The History of the ANS: The Eighth Decade

The History of the ANS: The Eighth Decade

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

In the last installment we saw the ANS triumph over some serious financial difficulties and further expand its numismatic and library collections. In the eighth decade of its existence, under the leadership of President Edward T. Newell, the Society weathered the difficult times of the Great Depression and continued to establish itself as an important institution.

A New Building

Thanks to the impressive expansion of the Society’s numismatic and library collections, chronicled in the last installment, it quickly became clear that more space was required than what was available in the original museum building at Audubon Terrace. To help alleviate the problem, in 1923, Archer M. Huntington deeded to the ANS the land behind the Church of Our Lady of Esperanza that bordered on the Society’s property. This allowed for the building of a large vaulted storage space below the original basement. Unfortunately, because the vault was entirely underground it proved unsuitable as a library or working area and the problem of space continued to mount, largely unabated. Edward T. Newell announced the gravity of the situation to the membership in his Presidential Address of 1925, pointing out that the library had burst its bonds and was forced to spread into the museum entrance and store many volumes in the basement in order to leave some small working space for the Librarian, Howland Wood, and his assistant John Reilly Jr. Likewise, the numismatic holdings had expanded to the point that the display areas of the museum had to be cut to the barest minimum. It was a serious situation, but the financial troubles that the Society faced in the mid 1920s made it impossible to find an immediate solution to the problem.

At the close of the decade, when the financial future of the ANS began to brighten, the issue of space was revisited and plans were made to raise funds for a new addition to the museum building. In 1928, Huntington, again assisted the Society in its construction needs by anonymously donating the money necessary to erect a new four story building sixty feet square matching the style of the original ANS museum and the other museums on Audubon Terrace. When attached to the original museum building it would give the ANS a façade of 100 feet. The building work, carried out by the architectural firm of Robert J. Eidlitz, took up much of the following year and was completed in time for the Seventy-second Annual Meeting to be held in the new wing on January 11, 1930. The Society benefited, not only from the extra space provided by the new building, but also from an additional $12,000 that remained after all of the expenses were paid. This money was invested and became the basis for a Maintenance Fund.


Robert Robertson, Howland Wood, Farran Zerbe and Edward T. Newell in front of the new addition to the ANS (1935).

Archaeological Pursuits

Although the Society felt the financial pinch of the Great Depression, unlike some other American institutions it was not crushed by the hard economic times. Still, the uncertainty of the future dictated prudence with ANS funds. Luckily, one of the major undertakings of the 1930s—the throwing open of the Society’s doors to archaeologists—cost very little in terms of money, but brought great returns in prestige.

Connections were forged between the ANS and several important American excavation projects in Greece and especially the Near East. Coin finds from the Oriental Institute of Chicago excavations at Megiddo and Ali Shar, as well as the University of Pennsylvania excavations at Beth Shean and Beth Zur were sent to the ANS for examination. Likewise, the Society played a role in the preparation and study of the coin finds from the American School in Athens excavation at Corinth and the University of Pennsylvania digs at Cypriot Lepethus and in the Troad. However, the most important archaeological connection of this period was probably the Society’s involvement with Yale University’s excavation of the important Syrian border city of Dura-Europus. Not only did the finds and several hoards from this site result in several important publications, but thanks to the excavation directors, Michael Rostovtzeff and Alfred R. Bellinger, the ANS received an electrolytic system for cleaning coins. Although this equipment was primarily intended for the Dura-Europus coins, it was retained by the Society even after the work on this material was completed.

These various involvements made a name for the Society as a valuable friend of the archaeologist and led to a steady stream of excavation finds and hoards passing through its doors for careful examination. Never before had the archaeological community made such constant use of the resources of the ANS.

The Oriental and Islamic collection

As mentioned in the last installment, in the 1920s the Society’s collection of Oriental and Islamic coinage grew immensely, thereby making it one of the world’s great collections of this material. In the 1930s, representative coins of Iran from the first caliphate of the seventh century AD to the present were displayed at the International Exhibition of Persian Art held in London by the Royal Academy. This exhibit was very well received and served to increase European recognition of the ANS as an important institution.

