The History of the ANS: The Third Decade

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

The last installment of this series saw the early struggles and triumphs of the ANS, then known at the American Numismatic and Archaeological Society. Following a period of virtual dissolution in the early 1870s the Society resurrected itself, thanks in large part to the strong leadership of Charles E. Anthon, and began to grow steadily over the remainder of the decade. In its third decade of existence, the ANS would gain greater public notoriety and take the first steps towards becoming an important scholarly institution.

Philadelphia and Washington

By the late nineteenth century, it had become customary for the United States Mint to sell coins to incorporated numismatic societies for the value of the metal. However, in 1878 the Superintendent of the Philadelphia Mint, James Pollack, refused to recognize this hallowed privilege. Furthermore, he permitted irregular issues to enter into circulation and refused to provide pattern pieces to numismatic organizations.

Determined to restore the old order of business at the Philadelphia Mint, the Executive Committee of the ANS appointed Isaac Francis Wood, the Society’s Librarian, to cement an alliance proposed by the Boston Numismatic Society and the Antiquarian Society of Philadelphia in order to present a united front in the struggle against the perceived unjust Mint practices. On March 1, 1879, Pollack resigned his position and was replaced by Colonel A. Louden Snowden, who acceded to the demands of the numismatic societies. In 1880-81, the Mint even adopted the Society’s recommended procedures for the sale of assay medals and metric coin sets. The triumph of the American Numismatic and Antiquarian Society was complete.

As 1880 began, events in Washington also seemed poised to benefit antiquarian institutions, such as the ANS. On January 14 of that year, a bill was introduced that would allow for the import of classical antiquities into the United States free from duty. However, just as it appeared that the bill would be passed, Senator Kirkwood of Iowa amended it to include salt for curing fish, thereby securing its defeat. In response to this disturbing development, the Society forwarded a resolution in favor of the bill to both houses of Congress. Gaston L. Feuardent, a prominent and respected member of the ANS was so incensed by the emendation that he personally went to Washington to fight for the passage of the bill. Unfortunately, this foray into the political arena was not as successful as the earlier lobbying for changes in Philadelphia Mint policy and the bill ultimately died. Taxes would continue to be levied on the importation of antiquities.

Cleopatra’s Needle

On January 22, 1881, New York City joined Rome, London, Paris, and Istanbul in the elite club of foreign cities owning Egyptian obelisks. Thankful to the United States and Commander Henry H. Gorringe for their assistance in the construction of the Suez Canal, Khedive Ismail of Egypt donated the 193-ton obelisk of Tuthmosis III that now stands in Central Park. The impending arrival of the monument (affectionately known as “Cleopatra’s Needle”) generated a great deal of excitement in the city and prompted the ANS to strike a commemorative medal designed by Charles Osborne and Gaston L. Feuardent.

Henry Gorringe, who was responsible for transporting the obelisk to New York, was also made a member of the Society at this time. Thanks to the friendly relationship between the Commander and the ANS, the entire membership was specially invited to attend the ceremonies at the erection of Cleopatra’s Needle.

Because of the Society’s prominence in these celebrations, there was little need to deliberate when the Chamber of Commerce of the State of New York received word on January 17, 1882, that the Society wished to co-operate in commemorating a statue of George Washington proposed to be erected in front of the U.S. Sub-Treasury on Wall Street. To this end, the Society produced an attractive medal depicting the statue on the obverse and bearing an inscription with the seals of the Chamber of Commerce, the City of New York, and the ANS on the reverse. It was released in 1883 to coincide with the centennial anniversary of the evacuation of New York during the War of Independence.

The Cesnola Affair

The five-year period between 1880 and 1885 was perhaps one of the most turbulent times that the ANS had yet seen, thanks to the scholarly conflict between its own Gaston Feuardent, and General Luigi Palma di Cesnola, the first Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, over the authenticity of the Museum’s Cypriot collection. Cesnola had previously been the United States Consul to Cyprus and undertook numerous excavations in that country until he returned to the United States in 1877. He became a celebrity for the sale of the 40,000 artifacts uncovered in his excavations to the Metropolitan Museum of Art between 1873 and 1876, and for his publication of Cyprus, Its Ancient Cities, Tombs and Temples in 1878.


General Luigi Palma di Cesnola

At the time of the sale and the publication, there was no sign of possible trouble between the Met and the ANS. Indeed, both Feuardent and Wood had assisted the Met in finalizing the purchase of the several parts of the Cypriot collection from Cesnola. Unfortunately, once the initial euphoria of bringing the collection to New York wore off and Feuardent began to seriously study some of the pieces, he discovered that a number of the sculptural works had been modified and that Cesnola’s remarks concerning findspots were contradictory.

In the August 1880 issue of Art Amateur, Feuardent aired his concerns about the authenticity of the collection and suggested that a hoax had been perpetrated on the scholarly community at large and on the Trustees of the Metropolitan Museum in particular. Cesnola responded to the charges by publicly accusing Feuardent of dishonesty. Public opinion concerning the authenticity of the collection became sharply divided as Feuardent and Cesnola argued their positions back and forth in the pages of the art journals and the New York Times, but in 1881 the latter appeared to be vindicated when the Trustees reported that they “had always known the falsehood of the published [Feuardent’s] charges.” The art critic, Clarence Cook, and Feuerdent, who published a series of cards illustrating the sequence of changes made to several pieces, soon attacked this position.

