Curator’s Column (Spring 2002)

by Robert W. Hoge

Moving to the ANS

September 11, 2001. New York City. There, where I was going to commence duties as the new Curator of American Coins and Currency at the American Numismatic Society, a new job, a new home, a new pattern of living and, in many respects, a new reality would now be my future.

Leaving Colorado Springs, my home of twenty years while serving as Curator of the Museum of the American Numismatic Association, I had walked into my apartment’s management office to turn in my keys, and encountered the staff staring dumbfoundedly at the television screen. I looked too, and saw the horrifically indelible image of the World Trade Center collapsing. I don’t think I can ever describe the things that ran through my mind as I slumped in a chair and watched, again, the catastrophe unfolding.

My worldly goods were already en route. I had my ticket, but could not reach the airline to learn whether we would fly. What would happen next? Three days I tarried, then my flight was one of the first ones, from Denver to Newark, upon the reopening of air service.

A lengthy tale could be told of the small vicissitudes of my move, as my family and some of my friends and numismatic and museological colleagues know. Suffice it to say that I did get into the city and was able to begin work immediately with the staff at the ANS, while the telephones were still out of service and the sky filled with smoke and dust, fumes and litter, and the wraiths of human lives and dreams. Once there, I found an assortment of messages and projects already awaiting me. The specter of the recent disaster loomed very real, but the busy schedule of activities at the Society helped maintain my focus.

As I take a moment to reflect upon my recent months with the ANS, I’m struck by our pace and range of functions: among them, the meeting of the ANS Council, with its associated temporary exhibit featuring a selection of the recent Museum and Library acquisitions; the great exhibition of rarities and other exemplary items “Drachmas, Doubloons and Dollars”—mostly completed before my arrival—installed at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York; the New York Antiquities Fair in December and the New York International Coin Fair in January; the meetings of the J. Sanford Saltus Award Medal Committee, and the event for the presentation of the award, along with the Stephen K. Scher Annual Lecture.

Routine work included many requests, via post, telephone, “walk-ins” and e-mail, for information, consultations and photographic orders. On other occasions, I presented four outside talks: one at the annual meeting of the New Jersey Numismatic Society, one for the Washington, D.C., Ancient Coins Club, another at the New York International Coin Fair and one at the ANA convention in Jacksonville, Florida.

Undoubtedly, the most enjoyable aspect of my new job has been contact with so many people who share some of my interests. Foremost among these are my outstanding colleagues on the staff here at the ANS; what a dedicated and talented group they are! The ANS also has its own small group of devoted volunteers. There is our team of stalwart docents, who provide interpretation for visitors at the ANS’ fabulous new exhibition in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York: Bill Bischoff, Jerry Haggerty, Michael Parris and Peter Sugar. Helping with the collections, we have Henry Bergos in English coins, Charlie Karukstis with Arab-Byzantine issues, David Feinstein in New York items, David Jen in Chinese coins, Kenneth McKenzie in Turkish coinage and Ted Withington in ancient and oriental coins and medals. Our part-time student assistants, Dawn Bennett and Julia DuBois, carefully catalog many items into our superb data-base and process research requests.

Visiting researchers certainly account for much of the ANS cabinet’s fame and value to scholarship. In alphabetical order, I quickly count off some of those whom it has been my pleasure to meet and to serve. There was Michel Amandry, Director of the Coin Cabinet of the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, working on a new volume of Roman Provincial Coinage; Robert Blank, researching varieties of Hunan Provincial Chinese coppers; Irv Brotman, authority on South Asian temple tokens; Francois de Callatay, of the Royal Library cabinet, Brussels; Dave Camire, error specialist; Edmund Carpenter, investigating the suspicious claims of a Norse coin found in Maine; and Jonathan Conant, of Harvard University, with recent finds from ongoing excavations at Carthage.

Other visiting researchers included Loretta Goldberg, studying England’s Elizabeth I; Leon Hernandez-Canut y Espana, researching Medieval Spanish issues; Amber Hough and Shannon White, from the University of Pennsylvania Museum; Barbara Mears, researching ancient South Indian coppers; Professor Barbara Mundy, Spanish Colonial Art Historian from Fordham University; Luis R. Ponte Puigbo, studying Venezuelan issues; and Robert Schaaf, investigating Sasanian Persian coinage.

At the same time, I’ve enjoyed the visits of other colleagues whom I had already met through the ANA and the ANS in the past: Michael Alram, Peter and Hortensia Bartlett, Carmen Arnold-Biucchi, Chris Connell, George Cuhaj, Richard Doty, Dan Freidus, Peter Gaspar, Cory and Tommy Gillilland, J. S. Giordano, John Kleeberg, Robert Leonard, Emmett McDonald, William Metcalf, Brian Silliman, and last but certainly not least, David L.Vagi.

Tempus fugit, as the Romans would have said. “Time flies,” and the events of September 11 may serve to help all of us keep in mind how we fill our days, to remember to look back on where we have been, and think about where we may be going. It still seems to me that I have just started at the ANS, that the events of September have just taken place, yet a great deal has happened in this short span of time, with more to come. I’m fortunate in knowing and working with so many people who share a sense of stewardship, who believe they can do things that matter and help one another.