The History of the ANS: The Fourth Decade

Abridged by Oliver D. Hoover from Howard Adelson’s History of the ANS

The last installment of this series saw the resurrection of the American Numismatic and Archaeological Society under the leadership of Charles E. Anthon and its development as an important scholarly organization. In its fourth decade, with Daniel Parish, Jr. at the helm, the Society faced new struggles and aspired to be an arbiter of United States coin design.


Daniel Parish, President of the ANS

The Room Committee

On November 18, 1884 it was resolved that a committee should be appointed to consider, “What steps, if any, should be taken to increase the usefulness of the Society; induce the members to attend the formal and informal meetings; make use of the Society’s library and room; facilitate literary and numismatic intercourse between the members, and generally to improve the Society and its aims, and increase the results to be achieved by its efforts.” In response to the findings of this committee, at a Special Meeting held on December 11, a new annually appointed “Room Committee” was created. For 1885 the Room Committee was composed of David L. Walter, Lyman H. Low, and Gaston L. Feuardent, and its first act was to announce a series of informal meetings devoted solely to the study of numismatics, as opposed to the regular meetings, which normally included the formal business of the ANS. These informal meetings were a great success and induced members who rarely appeared at the formal meetings to come out and interact with their fellow members.

By the time of the Annual Meeting of 1886, fourteen papers had been presented before members gathered at the informal meetings. Unfortunately, there was no fund for the publication of the papers, but abstracts of their contents were printed in the 1886 issue of the Annual Proceedings of the American Numismatic and Archaeological Society. Luckily, the papers were not infrequently published by other numismatic journals.

The informal meetings were a remarkable triumph for the Room Committee, with a total of fifty held by 1893. However, the attendance of members had already begun to slacken as early as 1889, thanks in part to the necessity of constantly changing locales for the meetings at the Society’s location on 20th Street. Only two meetings were held in 1893, two more in 1894, five in 1895 and three in 1896. Nevertheless, the quality of the papers read at these meetings remained high and occasioned the expansion of the mandate of the Publication Committee to include decisions on which papers presented at informal meetings should be printed in their entirety within the pages of the Proceedings.

The Jay B. Cornell Bequest

Early in 1885 the ANS was contacted by John H. Boynton, an agent of the Bureau of Information as to Legacies and Bequests, and advised that a sizeable bequest had been left to the Society in the previous year. In return for a $25.00 subscription fee, the ANS learned that its deceased benefactor was Jay B. Cornell, a relatively inactive member who had been on the rolls since 1882. Even more surprising than the fact that this rather quiet member had named the Society in his will, was the amount that he left to the Society: $1,000 and a collection of 288 coins and medals. Horatio C. Harrower, the executor of the will who had initially failed to notify the ANS of the Cornell legacy, was duly contacted and after some further delay delivered the $1,000 and the numismatic items, representing the first sizeable bequest left to the Society.

The Search for a Home

A perennial problem faced by the ANS was that of suitable quarters for the collections, library, and meetings. By 1887 the organization was looking to move from its rooms at New York University to a better location. The members were alerted to the desire to move and their opinions on the subject were elicited through a circular and the responses were almost uniformly in favor of moving. For an annual rent of $750, the Committee on New Quarters was able to secure two rooms at 101 East 20th Street at the corner of 4th Avenue and by November of 1889 the Society had moved in.

Two years later, the officers of the ANS found themselves embroiled in a dispute with their landlady, Mrs. Eliza Graham. Apparently, a group of doctors who were also tenants in the same building began an intense advertising campaign involving the placement of signs in the windows, including those belonging to the American Numismatic and Archaeological Society. After several letters of protest from Henry Russell Drowne, the Corresponding Secretary, Mrs. Graham had the signs removed.

During the course of the dispute, Andrew C. Zabriskie, the First Vice-President, proposed that a committee be formed to solicit subscriptions towards the purchase of a building to house the Society. He also started the building fund with a donation of $5,000. This proposal was greeted with approval, but unfortunately only an additional $2,810 was collected, far short of the $40,000 estimated as the cost of a decent building. Obviously the ANS could not purchase its own building at this time. However, the Society did briefly flirt with the idea of joining the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society in a joint purchase, before deciding that it was better to look for new rooms for rent.

The Academy of Medicine Building at 17 West 43rd Street seemed like the best choice as the rent was only $50.00 per month, including heat and light, and the building also contained an elevator and lecture halls. Late in 1892 the ANS took up its new abode, where it would remain until 1901.

Constitutional Reorganization

At the General Meeting of 1894 the American Numismatic and Archaeological Society was changed forever with the adoption of a new constitution. In addition to the abolition of the office of Third Vice-President (restored in 1942), the elective position of Curator of Archaeology, then held by Herbert Valentine, was permanently discontinued, on the grounds that the collection of the Archaeology Department were relatively unimportant and that members were primarily interested in numismatics. In a letter written in 1892 Valentine had lamented the poor state of the archaeological collection and its associated library materials, but expressed the hope that interest could be sparked if more papers presented at informal meetings were devoted to archaeological subjects and more members showed a concern for placing the “principal works of archaeology” on the shelves of the library. Unfortunately, Valentine’s hopes did not come to fruition and the Archaeology Department was closed.

