Obituary: Richard George Doty (1942-2013)

On June 2, our world of numismatics lost one of its fin- est citizens, and I lost a beloved colleague. With great sadness I pen words in honor of my friend Dick Doty—or, as he sometimes impishly called himself, with me following suit, Don Floribundo Sanchez Muldoon. Where and how can I start? Who was this extraordinary man, and why do we care and mourn for him?

Dick was born January 11, 1942, the only child of George Barney Doty and Angeline Charlotte (Petersen) Doty, in St. John’s, Oregon (at the time, a suburb of Portland), where he grew up and went to school. A Doty ancestor had voyaged to New England on the May- flower, and the family had lived the history of America, but although they were both very intelligent (from his father, Dick inherited his photographic memory), Dick’s parents had only high school educations; the Dotys struggled financially, living in poverty, unable to afford medical care. Their boy developed an attitude, in which he was encouraged, of ignoring personal health. He worked picking crops in the summer–taken to the fields by trucks, early in the mornings—and labored in a mill alongside his textile-worker father until George Doty was laid off. Dick learned to have a great distaste for economic exploitation and the hardships it created. He was a strong supporter of down-trodden people everywhere, of unions, picketlines and freedom of expression, and an opponent of the excesses of the capitalistic business world.

While from his father’s hard experience Dick learned about textiles and manufacturing technology and perseverance, from his mother, he picked up an eye for style and presentation. Of the utmost importance in his life, however, was the influence of his dedicated high school teacher, Parimaz Onan Marsubian, a leftist Armenian whose immigrant family had fled the Turk- ish holocaust. Marsubian believed in Dick. His teaching gifts supported the boy’s aspirations toward learning and convinced him not to drop out of school to join the merchant marine; he taught him to believe in himself and to achieve, and got him a scholarship for going to college. Dick then made his way to Portland State University, where he became a magna cum laude history graduate (1964), subsequently obtaining his doctorate summa cum laude in Latin American Studies at the University of Southern California in 1968.


During his career, Doty was widely recognized for his knowledge and abilities, and received a number of honors and awards. These included an academic Fulbright Fellowship to the University of Madrid, Spain; Mexican Government Fellowships for study in Mexico City and Guadalajara; the Del Amo Foundation Fellowship for research in Spain and the Millennial Award Medal of the Royal Numismatic Society. In 2012, Dick was awarded the Archer M. Huntington medal of the Amer- ican Numismatic Society, its highest honor for publications, in recognition of his scholarly achievements in
his chosen field.

From about the age of eight years Dick enjoyed a passion for coins and knew he wanted to travel. These early keys were to open doors to a distinguished career. Prior to becoming a numismatic curator, Doty was Assistant Professor of United States and Latin History and Studies, Central College, Pella, Iowa (1967-70); Assistant Professor of Latin American and World History, York College, City University of New York (1970-71); and Assistant Professor of United States and Latin American History at the University of Guam (1971-73). From 1974 to 1986 Doty served as Curator of the Modern Coins and Currency Department at the American Numismatic Society, in New York City, where he was mentored by retired curator Henry Grunthal. At the ANS, Doty was instrumental in documenting and cataloguing large portions of the cabinet and, in cooperation with visionary president Harry W. Bass, Jr., initiating computer registration while also helping to found the Coinage of the Americas Conference program.

In 1986, Doty was hired as Curator of Western Hemisphere Numismatics at the National Numismatic Collection (NNC) of the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, D.C., and in 2005 was named Senior Curator in charge. He gained recognition as an expert in many fields of numismatic research, particularly in Early American coinage, obsolete banknotes, mint production and errors, Mexican issues, British tokens, and the entire process of the industrialization of money. A founding member of ICOMON, the International Committee for Money and Banking Museums, part of the International Council of Museums (ICOM), under UNESCO, from 1998 to 2007 he served as its President and edited its bulletin. He traveled widely in this connection, greatly enjoying his contacts and sharing with foreign colleagues.

I knew Dick for many years, almost as long as I have been professionally involved with numismatic curation, but I got to know him more fully when, for its centennial celebration in 1991, the American Numismatic Association (I was at the time Curator in charge of
the ANA’s Money Museum) launched a kind of game show called the “World Series of Numismatics,” and required me to be a participant. The competition was to be organized into panels of three, and I was instructed to get two brave souls to join me. This seemed a pain- fully equivocal activity for scholars, and I wondered, “what to do?” I invited two outstanding colleagues to be my teammates–Alan Stahl, Curator of Medieval Coins and of Medals at the American Numismatic Society and Richard Doty, then Curator of the Smithsonian’s National Numismatic Collection, who rose to the occasion. Our team’s name? “The Curators.” This event actually turned out to be somewhat fun, especially whereas we happened rather handily to have won!

Over the following years, Dick and I shared many activities and conversations, often involving international numismatic conferences (we were roommates in Norway until my snoring overcame Dick ’s rest!). I got to know him as a genuinely kind and sincere man with a delightful and effervescent sense of humor.

When I called him on the phone, I might get a recording such as “This is Frank James, brother of Jessie; Doty the human who lives with us cats is not avail- able. Please leave us a message. Meow!” Sometimes he composed and sang parodies of many different songs. He had an ear for languages, and would frequently chatter in various funny foreign accents. Often it was as a Latvian, Lithuania, Indian or Mexican that we might find him masquerading on his answering machine, or advocating on behalf of “People for the Ethical Treatment of Vegetables.”

