All posts by David Hill

He Owned a Fort

Steven Pell, painting by DeWitt M. Lockman

I don’t mean to turn this blog into my own personal travelogue, but I happened to be at Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York this summer, and I remembered its connection to the ANS. One of the Society’s presidents used to own it.

Fort Ticonderoga

The fort, at the south end of Lake Champlain, was built in the 1750s by the French. It was later held by both the British and the Americans, but after the War of Independence it crumbled into ruins, stripped of anything useful by scavenging sightseers. In 1820, William Ferris Pell bought the fort and surrounding land from a couple of colleges that had acquired it from the State of New York. He built a home on the property and expanded it into a hotel to capitalize on the tourist trade that had been coming to the site since its abandonment.

It was Pell’s great-grandson Stephen Pell (1874–1950) who became president of the ANS, and he did so at a dire moment, stepping “into the breach” (in the words of the Society’s council) to take the position after the death in 1941 of Edward Newell, who had been president since 1916. 

The ANS’s great benefactor Archer Huntington funded some of the renovations at the fort.

Pell had joined the Society back in 1907 and had served on its council since 1916. He didn’t have much formal schooling—and was “rather proud of the fact that he had little more than an eighth-grade education,” his great-grandson said in a 2005 email—but he had no problem mingling with the upper echelon. In fact, when the ANS and its neighboring institutions at Audubon Terrace were skittish about approaching the imposing benefactor Archer Huntington with a plan to erect a fence there, it was Pell they chose as their emissary. Huntington also funded some of the work at the fort.

ANS librarian and archivist David Hill admires the view from the fort (photograph courtesy of Sadie Hill).

William Ferris Pell’s original property at the fort was divided among his descendants. Stephen Pell bought them all out, and, according to an exhibit label at the fort, came up with a plan to restore and open it to the public while chatting with an architect at a clambake in 1908. The fort formally opened to the public the following year. Much of it has been rebuilt over the years as part of the restoration.

Pell’s book of poetry

Pell served in both the Spanish-American War and World War I, and he expressed his experiences in a book of poetry, Hélène and Other War Verses, which he self-published in 1920. It’s not bad, but it’s not cheerful reading either. Here’s a taste:

Out of the night came the German plane,
Scattering death as it went its way,
Leaving a trail of horror and pain,
Of burned and mangled and crushed and slain,
And there in the wreckage I found Hélène—
Calm and still she lay.
Indian peace medal donated by Stephen Pell, 1915.138.4

In addition to his years of service to the ANS, Pell is remembered for arranging to have his collection of over 30 Indian peace medals be purchased and donated to the Society by various individuals in 1915. He donated five of them himself.

Stephen Pell is buried in the family grave at the fort.

Often we can’t even find photographs, let alone videos, of the historical characters associated with the ANS, but Pell can be seen interacting with visitors at Fort Ticonderoga in a 16 mm film from 1942 here.

Trouble with Names

Augustus Saint-Gaudens by Kenyon Cox (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Du Bois was a big name at the U.S. mint in the nineteenth century. Or was it DuBois? Dubois? du Bois? This kind of thing can drive you crazy when writing. (It’s worse when you have to speak these historical names aloud. In this case I was assisted by numismatic researcher Joel Orosz, who found out that the descendants pronounce it doo-BOYZ.) For guidance you can try looking at an individual’s publications, if they have any, though you might be dealing with someone like the noted numismatist Edouard Frossard (Édouard? Edward?), who didn’t help matters by putting an abbreviation of his name (Ed.) on everything. There is an excellent online tool for straightening this out, the Virtual International Authority File (VIAF), which gives the preferred forms from around the world. This works pretty well for Du Bois, but the entry (by the Library of Congress) for Frossard—Frossard, Ed.‏ ‎ (Edouard),‏ ‎1837–1899—might be helpful for catalogers but is a little less than definitive‏ for writers.

