First Impressions (Summer 2004)

by Katherine Siboni

When I walked up to 96 Fulton Street for the first time on June 15 of this summer, I set foot into the American Numismatic Society Headquarters momentarily, looked around, and fleed immediately, hoping that no one had noticed me. After having yelled “Williams and Fulton” over numerous intercoms to blank-faced subway attendants, having dodged at least a hundred black suits whose ties were exactly at my eye-level, and having passed my bolted-up destination multiple times, one would imagine I would finally stumble into the building with a sigh of relief, not slip out just as quickly as I had entered. It wasn’t as though I suddenly felt nervous, or unprepared. But when I was greeted by a floor composed of dust and chunks of plaster, a cacophony of drilling and hammering, and almost all of the only human beings present elevated three feet above me on step ladders, I knew I couldn’t possibly be in the right place. I walked outside, checked the address once again, re-entered, asked if Dr. Wartenberg was in, and was amazed when they knew who I was talking about.

Every morning of my first week, I walked into a given room, and was greeted by towers of brown cardboard hovering over myself, the group of interns I had just joined, and anyone else from the museum scrambling to organize the building before the opening. The objective of every day was to make one of these rooms appear empty by 5:00. Eventually this was achieved, and a party was held in a clean, orderly building. The next week I started my internship with the archives.

Working in the archives, at first, did not seem dissimilar to working on the move, in that making order of impossible amounts of material was the goal. However, as Joe and Aviva—​archivist by profession and not numismatists—​glanced over my shoulder and proclaimed the name of the foreign face staring up at me from a pile of old photographs, and proceeded to pour out their knowledge of the given individual, I realized that my internship would require much more mental involvement than unpacking boxes. Through inventory work of old correspondence files, databasing the summer seminar, and looking up references to former curators, the ANS has managed to clear a corner of my brain in which to nestle and await the daily input of information. Moving through the building every day, more and more gaps in my knowledge of the society’s history are filled by the small but erudite staff, who weave information into this mental map that I am forming. Also, because of ANS’ size, I have found that all the aspects of the Society’s management are so compact that they inevitably coincide, allowing no possibility for detachment from the interest of the Society in any area.

As the thousands of coins, and the documents of those who were so well acquainted with them, have made their way off of the chaos of the big empty floors and onto shelves where they will be preserved and studied, they are also being stored away in my mind, which began the summer of 2004 just as unfamiliar with but open to Numismatics as 96 Fulton Street.