Levick, Crosby, and the Plate

by Jim Neiswinter

The first and most famous photographic plate of coins in American numismatics was published in volume 3 of the April 1869 issue of the American Journal of Numismatics. This plate of 1793 cents, with the descriptions of the varieties provided by Sylvester Sage Crosby, remains a landmark in numismatic history. The man responsible for putting it all together was Joseph N. T. Levick (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1. Joseph N. T. Levick.

Levick, born in 1828, started collecting coins circa 1855 in his native Philadelphia. In 1860, he moved to New York City and joined the American Numismatic & Archaeological Society in December 1865. In the March 8, 1866, regular meeting of the ANAS, Levick proposed that a numismatic journal should be issued by the society. (Several European numismatic societies had been issuing such journals for years.) At the annual meeting two weeks later, his proposal was adopted. The first number (issue) was published on May 24, 1866. The Society guaranteed publication for one year at a cost to each member of three dollars per year. All publication expenses would be made good by the members. The journal was not a financial success. It lost over $200 in the first year, and the members were assessed to make up the difference (AJN 2, no. 12 [April 1868]: 105). In 1868, Levick, the Society’s treasurer and a member of the Finance Committee, wrote a report on the difficulties of publishing the journal. Because of this report, it was decided by the membership to ask other numismatic societies if they would take over publication of the journal on a rotating basis. It took some time to complete the negotiations, but at the annual meeting of the ANAS in 1870 it was announced that the Boston Numismatic Society had agreed to undertake the publication of the journal for the next year.

The minutes of the Society’s May 14, 1868, meeting state that Levick read extracts from a tabular statement, prepared by him, of the varieties, sales, prices, owners, and buyers of 1793 cents. He published “A Table, Showing the Prices Paid for the Five Types of the 1793 Cent, Selected from Twenty of the Principal Coin Sales in the Country, from 1855 to 1868” in the October issue of the AJN. Levick listed the buyers to afford a means of tracing into whose hands the pieces finally settled. He believed that in many instances, the reputation of the original owners, not less than the merits of the pieces, had been the cause of such competition and high prices (AJN 3, no. 6 [October 1868]: 47). While examining an “immense number” of coin catalogues in preparing this table, he found it difficult to differentiate the varieties of 1793 cents from the descriptions. I believe this is where the idea for the plate originated. In this issue Levick also writes: “In our next number we intend to furnish Photographic Plates of a number of Types and Varieties of the Cents of 1793, to be accompanied by detailed descriptions; and in the meantime we earnestly solicit our subscribers and friends to send us good rubbings or copper-foil impressions of any specimens which they may chance to possess or, if possible, the cents themselves for a short time. Communications on this subject to be sent to J. N. T. Levick, P.O. Box 4318.”

One month later, in November 1868, Ebenezer Mason announced his own study of 1793 cents in his Coin and Stamp Collector’s Magazine. I don’t think this was a coincidence. Mason and Levick were friends. They first met in 1855, when they both worked for different firms in the same building on Front St. in Philadelphia. It was around this time that Mason became a speculator in coins and Levick a collector (Mason’s Coin Collectors Magazine 4, no. 2 [September 1882]: 25). I believe when Levick announced his project in the October issue of the AJN, Mason read about it and decided to beat his old friend to the punch. He started in December 1868 and completed his study in the August issue of his magazine. Mason’s effort was compromised by his writing the descriptions of the cents from the pencil rubbings he had solicited from his subscribers. He listed three chains, eight wreaths, and three liberty caps. Only eleven of these descriptions can be recognized today. His study may have preceded Levick’s, but his work was forgettable.

It seems that Levick was overly optimistic to think he could get all this together for the November AJN, since he received only three responses to his request for cents. Consequently, he had to write individually to every well-known collector and anyone else he had heard of who possessed 1793 cents. Some collectors didn’t think their pieces were fine enough, but Levick wanted to see all their ’93s, because he wanted to know of every existing variety. He wanted to make the photographs as complete as possible by showing every variety in the best possible condition (AJN 3, no. 10 [February 1869]: 84).

The Society would be responsible for the coins. The operator (photographer) would not handle the cents. Levick would place them on pinpoints attached to a board (AJN 3, no. 11 [March 1869]: 92). The man who photographed the plate was a well-known photographer of the era named George Rockwood. His studio at 839 Broadway in New York City was not far from where Levick lived, at 904 Broadway. In 1868, photography was a relatively new profession. Since this was before the discovery of electricity, the lighting of the coins was provided by the sun and/or candlelight. This light was probably enhanced by strategically placed mirrors.

