All posts by John Thomassen

New York City Streets Are Paved With Lost Change (If You Look)

There’s a fairly pervasive idea that some people are just born lucky. These people, it’s thought, luck into good schools, good jobs, and even good relationships. But the luckiest of them all seem to stumble headlong into wealth, whether that’s winning the lottery (sometimes multiple times), inheriting vast sums from a long-lost relative, or finding treasure after using a metal detector for the very first time. Although the idea that some people are born lucky certainly holds water — being born into a wealthy family living in an already wealthy country is a pretty lucky start to life, for example — with persistence, a keen eye, and a willingness to stoop down every once in a while, anybody can introduce a little luck into their own lives on a weekly, if not daily basis.

In fact, the present author was coaxed into writing this post on account of their own chance encounters with Lady Luck (or Fortuna, or Tyche). In the last 6 months, I have been lucky enough to come across such items as a large British penny, a 35% silver war nickel, a $20 bill, and numerous “pocket spills” of loose change, all on my daily commute to the American Numismatic Society; although I maintain that this has less to do with luck, and more to do with keeping my eyes glued to the ground. After coming across a monumental scattering of 59 (yes, 59) one-cent coins upon exiting a subway car last week, I knew I finally had to put pen to paper and discuss my finds.

A 1967 British penny found on a New York City MTA bus on May 5, 2021, featured alongside a 1990 U.S. one-cent found on the same bus.

There are some questions we should attempt to answer first, namely: how does all this money end up on the ground in the first place, and why isn’t it being picked up more quickly? A commonly suggested answer to both is that the purchasing power of a single U.S. one-cent coin (or nickel, or dime for that matter) is practically nil. Because of inflation, a single cent in 1921 is now worth about 15 cents today. But 15 cents also has little to no buying power in 2021, so inflation doesn’t account for the whole picture. Instead, the value of one cent relative to what one earns helps to explain how one cent (or 15 cents in today’s money) could purchase more 100 years ago. For example, if a painter in Brooklyn earned on average $1.25 per hour in 1921, one cent accounted for 0.8% of their hourly wage. Today’s minimum wage in Brooklyn (and all of New York City) is $15 per hour, so if that same painter were working today, you would expect 0.8% of $15 to be around 15 cents, but alas it is only 12 cents — or ~22% less than the purchasing power of that 0.8% in 1921. Another way to think about this is that if one cent in 1921 is worth 15 cents today because of inflation, then someone making $1.25 per hour in 1921 would hope to be making $18.75 today, cent-for-cent. Of course, all of this is to say that wages have not kept up with inflation, making a single cent (or nickel, or dime) on the ground worth less and less in the eye of the beholder.

A 1945 silver war nickel from the Denver mint found in the New York City subway system on July 14, 2021. To the untrained eye, such a nickel may appear unremarkable; however, the composition of 35% silver gives circulated war nickels a distinctly darker color that is often quite easy to spot.

Not unsurprisingly, certain goods were actually more expensive in 1921 than they are today due to vast improvements in technology (and the shifting of production to countries where labor is cheaper). For example, a 5 -pound bag of sugar averaged a whopping 97 cents in 1920. Accounting for inflation only, one would expect that same bag to cost roughly $14.55 today, but of course 5 lbs. of sugar can be purchased for less than $5 almost anywhere in the U.S. today. Conversely, an average New York City apartment rented for around $60 per month in 1920, or $910 in 2021 dollars. If any reader knows of a suitable apartment that can be rented for that price in Manhattan or Brooklyn today, they are advised to inform the author immediately so they can rent said abode!

Another potential reason why change is dropped and not quickly recovered is perhaps due to a perceived social stigma around taking ‘dirty’ money off the ground, especially when that money has no purchasing power. Loose change that winds up on the street, sidewalk, or public transit system can easily be there for anywhere from a few hours to days, and has likely seen its fair share of shoes and tires endlessly trampling over it, each person or car bringing a fresh layer of dirt and grime to its surfaces. While street money certainly isn’t clean, I would argue that it is not substantially more dirty than the money that already circulates freely, especially here in New York City. That said, there may be a general sense that it is unseemly or simply uncouth to bend over and pick change off the ground (especially change one doesn’t particularly need) which prevents many from doing so, unless that change was just dropped by said person, and they are reclaiming their own almost-lost change immediately.

