Eric P. Newman: A Collector Profile

by Robert Wilson Hoge

“I always like to tell a story about when I was ten years old, and my allowance was five cents a week,” replied renowned numismatic scholar Eric P. Newman when asked to reflect upon his distinguished career. “For three cents I could ride on a street car every couple of weeks to Burdette G. Johnson’s coin shop in downtown St. Louis to buy something. That man changed my entire life.” Eric recalls that Johnson “had an absolutely spectacular memory; he had absorbed a total 20-volume history of the world… I remember his saying to me one day, ‘Eric, I won’t sell you this coin because you don’t know anything about it. But here’s a book… You take it home and read it, and then tell me what you learn.’ I did, and he became my very close friend and mentor. I bought many coins from him, American large cents, colonials, and in due course we purchased most of the Col. Edward H. R. Green collection together.”

Eric P. Newman

Eric has gone on to make outstanding contributions to numismatics, achieving many important discoveries and publishing major works on a variety of subjects—primarily in Early American studies. “I’ve enjoyed it so much; the excitement from numismatics in my life is overwhelming.” He cites not only his satisfying research, but the many friends and opportunities he has enjoyed through his work in the field. Among his numismatic colleagues, Eric names his half-century friends such as Q. David Bowers, Kenneth Bressett, Harry Forman, Peter Gaspar, Joseph R. Lasser, and Margo Russell, as well as others now gone, such as Fred C. C. Boyd, Walter Breen, Harley Freeman, Richard Picker, Wayte Raymond, Don Taxay and Raymond Williamson. (And indeed, we cannot even attempt here to name separately his more modern numismatic friends and colleagues, so extensive a group are they!). In his long and close association with the American Numismatic Society (ANS), Eric fondly recalls officers and staff with whom he has worked: Francis (Frank) Campbell, William Clark, Leslie Elam, John Kleeberg, George Miles, and Sydney Noe. He is especially proud of the prestigious Archer M. Huntington Medal Award which was bestowed upon him by the ANS in 1978.

Eric Pfeiffer Newman is a native of St. Louis, Missouri, born May 25, 1911, son of Samuel Elijah and Rose (Pfeiffer) Newman. After obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1932, he studied law at Washington University of St. Louis and received a Doctorate in Jurisprudence there in 1935. He practiced law in St. Louis until 1943. Employed by Edison Brothers Stores from 1944, he became Executive Vice President of that company in 1968. With his wife Evelyn, whom he married in 1939, Eric has traveled extensively (he is a member of the Explorers’ Club). Some of the Newmans’ memorable experiences in this respect, he has noted, were due to numismatic connections. One opportunity was to go fishing in the Persian Gulf with a member of the royal family of Qatar, Shaykh Hamad bin Abdullah M. al-Thani, a fellow numismatic enthusiast with whom ANS had made the contact.

There have been many highlights in Eric’s numismatic career. He is a multiple recipient of the Heath Literary Award of the American Numismatic Association (ANA), and has received the ANA’s Medal of Merit (1964); Exemplary Service Award (1993); and the Association’s highest honor, the Farran Zerbe Award (1969). In 1986, he was enrolled in the ANA’s Hall of Fame and, in 1996, named that organization’s “Numismatist of the Year.”

In 1991, Eric received the Medal of the Royal Numismatic Society, that venerable British organization’s highest honor, and in 2001, the Burnett Anderson Memorial Award for Excellence in Numismatic Writing, conferred and sponsored by Krause Publications. The latter is presented annually to a researcher, author or journalist for overall contributions to numismatics, and is judged on the recipient’s entire body of work. The winner is selected in a cooperative process by the ANA, the ANS and the Numismatic Literary Guild (NLG); in Eric’s case, a very easy determination!

Eric created and has headed his own foundation since 1959, the Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society, and in 1981 opened his own money museum exhibition at the Mercantile Bank of St. Louis. His children, Linda N. Schapiro and Andrew E. Newman, along with his wife, have encouraged and participated in his numismatic endeavors.

Eric’s great love for numismatics started as a 7 year old, when his grandfather gave him an 1859 cent. With Burdette G. Johnson’s guidance, he proceeded to assemble one of the foremost collections of American coins, tokens, paper money and numismatic publications ever put together, and he did this with such a depth of knowledge that the collection’s quality and importance are probably incalculable. One-time owner of all five of the 1913 Liberty Head five-cent pieces, he believes the most important coin in his collection is the unique 1792 Washington President pattern in gold by John Gregory Hancock, apparently the first president’s own pocket piece. But Eric is probably even more widely respected for his work as an author, speaker and researcher. Demonstrating his support of numismatics over six decades, he is still consistently giving freely of himself for the betterment of that discipline or hobby.

We may note just a few of Eric’s significant publications:

  • Varieties of the Fugio Cent (1949, 1952)
  • The 1776 Continental Currency Coinage (1952)
  • Coinage for Colonial Virginia (1956, 1962)
  • The Fantastic 1804 Dollar (with Kenneth E. Bressett, 1962)
  • Nature Printing on Colonial and Continental Currency (1964)
  • The Early Paper Money of America (1967, 1976, 1990, 1997)
  • American Circulation of English and Bungtown Halfpence (1976)
  • The Dollar $ign: Its Written and Printed Origins (1995)
  • U.S. Coin Scales and Counterfeit Coin Detectors (with A. George Mallis, 1999)

In addition to these works, he has authored a great many other fine articles for the ANS’ various series: Museum Notes, the American Journal of Numismatics, Numismatic Notes and Monographs, the Colonial Newsletter, the Proceedings of the Coinage of the Americas Conference. His articles have made important contributions, as well, to The Numismatist (ANA), the Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine, the American Philosophical Society and the British Numismatic Journal. In the course of his numismatic research, he has even delved into literary criticism, clarifying for the first time the bawdy meaning of a portion of the gravediggers’ scene in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Always interested in supporting the efforts of others, Eric has said, “Numismatics has enabled me to help other people do research and writing.” He has underwritten the ANS annual Graduate Seminars for many years as well as serving as a member of the Society’s Council since 1963 and being a benefactor. He has guided and is guiding the recovery of U.S. cents stolen from the ANS about 1949. “Profiling” today may have something of a negative connotation, but to study and describe the numismatic career of as eminent a gentleman as Eric P. Newman is about as positive an exercise as one may find in the contemporary world of writing. It is our pleasure to salute a wonderful friend to the Society and a person who has done his utmost to explore and present the fascinating world of numismatics!