Thanks to the increased interest in Islamic and Oriental coinages in 1934 the Society began to produce its first books on the subject in the Numismatic Notes and Monographs and Numismatic Studies series. This first volume, Howland Wood’s The Gampola Larin Hoard, was followed in rapid succession by John Walker’s The Coinage of the Second Saffarid Dynasty in Sistan (1936) and George C. Miles’ The Numismatic History of Rayy (1938) and A Byzantine Weight Validated by al-Walid (1939). Indeed, interest in the material was so high at this time that the Society hired George C. Miles to act as the first and only Research Assistant in Mohammedan Numismatics.

Publications

Although the funds for Numismatic Notes and Monographs were well protected from the ravages of the Depression, there were concerns to cut down on the number of books issued per year in order to save on expenditures. Considering the hard economic times, Archer M. Huntington also gave the Society special permission to dip into the Numismatic Notes and Monographs Fund for up to $2,500 if it ever found itself in a deficit. This was approximately the amount that the ANS had previously drawn from the Fund for editorial expenses at the crest of its publication wave. In 1932 the General Fund of the Society was reported as $1200 less than it had been in 1931 and this downward trend continued into 1934 when it was $3,000 less than in 1931. In order to make up the difference $2000 was taken out of the Numismatic Notes and Monographs Fund at this time. Luckily the crisis began to ease in the following year and it was no longer necessary to raid this Fund for additional resources.


Title page of Numismatics Studies no. 1, Edward T. Newell’s Coinage of the Eastern Seleucid Mints.

The passing of the crisis left the ANS anxious to continue its extensive publications, which it did in 1937 with the creation of Numismatic Studies, a new series based on the large format that had formerly been used for the American Journal of Numismatics. In this same year Sydney P. Noe also produced a revised and expanded edition of his Bibliography of Greek Coin Hoards, taking into account the many new discoveries that had been made since the first edition was published in 1925.

Personnel Changes

In a further attempt to curb spending, in June of 1932, Sydney P. Noe was appointed to the extraordinary position of Director of the ANS. This made him the general manager of the building and gave him full authority over all employees in order to insure the greatest efficiency in the Society’s operations. In 1938 the Council abolished the Directorship on the grounds that it was not properly accounted for in the ANS Constitution. No doubt Noe was pleased to have this weight lifted from his shoulders, for at the same time that he acted as Director he continued to serve as Librarian, Editor, and Secretary. In the same year he also wisely gave up the post of Librarian and was joined by an Associate Editor, Sawyer McA. Mosser.


Sydney P. Noe, c. 1935.

Further changes were occasioned by the deaths of Howland Wood, the Society’s Curator, and Robert Robertson, the Assistant Curator, in 1938. The loss of these long-serving individuals was widely mourned not only by the immediate ANS membership, but also by sister organizations, the Antiquarian and Numismatic Society of Montreal, the Hispanic Society of America, and the Royal Numismatic Society. In the year of their deaths William L. Clark became the new Assistant Curator and Raymond E. Main was assigned to work in the Library. Earlier, in 1931, Dorothy Cox, a well-known archaeologist, also joined the coin room staff.

Educational Programs

In 1933 the ANS Council began to show a special interest in promoting the science of numismatics among young people. To this end the Society approached some twenty local schools with an offer to present lectures on the subject of numismatics. Although seven of the schools declined and five failed to respond to the proposal, the positive response of the remaining eight was encouraging. Contacts were made with a variety of schoolteachers at Groton, Brooks School, Philips Exeter, Philips Andover, St. Marks, and Wheaton College leading to a lecture program that continued into the Spring of 1935. Unfortunately, the high school lectures were discontinued in the following year when it was realized that the ANS could not really expect to interest young people without doing more to help them make their own start in numismatics.

Far more successful than this brief foray into local high schools was the opening up of the museum facilities for the training and research work of graduate students. In 1938, Karl Lehman of New York University and a group of his students began a comprehensive study of classical architecture as depicted on the Greek and Roman coins in the ANS collection. The ultimate goal of this project was to create a new study on the model of Thomas L. Donaldson’s Architectura Numismatica (1859). At the time, Donaldson’s book was a key reference for archaeologists attempting to reconstruct ruined ancient buildings, but it was in desperate need of updating. Although this ambitious program was never completed, it did result in several important issues of Numismatic Notes and Monographs, most notably, Donald F. Brown’s Temples of Rome as Coin Types (1940) and Bluma L. Trell’s The Temple of Artemis at Ephesos (1945).