Originally, I believe Levick intended to make two photographs, one for the obverses and the other for the reverses. Apparently, he had to combine the two to keep the cost down. Many years ago, Eric Newman found these obverse and reverse “test” photographs loosely laid in his same AJN issue as the regular Levick plate (Figs. 2–3). The writing on the photographs is Levick’s. It matches the writing in his journal of the project, The Book of Rubbings, which is in the ANS library. The first eleven pages of this journal contain pencil rubbings of cents, followed by handwritten text that includes owner’s names and comments on the coins. An example of an entry from page 24:

Nov 18/68
Geo F Seavey sent me some of his 93s
No 2 America – ordinary
No 1 is splendid
Nos 4 & 5 both gems of the 1st water
His 1 America & 4 & 5 are no better anywhere

Fig. 2. Obverse test plate.

Fig. 3. Reverse test plate.

At the bottom of the obverse test photograph, Levick writes about three coins that came from the 1867 Mickley sale. Number 2 is the famous Mickley AMERI that was bought by Mortimer Mackenzie for $110. Bayard Smith bought numbers 10 and 11 for $28 and $55, respectively. All three coins made the final plate. At the end of Crosby’s monograph, Levick lists the “Proprietors of the Cents Represented in the Plate.” He has Mackenzie as the owner of obverse 1 and George Seavey as the owner of reverse A. An examination of this reverse on the plate proves this to be incorrect. The Mickley AMERI has a line-like defect through the O in OF, as does the A reverse on the plate. This coin is obviously Mackenzie’s, so obverse 1 must belong to Seavey. It’s apparent that Levick got the owners of these two coins mixed up.

Mackenzie was a New Yorker who supplied the most cents for the plate: three Chains, two Wreaths, and one Liberty Cap. The obverses of these six cents are also plated in Edward Cogan’s sale of Mackenzie’s collection in June 1869. This was the first auction catalogue to use photography. The similarity to Levick’s plate in how the coins are displayed leads me to believe that Cogan also used Rockwood as his photographer.

In the February 1869 issue of the AJN, Levick wrote: “We made a promise in the October number which we had not anticipated would involve so much labor and expense, and so many difficulties to surmount. We asserted that we should produce, in the following number, photographs representing these types and varieties; but as yet this engagement has not been realized. We are obliged to beg of our subscribers some indulgence in this matter, and we trust by the last number of the present volume (April issue) to be prepared to tender them something worthy of their patience, and which will meet with entire approbation. We shall here add, that as these photographs will cost more than we had any idea of, the Journal containing them will be forwarded or delivered to those only who shall have paid their subscriptions…. Photographs of the ’93s will be for sale by Edward Cogan at one dollar a pair…. These photographs will be desirable for illustrating coin catalogues of past or future sales, and it is not likely that such another set of ’93s can be brought together again…. It is remarkable to observe how many collectors there are who have ’93s, and are totally ignorant of the fact that they have been hoarding counterfeits until informed by us. We have received from several gentlemen their collections of ’93s for our use, among which pieces we found many counterfeits. It is our intention to have a plate taken embracing both the genuine and the counterfeits, in order to aid the collectors in designating the difference; for, were we to present simply the genuine varieties, many collectors would find in their cabinet’s varieties of ’93 which we did not represent. But when compared with the counterfeits, they could readily see, from the style, etc., that their pieces were most probably not genuine.”

Most of these counterfeits were Smith Counterfeits: reengraved low-grade 1793 and 1794 cents turned into high grade ’93s (Fig. 4). William D. Smith (known as Smith of Ann Street) was an engraver who worked at 1 Ann Street in New York City in the late 1850s and early 1860s. His workmanship was amazing. Levick’s test photograph’s cents 8, 9, and 12 are all Smith Counterfeits. However, when Levick produced just one plate, there was not enough room to include the Smiths. In the March issue, Levick thanks Crosby for his assistance and for providing him with several of the cents that appear on the plate: “To Mr. Crosby in particular I owe my thanks for pointing out to me many varieties, detecting counterfeits, procuring me very rare and valuable varieties and specimens, and also for furnishing me with a MINUTE DESCRIPTION of all the varieties, which is to accompany the photographs.”

