All posts by David Hill

New Candidate for Oldest U.S. Numismatic Society Discovered

Charles Ira Bushnell

A couple of months ago, friend and fellow numismatic researcher Joel Orosz sent me a news clipping containing a piece of information he found puzzling. I was astounded when I saw it and immediately started researching the topic myself, uncovering a second nugget. But that was it. Nothing more has been found. We’re hoping that perhaps someone else can shed some light on this matter. I want to thank Joel for providing the detailed description of the discovery below.

—David Hill

Joel J. Orosz writes:

The chronology of numismatic associations in the United States has been settled history for more than 160 years. The Numismatic Society of Philadelphia was established on January 1, 1858, claiming honors as the first in the United States. Slightly more than 6 weeks later, on the Ides of March, the American Numismatic Society was organized in New York City, becoming the second.  Over the following decades, both Societies would change and re-change their names, and experience vigor both waning and waxing, but no one then or since has questioned their primacy in the birth order of United States numismatic societies.  Now, however, both must fall a slot in the hierarchy, for we have discovered that the first numismatic association in this country appeared in New York City as early as 1854, and still existed as late as 1855. The New York Numismatic Society, as it was styled, seems to have been little noted during its brief lifespan, nor long remembered afterwards.  In fact, by that pivotal year of 1858, memories of its existence had evaporated. Not until 2021 did the scant traces it left behind come to light.

The historically-minded reader might object that the “New York Numismatic Society” was a short-lived Civil War-era numismatic club.  This NYNS was founded on January 23, 1864, by Robert Hewitt, Jr. and 10 other gentlemen, who were all, so far as can be determined, completely disconnected from the newly-discovered first NYNS. The two organizations’ years of operation were separated by nearly a decade, and there is no evidence of overlap in their respective memberships, leaderships, or in anything excepting their shared name. The birth of the second NYNS goaded the American Numismatic Society, which had been dormant since October 1859, to meet just 13 days later, and to reorganize as the American Numismatic and Archeological Society. The second NYNS itself went somnolent after less than four months of meetings, and on July 31, 1866, it dissolved, relinquishing its assets to the ANAS.  So much for the second NYNS; now let’s turn to the discovery of the first one. 

The Times and Messenger clipping referring to a New York Numismatic Society in 1855.

In the early history of U.S. numismatics, it is usually true (paraphrasing Will Rogers), that “all we know is what we read in the papers.” The New York Times and Messenger for Sunday morning, June 24, 1855, presented the headline, “SALE OF COINS AND MEDALS, “reporting on the June 6, 1855 Bangs, Brother & Co. auction sale of the numismatic collection of Pierre (sometimes anglicized as “Peter”) Flandin, a pioneering New York fine arts dealer. The article recounted prices realized by the most desirable coins and medals on offer, especially a pattern Gobrecht half dollar of 1838 for $8.50.  It closed with the following sentences:

The sale was one of unusual interest, from the fact of its being the first regular sale of coins and medals that has ever taken place in our city. The sale was well-attended, and attracted considerable attention. Among the distinguished American Numismatists present, we noticed Mr. Bushnell, of the New York Numismatic Society, Dr. Chilton, Mr. Allan, Mr. Gsell, and others.

Bushnell had the clipping bound into this collection of early New York auction catalogs

This Times and Messenger article was clipped, and tipped in to a truly distinctive bound collection of early New York auction catalogs, created by the “Mr. Bushnell” of the article: Charles Ira Bushnell (1826-1880).  An attorney by vocation, and a coin collector by avocation, he was, in 1855, New York’s most advanced numismatist. Indeed, less than a week after the Flandin sale, he traveled to Philadelphia to personally take part in the auction sale of the John W. Kline numismatic collection, which was the second major numismatic sale held in Philadelphia.  In the absence of published American numismatic references, Bushnell created his own by noting the prices brought by each lot in the sales he attended, as well as the purchasers’ names.  He bound several successive sales together in his signature red Morocco over red-and-blue marbled paper sides, and autographed them in pencil with his distinctive tall, angular script. He rounded out these references by tipping in newspaper clippings about the sales, plus material like photographs of, and autographed letters signed by, the consignors.