The increasing violence of the controversy and the impugning of Feuardent’s character by no less a figure than the Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art caused the leadership of the Society to investigate his background. They feared that if Feuardent was shown to be a man of poor moral fiber, it might reflect badly on the rest of the membership. However, after enquiries to the British Museum resulted in ringing endorsements from C.T. Newton and Reginald Stuart Poole, the ANS threw its full support behind Feuerdent’s crusade. Feuardent pressed a libel suit against Cesnola in court, but unfortunately, the jury failed to reach a verdict, bringing the case to an unsatisfactory conclusion. The Trustees interpreted the inconclusiveness of the trial as a victory, and the ANS responded by publishing in the New York Times a resolution defending Feuardent on March 6, 1884. This action was followed by the election of William J. Stillman as a resident member of the Society on January 20, 1885. His skills as an artist, journalist, and diplomat, were immediately put to work in the efforts to expose the Cypriot collection. Later in the year, he published the thirty-nine-page Report of W.J. Stillman on the Cesnola Collection as a closely argued indictment of the collection and a vindication of Feuardent.

Despite all of the controversy surrounding the Cypriot collection, in the end neither party in the dispute emerged as a clear victor. However, the conflict benefited the ANS by placing it more squarely in the public eye and showing it as an organization of solid enough stature to take a firm position against an eminent scholarly institution.

The Development of the Collections

Thanks in part to ever increasing public exposure; the library and numismatic collections of the ANS continued to expand during the course of its third decade of existence. In 1879, the library boasted 1,993 unbound pamphlets and serials, as well as 271 bound volumes, some of which were quite costly to obtain. The Society’s copy of Loubat’s Medallic History of the United States, an expensive volume at the time, was purchased through member subscription.


One of the drawings from Loubat’s Medallic History of the United States.

In 1884, the numismatic collection was unexpectedly enlarged as a result of the Society’s display of electrotype copies at the International Electrical Exhibition in Philadelphia. By coincidence, Ready and Son, the electrotypists for the British Museum, were also in attendance, exhibiting a large sample of their work. The British Museum electrotypes made a great impression on Carlos Carranza, the Consul-General of the Argentine Republic in New York, who regretted that they were to be returned to Britain at the end of the Exhibition. To avoid the loss of these electrotypes to North American students of numismatics, Carranza purchased the entire exhibit and presented it to the Society, with the proviso that the copies should be loaned out to schools and art groups. The electrotypes were gratefully received and spent the greater part of 1884 and early 1885 on display at the Lotus Club, the Union League, New York Normal College, the College of the City of New York, the Cooper Institute, and the Boston Art Club. Many of these electrotype copies can still be found in the ANS cabinet.

The somewhat eclectic archaeological collection of the ANS also grew in this period, largely thanks to private donations. Among the more remarkable items that were added to the collection were a framed Broadside Proclamation (1704) of Queen Anne concerning foreign exchange rates in the British colonial possessions in America, and a stone axe given by the Hawaiian king, Kalakaua, to General Charles E. Furlong. On one occasion, the Death Warrant (1649) of the English monarch, Charles I, was also offered to the Society. The gift of a copy of the Lord’s Prayer handwritten in ninety-four languages was rejected as more of a curiosity than a proper addition to the Society’s holdings.

The End of an Era

After leading the Society through the hard times of the early 1870s to the successes of the early 1880s, its president for more than a decade, Charles E. Anthon, died on June 7, 1883. The loss of this gifted leader, who had contributed much to the development of the ANS as a mature and respected organization, came as a great blow to its members.


Charles Anthon

In recognition of Anthon’s services, a committee was formed for the purpose of issuing a commemorative medal. The committee solicited design submissions and proposals came from several well-known die engravers. Even Charles E. Barber, the Engraver of the U.S. Mint, with the backing of A. Louden Snowden, offered a bid to prepare the dies for the medal. However, on May 9, 1884, the contract was given to Madame Lea Ahlborn of the Swedish Mint. Her design employed a left facing undraped bust of Charles Anthon on the obverse surrounded by the inscription CHARLES EDWARD ANTHON, LL.D. and a beaded circle. On the reverse appeared the inscription BORN IN NEW YORK CITY DEC. 6, 1822. DIED AT BREMEN JUNE 7, 1883, surrounded by a wreath composed of oak and laurel branches. Around this was inscribed PRESIDENT AMERICAN NUMISMATIC AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL SOCIETY 1869-1883 all within a beaded circle.


Madame Lea Ahlborn, the artist of the Anthon Medal

The members of the Society, as well as Anthon’s colleagues at the City College of New York, showed great interest in the medal and easily paid for its production through subscriptions that managed to raise $250.00 for the project. Since Ahlborn had offered to cut the dies for $200.00, the medal was guaranteed to be successful. In March of 1885, twelve impressions in silver and sixty-six in bronze were forwarded to the ANS for sale, with the latter selling for $5.00. Once the dies had produced a total of eighty-five bronze and fifteen silver medals they were canceled and placed in the cabinets of the Society. By 1886 all one hundred of the Anthon memorial medals had been sold, a sign of the high esteem in which the deceased president was held by ANS members and a fitting close to the third decade of the Society’s existence.


City College of New York