Saint-Gaudens’s signature on a letter to George Kunz in the ANS Archives

One name I always have to double-check is that of revered American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. (Hyphenated or not? Or is it St. Gaudens?) Curious about the sculptor’s own usage, I had a look at some of his documents in our collection. It seems he most often used the abbreviated St. Gaudens form when signing, though he did sometimes spell it out, as in the signature that accompanies his photograph in the book of reminiscences published by his son Homer. His wife, the similarly named Augusta, used the spelled-out form in letters she sent to the ANS. The Society sometimes rather insouciantly replied using “St.”

St. Ganden?

In one egregious blunder, the ANS not only used the St. form in the catalog for its “Million Dollar Exhibition” of 1914, but managed also to botch the spelling AND misuse a possessive, a move that must have horrified the ANS’s brand new curator Howland Wood, who I assume was responsible for the catalog. (I don’t mean to dump on Wood too much here. I could easily see something like this happening to me.)

One of the notes that accompanied plaquettes sent to those who participated in a masque honoring Saint-Gaudens at his home in Cornish, New Hampshire.

Of course, Saint-Gaudens didn’t care about such things when it came to those closest to him. Just as the personal correspondence of the Chapman Brothers tells us that, though the two coin dealers went by “Henry” and “S. H.” in business, they were always “Harry” and “Hudson” to friends and family, documents in the ANS Archives show that Saint-Gaudens was called “Gus” by his friends and relatives. (His wife was “Gussie.”) In fact, the artist refers to himself as “Stick in the Mud Uncle Gus” in one of several notes of appreciation we have from him on file.

A masque plaquette (ANS 1961.137.3)
ANS librarian and archivist David Hill admires the Roman temple built at the site of the Saint-Gaudens masque (photograph courtesy of Grace Hill).

These notes originally accompanied plaquettes the sculptor distributed to thank those who participated in a masque presented in his honor at Aspet, his home in Cornish, New Hampshire, an elaborate affair featuring music composed by Arthur Whiting and masks by Maxfield Parrish, who also appeared in the production. The masque was performed in 1905 at a temple resembling a Roman alter built onsite for the occasion, which is reproduced on the plaque. The decaying original plaster temple was replaced in 1914 by a marble one designed by William Kendall of McKim, Mead & White, and this is where the ashes of Saint-Gaudens and his wife and son are interred. The Cornish site is now a U.S. national park—one I highly recommend visiting.

ANS Acquires Mark Salton Papers

Thanks to the efforts of ANS life fellow Dr. Ira Rezak—and with gratitude to Katharine Conroy, executor of the Estate of Lottie Salton Revocable Trust—the ANS Library and Archives has acquired about 20 cubic feet of Mark Salton’s papers and annotated auction catalogs. This follows a bequest of $500,000 from his wife Lottie to help sustain a chair for Medieval and Renaissance numismatics. I would also like to thank ANS fellow Normand Pepin for his help with the auction catalog portion of the accession.

Lottie and Mark Salton

Mark Salton, born Max Schlessinger in 1914, came from a family of bankers and numismatists in Germany. His father, Felix, opened his own numismatic firm in Frankfurt in 1928, which he later moved to Berlin. As the Nazis gained power, and Jewish businesses came under increasing attack, he moved his family and business to Amsterdam. After the Germans invaded Holland in 1940, the Schlessinger business facilities, numismatic inventory, and library were seized. Mark went into hiding, eventually making his way to Belgium, then to France and Spain, and finally to neutral Portugal in July 1943. Learning that his parents had been killed at Auschwitz, Mark emigrated to the United States in 1946. Two years later he met another refugee, Lottie Aronstein, and the two were married several months later. Mark attended New York University, earning a master’s degree in international banking. He established his numismatic firm in the 1950s, specializing in ancient and foreign coins. (For more on Mark Salton, see Dr. Ira Rezak’s obituary for his friend in the Spring 2006 issue of ANS Magazine.)