Among the earliest in this running record of auction sales, (ex-John Lupia collection, now in the library of the author), is a single bound volume containing Bushnell’s priced and named copies of the June 6, 1855, Flandin Sale; a February 15, 1856 broadside sale by Bangs, Brother & Co. of the Daniel Groux Collection; and the numismatic addendum to the May 17, 1856, Leavitt Delisser & Co. book auction sale (the addendum offered Winslow J. Howard’s coin collection).  The Times and Messenger clipping is tipped in to the page preceding the Flandin Sale.  Interestingly, there is a clipping about the Howard collection auction tipped in to the page prior to that sale, beside which Bushnell annotated in pencil, “written by W. J. Howard.” This raises the possibility that the author of the June 25, 1855, Times and Messenger piece, who seems to have been unusually well-posted on the New York numismatic scene, might have been Bushnell himself. If so, he must have been exasperated by the paper’s misspelling of “Numismatists” and “Numismatic”, not to mention “Bushnell”, all of which he carefully hand-corrected in ink.

The catalog for the Flandin sale of June 6, 1855.

The “New York Numismatic Society” mentioned in this 1855 article predates the second NYNS by at least nine years. There is no recorded mention of the first NYNS when the second organized in 1864, so Bushnell’s NYNS must have sunk without a trace. That is, if the first iteration of the NYNS can be verified.  As it happens, we have found that confirmation. 

In 1854, John Livingston compiled Livingston’s Law Register: A Guide for Every Man of Business, and Hand-Book of Useful Information.  Printed in New York, at the office of The Monthly Law Magazine, Livingston’s tome provided, among many other lists, a compendium of “Societies and Institutions, Literary, Moral, Benevolent, and Religious, in the City of New York.”  Under this roster, on p. 458, we find the following entry: “NEW YORK NUMISMATIC SOCIETY for the collection and preservation of coins.” This terse confirmation of the Times and Messenger mention is welcome, but so far solitary.  Only one other piece of indirect confirmation has surfaced, namely a classified ad in the October 21, 1853, New York Herald, which offered for sale a collection of about 250 Greek and Roman coins.  The ad was directed “TO ANTIQUARIANS AND NUMISMATIC SOCIETIES.”  Would the seller have addressed this ad to “numismatic societies” if none then actually existed in the United States? 

The first NYNS was in being in 1854; possibly as early as 1853.  What remains unclear, though, is that which we really wish to know:   who belonged, what was accomplished, and why was it so quickly forgotten? Bushnell was clearly a member, and perhaps its motive force.  If he was indeed the author of the Times and Messenger article, possibly the others mentioned were also members.  Dr. James R. Chilton was a prominent early American coin hound, whose cabinet won laurels, if not for great rarities, at least for sheer size. His collection, sold by Bangs, Merwin & Co., on March 13, 1865, offered 3139 lots in 202 pages, making it the first of the numismatic “phone book” catalogs.  John Allan was New York’s foremost antiquarian, and one of America’s pioneering coin dealers.  The mystery man of the trio is Mr. Gsell, sometimes given as “G’sell,” whose surname appears often in 1850s priced and named coin catalogs.  Q. David Bowers, in his essential American Numismatics Before the Civil War, records his cognomen as “Charles,” but we know nothing else about him. 

No matter whose names appeared on its membership roll, however, the first NYNS distinguished itself neither by its achievements nor by its legacy.  Whatever the precise date of its expiration, whether later in 1855 or somewhat thereafter, no one remembered it—or at least thought it worthy of mention—when other numismatic societies were established.  Most telling, when the second NYNS was founded, none of its members acknowledged that it took the name of an earlier society: perhaps they were simply unaware.

This disappeared-without-a-trace aspect of the first NYNS may be attributable to Bushnell himself.  He gathered a great collection, and wrote on numismatic and (especially) Revolutionary War topics, but an extrovert Bushnell was not.  His newspaper scuffle with Augustus B. Sage in the New York Dispatch in 1857 aside, he shunned the public eye, and was not a “joiner.”  He never became a regular member of the ANAS, and when elected an Honorary Member in 1868, he politely declined, citing “overwork” as his reason.  If Bushnell was the prime mover behind the first NYNS, one could imagine that it might have met infrequently, and simply lapsed into senescence.

It seems probable that, in some unexplored archival folder, or, perhaps more likely, buried in the files of contemporary newspapers, there is more information to be found about the 1850s New York Numismatic Society.  But for now, we can say for sure that Charles Ira Bushnell was a member of the first numismatic society in the United States, which predated the NSP and the ANS by more than three years.