A smattering of loose change totaling 53 cents found on the street on April 1, 2021.

The meteoric rise of credit cards, debit cards, and other digital payment solutions may also be contributing to the abandonment of change, and the reluctance to pick it up again. As card and digital payments can be used for increasingly smaller amounts, there is less and less need to carry and use small change. In theory, this should also account for less and less change being lost overall, but as there is more than enough small-denomination coinage currently in circulation to satisfy the needs of commerce for many years to come (barring any recurring small change shortages like the U.S. experienced in 2020), it seems more likely that coins will continue to be lost as users pull out their credit cards, debit cards, or phones, rather than there being not enough coins to lose in the first place, however that may change in the coming decades as small change is phased out even more in favor of digital payment methods.

A complete, untorn $20 bill found directly in front of a New York City subway station on March 29th, 2021.

An interesting explanation as to why street money is not picked up is the Efficient Sidewalk Theory. This economic idea suggests that real, bonafide money would have surely been picked up by someone else already, therefore any money spotted in the street, on the sidewalk, etc. must not be money (i.e., it is trash or another object that looks like real money at first glance), and therefore these items do not warrant a closer inspection, especially one that requires the passer-by to stop and bend down. As such, bonafide money does go unnoticed—or at minimum, is perceived to be something else and ignored. Does Efficient Sidewalk Theory explain why a $20 bill sat on the ground during morning rush-hour in front of a busy subway station before the author scooped it up in a flash? Perhaps. With respect to small change (one-cent coins, nickels, dimes) Efficient Sidewalk Theory could maybe be expanded to include the idea that, because real money would have surely been picked up by someone else already, small change is not considered real money (or useful money) by the majority of individuals who pass by such change. In other words, the one-cent coin that sits for days on end on a sidewalk is absolutely seen as genuine (unlike the $20 bill, which could not reasonably be an authentic $20 bill according to the principles of Efficient Sidewalk Theory) but not perceived as real money of any value. In even simpler terms, if others don’t consider it useful money because they are walking past it, why should I behave any differently?

The final explanation for why change is lost and subsequently not picked up is that people are just not paying attention. If one has loose change and a phone in the same pocket, it is easy to imagine the change falling out unnoticed when the phone is taken out, simply because the attention is on the phone, which typically has far greater value to the owner. Likewise, it is easy to miss coins on the ground when one’s attention is constantly pulled elsewhere, especially in a large and hectic city environment. Even the author has almost missed a stray cent on the ground while sending a text message or making sure there is no oncoming traffic, only to look more closely and find several more cents in the same vicinity.

This brings us to the final point, which is what can all this lost money teach us? In a loose sense, even recently abandoned coins are in situ archaeological artifacts representative of what is valued or not valued in modern culture. Some have even taken to cataloging every coin and bill they have found over the course of several decades, which may prove useful to future historians and numismatists. In the 2004–2005 American Journal of Numismatics 16–17, there is a wonderful analysis of money found in West Lafayette, Indiana during a ten-year period between 1993 and 2003 (AJN Second Series 16–17, pp. 259–267). This study (titled Street Money: Distribution and Analysis) explores many of the same themes found in this blog post, along with a regression analysis of the objects found to determine if any distribution patterns could be discovered (outliers such as quarters, half dollars, and bills were discounted in this analysis). The key takeaway from this study was that the age of the coins (chiefly one-cent coins) suggested that these street finds represented a random selection of coins found in circulation when compared to ten rolls of one-cent coins withdrawn from a local bank. Also noted was the disproportionately high number of newly minted coins that were found (2003 in the case of this study) despite their sheen and luster, which made them more obvious to the casual passer-by, and therefore more likely to have been found by someone else, which of course they had not. The final takeaway was that these coins appear to be carelessly handled by the American public at large, a point which is not lost on the author.

A massive spill of 59 one-cent coins found by the author upon exiting a subway car at Canal St. in New York City on July 21, 2021.

There are other stories of individuals who have amassed large amounts of lost change through diligent (and sometimes not-so-diligent) searching, but it is mostly the case that these finds go unrecorded and unreported. Even the author has not made it a point to faithfully record every find (except major ones), but to help correct that, I decided to make a brief record of the aforementioned ‘subway spill’ to see how this cache visually compares to the data in the West Lafayette, Indiana study:

Subway chart.