The papers include documents relating to Mark Salton’s efforts to recover books and numismatic property taken by the Nazis from his father Felix Schlessinger’s firm, as well as research on medals of the Renaissance and other topics

Even a cursory look at the papers reveals fascinating documents. Perhaps most interesting and important are those relating to Salton’s efforts to recover the objects and books taken by the Nazis from his father’s business. These range in date from the 1940s to the time of Mark’s death in 2006. The earliest are written in the chilling bureaucratic style characteristic of regimes practicing lawful plunder, such as those requesting reports from the “liquidation trustee” assigned to Felix’s “Jewish enterprise.”

ANS librarian and archivist David Hill examines some of the auction catalogs at the Salton apartment

Also included is correspondence from the 1940s and 50s with the Dutch dealer Jacques Schulman, a long letter from a later date containing Mark’s reminiscences about Hans Schulman, materials relating to an exhibit of the Salton’s collection of Renaissance and Baroque medals and plaquettes at Bowdoin College, documentation on the Saltons’ various donations to colleges and to the ANS, and materials relating to Mark’s scholarly research, including a copy of his master’s thesis, The Financing of the Italian South (1966).

Henry Chapman’s Granddaughter Sets the Record Straight

A few weeks ago I gave a talk at a meeting of the New York Numismatic Club (NYNC) on the Philadelphia coin dealers S. H. and Henry Chapman. The day before the event, I was delighted to learn that Henry Chapman’s granddaughter and great-grandson would be attending. By complete coincidence, Henry’s great-grandson is a neighbor of former ANS curator Carmen Arnold-Biucchi, a NYNC member.

Henry Chapman Jr., 1912

I spend a lot of time researching and writing about things that happened in the 19th- and early 20th-centuries, and sometimes the characters I encounter from those days begin to seem almost fictional to me. So it is always a bit of a shock and definitely a thrill for me to encounter someone with such a close connection to the distant past. Because she was so young when he died, Henry’s granddaughter has no memory of him, but she remembers his wife, Helen, vividly, having lived with her until the age of 14. (Helen ran the coin business after Henry’s death in 1935.) I certainly never thought I’d have the chance in 2021 to talk to someone who knew the wife of one of my early subjects, especially one who started his business in 1878!

Henry Chapman’s wife Helen, taken at the American Numismatic Association convention in Philadelphia, 1908

One of the great benefits of this encounter is that she was able to set me straight on some facts. I wanted to take this opportunity to correct a mistake I made in identifying someone in a photograph I published in ANS Magazine (2019, no. 4, p.34). In 1983, Henry’s three daughters paid a visit to the ANS along with other family members.

Henry Chapman Jr.’s three daughters visited the ANS along with other relatives in 1983. They are, from left to right in the front row, Helen Arndt, Henrietta Judson, and Jane Huber. The gentleman between Helen and Henrietta is John Arndt, Helen’s husband. Also pictured are ANS executive director Leslie Elam (tallest in the back row) and librarian Frank Campbell (on the extreme right).

In the photograph taken that day, I misidentified John Arndt, Henry’s son-in-law, as Henry’s son Joseph, who is not in the group picture. Correct identifications accompany the photograph reproduced here.

Henry Chapman Jr.’s son Joseph

Henry’s granddaughter did supply me with a photograph of the real Joseph Chapman, which I have included here. He was Henry’s only son who survived to adulthood. Another son, Henry Chapman III, died at the age of three, according to Find A Grave.

World War II Barter Kits

A researcher’s inquiry recently got me thinking about an interesting item I’d once found in a pile of unprocessed materials in the ANS Library. It was an auction catalog put out by a division of the U.S. Department of Defense to sell World War II escape & evasion kits, also called barter kits. 