Fig. 4. Smith counterfeits. The chain and liberty cap obverses are plated in Crosby’s 1897 monograph.

In the spring of 1869, Sylvester Crosby (Fig. 5) was a thirty-seven-year-old watchmaker from Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was a member of the New England Numismatic and Archaeological Society but did not join the American Numismatic & Archaeological Society until April 1869, when he became a corresponding member. He was elected a resident member of the Boston Numismatic Society in June of the same year (AJN 4, no. 2 [June 1869]: 14). He is famous for being the author of The Early Coins of America (1875). This was Crosby’s second published numismatic work. His first was the monograph describing the types and varieties of 1793 cents that appeared on Levick’s photograph. I’ve often wondered why Crosby, who in 1868 had yet to publish anything about coins, was chosen to write the descriptions of the cents that accompanied the plate.

Fig. 5. Sylvester Crosby.

The first published study of large-cent varieties appeared on the front page of the Boston Evening Transcript on March 1, 1859. This occurred less than two years after the mint issued the new small (Flying Eagle) cents for circulation. The large cents were recalled for melting, and people realized they would soon be hard to come by. This event triggered the first coin-collecting boom in this country. The Transcript article, “About Cents,” was written by “A. S.” of Brookline, Massachusetts, and provided the first variety classification for large cents, with particular attention paid to the varieties of 1793. Eleven different varieties were described, and even today it’s easy to match these descriptions to the Sheldon numbers for 1793. “A. S.” was Augustine Shurtleff, a doctor from Brookline and probably one of the original members of the Boston Numismatic Society. The BNS was started by eight men on February 11, 1860, almost two years after Augustus Sage held the first meeting of the American Numismatic & Archaeological Society in New York City. I believe that other future BNS members such as Jeremiah Colburn, Joseph Finnotti, William Appleton, and Henry Brooks helped Shurtleff by providing cents from their collections, and I think it’s probable that some of these men assisted on the project of classifying the varieties. It’s easy to picture them sitting around a table, maybe in Shurtleff’s study, passing around their large cents and discussing the different varieties under the light of whale-oil lamps.

The portion of the article concerning the cents of 1793 was reprinted in the April 1859 issue of the Historical Magazine. The entire article was reprinted in the November magazine. (These reprints were probably the work of Colburn.) I think Levick had read this article and asked the BNS members if they would update it with the five varieties of ’93 cents that had been discovered since 1859 (Sheldon’s 4, 14, 15, 16, and NC2). By 1868, Sylvester Crosby had a well-known interest in 1793 cents and had discovered two of the new varieties: S15 and S16 (Levick, Book of Rubbings, 32). I think that Shurtleff or the other BNS members who were responsible for the first study of cents passed on Levick’s request to Crosby, who agreed to write the descriptions. When “About Cents” is compared to Crosby’s monograph ten years later, it’s obvious that Crosby used it as his starting point. Compare the descriptions of the first variety, the AMERI:

1859 1st — Obverse a head with fine flowing hair, copied from the French ideal of Liberty; beneath, the date, with figures wide apart; above, the word “Liberty.” Reverse, an endless chain of fifteen links, inclosing the words ‘one cent’ and the fraction 1–100. Around it “United States of Ameri.”

1869 No. 1 (with Revs. A and B) A head of Liberty, with hair in fine locks flowing freely backward and downward. The letters of the legend are regular in size and spacing. The figures of the date are widely spread…. Reverse A (for Obv. 1). An endless chain of fifteen links enclosing the words One Cent and the fraction 1/100.

The similarities did not end with the AMERI. Crosby took the descriptions in “About Cents” and expanded them for his monograph. And, except for one difference, he follows the same emission sequence. He also describes the five new varieties. So Crosby based his monograph on Shurtleff’s work, and eighty years later Sheldon based his descriptions of 1793 cents in Early American Cents on Crosby’s.

