Young Edward Newell

by Joseph Ciccone

Although much has been written about the numismatic career of Edward T. Newell, little has been known of his life before joining the ANS Council. Records in the archives of the ANS, Kenosha County Historical Society and Yale University paint an intriguing portrait of the early life of this prominent numismatist.

Kenosha Roots

Edward T. Newell was born in Kenosha, Wisconsin on January 15, 1886. He was the second child of Frederick and Frances Newell, their first child being a daughter, Marjorie Moyca, who had been born in 1881. Neither parent would live to see their son’s success.

Kenosha, or Southport as it was then known, was founded in 1835 by a group of settlers from New York who hoped to transform the site on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan into a major port. Chicago, which had been incorporated as a town just two years earlier, was still “a very marshy, muddy little town” with about 350 residents sixty miles to the south. Milwaukee, located just forty miles to the north, was founded the same year as Kenosha. By the time of Edward Newell’s birth, Kenosha’s population had risen to almost 6,000, and the city maintained a port and railroad, along with numerous industries, including the Newell family’s.

The Newells first arrived in Kenosha in 1841, when Edward’s grandfather, Theodore, built a lumber yard there in which to sell lumber produced by a sawmill he owned near Detroit, Michigan. In 1846, Theodore would serve as President of Kenosha. In 1852, the Newells’ lumberyard burned down. The family relocated that year, first to Connecticut, where the Newell family had lived since the 1640s, and then to Chicago, where Theodore died in 1869. After his death, his widow returned to Kenosha with her four sons, one of whom was Edward’s father, Frederick.

Records in the Kenosha archives indicate that Frederick had a “delicate health” which forced him to cut short both his education and his career in his father’s lumber business. In 1878, he married Frances Bain and began serving as an officer in the company owned by Frances’ father. Frederick would die in 1902 while only in his mid-fifties.

The Newell family was well-traveled, at least partially in an effort to bolster Frederick’s poor health. By the 1890s, Frederick was able to boast that he had made “eight trips across the briny deep [i.e., the Atlantic Ocean], and with the exception of Turkey … [had] visited all of the countries of Europe, together with almost every important city contained therein, besides made [sic] a trip up the historic Nile.” Edward would later cite both Europe and Africa as places where he lived before attending college. These travels may account for some of Edward’s early interests. “From the age of eight or ten,” Edward’s widow, Adra, late wrote, “he [Edward] began to be interested in, and knew most of the battlefields of Europe, AND the battles! Odd, wasn’t it? His governess called him her ‘kleiner [little] General.'” An undated photograph also exists in the Kenosha archives of a young Edward Newell in sailor’s uniform, with the tantalizing inscription on the back “Edward started his coin collection in N. Africa at this stage in his career.”


Undated image of Newell in Germany. Newell’s governess referred to him as her “kleiner [little] General” (Courtesy ANA).

Frances (Bain) Newell, Edward’s mother, has been described as having “literary tastes.” She participated in a number of charities including the YMCA. Her obituary notes that she also was strong supporter of educator Booker T. Washington. After her husband’s death, Mrs. Newell moved to New York City, where she spent most of her time, with the exception of summers, which she spent at the family’s estate in Bernardsville, New Jersey. When she died, the press noted that Frances was “one of the wealthiest women in Wisconsin, her private fortune being conservatively estimated at several million dollars.” Frances would die in 1907 during Edward’s senior year in college.

“Best Wagon in the World”

Frances Newell’s great wealth — the fortune which young Edward Newell inherited and which allowed him to amass his vast numismatic collection — came from the family business: the Bain Wagon Company. The Bain Wagon Company was founded in the 1850s by Ed Bain, Frances’ father and Edward Newell’s maternal grandfather. By the early 20th century it had grown into the world’s largest manufacturer of wagons.


Bain Wagon Company logo, 1907

Ed Bain came to Kenosha from Albany, New York and originally ran a hardware store in town. One of his clients was the Mitchell Wagon Works, to whom he extended much credit. Too much for the owners of the wagon works; in 1852 — the year the Newell’s lumberyard burned — Ed Bain assumed control of the business because of their inability to repay the loans.

Ed Bain had considerably greater success with his reconstituted wagon company than its previous owners had. Now known as the Bain Wagon Company, by 1868 it was producing 2,500 wagons annually, 10,000 wagons annually by 1879. Annual sales in 1879 were $650,000 — about $11,920,000 in 2003 dollars.