Auction catalog cover

These kits, each containing a handful of gold objects, including coins, were, according to the catalog, “issued to pilots and paratroopers to barter their way out of difficult situations if they were downed in unfriendly territory.” Reportedly, none were ever used for this purpose, so the kits were gathered and shipped off to the New York Assay Office, where they sat until 1979, when they were offered for sale in this auction. 

Contents of the Atlantic barter kit as shown in the auction catalog

Two kinds of kits were issued, one for the Atlantic region, containing gold rings, half- and one-pound gold sovereigns, and twenty- and ten-franc gold coins, and one for Southeast Asia, containing gold rings, a gold embossed pendant, a gold four-linked chain, and a 21-jewel Swiss calendar watch. The Asia kit was housed in a plastic container which could easily be opened. The Atlantic kit presented a bit more of a challenge, requiring, it was reported, “cryogenics (freezing) or industrial acetone” to get at its contents. Winning bidders were assured that they’d be furnished with “comprehensive opening information.”

Contents of the Southeast Asia barter kit

Three initial sales were held in 1979 and 1980, and they generated quite a bit of interest, including in the numismatic world, with Coin World providing extensive coverage. In fact, the government’s run of 12,000 catalogs for the second sale quickly ran out. Part of the excitement came from volatile swings in the price of gold, which stood at $256.50 an ounce when the first sale was announced, then climbed to $900, before falling to $508 by the time of the third sale in 1980. Luckily for the government, minimum bids had been keyed to the price of gold, leading to many bid disqualifications as they were unsealed.  

Three hundred and fifty kits, about ten percent of the total number, were offered for the first sale, which drew 1,450 bidders. For the second auction, nearly three thousand kits were sold. The three big sales generated $2.6 million for the government. The top bid was $4,000, and the average was about $900 per kit. The kits originally cost an estimated $30 each. A fourth and final sale of the remaining 325 kits was announced in the pages of Coin World in 1981. Many of the kits remain intact today and they are still prized as collectibles.

For more, see Coin World, January 2, 1980 (p.10); June 20, 1979 (p.1); January 23, 1980 (p.14); February 20, 1980 (p.3); January 28, 1981 (p.3); March 15, 1989 (p.14).

A Davis Flight Medal in the ANS Collection

Recently I attended a Long Table hosted by ANS curator Jesse Kraft, who showed a fascinating coin he had come across while working with the Mexico trays in the vault. It was a silver eight real dated 1842, but what makes it interesting are the words inscribed on a silver band added along the circumference of the coin, especially those that say, “Taken from Jefferson Davis the time he was taken prisoner of war.” 

Davis Flight Medal fashioned from an 1842 Silver 8 real, Zacatecas (Mexico). 1939.184.1

Jefferson Davis was the president of the Southern States during the Civil War, and this coin caught my attention because we have a letter in the ANS Archives written by Davis on the same theme. In it he talks about having some valuables “stolen” from him after he was captured at the end of the war. The letter was sent to coin dealer John Walter Scott, who had written to Davis to find out more about the Confederate half dollar proof coins, of which there are four, the first of which surfaced in 1879. (That coin is in the ANS collection.) Davis told Scott that at the time of his capture he had “a Confederate coin” that was in his wife’s trunk, which was “rifled by the Federal Officers sent on board the prison ship on which she was detained.” The one said to be Davis’s was the third Confederate half dollar to surface (in 1936). 

Letter from Jefferson Davis written in response to John Walter Scott’s inquiries about Confederate half dollars.

This Mexican coin was new to me, however, and I wanted to find out more about it. There are other inscriptions on it, and these relate to the early owners of the coin. Along the top of the obverse it reads, “Presented by Mr. Park of Park & Tifford to Geo. Hartley 1864,” and along the bottom it says, “Mrs. Hartley to Daniel F. Myers 1890.” Some light internet searching revealed that Joseph Park (1823-1903) was associated with Park & Tilford, a grocery store founded at 35 Carmine St., Manhattan, in 1840. George Hartley and Daniel Myers proved more elusive. We do know that the coin was given to the ANS by H. C. Hines, but unfortunately, the accession record fails to shed any more light on the donation. A note with the coin says that it was Myers who added the silver band and inscriptions. It also identifies him as a New York jeweler and coin collector.