At the same time, the post of Historiographer was also discontinued as an elective office. However, it fared a little better than its archaeological counterpart and was retained as an appointive position. The main duty of the Historiographer was to prepare obituary notices for deceased members, although in 1892, when William R. Weeks held the post, a History of the American Numismatic and Archaeological Society was also published with the Proceedings.

The Columbian Exposition

By 1892, the ANS was recognized as being at the forefront of numismatic scholarship and the minutes of its meetings were widely published in The American Journal of Numismatics, The Collector, The Numismatist, Numismatology, and Spink’s Numismatic Monthly. Because of its respected position in America and abroad, the ANS was approached by the Società Geografica Italiana of Rome when it wished to collect descriptions of coins and medals issued in honor of Christopher Columbus into a monograph in time for the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America. The Society gladly agreed to help but soon discovered that it had no such coins or medals in its cabinets, nor were members able to turn up information on them elsewhere. Daniel Parish, Jr., who was President of the ANS at the time and a man who did not accept defeat easily, finally managed to find a single medal and immediately donated it to the Society so that its description could be sent to Rome.

The interest in the anniversary of Columbus’ voyage of discovery was not confined to organizations in Italy. In the United States plans were laid to hold a great Columbian Exposition in New York and at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1892. Although the ANS initially offered to provide a numismatic display for the World’s Fair, there was not enough space to house it and the offer was ultimately withdrawn. Instead, it was decided that the Society should hold a Columbian Exposition of its own which included an exhibit of 122 coins and medals as well as a short brochure describing them. The event was a great success with some 800 people recorded as being in attendance.

One notable feature of the World’s Fair and its Columbian Exposition was the number of medals struck by various groups to commemorate the event. Thanks to George F. Kunz, a Vice-President of Tiffany & Co. and an ANS member in 1893, the Society was able to obtain copies of every one of these medals. Furthermore, through his connections to Tiffany, it was possible for the Society to quickly produce a commemorative medal of its own. By November of 1893, the medal had been issued and three copies were in the cabinets of the ANS.


Columbus medal

The Committee on New Coinage

At about the same time that the Columbian medal was being issued, Kunz proposed the appointment of a committee of five “to pass upon all coins and medals to be struck by the United States Mint, and also be an advisory Committee.” Although this proposal failed, on February 5, 1894 he came up with a new resolution to request that Congress direct the Secretary of the Treasury to appoint a committee of five consisting of two well-known sculptors, artists, or medallists to be named by the National Sculpture Society of New York, two numismatists or medal collectors to be named by the American Numismatic and Archaeological Society, and an authority on weights and measures to consider “all matters relating to the United States mints as appertain to the weight, design and execution of coins and medals for the future.” It was also proposed that $10,000 be used as prize money to be divided among the artists, designers, and diesinkers who would compete with their redesign of United States coinage. Although not much different than the 1893 proposal, the 1894 version was carried in large part because shortly before February 5, the combined forces of the Archaeological Institute of America, the Boston Fine Arts Club, the Architectural League of New York, the Society of American Artists, the National Academy of Design, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and the Art Club of Philadelphia, under the leadership of the National Sculpture Society, had begun a campaign to improve the artistic quality of U.S. coinage and sought an alliance with the ANS for the purpose.

A joint Committee on New Coinage, including six members of the ANS was formed and suggested not only that the design of U.S. coinage should be changed, but also that the metric system should be adopted for coinage. The addition of the latter was strongly advocated by Kunz and others, who believed that the use of the metric system would increase the utility of U.S. coinage on a global scale.

An exhibition and competition was held at the American Fine Arts Building from May 7-21, 1895 with prizes of $300 and $100 awarded to the best designs. The first prize went to Albert Jaegers for an eagle reverse type for the dollar and second prize was awarded to Albert Randolph Ross for his obverse design depicting Liberty, also intended for the dollar coin. Unfortunately, despite the fact that the original purpose of the competition was to discover worthy replacements for contemporary coinage, on a motion of the renowned sculptor, Augustus St. Gaudens, the Council of the National Sculpture Society adopted the resolution stating “that these awards in no way commit the joint jury to the endorsement or commendation of the model…and the Committee in no way recommend the models for execution.” Thus the design competition of 1895 must be considered a failure in the grand plan to revitalize American coin design. Nevertheless, the ANS did receive electrotypes of the winning designs for the collection.

In 1897, the dream of improving U.S. coinage was again resurrected by Daniel Parish, who submitted a revised proposal to the Committee on New Coinage. He recommended that Congress appropriate $10,000 to be placed at the disposal of a committee composed of a portrait painter, a sculptor, a numismatist or diesinker, and an expert in the metric system. This committee would hold a design competition and from the money ten prizes of $500 would be awarded to artists submitting the ten best designs. The remaining $5,000 would be reserved for the grand prize to be awarded to one of the ten finalists. The winning design would then be recommended to the Mint for production on circulating coinage. As far as can be determined nothing ever came of this proposal and no attempt was made to carry it out. The proposal was filed and nothing further was heard of the Committee.


Parish medal