A wonderfully generous and devoted friend, Dick was sincerely religious, but not in a conventional way. He could not believe in a critical, restrictive supernatural being, but had been raised a Southern Baptist (his father once had a job working as an Anglican sexton, and wrote a monograph called Life among the Episcopalians), prayed daily, practiced Transcendental Meditation, and felt he was under special protection from God. Several times in his life he had nearly died: once, for instance, while beachcombing and almost being drowned by a rapidly rising tide, and once, especially, when in 1998 he was hit by an SUV while walking–resulting in a double hematoma on the frontal lobes. He stopped breathing, was revived, remained for several weeks in a coma but made an amazingly full recovery (with the exception of his sense of smell). He ruefully referred to this incident as “the time I died.” A subsequent insurance settlement enabled him to purchase a VW cabriolet, quite an indulgence for a frugal curator! (He delighted in convertibles!)
Doty was a many-faceted genius with a great eye for color, an intuitive gift for music, and a sense of poetical expression. He once made and sold large, fancy candles; at other times, he enjoyed print-making and became skilled in photography, developing artistic abstractions which he skillfully crafted. He appreciated many kinds of foods, and deeply missed the sense of smell following his serious accident. For many years he also enjoyed smoking, but, abruptly, simply decided to quit. He felt that it was possible to accomplish almost anything by “sheer bloody-mindedness,” as he put it–referring to his great willpower. Matrimony took Dick to the altar four times (with wives Joyce, Caroline and Margaret, and, lastly, the joy of his final years, Cindi Roden). He was a strikingly unusual, stubborn man, and must at times have been difficult to live with, great as were his fine qualities. Sometimes, alas, he and I shared our less than happy experiences as divorced numismatists.

Like his numismatic co-fraternity, Doty had been bitten by the “collecting bug,” and as an adjunct to his research on the Soho mint of Mathew Boulton and James Watt, he formed an impressive collection of British 18th century Trade Tokens. His numismatic collecting interests, however, were wide-ranging and in spite of working with the vast and wonderful collections of the ANS and the Smithsonian, he still enjoyed picking up the occasional anomalous numismatic curiosity or beauty to beguile his private life! He liked taking drives in the country, and loved animals, too; in addition to his history with cherished cats—Frank, et al.—he and Cindi adopted and adored Lucas, their black Labrador retriever.

Studying and writing about numismatics was a pure joy for Dick. He felt he could envision no other life for himself. While his researches and achievements in the field were many, I think he will be best remembered for his insights into the ways in which peoples of the past imagined numismatic materials into their own lives, into the impacts that they experienced through con- tact with day-to-day monetary transactions. Dick was fascinated by the technological and sociological aspects of monetary production, as evidenced by the thrust of his publications. A number of these clearly demonstrate both his vision and his writing skills. In his first important work, Studies on money in early America (New York: American Numismatic Society, 1976), which he edited along with the now legendary Eric P. Newman, he wrote on the technical minting aspects of the first coinages of what is now the United States, the Boston mint silver issues of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, sug- gesting the methodology adopted by coiners John Hull and Robert Sanderson. In perhaps his most authoritative opus, The Soho mint and the industrialization of money, British Numismatic Society special publication no. 2 (London: National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, in association with Spink Ltd. and the British Numismatic Society, 1998), he explained the relationships of money in the context of Boulton and Watt’s extraordinary mechanization of coinage production in the Industrial Revolution.

Much of Doty’s life was devoted to service, to colleagues, to institutions, to visiting researchers to whom he cheerfully and generously conveyed his time and his enthusiasm. In 1991, he authored the North American Section of the International Numismatic Commission’s Survey of numismatic research, 1985-1990, a valuable
if relatively thankless task. His interests and knowledge ranged far and wide, and his writing, into multiple languages. Some examples are Hispano-Arabic coins in the National Numismatic Collection (Smithsonian Institution), in Actas III, Jarique de Numismática Hispano-Arabe (Madrid, Spain: Museo Arqueológico, 1990), and Tecnologia numismatica e sovranità politica: il caso di Modena, in the Bolletino di Numismatica, Vol. 30-31, Serie I, gennaio-dicembre (1998).

In addition to technological studies, Doty wrote extensively on Mexican coinage issues and on the paper currencies of the American Confederacy, along with surveys of American and British coins and tokens. Articles under his name frequently appeared in such popular publications as COINage, Coin World, World Coin News, Mexican Revolution Reporter, and The Numismatist, as well as frequent entries in the ANS Museum Notes, American Journal of Numismatics, and volumes of the Coinage of the Americas Conference (COAC) Proceedings. Altogether, Doty may perhaps be best known for his Macmillan encyclopedic dictionary of numismatics (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1982), which exemplifies his literally encyclopedic grasp of this subject area.

His last work, Pictures From a Distant Country: Seeing America Through Old Paper Money (Atlanta: Whitman Publishing Co., 2013), is a brilliant, nostalgic tour-de-force surveying the bygone world of the 19th century United States in the exquisite vignettes of obsolete currency. It can easily carry us into the thinking and imagining not only of those who made and used those monetary instruments, but that of the keen and com- passionate mind of the author.

In many ways, Dick Doty was my mentor. I shall miss him very much. I thank Cindi Roden for her help to me with background information on Dick and his life. In thinking of him as I write these lines, I have to say that I can do no better than to echo his own words spoken in recognition of his marvelous teacher, P. O. Marsupian,“I haven’t come to terms with his death, and I don’t suppose I ever shall. He was simply too big to disappear.”

–Robert Wilson Hoge