Treasures in the Vault

by Michael Bates

Many curious and odd objects have surfaced from the dusty corners of the vaults, as a result of the inventory, among which is a group of metallic ore samples. With the rocks there were a number of very old identifying paper tickets, but a geologist will be needed to restore the rocks to their identification. This lot does not seem to have been formally accessioned. Things that have also come to light are:

  • A very large Chinese balance set, in a wooden frame measuring almost 3 feet high and 30 inches wide, including four drawers with 43 different weights. For many years it was kept in George Miles’ office where some of the older members may remember seeing it. It was probably a gift of Helen Boyd in 1957.

Chinese balance set, 1957.187.1057
  • A collection of 741 military buttons and insignia given to the ANS by Stack’s in 1988. These are still on the original owner’s carefully assembled and labeled 9” by 12” cards, from which some pieces were removed and retained or sold. Most of these are British, with a few other European countries. The card shown has the insignia of the Life Guards, the First King’s Dragoon Guards, the Bays, the Third Carabineers Prince of Wales’ Dragoon Guards, the Royal Scots Greys 2nd Dragoons, 3rd The King’s Own Hussars, 7th Queen’s Own Hussars, and 9th Queen’s Royal Lancers. These objects are fascinating, but they lie at the outermost limits of the Society’s collecting mission. All the buttons and insignia are individually described in the Society’s online inventory.
  • Some important large plaques and plaster casts inserted into the narrow space between the ceiling and a row of cabinets. We hope that the new building will allow us to store these properly on shelves where they can be studied and admired. Among these are a cross with the Virgin Mary and angels sculpted by the medallist Giovanni Carieti, that was donated by Edward D. Adams in 1919. Carieti, who was entirely self-taught, was born in Naples but moved to New York in 1912. He has a long notice in the Supplement to Forrer’s Biographical Dictionary of Medallists, enumerating 148 works, of which about two-thirds are religious. Forrer quotes at length a notice in Revue graphique belge that begins “really strange and most interesting is this figure of ‘Gicar’ [one of Carieti’s pseudonyms] …. he has succeeded in making his name known throughout Italy by his literary works also …. we have to do with a personality so complex, with a temperament so extraordinary, that it is impossible to reproduce all the phases, all the metamorphoses of his very complex personality.” It seems that the ANS owns only five examples of Carieti’s many medallic productions.

Adoration of the Virgin, by Giovanni Cariati (ca. 1907-12), 1912.118.1. Gift of Edward D. Adams
  • A plaque honoring William Herbert Sheldon, Ph.D., M.D., whose name will be well-known to all collectors of large cents and to all who were members of the ANS about than a decade ago. Sheldon is also known as the scholar who organized the project to take frontal and side nude photographs of entering Ivy League undergraduates in the fifties and sixties, attempting to demonstrate a supposed correlation of body shape and personality. The citation reads “during the past century and longer, there have been many prominent numismatists associated with the United States large cents, but not one has ever equaled the contributions and accomplishments of Dr. William H. Sheldon.” It was he who took 128 large cent from the ANS collection and substituted others of lesser quality. There does not seem to be an accession record for this item.
  • A nicely bound little book, 7-1/4” in height, in a slip-case covered with marbled paper, labeled on the spine “French War-Time Currency 1914-1917.” It contains 114 municipal emergency notes “remboursable après le guerre.” This was a 1967 gift of Samuel R. Milbank, President of the ANS from 1960 to 1978, and contains also his careful handwritten captions and typed introduction. He states “the present collection of these notes is believed to be complete.” The individual notes have yet to be catalogued. Along the same lines, a large heavy album was found that once contained “the greatest collection of greater and post [-war] Russian paper ever made” according to the donor, Farran Zerbe, who gave us the album in 1943. It was put together by an unnamed diplomat who was in Russia during the revolutionary period. Many of the items have been removed and integrated into our main collection, but there are still 287 pieces that await cataloguing. Another album has 177 “Cash Substitutes in the Panic of 1907,” the collection of A. Piatt Andrew, with his article on the subject tipped onto the first page of the album. This was the gift of Helen A. Patch in 1958. Yet another album, donated by Wayte Raymond in 1940, contains 546 French revolutionary assignats. All of these albums and some others of less interest should be catalogued by volunteer experts, once we have relocated to the new building.
  • A very dusty flat cardboard carton that, frankly, we are afraid to open. It is labeled “tobacco leaves.” One can poke a finger into it and feel, through a plastic wrapper, what indeed seem to be the stems of tobacco leaves. It is perfectly legitimate, of course, for the ANS to own tobacco leaves, which were used as currency (by the barrel) in early colonial Virginia. The carton and its contents are best left alone until someone can deal with them properly.