Additional data-gathering and analysis would have to be performed to learn just how representative this spill is compared to one-cent coins in circulation in the area, but on the surface, the selection of dates appear to be random, with a disproportionate number being newly minted (10 coins from 2021 alone), coinciding with the key takeaways of the West Lafayette, Indiana study, which is enough to encourage this seeker of street money to keep hunting and recording lost coins “So the Small May Not Perish.”

A Caffeinated Tour of the ANS Collection

In the world of humorous coffee shop signs, there is one that has always rung particularly true for this numismatic devotee: “I Don’t Drink Coffee To Wake Up, I Wake Up To Drink Coffee.”

For many, coffee and tea drinks are mere caffeine delivery systems with varying levels of real or artificial sucrose. For others, they are magical brews sent down from on high, and possess an elevated status on par with the finest Grand Crus of Burgundy and the rarest of Scottish single malts. The truth of course lies somewhere in the middle, but after coming across a coffee-themed Civil War merchant token ultimately destined for the American Numismatic Society’s eBay store, it begged the question as to what other coffee or tea-related objects reside in the Society’s vast collection. Let us embark, then, on a kind of “world tour” as it were, to sample a few of the coins, tokens, and medals linked to the consumption of coffee or tea (sometimes both on the same object). These are presented with limited commentary, to illustrate the kind of broad searches that can be performed within the American Numismatic Society’s MANTIS database.

The Civil War merchant token that inspired this post. Note the similarity of the merchant’s name to that of the author’s, although there is no (known) familial connection to the issuer of this token.

Islamic Department

Given that both coffee and tea were not introduced to Europe until the end of the 15th century and early 16th century respectively—interestingly, both sources of caffeine made landfall in Europe just decades apart—it is not surprising that a cursory search of the Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Departments do not yield any numismatic specimens with which this blog post is concerned. Suffice it to say, we are starting our journey in the Islamic Department, fitting when considering that the first historical accounts of coffee have its origins situated in present-day Yemen. That said, there are several fascinating (if not apocryphal) stories about coffee’s birthplace belonging to Ethiopia instead, which the reader is highly encouraged to explore on their own. Tea, of course, is just as popular as coffee (perhaps more so) in many Middle Eastern countries, so it is equally fitting that the first object on our numismatic tour is actually a bronze Iranian tea house token circa 1945–1956, an interesting piece that the author is keen to learn more about.

East Asian Department

Our next stop is the East Asian Department, more specifically China, the undisputed birthplace of tea, or Camellia sinensis. Here we also have a tea house token, this time in a copper alloy, oval-shaped, and uniface, with the reverse having an incuse impression of the characters on the obverse. It was issued by the Chung Ch’eng Tea House. Also featured is a wonderful tea brick produced by the Chao Li Qiao Brick Tea Manufacturing Company, circa 1875–1925. Although they are one of the few types of edible currencies known to circulate, the tea bricks that are still produced today have lost their role as a commonly accepted medium of exchange. According to the passage on brick tea in Robert D. Leonard’s Curious Currency, tea bricks came in various sizes, and mostly served the areas of eastern Tibet, Mongolia, and Siberia throughout the 19th century, and even into the early 20th century. Additionally, some tea bricks were of better or lesser quality depending on where they were intended to circulate, and whether the bricks contained Russian Cyrillic inscriptions or Chinese ones.

South Asian Department

If the reader is noticing a trend with respect to tea dominating the tokens found in the Islamic, East Asian, and now South Asian Departments, this is a function of the importance that tea plays in this region of the world, although one should not underestimate the popularity of coffee in countries such as Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, as well as in some Pacific Island nations (e.g., Hawaii) and Australia. The following bronze token was produced by the Lungla (Sylhet) Tea Co. Ld. Lungla Division, circa 1879–1900, and likely played a similar role as the previous tokens, either as advertising pieces, or tokens that could be exchanged for goods.

