The History of the ANS: The Fifth Decade

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

In the last installment of this series we saw the American Numismatic and Archaeological society struggle with the perennial problem of maintaining proper quarters at the same time that it was expanding as an important organization on both the national and international stage. In its fifth decade, under the leadership of Andrew C. Zabriskie and Archer M. Huntington the ANS triumphed over some of its old difficulties and created new opportunities for itself at the opening of the 20th century.


In the late 19th century the popularity of medallic art reached the peak of its popularity both in Europe and in the Americas. Medals were the common vehicle through which to commemorate exemplary individuals as well as important events in the lives of organizations and nations. As we have seen in previous installments of the ANS history, the American Numismatic and Archaeological Society naturally had an early interest in the art of the medal and produced several noteworthy specimens honoring the likes of Abraham Lincoln and Christopher Columbus, as well as the Society’s presidents, Charles E. Anthon and Daniel Parish, Jr. However, as 1800s waned and the new century began to dawn, the Society advanced the cause of the American medal with increased vigor.

In 1896 the ANS struck a medal to commemorate the opening of the St. Luke’s Hospital building on Cathedral Heights and in the following year another medal was produced to mark the completion of Grant’s Tomb. The symbolic importance of this New York monument, which was erected with the aid of American as well as international donations, made the latter medal especially appropriate for presentation to world leaders and in 1897 the Society sent silver specimens to a host of foreign and domestic luminaries that included such figures as the President of the United States, the Mayor of New York, the Chinese Viceroy Li-Huang Xiang, Pope Leo XIII, the Queen of England, the President of France, the Emperor of Germany, the Tsar of Russia, the Emperor of Japan, the Emperor of China, the Queen of Holland, the King of Sweden, the Emperor of Austria, the King of Italy and the King of Spain. A bronze copy was given to the President of Venezuela, while an example in gold was presented to General Horace Porter, Grant’s aide de camp and close friend during the Civil War. As a point of the official responses to the Grant medals were carefully collected and bound together for preservation in the Society’s Library.

New St. Luke’s Hospital, Opening and Dedication 1896. ANS AR 51mm commemorative medal by Victor D. Brenner (1987.147.11) Gift of David R. Lit

General Ulysses S. Grant, Tomb Dedication, 1897. ANS AE 64mm commemorative medal, by Tiffany & Co. (1985.81.161) Gift of Daniel M. Friedenberg

When it was announced that the Twenty-fifth National Conference of Charities and Correction would be held in New York on May 18, 1898, William Rhinelander Stewart, the president of the conference, approached the ANS to strike a commemorative medal for the occasion. The Society agreed to his proposal with the understanding that it would have control over the design, retain the canceled dies, and have the right to purchase specimens for the collection. The obverse design, which included a depiction of the Angel of Mercy descending to personifications of the poor and the imprisoned, was created by Victor D. Brenner, the future designer of the Lincoln cent. It was so well received that the Conference requested and received the right to use the design as its official seal. In the same year, a second medal, designed by Edward Hagaman Hall, was also produced for Charter Day, a celebration honoring the consolidation of the five boroughs of Greater New York.

25th National Conference of Charities and Correction, 1898. ANS AR 76mm commemorative medal, by Victor D. Brenner (1898.25.7) Gift of V.D. Brenner

Port of New York City, Municipalities Consolidation, 1898. ANS AR 64mm commemorative medal, by Tiffany & Co. (0000.999.4301)

In 1900, the Society issued another of Brenner’s medal designs to commemorate a visit of Prince Henry of Prussia to the United States and invited Victor Emmanuel III, King of Italy and renowned collector, to become an honorary member. The invitation, which was graciously accepted, came with an example of the ANS medal struck in gold.