Davis Flight Medal from the John J. Ford Jr. collection, part 1, Stack’s, October 14, 2003

I did find some great information in the Stack’s auction catalog for part 1 of the John Ford collection (October 14, 2003, p. 239-243), which contains pieces similar to this coin, identifying them as “Davis Flight Medals.”  Some background information is included with the lot descriptions. As the South faced its final defeat, Davis fled with family, servants, and a military guard along with as much as $500,000 in British gold coins, U.S. double eagles, and other valuables—including Mexican eight reales. Like the ANS coin, the flight pieces often have inscriptions indicating how they were obtained—either seized or given by Davis as gifts. As the catalog states, “some are fairly crude engravings on Mexican silver coins, while others are skillfully executed.” 

I’d say the ANS’s coin falls into the “fairly crude” category, but it’s fascinating nonetheless, and I’m hoping to discover more about it.

The World’s Most Perfect Man

In 2018 the ANS acquired the inventory—medals, dies, galvanos, plaques, and paper and digital archives—of the Medallic Art Company (MACO), an historically important but defunct private mint. The Society’s relationship with MACO goes right back to the company’s founding at the beginning of the 20th century. In fact, MACO used to regularly supply the ANS with its medals, as long as the Society obtained permission from the artists or organizations responsible for making them. So in the ANS Archives we have permission letters from numismatic artists like Adolph WeinmanJohn Sinnock, and Paul Manship.

But it wasn’t just artists. One letter that caught my eye, with its striking letterhead, was written by the legendary Charles Atlas. Generations of comic book readers, me included, will be familiar with that name. Who can forget the 97-pound weakling who, after getting sand kicked in his face by a boorish bully, bulks up with Atlas’s bodybuilding program and returns to the beach to deck the goon, prompting his girlfriend to decide that he’s “a real man after all”? 

Atlas always said that the 97-pound weakling was him and that the beach was at Coney Island. Born Angelo Sicilano in 1893 in Italy, he settled in Brooklyn with his parents 10 years later. In 1922 he took his new name and was soon selling his program of bodybuilding and fitness.

Charles Atlas (née Angelo Sicilano), ca. 1920

In his letter to the ANS, written four years later, Atlas sounded excited that his medal, identifying him as the “World’s Most Perfect Man,” might be displayed at the museum. “May I have more particulars? Are there any tickets necessary for entrance, price, etc.? I should like to see this display.” ANS secretary Sydney Noe told him he could stop by anytime.

Atlas’s medal, awarded “for physical perfection,” was an early component of a program that would be sold for decades to come. There is a place for the recipient’s name on the reverse. On those I have seen online, the lettering can be quite crude

Charles Atlas died at 79 at a hospital on Long Beach, Long Island, in 1972. The company is apparently still in operation.

First known photographs of Adra Newell Discovered Online

Some years ago I wrote about Edward Newell and his wife Adra for ANS Magazine (2014/3). Edward, the Society’s president for 25 years (1916–1941), is well known to numismatists. A prolific author and scholar in the area of Greek coinage, his bequest of more than 87,000 coins still ranks as the Society’s largest single donation. Though less familiar, his wife Adra was also a collector, an active member for over 50 years, and, as discussed in my article, a sometimes contentious presence at the ANS. She joined the Society in 1910, was named a patron in 1925, and a benefactor in 1952.

1936.159.1.obv.noscale REDUCED
Uniface medal by Theodore Spicer-Simson (ANS 1936.159.1)

One factor that has prevented us from making a more personal connection with Adra has been the absence of any photographs of her. While there are many of her husband, until recently the only known image of Adra was a profile portrait  on a 1911 medal by Theodore Spicer-Simson.

