Library News (Winter 2006)

by Francis Campbell

The Librarian is pleased to report that, in late July, the position of Cataloger was filled with the hiring of Oleg Medvedev. A description of Oleg’s background can be found in the “News” section of the Magazine.

As might be expected, the Library experienced a high level of activity during the summer months while the Graduate Seminar was in session. The eight students and visiting scholar, Andrew Meadows, Curator of Greek Coins at the British Museum, made full use of our open stacks, auction holdings, and rare-book holdings. Dr. Wolfgang Fischer-Bossert, who also visited during the summer, spent almost two weeks in the Library researching the ancient coins of Greek Cyrenaica, the Libyans, and Salamis. He was preparing die-studies of these coinages and was pleased to find a number of references among the auction catalogues, many of which were not readily available elsewhere. Donald Ariel, of the Israel Antiquities Department, also spent a day doing research.

Samuel Thompson’s screw press (p. 27).

Library Manuscript to Provide Source of Publication

Fortunately, for those who cannot easily visit the Library, some of its rare holdings have been made more accessible through publication. A recent example is the Society’s publication of a library manuscript authored by Damon G. Douglas, which resulted in the volume entitled “The Copper Coinage of the State of New Jersey,” edited by Gary Trudgen. In the planning stages is another work to be published in connection with the fiftieth-year commemoration celebration of The Colonial Newsletter. The celebration will take place in the year 2010, so CNL editor Gary Trudgen and the editorial staff wish to publish a transcribed and annotated version of Samuel Thompson’s 1783 manuscript entitled An Essay on Coining (see title page photo). This unique manuscript, which now resides in the Library’s Rare Book Room, will thus become accessible to a much wider audience as a Society publication. The original is a holographic manuscript—entirely handwritten with hand-drawn sketches, by Samuel Thompson, Die-Sinker. It appears from the text that the manuscript was prepared in Dublin, Ireland.

Title page of Thompson’s “Essay” (p. 1).

Over the years, Thompson’s “Essay” has been a source of illustrations for several authors in their writings on minting techniques and technology during the second half of the eighteenth century. Don Taxay employed Thompson’s illustrations in his The U.S. Mint and Coinage (1966), and Richard Doty included a Thompson plate in his Money of the World (1978). Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of Early United States Cents, 1793-1814 (2000), edited by Mark Borckardt, also included illustrations that originally appeared in Thompson’s “Essay.” However, it was Jim Spilman who drew most heavily from the manuscript in his four-part article entitled “An Overview of Early American Coinage Technology,” which ran from April 1982 to July 1983 in four consecutive issues of The Colonial Newsletter. In attempting to gather information that could be used in reconstructing an early American mint, Spilman found the Thompson manuscript most useful in that it was dated 1783, within the period in which he was interested, and it seemed to have been produced to serve as a technical supporting document to a coinage proposal of some sort. Among the illustrations discussed by Spilman are three major coining devices: the screw press, the planchet cutting press, and the rolling mill (see photos). In comparing the illustrations found in the Essay with similar illustrations from other sources, such as Denis Diderot’s L’Encyclopedie (c. 1770), wherein some nineteen plates are used to illustrate the topic “monnoyage,” Spilman was successful in gathering sufficient data to achieve his reconstruction of an Early American mint that included the experimental usage of tools and metals closely representing those available during the 1785 to 1788 time period. He concluded that “Samuel Thompson described such an undertaking to process not only copper coinage but gold and silver as well.” Spilman asks whether Thompson’s purpose was only to document the technology of the times, as was Diderot’s, or was he seeking to establish a working mint someplace in Ireland? He concludes: “Perhaps we may never find out, but nevertheless his manuscript serves us well today as we attempt to tie together all of the bits and pieces provided by others.” Some of Spilman’s questions may well be answered when the transcribed and annotated edition of Samuel Thompson’s An Essay on Coining is published.

One of those who contributed information to the Spilman article mentioned above was Richard Picker, of whom Spilman says: “He was continually searching, finding and sharing his discoveries with others and he never failed to provide assistance when it was requested.” Coincidentally, among our recent library acquisitions is a numismatic photo file that came from the estate of Richard Picker. This pictorial record of early American coins, donated to the Library by Anthony Terranova, should prove a valuable resource for the Colonial collector. Included in the file are photos that Picker exchanged with Eric P. Newman. Also acquired recently are a group of works that come from the auction sale of the Joel L. Malter Numismatic Library, conducted by Malter Galleries in June. Approximately half of the twelve lots acquired are devoted to metrology, and among these was a quite rare treatise on Roman weights by Anton Guse, published in 1782 (see photo). The purchase of these lots was made possible through a generous donation to the Bass Library Fund by ANS trustee Charles C. Anderson.

Samuel Thompson’s planchet press (p. 23).

Samuel Thompson’s rolling mill (p. 19).

Treatise on Roman weights by Anton Guse.