Levick also writes about his reason for producing the plate in the March AJN: “Mr. [W. Elliot] Woodward, Roxbury Mass., who, I supposed, would be thoroughly familiar with all types and varieties, from the fact that during several years past he has purchased, catalogued and sold almost all the very best collections in the country, such, for instance, as those of Messrs. Mickley, McCoy, Colburn, Brooks, Finotti, Shurtleff…I naturally presumed that no one would be a better authority than he, since it was quite probable that from inspecting the cabinets of the above-named gentlemen, some among whom made a specialty of collecting every variety extant, therefore he must be thoroughly familiar with each piece. I found it, however, impossible to discover any differences in the pieces by referring to his catalogues. I have discovered, indeed, that the same piece may be described in a half dozen ways by as many catalogue writers, who thus give the impression that there are as many varieties; and in some cases the same variety of piece appears several times in the same catalogue, each time differently described. Hence one point to be gained by the photograph and descriptions for future catalogues, namely, that a variety can be recognized by its number or letter…. Writers should each and all adopt one way of describing a piece, and let it be known by a certain title, so that all collectors may at once recognize it.”

I think Levick had other reasons for the project: to increase interest in the AJN and to ensure that the members paid the three dollars for their subscriptions. It took almost two years before Edward Cogan became the first cataloguer to use Crosby’s numbers when he sold the collection of William Packer, ex-governor of Pennsylvania, in March 1871. John Haseltine sold Sylvester Crosby’s collection in June 1883. It included fifteen different varieties of 1793 cents. What I found strange was that these cents were described with Frossard’s numbers. Edouard Frossard published his Monograph of United States Cents and Half Cents in 1879. This was the most recent study of cent varieties, but one wonders what Crosby thought about Haseltine using Frossard’s numbers to describe his ’93s.

When the cost forced Levick to combine the obverses and reverses into one plate, he ran into a problem with two of the varieties. The 6D and the 12K were both unique in 1869. Since they are also low grade, Levick wrote that they could not do better in regard to these two coins, but he proposed if better examples were discovered to have them photographed and to paste the photos over those now on the plate (AJN 3, no. 12 [April 1869]: 97). The 6D (Strawberry Leaf) is still unique today, while only eleven more examples of the 12K (S15) have been discovered. Levick’s problem was how to show both sides of a unique coin on one plate. Crosby solved the problem by making electrotype copies of all the cents on the plate. There are several references to this in the Book of Rubbings (34, 35). This allowed Levick to use the actual coin for one side and the electro for the other. When Woodward sold Levick’s last major collection in May 1884, lots 802–823 were electrotypes of 1793 cents. Woodward wrote: “The following are not only electrotype copies of the very finest procurable examples of the cents of the date, but they possess a historic importance, being generally copied from the identical specimens from which Mr. Levick prepared his plate and Mr. Crosby wrote his article on the United States Cents of 1793 which appears in the American Journal of Numismatics for April, 1869. The copies themselves are very fine, and are, I suppose the work of Mr. Crosby.”

Fig. 6. Type I of the plate.

There are two different types of the plate (F. Van Zandt, The Asylum 12, no. 2 [Spring 1994]: 8) (Figs. 6–7). In the first, “JNT Levick” is hand printed in a box in the lower right corner with the year, 1868, below his name. The second type has “Compiled by Joseph N.T. Levick” typed in the same location, but without the date and box. The cents are the same on both, but several have been slightly repositioned on Type 2. The major difference is the lighting. I think a number of Type 1 plates were made before Levick or Rockwood realized that some of the coins appeared too dark and that a change in the lighting would be an improvement. This can be seen by the difference in the positions of the shadows cast by the coins in each of the plates. Since it would have been too costly to destroy the plates already made, I believe Levick had them sent to corresponding members of the Society until the supply ran out. Numismatic book dealer Charles Davis has handled many examples of the April 1869 AJN, either individually or as a part of runs or complete sets. In five of these that have the Type 1 plate, Davis has been able to identify the original owners, all of whom were corresponding members of the ANAS.

Fig. 7. Type II of the plate.

By April 1869, there were one hundred active members of the ANAS (forty-two resident, forty-seven corresponding, and eleven honorary) (AJN 4, no. 12 [April 1870]: 99). Levick had to produce at least this many plates to include them in the April issue (assuming all the members had paid their subscriptions). Thus the original run was probably around one hundred, with Type 1 being the rarer of the two. I believe the photographer’s oval shaped trademark, “ROCKWOOD / PHOTO-GRAPHER / 839 B’WAY NY,” is only found on Type 2 plates that came from this original run. This trademark is embossed at the bottom of the plate, between obverse 11 and reverse K. However, it’s hard to see unless you tilt the plate so the light hits it at just the right angle.