1923 Adra Passport STRAIGHTENED
Adra Newell passport photograph, 1923

Now, however, thanks to the online sleuthing of researcher Dr. Leah Niederstadt, we have several photographs of Adra. Dr. Niederstadt is an associate professor of museum studies and curator of the permanent collection at Wheaton College in Massachusetts, which in 1966 was the recipient of a bequest from Adra consisting of over a thousand Greco-Roman and Egyptian antiquities. In 2014, Dr. Niederstadt came to New York to have a look at some materials in the ANS Archives, research used for her article, “Building a Legacy for the Liberal Arts: Deaccessioning the Newell Bequest, Wheaton College,” which was published in the book Is it Okay to Sell the Monet? (2018).

1919 Adra Edward Passport CROPPED
Adra and Edward Newell passport photographs, 1919

1921 Adra Edward Passport CROPPED
Adra and Edward Newell passport photographs, 1921

The images she found were passport photographs on, a free genealogical website sponsored by the Mormon Church. The image quality isn’t the greatest on a few of them, but there is one from 1923 that is clear, and it shows, as Dr. Niederstadt points out, a great resemblance to the medal portrait.

A big thank you to Dr. Niederstadt for uncovering these important photographs!

The Huntingtons at Woodlawn

Huntington name
The Huntington mausoleum at Woodlawn Cemetery was built for railroad magnate Collis Huntington in the 1890s.

Archer Huntington (1870–1955), ANS benefactor and president, is interred at New York City’s Woodlawn Cemetery in the northern Bronx. Woodlawn opened in 1863, a product of the rural cemetery movement, when overcrowding and health concerns led to the creation of numerous sprawling and non-sectarian burial grounds situated outside of urban centers. Where the old churchyards of the city might be cramped and foul smelling, these would be landscaped oases, places for visitors to stroll peacefully among monuments and mausoleums arranged on meandering pathways and ponds. Intended as destinations in themselves, they had much in common with the other landscaped retreats set aside for public use in cities during this period, like New York City’s Central Park, parts of which opened in the 1850s.

These were also places where the wealthy might buy themselves a piece of immortality—for their names at least. In life, F. W. Woolworth, the dime-store tycoon, built the tallest building in the world. Here he reposes for eternity near the cemetery’s main entrance, in an Egyptian crypt guarded by two stone sphinxes.

King - Huntington Mausoleum
The Huntington mausoleum, illustrated in King’s Handbook of New York, 1893.

Huntington Mausoleum
The Huntington mausoleum in 2020.

Railroad magnate Collis Huntington (1821–1900), who married Archer’s mother Arabella (1850–1924) in 1884, chose a site on the other side of the cemetery for his family tomb, which, “in size and cost will be one of the most notable structures of its kind in the world,” predicted King’s Handbook of New York City (1893), estimating its price to exceed $300,000. Collis was laid to rest there in 1900. Arabella, who passed her passion for art collecting on to her only son, lived over two decades more, dying in 1924.

Hyatt Memorial
Monument honoring Archer Huntington’s wife, Arabella, by Anna Hyatt Huntington. His poetic words to her are inscribed at its base.

There is a monument honoring Arabella at the Woodlawn site, placed there in 1951. It was done by Archer’s wife, Anna Hyatt (1876–1973), a successful sculptor long before she met Archer in 1921 (they were married in 1923). Her majestic Joan of Arc (1915) on Manhattan’s Upper West Side is one of her better-known earlier works. Her sculpture at Woodlawn is a cenotaph, a monument erected to honor someone whose remains are placed elsewhere. (Arabella is interred in California at the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens Mausoleum.) It depicts an aged woman bestowing a bounty of symbolic gifts—books, a lamp with flame, a dial indicating time—upon a young man and woman.

Hyatt Memorial and Huntington Mausoleum
The Arabella Huntington monument and Huntington mausoleum.