The Bimillennium of Augustus

The year 1938 marked the bimillennium of the birth of C. Octavius, the man who in 27 BC became the first Roman emperor with the title of Augustus. This occasion was marked by celebrations in Italy and in other countries where antiquarian interest was high. In the United States, the American Numismatic Society held a special exhibit honoring Augustus on April 28. The display was a great success, with an attendance of 163 people on the first day and positive reviews in the New York Times and the Sun. In May of the same year, the ANS also hosted a lecture by Lily Ross Taylor of Bryn Mawr on the subject of “Caesar Augustus, Prince and Emperor” to which the local chapter of the Archaeological Institute of America was invited.

Medals

Although the great period of the Society’s medallic production was past, in 1939 the ANS struck a medal to celebrate the sesquicentennial of George Washington’s inauguration as President of the United States. The piece was designed by Albert Stewart and depicted on its obverse Washington as the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army and on its reverse displayed thirteen stars with the inscription TO / COMMEMORATE / THE INAUGURATION OF GEORGE / WASHINGTON / FIRST PRESIDENT / OF THE UNITED STATES / APRIL 30th / 1789.


The ANS Washington commemorative medal designed by Stewart Albert (ANS 1939.75.1) 63 mm.

The American Numismatic Museum?

One of the more peculiar events of the 1930s was the debate over a potential change of name from the American Numismatic Society to the American Numismatic Museum. Out of concern for differentiation from the similarly named American Numismatic Association, in 1921 E.T. Newell made the suggestion that it might be worth changing the name of the Society, but this was not addressed until it was recalled to the Council in 1937. At this time it was pointed out that not only would the replacement of the term Society with Museum seem to better avoid confusion with the ANA, but that it might also help to entice members and support from non-numismatists. At the suggestion of Samuel R. Millbank a committee was formed to investigate the question of changing the name, but no further action was ever taken. Thus the ANS has remained a Society to the present day.

Gifts and Acquisitions

In 1931, the ANS acquired a plaque depicting Robert Louis Stevenson designed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Not only was this an important piece by one of the greatest American sculptors and medallists of the late nineteenth century, but it also came with an interesting story. According to an account given by Saint-Gaudens, in an attempt to get Stevenson to properly pose for his portrait, he asked the author to write something while he designed the plaque. What Stevenson wrote was the following letter to Saint-Gaudens’ young son:

Dear Homer Saint-Gaudens,–

Your father has brought you this day to see me, and he tells me that it is his hope that you may remember the occasion. I am going to do what I can to carry out this wish; and it may amuse you, years after, to see this scrap of paper and to read what I write. I must begin by testifying that you yourself took no interest whatever in the introductions, and in the most proper spirit displayed a single-minded ambition to get back to play, and this I thought an excellent and admirable point in your character. You were also (I use the past tense, with a view to the time when you shall read, rather than to that when I am writing) a very pretty boy, and to my European views, startlingly self-possessed.

My time of observation was so limited that you will pardon me if I can say no more; what else I marked, what restlessness of foot and hand, what graceful clumsiness, what experimental designs upon the furniture, was but the common inheritance of human youth. But you may perhaps like to know that the lean flushed man in bed, who interested you so little, was in a state of mind extremely mingled and unpleasant: harassed with work which he thought he was not doing well, troubled with difficulties to which you in time will succeed, and yet looking forward to no less a matter than a voyage to the South Seas and the visitation of savage and desert islands.

Your father’s friend,
Robert Louis Stevenson


The Robert Louis Stevenson portrait plaque by Augustus Saint Gaudens, 430 mm.

In the same year that the Society acquired the Stevenson plaque, the longtime member and Councillor, Bauman L. Belden, died. At the sale of his effects the ANS purchased the remaining copies of his publications on United States war medals, as well as other items that had been part of Belden’s personal numismatic library.

The year 1933 was particularly notable for new acquisitions. In this year, Casey Wood donated part of the famous Gampola hoard of 494 larins and 53 other Islamic coins. The ANS also benefited from a gift of 488 medals bequeathed by George F. Kunz. His role in the Society’s early production of medals and his association with Tiffany and Co. had placed him in a position to acquire many rare specimens. The material mainly included United States and European medals, including an important gold medal commemorating Andrew Jackson’s victory at the battle of New Orleans.


Medal commemorating Andrew Jackson’s victory at New Orleans (ANS 1933.64.29, gift of the estate of George Kunz), 65 mm.