—Joel J. Orosz

UPDATE: Numismatic researcher John Lupia, having read the above, has provided another piece of evidence of the existence of a mid-1850s New York Numismatic Society—a price list from Frederick Lincoln indicating that he was a corresponding member of this group. John had also been aware of the Times and Messenger clipping, having at one time owned the bound volume that included it. He discusses all of this in a new essay published on his website. Thank you, John, for furthering our knowledge of this mysterious group!

—David Hill

Which Saint-Gaudens?

Louis Saint-Gaudens, by his wife Annetta (Saint-Gaudens National Historic Park).

We have over 160 years of records in the Society’s archives, including correspondence with big names inside and outside of numismatics—Victor Brenner, Hermon MacNeil, Thomas Elder, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Max Mehl, Tiffany & Co., and so on. Sometimes it’s easy to discover what we have because names that appear on folders have been listed in our archives database, ARCHER. Other times it’s not so simple. Some correspondence was placed in folders designated only by letters of the alphabet. Correspondence with Pietro Oddo, for example, might only be found in general “O” folders. Then again, even if “Oddo” folders exist you still have to check the “O” folders because in some years (or even in the same year!) his letters could have ended up there. There is great stuff in these alphabetical files, but you have to dig for it.

When Homer Saint-Gaudens heard that the ANS was displaying the Franklin medal and attributing it to his father Augustus instead of his uncle Louis, he requested that the labeling be corrected.

A couple of weeks ago, ANS Fellow and numismatic author Scott Miller happened to be digging around in an “S” file when he came upon an interesting exchange of letters regarding the Benjamin Franklin 200th anniversary medal struck by Tiffany in 1906. At various times and places, this medal has been attributed to Augustus Saint-Gaudens, to his brother Louis, or to both of them together. In 1927 the Medallic Art Company (MACO) wanted to restrike the medal. Uncertain of the attribution, the company’s Clyde Trees wrote to Augustus’s son, Homer, for guidance.

Trees told Homer that according to sculptor James Earle Fraser, Louis had done the original designs, and the reverse was certainly his, but the “obverse side was entirely changed by Mr. Augustus Saint-Gaudens” and so it was “beyond question the portrait was his work.” Furthermore, Trees’s associate at MACO, Henri Weil, remembered Augustus being actively involved bringing the project to completion. He had visited MACO, where the dies were made, several times to ensure that everything was just right. Trees also noted that the ANS was displaying large casts of the medal, credited to Augustus. Trees’s solution to get around all this uncertainty was to attribute the medal simply to “Saint-Gaudens.”

Part of a letter to the ANS from Homer Saint-Gaudens.

That didn’t sit well with Homer Saint-Gaudens. “I cannot subscribe to the notion that the Franklin Medal was in any way the work of my father,” he wrote. “Even though he put a great deal of time and trouble into it, it was primarily the work of his brother, Louis.” His father, he said, always considered it to be Louis’s work. He also disapproved of Trees’s plan to credit the work simply to “Saint-Gaudens,” as this would be “equivalent to saying ‘Augustus Saint-Gaudens,’ as far as the general public is concerned,” which was as true then as it is today. As for the ANS, Homer told Trees he would write to the Society immediately, which he did, asking that the labeling be changed “in the interest of accuracy and justice.” Secretary Sydney Noe assured him the alteration would be forthcoming, but judging by the plaque seen here, now in storage at the ANS, Noe never got around to it.

UPDATE: I shouldn’t have been so quick to doubt Sydney Noe! According to my colleague, ANS U.S. curator Jesse Kraft, the attribution on this plaque is correct. He explains:

“The way I’ve understood it is that Augustus sketched the first design (with wreath on his head and the statuesque shoulder) and his assistant, Henri Hering, sculpted it in 1905. Augustus had Henri Weil make a galvano and a reduction. This was the very first reduction Weil made on the Janvier, prior to advertising it and Bela Lyon Pratt getting in touch with him. Augustus, however, didn’t like the design and said Franklin looked like “an old woman wearing a tiara.” Augustus then gave the model to brother Louis who scrapped Hering’s design and completely redid Franklin (but used the same exact lettering and flanking branches—literally the same basin). If I’m not mistaken, the finished medal wasn’t struck until 1907 because of all of this (or at least late-1906, later than had been expected). So, the galvano in the image with the Augustus Saint-Gaudens nameplate is correct (as it is the first version), while the second version (below) is the finished medal and the work of Louis Saint-Gaudens.”

The medal as issued, without the wreath (ANS 1961.137.4)

If this was the plaque being referred to at the time, it would explain why the label was never changed. For more, Jesse suggests having a look at this medal. Thanks, Jesse!

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!