Other notable artistic features at the mausoleum include a bronze door by Herbert Adams, added in 1932, and, inside, a bas-relief of Collis Huntington (1911) by Bela Lyon Pratt.

According to Anna, Archer valued his work as a poet as much as anything else, and his words to his mother can be found on the sculpture:

Alas, we know your deeds; Your words make warm
The memory of our loss! So, in the night,
We, dreaming, find the dark in starlight’s spell,
And know that from your eyes that starlight fell!

Along with Collis, Archer, and Anna, Elizabeth Stoddard Huntington (1823–1883), Collis’s first wife, is also interred in the Huntington mausoleum.

Isaac Francis Wood

Part of a member questionnaire filled out by Isaac Francis Wood. ANS Archives.

The first three numismatic societies in the United States were founded in the major cities of the Northeast in the middle of the nineteenth century, products of a “mania for coin collecting” that swept the nation at the time. Philadelphia’s was first, with its official meeting held in January 1858. Next came New York’s American Numismatic Society a couple of months later. A Boston group was formed in 1860. These societies had a lot in common—similar goals and procedures, and, in some cases, members.

New Yorker Isaac Francis Wood (1841–1895) was a member of all three groups. He was a pretty important figure—and I’m not just saying that because he was one of the ANS’s first librarians. He helped resurrect the ANS after the Civil War, was instrumental in getting it incorporated by New York State, and had a hand in launching the first United States numismatic journal, the American Journal of Numismatics. When the three numismatic societies formed a joint committee to help convince the U.S. Mint to keep selling them coins at wholesale prices, the ANS chose Wood as its representative. His wife, Sarah, became the first female member of the ANS in 1878, a major milestone that somehow seems to have passed by without comment in the early records.


The fourth medal in Wood’s “Memorial Series” commemorated the presidency of Ulysses Grant, by George Lovett (ANS 0000.999.443).

Wood had a great interest in medals—as a collector and as a dealer, but also as an issuer—commissioning works from engravers like William Key and George Lovett. In 1873 he issued a medal, honoring the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant, on behalf of the Boston Numismatic Society and the New England Historical and Genealogical Society.

He also issued several satirical medalets having to do with the hotly disputed presidential election of 1876. These lampooned candidate Samuel Tilden who was forced to concede to Rutherford B. Hayes after he won the popular vote but came up short in the electoral college.
Tilden - 1878.1.1.obv.noscale sm

Tilden - 1878.1.1.rev.noscale sm
Wood issued several satirical medalets relating to the contentious presidential election of 1876, by George Lovett (ANS 1878.1.1).

Writers have commented on Wood’s droll sense of humor, as revealed in his letters. This is certainly on display in a questionnaire he filled out late in the century. These forms were completed by ANS members and sent to the Society’s historiographer, who mostly used them to write obituaries. He responded to questions like,  did he have any children? “No chickens successfully hatched,” he replied. “The right sort of ‘incubator’ doesn’t appear to have been thus far invented.” Were any members of his family deceased? “My mother-in-law is still very much alive!” Did he know of any printed history of his family? “Hope to gracious I never shall.” And so on.

I’ve never seen a photograph of Wood, and his questionnaire tells us why. He had “an aversion to being ‘pictured,’” he said, and hadn’t “sat to anything except a good dinner & a bottle of wine with satisfaction for many years.”

His characteristic comical tone can be detected in a letter attached to the questionnaire Written in 1886 when he was 44 years old, it also contains some darker musings. “My life has been so insignificant and useless,” he wrote. “In fact such a bitter failure that perhaps the joking only conceals the pain. That I have tried hard in times past to serve the Society as a Sec[retary] & after as Librarian, & always as a member, is I hope some excuse for my having been born & existed to date.” As a fellow ANS librarian, I only hope that he wrote these words knowing the recipient would understand them to be a comic exaggeration. Wood died nine years later.