It seems that the ANAS—or the BNS starting in 1870—printed extra copies of AJN volumes. It stands to reason that the reprints of volume 3 would all have Type 2 plates and that these plates would not have Rockwood’s trademark if another photographer printed them from the original negative. The Society was still advertising complete sets of AJNs for sale as late as 1920. A large hoard of AJN volumes surfaced in the late 1990s. These were the remainders of the Johnson Reprint Company’s stock of original AJNs. Among this hoard were approximately thirty-five to forty issues of volume 3, all in mint condition. It’s not possible to know the total number of plates that were made, but it was obviously more than one hundred. It’s equally impossible to know how many have survived.

How complete was Levick’s plate? In today’s terms, the plate consists of fourteen Sheldon varieties and one NC (the Non-Collectable 6D). So Levick and Crosby missed only two collectable varieties: Sheldon’s 7 and 12. The S12, a marriage of obverse 10 and reverse K, was discovered by Crosby in the collection of William Fewsmith in October 1869, just six months after the monograph was issued. (This was Levick’s last entry in his Book of Rubbings). Crosby discovered the S7, a new obverse mated to the C reverse, in late 1879. Today, both varieties are low Rarity 6 (twenty-four to thirty known).

Crosby waited twenty-seven years before he updated his 1869 monograph. Besides the S7 and S12, three more NCs had been discovered since 1869. This latest monograph was serialized in the AJN starting in October 1896. He produced three halftone plates that also included 1792 pattern cents, 1793 half cents, and examples of Smith Counterfeits. These plates did not approach the quality of the 1869 plate, and Levick took no part in this project, but Crosby had an easier time getting the cents together since almost all of them belonged to one collector: Dr. Thomas Hall of Boston (Crosby, The United States Coinage of 1793—Cents and Half Cents [1897], 3).

Crosby made one blatant error by identifying his B reverse (mated to obverse 3) as a different variety of the AMERI reverse (Fig. 8). This coin, owned by Robert Hewitt and pictured as number 1 on the reverse test plate, was proven to be an alteration. It is apparent that Levick thought that this coin was no good, since it did not make the 1869 plate. He writes about this piece on page 34 of his journal: “The Hewitt AMERI. cent I have concluded since the observation made by Crosby that the piece is tooled and altered to an AMERI. from an AMERICA which can be seen by examination with a strong glass.” In the description of this reverse in his 1896 monograph, Crosby writes: “I have found only one impression of this die and cannot now trace that, but describe and illustrate it from a copy taken some years ago.” This copy was probably one of Crosby’s electros. My guess is that he didn’t agree with Levick’s opinion. The original (altered) coin has been in the ANS collection of counterfeit and altered coins since 1942.

Fig. 8. Crosby’s error.

In late 1897, Crosby published two hundred copies of The United States Coinage of 1793—Cents and Half Cents. This book is a reprint, with additions, of his AJN articles. One addition was the 1793 NC4, which had been discovered by Edouard Frossard in the period between Crosby’s articles in the AJN and the publication of his book. This cent was a new marriage of known obverse and reverse dies. Crosby had already written the descriptions, so all he had to do was draw a line connecting obverse 9 and reverse I on the plate of Wreath Cents. Only one more variety of 1793, the NC6, has been discovered since that book was published, and this happened eighty years later, in 1977.

Levick never achieved the recognition Crosby did as a numismatic scholar, possibly because he only published one more monograph: a listing of fifty-six different varieties of Hard Times Tokens taken from his collection, which appeared in the April 1870 AJN. He died on September 7, 1908, twenty-three days after his eightieth birthday. Both he and his wife Mary are buried in an unmarked grave in Kensico Cemetery, Valhalla, New York. Strangely, his obituary appeared in the Numismatist (vol. 21) but not the AJN, whose very existence he was responsible for. Crosby was elected to the ANA’s Numismatic Hall of Fame in 1970; Levick is still not a member.

In 1869, Levick wrote that it was not likely that such a set of ’93s could be brought together again. One hundred and thirty-nine years later, he has been proven wrong. Using many coins from the ANS collection and others from friends of mine (including seven from the original plate), I have been able to re-create Levick’s plate (Fig. 9). This plate is in color and will have all twenty-two known 1793 varieties. It will be issued in the same format as the original and be mounted on ivory paper. Exactly one hundred will be produced. They will be numbered and will come with a key showing both Sheldon and Breen numbers, as well as rarity ratings.

The plate is priced at $100 and is available through the ANS.

Fig. 9. The author’s reconstruction of Levick’s plate.