Modern Department

Crossing the threshold into the Modern Department, we see a shift to coffee-themed tokens, although there is no shortage of tea-related objects in MANTIS as well. First is a copper alloy token dated 1671 featuring the bust of an Ottoman Turk and “Solyman” on the obverse, almost certainly alluding to Suleiman I ‘The Magnificent’ (1494–1566), the longest-reigning Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, despite this token being issued by “Wards Coffee House” more than 100 years after the death of Suleiman I. Next is a copper alloy token dated slightly earlier (1669) issued by Charles Kiftell to advertise their “Coffee House In Cheap Side” by displaying a hand pouring a fresh cup of coffee into an eagerly-awaiting cup. What better call-to-action could a proprietor pick to advertise a drink that was (purportedly) declared fit for Christians to drink by Pope Clement VIII (1536–1605) a mere 69 years earlier in 1600—although the reader is encouraged to take this story with a grain of salt, or perhaps a pinch of sugar in the case of coffee. Lastly we have an undated but definitely modern-era aluminum token for an aptly named “Coffee Bar” in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada—a purely utilitarian token versus one meant for advertising, as this piece was issued by the Saskatchewan Government Insurance Office.

ANS 1951.194.169
ANS 1967.159.836

United States Department

Representing the United States, highlighted here are two different tokens—although they are almost medal-like in their artistry—produced for the Union Coffee Co. Limited of New York in the 2nd half of the 19th century. One token, in white metal with proof-like surfaces, displays the head of a woman on the obverse, while the other token, in hard red rubber, boasts the bust of U.S. President John Adams. The “Alaroma” and “Bunola” on the obverse of both tokens refer to the two most popular brands of coffee that the Union Coffee Company produced. The company was a prolific issuer of tokens, and the hard rubber or vulcanite types featuring different U.S. Presidents were often released in multiple color varieties.

The final object representative of the United States is also representative of Canada, as it is a paper advertisement for a Buffalo, New York “Coffee House” pasted onto the obverse of an 1859 Canadian large cent—not wholly unsurprising given Buffalo’s proximity to the Canadian border. Also interesting is the volume of information the business chose to include; it’s evident they wanted to make the most of the large cent’s real estate by advertising the prices of no less than 10 items on this repurposed coin-token.

ANS 1936.18.10
ANS 1934.42.1

Latin America Department

Latin America is of course very well-known for their coffee production, so it should come as no great shock that several paper notes from Latin American countries contain printed engravings detailing various facets of coffee farming and production. On the reverse of this 1965 paper 5-Colon note of Costa Rica, a figure is seen drying unroasted “green” coffee beans in the sun, one of many steps required to get coffee from a farm to a consumer’s cup, a process wherein the final product often ends up many thousands of miles away from where it began.

Medals Department

Rounding out our “world tour” is another object from Latin America, but more specifically from the Medals Department. It is a simple but elegant medal featuring a coffee leaf, coffee flower, and coffee “cherry” (the fruit that encapsulates the two “beans” found in each cherry) along with the inscription “Uruguay-Brazil 1903” on the obverse, and three flowers and a cherry on the reverse.

Squaring The Circle: The Andor Orand Squared Quarter

Quite often, coming across a previously unknown (to you) numismatic object can send one spiraling down a rabbit hole of investigative digging in order to uncover and learn as much as possible about said object. Such was my situation upon learning about the existence of the Squared Quarter. After seeing an image of one posted to a popular online message board, I did plenty of my own digging, and even came to learn that the American Numismatic Society has a special (and possibly unique) striking of the Squared Quarter. But first, some background:

The Squared Quarter was the brainchild of artist Andor Orand (given name Andor Carius). According to the bio on his own website dedicated to the project, Andor, born in 1942, is a German-American artist who lives and works in the Princeton, New Jersey, and New York metropolitan areas. Although he works in multiple mediums—see the Princeton University Art Museum website for a few examples of his digital artwork—Mr. Orand is perhaps most well-known for his Squared Quarter project. According to a 1982 New York Times feature on the Squared Quarter, the idea to create such a piece came to Mr. Orand in 1972. He began working on the project in earnest around 1980, and the satirical “coins” were finally struck in 1982, although they all bear the date 1984. By the end of 1984, the company set up to sell the Squared Quarter—Square Deal Productions, Inc.—was officially dissolved, and in 1988 the dies, lead die trials, and sample pieces of the various versions that were struck (12 items in total) were donated to the Smithsonian, where they are archived in the National Numismatic Collection. Documentation of the donation confirms that 4 examples of the Squared Quarter were donated (one 1/4-oz. version in silver, one 1/2-oz. version in silver, one nickelsilver (cupro-nickel-zinc) version struck using the 1/4-oz. dies, and one brass version, also struck using the 1/4-oz. dies—and none in gold), as well as 4 lead trial pieces of the 1/4-oz. and 1/2-oz. sizes, and 4 disabled dies for the same sizes.