Visit of H.R.H. Prince Henry of Prussia to the United States,1902. ANS AR 70mm commemorative medal, by Victor D. Brenner (1902.25.1) Gift of V.D. Brenner

The Paris Exposition of 1900

Thanks to George R. Kunz, the honorable special agent to the commander general of the United States at the Paris Exposition of 1900, it was possible for the Society to take part in this great international event. Plans for the Society’s participation quickly moved forward, which included the naming of J. Sanford Saltus, Augustus Saint Gaudens, and Victor D. Brenner as its representatives in Paris, until the meeting held on January 15, 1900. On that evening Daniel Parish, Jr. objected to ANS involvement in the Exposition on the grounds that “the medals produced in this country [the United States] could not compete with those of France in artistic merit.” The response to this concern was to form the ANS exhibit with its main focus on American numismatic history, rather than artistry. To this end, a variety of Colonial and United States coin types were selected for the exhibit, along with medals illustrating facets of American history and various insignia of American military and patriotic societies. These items were displayed in the Society’s rooms on March 1, 1900, before they were packed up, insured and shipped to France.

The ANS exhibit proved to be a great success and was deemed worthy of a prize medal and a diploma from the organizers of the Paris Exposition. The somewhat novel inclusion of insignia generated a good deal of interest and led to the decision to devote part of the Society’s cabinet to a collection of this material. A Committee of Insignia of Military and Hereditary Societies (shortened to the Committee on American Insignia in 1901) was soon formed and charged with forming an insignia collection. The success of this committee can be gauged by the fact that by 1905 the ANS already possessed 134 insignia, forming the nucleus of the collection that now consists of more than 3,000 pieces.

France. Universal International Exposition, 1900. AR 63.5mm participation medal, by J.C. Chaplain, awarded to ANS (1903.2.1)


Around the same time that the new insignia collection began to grow, the Society benefited from the generous donations of two of its members. In 1897, Parish Hackley Barhydt, a Society member since 1895, died. However, despite his relative inactivity in the doings of the ANS, his love of the organization was recognized by his widow, who established a $200 fund in his memory.

Even more impressive was the gift of 5,286 Civil War tokens presented by Edward Groh in 1900. This donation represented the first sizeable collection acquired by the Society and later formed the cornerstone for George Hetrich’s monumental study, Civil War Tokens and Tradesmen’s Store Cards (1924). The tokens were especially well received not only because of their quantity and quality, but also because of the high regard in which members of the Society held Groh. He had been one of the original founders of the ANS and had shown an unflagging interest in the Society’s affairs from the very beginning. In recognition of his tireless efforts on behalf of the organization he was honored by the presentation of an inscribed silver loving cup. Edward Groh’s death on January 2, 1905, came as a great blow to the American Numismatic and Archaeological Society.

The School for Coin and Medal Designing and Die Cutting

The Society’s frequent involvement in the production of medals to mark special events, and a personal concern over the quality of American medallic art led ANS President, Andrew C. Zabriskie, to suggest that a regular series of art medals should be struck, following the manner of the limited edition books then being produced by the Grolier Club. To this end a Medal Committee was formed and by 1904 the first new medal had been issued, based on a Brenner design and honoring Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian explorer for whom the Americas are named.

Amerigo Vespucci, 400th Anniversary Celebration, 1903. ANS AR 76 x 58mm commemorative plaquette, by Victor D. Brenner (1904.28.1) Gift of the ANS Medals Committee

At the same time that Zabriskie recommended the series that the Vespucci medal later inaugurated, the National Academy of Design offered the Society space in its new building for a School for Coin and Medal Designing and Die Cutting. Such an opportunity was too great to pass up and by November of 1900 preliminary steps had been taken to take advantage of the offer. It was proposed that the school should open immediately on a schedule of three sessions a week with eight to ten pupils and two instructors. One of the instructors was to be responsible for teaching the art of drawing and die design, while the other would teach the modeling of the designs and the incising of metals. The cost of operations for the academic year was estimated at $800, to be raised by subscription from Society members.

The first teacher at the school was Charles J. Pike, a well regarded medallist and sculptor, who gave instruction twice a week for the impressive salary of fifty dollars per month. He began with only two pupils, but by January of 1901 the class had expanded to nine. However, by May it was down to seven pupils. Enrollment declined still further in the following year, when only four students attended. In an attempt to improve enrollment it was decided to add some instruction in the design of artistic jewellery. It was hoped that individuals interested in this course might later be directed towards medallic art. Unfortunately, the plan failed to yield results and participation continued to dwindle. The school was also plagued by the fact that it was unable to find a diesinker willing to teach what students there were. Thus, in 1905, the Society abandoned the idea of the school and used the remaining balance of the funds raised to pay for it, $203.94, to purchase books, coins, and medals with the tacit approval of the subscribers.