Edward T. Newell was responsible for one of the more unusual medallic acquisitions of 1933—a medal struck to honor an unknown attacker of Senator Huey Long (D-La) in the washroom of the Sands Point Bath Club. According to the accounts in the newspapers, the Senator was struck in the eye while visiting the washroom, after which novelist Owen P. White jokingly suggested that Long’s assailant should be awarded a gold medal for what he considered to be a public service. As it turned out, others agreed with this sentiment and in a short time $1,000 was raised to produce the medal. The piece was designed by George DeZayas and depicted a Kingfish struck by a fist issuing near a washbowl and a faucet. The inscription reads PUBLICO CONCILIO PRO RE IN CAMERA GESTA (“By Public Acclaim for a Deed Done in Private”). When White opined that, “no dignified museum would be frivolous enough to accept it” in their collection, Newell pointed out that the ANS was “one of the most dignified museums in this country” and would be pleased to have the medal since it was a public expression of the American people. The medal was presented in a special ceremony on September 20 at which Newell remarked: “I appreciate the honor of this medal commemorating the act of this noble, but unknown hero. I feel sure it will find its place in history along with the medals presented at Marathon. Some day it may hang side by side with the medal presented by the Emperor Honorius to the general who defeated Alaric the Goth, the inscription on which reads: ‘Triumphator barbarorum,’ which means ‘the conqueror of the barbarians.'”


George De Zayaz’ satirical medal of Huey E. Long’s attack (ANS 1933.83.1, gift of O.P. White).

The public exhibit of this satirical medal at the ANS attracted over 500 viewers in five days. It turned out to be so popular that replicas were issued and sold by the Medallic Art Company.

Among the more serious new acquisitions of 1933 were two rare Chinese silver bars of the Han Dynasty and a small inscribed gold bar, which was attributed to either the Shang or early Zhou Dynasty. Fifty-six coins from the H.A. Schnakenberg Collection and the complete F. Munroe Endicott Collection were also donated to the ANS in this year. These collections consisted mainly of European gold and ancient coins, respectively. The Endicott material included issues of Alexander the Great (some from the Demanhur Hoard), the Ptolemies, and Roman Alexandria, as well as 500 denarii, including coins from the so-called Catacombs Hoard.

When Robert J. Eidlitz died in 1933 it came as a blow to the Society and President Newell marked his passing with an appropriate tribute. In Eidlitz’ will his impressive collection of some 5,000 medals, primarily related to architectural subjects, as well as his personal library were bequeathed to the ANS. The Society recognized this important gift by naming Robert J. Eidlitz and his surviving wife as Benefactors.


Robert James Eidlitz

In 1936, Richard Hoe Lawrence, ANS member since 1878 and sometime Curator and Librarian of the Society in the 1880s, also died, leaving a collection of 591 Roman coins and electrotypes to the ANS. When his estate was settled, his widow, Jessie C. Lawrence donated a further 720 Roman Imperial and Republican coins. In this same year Arthur C. Wyman, onetime Assistant Curator (1918-1921) also died. Following the instructions of his will, the Society was permitted to cull his collection for any coins that it lacked, amounting to some eighty-five pieces.

The great donation of 1937 was the Herbert Scoville bequest. Scoville had been an ardent collector of Italian Renaissance coinage and upon his death gave his entire collection to the ANS. This included some 611 gold, 2,265 silver, and 628 copper or bronze coins mainly from the Duchy of Savoy and the Communes of Milan and Florence. Several of these beautiful coins are currently on display in the Drachmas, Doubloons and Dollars exhibit at the New York Federal Reserve Bank.

The ANS further benefited from the gift of the John Reilly Jr. Collection of Oriental coins, donated by his daughter, Frances Reilly in 1938. The collection of her father, who had died unexpectedly in 1931, consisted of some 27,000 items, mainly of Chinese origin and including at its core the important collection of Neil Gordon Munro. The donation also involved a select library on Oriental numismatic topics. In gratitude for this large gift, the Council named Frances Reilly as a Benefactor of the Society.

In the same year as Reilly gift, the ANS also received bequests from General DeWitt Clinton Falls and George H. Clapp. The latter consisted of U.S. large cents and money for the purchase of the E.P. Robinson Collection as well as $5,000 to establish a fund for the purchase of large cents as they appeared on the market. These gifts and acquisitions made the Society’s collection of large cents perhaps the best in the United States.