1/4-ounce .999 silver version of the Squared Quarter (image courtesy of PCGS).

Krause’s Unusual World Coins, 5th ed., even lists the Squared Quarter, and gives the following mintage numbers: 300 in cupro-nickel-zinc (nickelsilver); 1,310 1/4-oz. size in .999 silver; 602 1/2-oz. size in .999 silver; 12 0.3056-oz. pieces in .999 gold; 15 in bronze; and an unknown number in brass. The gold, CuNiZn, bronze, and brass pieces extant were presumably all struck using the 1/4-oz. dies, although it is unclear if any non-silver pieces were struck using the 1/2-oz. dies, other than the lead trial pieces confirmed in the deed of gift to the Smithsonian.

The impetus for designing the Squared Quarter appears to be rooted in Reagonomics. According to the artist’s website, “President Reagan’s attempt to bring Supply-Siders and Monetarists, two mutually exclusive economic schools, together in his fiscal policy, was seen by many observers as trying to square the circle.” In the 1982 New York Times feature, Mr. Orand is also quoted as saying:

Squaring the circle is the image used to describe the predicament of Reagonomics by liberal and conservative commentators alike. The Squared Quarter is a coined representation of this dilemma: supply-side policy which stimulates growth, wedded to monetarist policy which stifles it.

Comparisons have also been made to American Hard Times tokens, the privately-made copper tokens used as a replacement for the small change that had fled circulation, and which were struck from roughly 1833 through 1843, as these tokens often had a satirical or political bent, especially as it related to the U.S. economy at that time.

A satirical Hard Times token of 1834 (ANS 1949.65.72).

The project itself was also hailed a technical achievement in 1982. According to its creator, it was the first “coin” designed with the aid of a computer, and before the advent of the personal computer. Although not a pure 1:1 mapping from a circle to a square—more recent attempts using modern computers give distortions that are similar to, but not exactly the same as the Squared Quarter—a considerable amount of work still went into the translation. The booklet that came with purchased pieces explained that “a coordinate system was drawn over an enlarged photograph of a quarter, so that the X/Y values of the coin’s surface points could be mapped” and then stored in a computer’s memory. Afterwards, “a program was written to define the formula of the circle-to-square projection. This program instructed the plotter to produce the drawing of the Squared Quarter.” This process was only used for the obverse, and was designed by computer programmer Manfred Mohr. The reverse was designed by architect and industrial designer Bill Kinsinger, who drew a square around a circle, and manually projected the points of the circle into the square, resulting in a more uniform distortion than the computer-aided obverse. The obverse and reverse renderings were then given to sculptor Harvey Citron, who made 8″ × 8″ plaster models, which were then handed over to the Medallic Art Company (then located in Danbury, Connecticut) to create the dies.

Also noted in the 1982 New York Times feature was that the relatively sharp corners of the design, coupled with a reeded edge, presented very specific technical challenges, which required “unique tooling” according to Mr. Orand. As such, the Squared Quarter was also “the first square coin-item with sharp corners and serrated edges struck in a die with collar,” as noted on the artist’s website. These technical challenges required much more manual labor in the production process, as specific steps had to be conducted by hand for each piece that was struck, and this may have resulted in the low mintage figures seen, although more research is needed to confirm if the final mintage numbers deviated from the originally contracted amounts.

A 1/2-klippe coin of 1577–1583 struck on a square flan but without a collar die (ANS 1905.57.377).

Although many countries have produced modern square coins (Aruba, Bangladesh, India, Netherlands, Pakistan, and Suriname, just to name a few), these all have rounded edges to allow for more automated production. There are also many other examples of square or rectangular coins struck throughout history, such as klippe coins, but these were produced without collars, and hence lack that technical hurdle.

An Australian penny of 1921 struck as a square with rounded corners (ANS 1963.260.2).