Many of these wagons were sold to fuel the great westward migration that was occurring in the United States at the time. Ed Bain was able to capitalize on this migration because the company’s location in Kenosha near Lake Michigan and the Chicago & North Western Railroad allowed easy access to shipping. Bain also shrewdly established one of the nation’s first sales agencies in St. Joseph, Missouri, a city which was the point of departure for many of the westward travelers.

By the time of Ed Bain’s death in 1898, the family company had more than 300 employees and was manufacturing roughly 15,000 wagons annually. Company facilities encompassed 10 acres along the Kenosha harbor. Domestically, it was recognized as providing a superior product: when the U.S. government sought bids for wagons to purchase, it required that all products be “equal to the Bain” in quality. The company also had achieved an international reputation, with wagons being shipped as far away as China and Japan. By the end of the 19th century, the company was able to proclaim justifiably that it produced “the best wagon in the world.”

Unfortunately, although the company had produced at least 12,000 wagons annually for more than fifty years, operations entered a sharp decline in the early 20th century, in part due to the increasing use of automobiles and trucks. The company’s fortunes briefly revived during World War I, when it supplied wagons to the American and French Armies; however, by 1921 it produced only 600 wagons for the entire year. As a result of its declining sales, the company merged with the Pekin Wagon Company in 1926 and relocated its operations to Illinois.

The Education of Edward Newell

Before attending college, Edward Newell was educated mainly by tutors, although he did attend Chicago’s prestigious Harvard School for Boys briefly in late 1901. (PLEASE ADD IMAGES 04-00060 and 04-00061 NEAR HERE)

In 1902 — the year of his father’s death — Newell passed the Yale University entrance examination. At the time, applicants were expected to have an understanding of Greek and Latin grammar and history, math (algebra and geometry), modern languages (French or German) and English.


Newell during his freshman year at Yale, 1903 (Courtesy Kenosha County Historical Society).

Newell began attending Yale University in the fall of 1903 as a freshman in Yale College. Newell’s classmates included Sinclair Lewis, who was more commonly known to his classmates as “Red”. In 1930, Lewis would become the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. (PLEASE ADD IMAGE 04-00063 NEAR HERE)

Portions of the educational record of Newell’s graduating class are unavailable. However, those parts which are accessible provide an interesting glimpse into Newell’s college education.

Unsurprisingly, Newell was an excellent student, achieving either honors or high honors in his freshman, junior and senior years. Incoming freshmen, like Newell, who sought to earn a bachelor of arts degree were required to choose from courses in English (“Shakespeare and Victorian Literature”), math, Latin (“Livy, Tacitus and Terence”), Greek (either “Homer, Herodotus, and Plato”, “Lysias, Plato, Euripides, Lyrics”, or “Homer, Plato, and Euripides”), French, German, chemistry and European history during their freshman and sophomore years. Coursework in economics, philosophy, geography, physics and Biblical literature was also required in their sophomore year.

In Newell’s junior year — the year after he became a member of the ANS — Newell took a few introductory courses (e.g., psychology and elementary economics) but also several courses which would be of greater use during his later numismatic studies. These courses included:

  • History — “Medieval Asia and the Mohammedan Conquest,” which was a history of western Asia from Alexander to the fall of Constantinople.
  • Latin — “Hexameter Poetry,” with readings in Ennius, Lucretius, the Georgics of Virgil, and the Epistles of Horace. This was considered an advanced course for students who had demonstrated two years of “superior work” in previous Latin courses.
  • Archaeology — “Greek Art-II. The Lesser Arts.” Students in this course were exposed to Greek painting, ceramics, terra-cottas, bronzes and other metal work, coins, and gems.
  • Art — “Drawing (pen and pencil),” in which students were taught the fundamental principles of art as understood by the artist.
  • An introductory anthropology course.

It is difficult to determine how much Newell socialized with his classmates. For his first two years at Yale, Newell roomed alone, and in his senior yearbook he listed only one social activity — membership in the Beta Theta Pi fraternity. On many weekends, he would travel to New York City, where he maintained an apartment at 247 Fifth Avenue.

In the class of 1907 year book, seniors rated their classmates through “student statistics.” Students were given a list of attributes and asked to note which applied to each of their classmates. In many ways, it was similar to the way that high school students nowadays vote for “most likely to succeed”, “class clown”, etc. Attributes students could choose from in 1907 included “beauty,” “versatile”, “nerviest”, “popular”, “athlete” and “handsomest.”

Newell received only three votes: two as “scholarly” and one as a “fusser.”


