ANS 1935.126.24, purchase) 68.6mm

It has been enjoyable to see our members return to visit the collection in its fine new surroundings these past several months now that the Society is open again. Little by little, we are working to reorganize and improve storage in the cabinet and hope that ever greater numbers of enthusiasts will be able to derive benefit from studying all sorts of numismatic specimens, a few examples of which I have tried to share with you here. Without the funds to add digital imagery to our data base to the extent we would wish, you can see how this photo archive grows by means of our inquiries which give us a chance to capture images that can then be included in our publications such as the ANS Magazine. We can all look forward now to the day when we will have been able to complete the great fundraising effort just beginning to get underway to develop a new exhibition hall, where we can place a goodly portion of the collections on display for the delight of visitors. Until then, we invite you to help us continue to add images to the world’s foremost online numismatic catalog and make it into a truly worthwhile virtual exhibit.