Library News (Winter 2003)

by Francis Campbell

Library Plans Facsimile — A Positive Start For Funding the Francis D. Campbell Library Chair

The Nichols/Watkins Sale (June 12, 1828)

“To a gentleman of this city [i.e., New York], well known to numismatists and bibliophiles, as well for the extent as for the select quality of his collections, both of coins and medals, as also of books, but whose modesty will not permit the use of his name, am I indebted for his courteous generosity in giving the use of his copy of the extremely rare, broadside sheet catalogue of the above described sale. Through this favor I have been enabled by the recently invented process of Photo-Litography (sic), to present as a frontispiece, a facsimile of the catalogue on a reduced scale. A very few copies have also been made of the same size as the original, which is 18 inches in height.”

The “extremely rare” broadside referred to above by E. J. Attinelli is the first item listed in his 1876 bibliography entitled “Numisgraphics, or a List of Catalogues, in which occur Coins or Medals, which have been sold by auction in the United States.” It is also the first American numismatic auction in which coins are separately listed. As noted, the broadside is of an auction held in 1828, consisting of the Estate of Benjamin Watkins and conducted by George Nichols. The reduced version of the broadside used as the frontispiece for Attinelli’s work is illustrated here. If the broadside was “extremely rare” in 1876, one can certainly imagine its rarity in 2003. For that matter, the copies of the original 1828 edition produced by Attinelli in 1876, are also considered extremely rare today.


Emmanuel J. Attinelli

Attinelli’s descriptions of Mr. Watkins and Mr. Nichols’ son, which follow, capture some of the flavor of the period and the personalities involved.

Mr. Benjamin H. Watkins, like many other citizens of Salem of his day, followed the sea in his earlier years, subsequently quitting that avocation, he married, and settling down applied himself to the Dry Goods business in his native city, gratifying in his leisure hours his antiquarian predelictions (sic) by his search for and collection in a quiet modest way, such rarities of antiquity in the form of coins, books, engravings and other articles of curiosity or vertú, as came in his way. He was a man also noted for his extremely economical habits. His family, having all preceeded (sic) him to “that bourne from whence no traveler returns,” he became himself, in January, 1828, at the ripe old age of 75 years a prize to that insatiable Old collector of all, “Father Time.”

Mr. John H. Nichols, then a youth of seventeen, made the catalogue, and, as a clerk assisted his father at the sale of the collection which, he informs me, that he is positive to the best of his recollection, did not bring a sum to exceed $1000. Mr. Nichols, who is now a resident of this city, purchased some of the coins for himself and became a numismatist, having a collection of his own at the present time.

In order to provide bibliophiles and collectors with the opportunity to study and enjoy such historic items, which in this case might necessitate a trip to our Library, the Society’s Trustees and the Library Committee have approved the production of a facsimile edition of an original in the Library’s collection. Committee member, Dan Hamelberg, who has one of the finest private collections of American auction literature, has offered to fund the project and is overseeing its production. Good progress has been made in working out the details, with two versions of the facsimile envisioned, one selling for approximately $1000.00 and the other for $500.00. The proceeds will go to the Library, and in this instance, will be applied to funding of the Francis D. Campbell Library Chair.