The History of the ANS: The Second Decade

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

The first installment of this series saw the Society’s first beginnings interrupted by the Civil War. Following this break, The American Numismatic and Archaeological Society, as the institution then called itself, began the process of matching its activities to the ambitions of its members. This work continued during the Society’s second decade, a period when many of the same obstacles confronted the new organization, but one which also presented new opportunities.

Early Exhibitions

In 1864, shortly after the reorganization of the Society following the Civil War, the ANS was invited to participate in the Metropolitan Fair for the U.S. Sanitary Commission. Having accepted the invitation, the Society formed a small display of various objects in its collection. Involvement in the Fair led to correspondence between the ANS Librarian, Isaac F. Wood, and William W. Murphy, the American Consul-General in Frankfort am Main. Murphy had donated a 1/16 ducat of Nuremberg, issued during the Schmalkaldic War (1546-47), to be auctioned off in support of the Fair and the coin excited numerous enquiries from the public. The answers that Wood received from Murphy were published in the local papers to satisfy the general curiosity about the coin. To satisfy his own interest, Wood bought the 1/16 ducat at auction and accepted on behalf of the ANS an offer by the Consul-General to send other coins.

Even at this early period, the ANS held a pre-eminent position among other numismatic societies of the United States. Because of its status, Samuel L. Buggles, the United States Commissioner to the Paris Exposition of 1867 requested the assistance of the ANS in preparing a special display of American coinage that would include the contemporary issues of the U.S. Mint as well as coins from earlier periods. The purpose of the exhibit was, in Buggles own words, “to show by the visible example of our broad, continental Republic, unifying its coins from Ocean to Ocean, the world-wide value of a common system of coins, which shall include all the civilised nations on the globe.” Needless to say, President Frank H. Norton and the rest of the ANS membership accepted the request with great enthusiasm. The fact that the organization of the exhibit took place at a time when there was much public criticism of the artistic merit and international value of U.S. coinage seems to have stimulated greater activity in producing a world-class display for the Paris Exposition.

The publicity that accrued to the Society through its involvement in fairs and exhibitions increased its public exposure both at home and abroad. Contacts with the Manchester Numismatic Society in England and other organizations and individuals led to a variety of donations to the library and the numismatic collection. By 1870 the library holdings were made up of 959 books and the coin cabinet included 2,294 pieces, of which 1,509 were American.

Years of Silence and Recovery

In the period from 1870 to 1873, it is difficult to reconstruct the events in the life of the ANS with any detail, in part because the Recording Secretary failed to record the minutes of the meetings. However, to judge from a letter written by Professor Anthon and the later reminiscences of Wood, it is clear that during these three years ANS activity virtually stopped. Very few meetings were held and the various numismatic, archaeological, and library collections were packed up and stored at the homes of Edward Groh, the Curator of Numismatics, George H. Perine, the First Vice-President, and Isaac F. Wood, respectively.

Charles E. Anthon, President of the ANS

Although at the time it may have seemed as if the ANS was finished, a few members, including Isaac Wood, President Charles E. Anthon and Secretary William Poillon, were determined to struggle on and raise the Society out of the torpor into which it had fallen. In May 1874 it was announced in the local papers that regular meetings had resumed, which seemed to rekindle the interest of old members and to encourage others to apply for membership for the first time. Unfortunately, it proved more difficult than might have been expected to return all of the material that had been stored away during the previous three years. Groh and Wood were quick to bring back the books and numismatic objects that had been in their care, but Perine, who had lost interest in the Society, refused to return the full archaeological collection. By 1875 he had only returned, “a crooked stick, a small birch canoe, a piece of shell dug from City Hall Park, a tile (one of two) from the house of Benedict Arnold, an old brick from Sleepy Hollow Church…a scrap book containing a few caricatures, and also a few minerals.” As this agglomeration was somewhat less than the complete ANS archaeological collection, further vain attempts were made to convince Perine to return the remainder up until 1876, when the matter seems to have been dropped.

Dr. George H. Perine

Once the Society had reconstituted itself and the vast majority of its collections had been taken out of storage, the most serious issue facing the organization was the perennial problem of finding a suitable location in which to hold meetings and keep the collections. In 1873 and 1874 the Annual Meetings were held at temporary locations in the City College and Mott Memorial Hall. The room at the latter was so pleasing to the Executive Committee in 1874 that Wood rented space for four meetings and space for a bookcase at the cost of $50.00 for a year. This arrangement was generally approved by the membership and continued until March of 1878 when it became probable that Mott Memorial Hall would no longer be able to offer its rooms to the ANS.

The Tokens of Membership

At the Annual Meeting of 1876 the newly resurrected ANS could boast a membership consisting of 14 honorary, 54 corresponding and 34 resident members. The Society showed great concern for its members, making enquiries about individuals who had apparently lost interest in the organization, and striking from the rolls those with poor reputations that might reflect badly on the ANS. It is also notable that in this period, when many American associations and clubs still remained the sole preserve of men, membership was also open to women. Mrs. Sarah Bowne Wood, the wife of the ANS Librarian Isaac F. Wood, became the first female member in 1878.

A renewed interest in the symbols of membership began to grow in conjunction with the increase in membership after 1873. Thus in 1875 Wood proposed the idea of producing a membership medal. The earlier experience with the Lincoln Medal and its attendant technical and financial problems, as described in the previous instalment of the “History of the ANS,” caused the Executive Committee to approach the production of the medal with caution. In order to avoid suffering a potential loss the dies were ordered from George H. Lovett, who agreed to become a life member and advanced part of the $75.00 cost of the dies, thereby making the actual cost to the ANS only $45.00. At the Annual Meeting of 1876 members were also invited to subscribe for the cost of the dies.

Fortunately, Lovett’s skill and integrity were superior to those of Emil Sigel, who had been responsible for the Lincoln medal, and the membership medal was produced with little trouble. Although two reverse dies had to be made because the first was rejected and there was some brief disagreement concerning the price for silver medals, there were no problems that even approached those that had afflicted the earlier Lincoln medal.

The membership medal struck in 1876 had a diameter of 42 mm and used as its obverse type a circle enclosing three oak leaves with a scroll beneath containing the familiar motto of the Society. The reverse depicted an oak wreath with a thunderbolt set in it vertically at the top and a ribbon at the bottom enclosing a blank for the name and date of membership. Around the wreath appeared the inscription FOUNDED AT NEW YORK MDCCCLVIII, above, and INCORPD MDCCCLXV. Members could purchase the medal in gold, silver or bronze for the price of $50.00, $5.00 and $1.50, respectively. One of the gold medals was presented to President Anthon at the Annual Meeting of 1878 in recognition of his efforts on behalf of the ANS.

At the same time that the membership medal was being proposed and produced under the direction of Wood and Anthon, other members of the Executive were hard at work trying to recover the old plate for membership certificates. It had briefly been lost when the assignee, to whom it had been entrusted, fell into bankruptcy. However, Treasurer Benjamin Betts ascertained its whereabouts in 1875 and after William Poillon visited Nassau in the same year promises were made that the plate would be returned. In 1876 Poillon finally received the plate, just as the membership medal was making its first appearance. After the plate was modified to remove the line for the signature of the Corresponding Secretary (an office that was discontinued between 1873 and 1894) new membership certificates were printed.

As the second decade of the ANS drew to a close Wood suggested that a commemorative medal might also be struck in celebration of the preceding twenty years, but the members decided that the twenty-fifth anniversary was more appropriate for a medal.