All of the above brings us to the final point, which is the possibly unique specimen held by the American Numismatic Society. It is a bronze example struck using the 1/4-oz. dies, and has the Medallic Art Company’s numbering system for identification punched onto the obverse: 81-241. This numbering system indicates that this piece was produced in 1981, and 241 the number given to this project in that year. Although Mr. Orand has stated that no more Squared Quarters will be produced, he went on to design a squared German 1 Deutsche Mark and squared Japanese 1 Yen as well, and his Squared Quarter even influenced the creation of a square New Jersey Copper. Perhaps more novel “squared” creations will see the light of day in the future.

The American Numismatic Society’s example of the Squared Quarter struck in bronze.
An angled view highlighting the reeded edge of the American Numismatic Society’s example of the Squared Quarter struck in bronze.

ANS eBay Store Behind-the-Scenes: Coin Photography

As the ANS continues to make duplicates from its collection available on eBay, it may be of interest to Society members and eBay browsers alike to learn how our listings are photographed, as this is one of several important steps in ensuring that objects offered on eBay are described accurately. Detailed text descriptions are of course important, but in our current digital age, many buyers immediately gravitate towards listings with consistent, high-quality photos. This is true for both eBay and almost any other online auction platform.

While the photographic process associated with cataloging the American Numismatic Society’s various holdings is more rigorous and precise than what is required for eBay, the steps for both are generally similar. Once the individual objects and lots have been selected, they are taken to an area separate from the equipment used to photograph collection objects. This photography setup is comparatively low-tech, and relies on an LED light box, a larger professional studio light, a tripod, and staging platforms and props where individual objects and lots can be quickly arranged, photographed, and placed back into protective flips, archival bags, and tubes. The setup is a balance between speed and efficiency coupled with taking sharp, clear, and well-lit photos that require minimal editing.

A close-up and broader view of the ANS’ eBay photography area.

Because speed and efficiency are critical, photos are taken on an ordinary smartphone so that images can be wirelessly transferred to a computer workstation for editing immediately after photos are taken. Likewise, care is taken to ensure that each shot has the proper lighting (both intensity and color) best suited to the objects being photographed, are angled correctly to catch the light and accurately highlight the objects’ surfaces, are clear and sharp by way of a steady tripod adapted to hold a smartphone, and are photographed at a distance proportional to the size of the object. A 3-inch medal, for example, is photographed so that it takes up the majority of the real-estate of the shot, whereas a U.S. silver three-cent “trime” will be photographed close enough to capture its details, while taking up much less space in the shot, so that when the two photos are viewed together, the relative size of each object is clear.

To illustrate the above as well as subsequent steps, we will use two objects as our example pieces: a 32 mm gilt bronze George Washington bicentennial medal, and a 19 mm copper Civil War store card token. In the below photos, we see the obverse and reverse of each object side-by-side, both propped on a clear acrylic stand and angled to capture the light based on the reflectiveness of each object, and taken at a distance relative to their size.

Original obverse and reverse photos of a George Washington medal and Civil War store card token.

Once photos have been taken and all objects are safely stored away, the files can be wirelessly transferred to a computer workstation, where they are edited in a computer program to be more presentable on eBay. Editing is a crucial step, but also one where overzealous editing is discouraged. Photos destined for eBay undergo two steps: rotating the object to ensure correct orientation, and replacing the background with a neutral gradient. You may have noticed that in the above photos, the obverse of the George Washington medal was completely upside down; this was not a mistake, but rather a move to ensure that any shadows appeared at the rear of Washington’s head, and not along his face. After the objects have been rotated, the background is removed, and a neutral gradient is added to avoid the stark contrast of a pure white background.

Rotated obverse and reverse photos of a George Washington medal (background removed) and Civil War store card token (neutral gradient background).

The coins are now ready to be uploaded to eBay. The process is designed so that if only a single object needed to be photographed, the total time required to take and edit the photo should be less than 5 minutes. Regarding the angle of the object, it should be impressed upon the budding photographer that it truly is important to experiment and adjust as necessary to ensure that the object’s surfaces and luster (if present) are accurately captured, providing that the degree of the angle is not so extreme that the object appears stretched or distorted. As an example, the below image highlights how the same George Washington medal appears when photographed head-on versus the soft angle that reveals the true beauty of this medal as if viewed in-hand and rotated around in the light. The light source itself can be adjusted, but generally it is easier to move the object relative to the light source and not the other way around.