In November of 1905 it became necessary for the ANS to revise its Constitution and By-Laws, in part because the New York Law of 1848, under which it had been incorporated, was repealed and the Society now fell under the Membership Corporations’ Law. Section 14 of the latter law required a vote of the majority at an annual meeting in order to change the number of directors or managers, while Section 31 limited the total number of managers to thirty. Section 8 also required nine members to be present in order to constitute a quorum. In order to comply with the law twelve amendments were made to the Constitution and By-Laws of the Society and unanimously adopted at the Annual Meeting held in January of 1906.

Not only did the Constitution of the ANS change in 1905, but so did the presidency. In December of the previous year Andrew C. Zabriskie resigned his post for reasons that are still unclear. In his stead, Archer M. Huntington, a wealthy philanthropist and accomplished scholar of Spanish culture and literature, was elected as the new President. His tenure in office would mark a turning point in the history of the Society and pave the way for a more prosperous future. Another notable addition to the organization in 1905 was Edward T. Newell, an independent student of Greek and Hellenistic numismatic subjects, who accepted the post of Assistant Curator. His work on difficult and sometimes obscure facets of ancient coinage would become the sturdy foundation upon which many later studies were built.

A New Home

An almost constant theme throughout the early history of the Society was the lack of a true permanent home and the constant need to seek out and move into new quarters. Under the direction of Archer M. Huntington the somewhat nomadic life that the ANS had been leading was brought to an end, heralding the start of a new era of stability for the Society.

In May of 1906 the lease of the Society’s rooms at the Union Dime Savings Bank was due to expire, making it necessary to look for quarters elsewhere. Faced with this situation, Huntington, who also happened to be the President of the Hispanic Society of America, suggested that the ANS make use of rooms in the Hispanic Society building located at Audubon Terrace. Although there was some initial concern about moving as far uptown as Broadway and 155th Street, in late 1905 the decision was taken to accept the offer of the Hispanic Society and by May 21, 1906 the ANS was safely ensconced at its new location. As a sign of thanks, the Hispanic Society of America was inscribed as an honorary member of the American Numismatic and Archaeological Society in 1907. To this day it remains the oldest honorary member still on the rolls. In response, the ANS was elected to honorary membership in the Hispanic Society.

Nevertheless, the quarters furnished by the Hispanic Society were only ever conceived of as a stopgap measure, for in January of 1906, Archer M. Huntington had presented to the ANS a plot of ground at Audubon Terrace for the erection of a proper building for the Society. This gift was gratefully accepted and subscriptions were immediately solicited from the membership in order to raise the money for the cost of building. By March 19, more than $20,000 had already been received, making it possible to press ahead with the granting of construction contracts. The projected cost of the building, which was to be in the free classic style and in harmony with the design of the Hispanic Society building, was $47,000.

Architect’s Sketch of the ANS Building (1905). “The American Numismatic Society, 1858-1958” by Howard L. Adelson, p 148.

Construction was well under way by the end of 1906, but in the following year it was reported that the total subscriptions only amounted to $23,985.08, forcing the Society to borrow the remainder of the $47,000 in order to complete the building in 1908. On April 6, 1908 the ANS held its fiftieth Annual Meeting in the new, but still incomplete, building. The celebration of this anniversary was especially joyous and marked by numerous congratulatory messages from organizations and individuals both in the United States and abroad. On this occasion J. Sanford Saltus presented to the Society with the gavel, which is still used by ANS Presidents to this day, and more significantly, President Huntington donated $25,000 to complete the payments for the building. Thus, the Society could begin its new life at its new location entirely debt free.

On May 13, 1908, the ANS building was formally opened to the public and received favorable attention from the press. New vistas now lay open to the Society as both a scholarly institution and as a museum serving the general public. At the close of its fifth decade the great opportunities now open to the American Numismatic and Archaeological Society began to be appreciated, as can be seen from a report by the Council in November of 1908: “Visitors come to the building every day and receive as much attention as it is possible to give them. The public seems to be gradually finding out that there is a numismatic museum in New York, and, while a considerable portion of the people do not know what Numismatic means, we are certainly making a beginning in giving them that information.”