Newell’s Yale senior class yearbook photo, 1907. While the portraits of Newell’s classmates are head-on shots, Newell, the budding numismatist, chose to have his profile photographed (Courtesy Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library).

Numismatic Studies

If Newell did not arrive at Yale planning to be a numismatist, he certainly had done so by the time he graduated in 1907.

While we do not know how Newell first learned about the ANS (Howard Adelson, in The American Numismatic Society, 1858-1958, speculates that it occurred during a 1904 membership drive), we do know that in January of 1905, while Newell was still a sophomore, he was accepted as a member of the Society.

Newell wasted little time in becoming more involved. Upon learning of his election to membership, Newell wrote to the ANS Secretary, Bauman Belden, in late January 1905, “[t]hanking the Society many times for the honor they have done me” and expressed his interest in becoming a life member. He also asked “[i]f it were in any way possible for me to meet you, I would like to do so very much, so that I could find out a little more about the membership and things in general.” During the next five months, Newell would visit the ANS almost twenty times, usually weekly. By March of 1905 he had agreed to serve as assistant to William Poillon, the Society’s curator. (At the time, the ANS maintained only a single curator to oversee all of the cabinets.)

In his junior year at Yale, Newell was named a fellow of the Royal Numismatic Society. Also in his junior year, he published his first numismatic article — “A Survey of the Coinage of Alexander’s Successors” — which appeared in the May issue of Elder’s Monthly. During Newell’s senior year, the university’s Library Committee voted to appoint him as Curator of Coins for the library’s numismatic collection, which he assumed upon graduation in the spring of 1907

By the fall of 1907, after graduating from Yale and his mother’s death, Newell was writing to Bauman Belden that he had returned to Kenosha “out here in the ‘Wooly West’.” As he later explained, his goal was to visit “the office of the Bain Wagon Works, to acquaint myself with the workings of this institution.” There is no other evidence that Newell was actually interested in assuming a significant management role within the company, and by January 1908, he was traveling again, this time “for a visit to a land that has always exercised the utmost fascination upon me, and is ever calling for a renewed acquaintance — Egypt.”

Newell spent several weeks touring Egypt and acquiring coins. He later recounted that:

“[t]o round out the experience [in Egypt] a party of friends and myself chartered an Arab troupe, consisting of an arch scoundrel by the name of Sadi Omar; his grand vizier and brother-in-iniquity, Mursi; a cook; twelve camel boys and twenty camels, inclusive of several superlative odors and various entomological populations — and so spent many delirious days in the desert and the great oasis of El-Fayum.”

After leaving Egypt, Newell proceeded to Florence, Italy, where he continued to collect and catalog Greek and Roman coins. Newell would continue to make annual sojourns to Europe, usually in the summer, until the outbreak of war in 1914.

Upon his return to the U.S. in the summer of 1908, Newell briefly visited Kenosha again, before returning to Yale in September to begin studies in “Archaeology and Oriental languages” for his master of arts degree. At the time, Yale’s gradate program only required one year of study, so Newell received his M.A. in the spring of 1909.

In late April 1909, after completing his studies, Newell married Adra Nelson Marshall, the daughter of a Jersey City official. Newspapers reported that the newlyweds planned to spend their honeymoon vacationing in northern Europe. They returned to the U.S. later that year, to settle in New York City, a place that Newell felt was “most favorable to pursuing my studies in numismatic archaeology.” By 1909, Newell had determined the focus of his future numismatic studies. As he later wrote:

“[B]y this time I had decided to devote my attention particularly to unraveling the mysteries which unfortunately surround the important coinage which bears the name and types of Alexander the Great, and which after his death continued to be issued for over a century in the principal commercial cities of Greece, Asia Minor and Syria. Though this subject is of the utmost importance, it has never been satisfactorily studied because of the confused history of the times of Alexander the Great and his successors.”

The following year, 1910, would prove to be a pivotal one for young Edward Newell. That year, he began research at the ANS which would result in his first serious scholarly writings. These would appear in the American Journal of Numismatics between 1910 and 1912. Newell also began assuming a greater leadership role within the ANS in 1910, with his election to the ANS Council — at the age of 24! Thus, by 1910 Newell’s attention was firmly fixed on the two areas which would occupy the remainder of this life: the coinage of Alexander the Great, and his Hellenic successors, and the management of the ANS.

To learn more about the writings of Edward T. Newell, visit the ANS Archives’ website at: http://​www.numismatics.org/​Archives/​Newellbio.