George Washington medal photographed head-on compared to a soft angle.

We hope this behind-the-scenes blog post sheds some light on one facet of listing ANS objects on eBay. Perhaps it will inspire others to try their hand at photographing numismatic objects; all it takes is a few pieces of equipment, some basic knowledge, and a willingness to experiment and learn.

ANS eBay Win Spurs Local History Research + The 2021 ANS Gala

The motto of the American Numismatic Society is Parva Ne Pereant—“So the Small May Not Perish.” In the world of numismatics, it is the superstar coins that often grab all the attention—Eid Mar denarii, Brasher Doubloons, etc. The ANS has even produced several wonderful videos about these great (some would even say “greatest”) coins, now available for viewing on our YouTube page. But what about those “small” objects without the more well-known fantastic backstories? As the ANS continues to make duplicates from its collection available on its official eBay store some buyers have reached out to share their excitement over auction items they have won from the ANS, proving that even those seemingly pedestrian numismatic objects can be monumentally important to a particular collector depending on their interests.

Kings Highway Savings Bank parking token, undated, from the ANS eBay store.

One such object is a parking token from the Kings Highway Savings Bank in Brooklyn, New York. The ANS has a large and diverse array of transportation tokens, many of which have yet to be cataloged, and this particular parking token duplicate could be of interest to any number of collectors, perhaps those that collect bank-related items, parking tokens specifically, or numismatic objects related to specific roadways or highways. In this instance, the buyer happens to live just minutes from the bank in question, although the bank itself is long gone, and only the building remains.

Kings Highway Savings Bank in 1929, courtesy of the Brooklyn Public Library.
Kings Highway Savings Bank in 1961, courtesy of the Center for Brooklyn History.

The Kings Highway Savings Bank was a mutual savings bank founded in 1923 with William R. Bayes as its president, and stood at the southeast corner of East 16th St. and Kings Highway, situated between the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Midwood and Sheepshead Bay. There appeared to be several branches at one point, with this location (built in 1929) functioning as the main branch.  Although the name of the bank is no longer visible on the facade, the building itself remains quite intact, and has hosted several different banks since then, most recently an HSBC branch that also appears to have vacated since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Despite the name of the original bank disappearing from the side of the building, the original doors are still there, and retain the seal or logo of the Kings Highway Savings Bank, as evidenced by the photos provided by the winner of the parking token in question.

Kings Highway Savings Bank main door panel with original bank logo.

The lucky bidder also provided this photograph of their new token in front of the old Kings Highway Savings Bank building, very much mirroring—intentionally or unintentionally—the other historic photos of the bank pictured in this blog post, right down to the car parked in the lower right corner of each photo. Furthermore, it is not entirely clear how this parking token was used, as there is no extant parking lot attached to the building, and it is in fact a very busy intersection with limited street parking today. Perhaps there was a nearby lot that patrons of the Kings Highway Savings Bank could park at, and if conducting legitimate bank business, would receive this parking token as a voucher for parking validation, and deposit it upon exiting to avoid paying the usual parking rate.

Kings Highway Savings Bank as pictured in January, 2021.

Is this story of a simple savings bank and its corresponding parking token “great”? Perhaps not in the grand scheme of things, but it is important to the person who now owns this token, and the purpose of the ANS is to house and maintain a repository of as many of these “small” historical objects as possible, so that they may not perish. It may also interest the reader to know that the Kings Highway Savings Bank is just one of many savings banks in southern Brooklyn whose original inhabitants have long departed, but whose historical buildings still remain. More can be found in this NYC Explorer blog post of 2014.

In other numismatic news, the American Numismatic Society held its annual Gala on Thursday, January 14, and it was also the first virtual Gala hosted by the Society. This format allowed for a greater number participants regardless of their location or time zone, and was a considerable success thanks to the hard work of everyone involved. This year’s Gala honored ANS benefactors Mark and Lottie Salton, and was a moving tribute to their lifelong involvement in the numismatic community. If you were not able to attend the Gala in real-time, do not fret; the ANS has posted the event in full to our YouTube page and we encourage you to watch the video to learn more about the lives of Mark and Lottie Salton, hear their stories, and discover how their gifts to the ANS have positively impacted the field of numismatics.