All posts by mwittmann

Lottery Mania in Colonial America

ANS, 0000.999.16549
ANS, 0000.999.16549

As Powerball mania sweeps the nation, I thought it would be interesting to explore the longer history of lotteries in America with a look back to the eighteenth century. For a run-down of the particulars about how they operated, Ainsworth Rand Spofford, who served as the official Librarian of the United States, wrote a useful introduction to the subject you can read here. By way of a short summary, the practice of holding lotteries to raise money for local governments and private entities was brought by English colonists to North America in the seventeenth century. The Third Virginia Charter of 1612 granted the Virginia Company of London a license to conduct yearly lotteries to raise funds for supplies for early colonists. Spofford goes on to note that the award for what seems to have been the first proper lottery to take place in colonial America in 1720 was rather unusually for a brick house in Philadelphia rather than a cash prize.

As an essentially speculative venture, lotteries bred a certain amount of attendant trouble as they were easy to manipulate and in some cases the holders simply neglected to have a drawing and made off with the money altogether. Abuses such as this led to a swath of legislation, but both private and public lotteries proliferated. The more reputable ventures were authorized by local governments and fronted by prominent citizens, frequently with the aim of funding some worthwhile public project. As Spofford notes, it was looked upon as a kind of “voluntary tax” for public works, with the added benefit for subscribers of potentially getting a windfall.

Spanish "piece of eight," 1746. ANS, 1955.130.3
Spanish “piece of eight,” 1746.
ANS, 1955.130.3

The Scheme of the Second Philadelphia Lottery (1748) published by Benjamin Franklin gives a good overview of how a contemporary public lottery operated. Numismatists will be interested to note that all of the values were enumerated in terms of “pieces of eight” as Spanish dollars were the dominant form of coin in circulation. The drawing was done by putting all of the numbers in a wheeled bin that could be spun during the drawing. The plan was to sell seventy-five thousand dollars worth of tickets while ultimately reserving twelve-and-a-half percent or $9,375 dollars for public use with the balance being awarded as prizes. Schemes such as these were so popular and innocuous that even churches held lotteries to raise funds for their endeavors.

The American Numismatic Society holds about a dozen eighteenth-century lottery tickets. They are interesting in part for the numismatic and economic information they reveal, but also in terms of their design. Counterfeiters could easily manufacture a ‘winning’ lottery ticket because they were pen-numbered (and thus easily altered) and it took time for reports of the numbers to circulate and for winning tickets to be redeemed. Precautions needed be taken to prevent chicanery, which led to some innovative features.

ANS, 1945.42.818
ANS, 1945.42.818

The 1753 Connecticut lottery ticket above has a seemingly haphazard left edge because it was cut from a larger sheet. Anyone redeeming a winning ticket thus needed to have both the correct number and an edge matching the original sheet to validate its authenticity. Because the lottery was so much smaller, tickets were simply issued with consecutive numbers over the much more complex systems of today. Incidentally, this 1753 lottery was one of several held for the benefit of the “College of New Jersey,” i.e. Princeton University, and this particular one seems to have funded the construction of Nassau Hall.

Connecticut was a very active place for lotteries. In 1754 one was held to construct a wharf in New Haven. The ticket for that lottery at the ANS is particularly noteworthy because it seems to have been a winning ticket for the sum of £25. All in all, eighteenth-century lotteries were much more even in terms of dispersing winnings, with larger tiers of moderate payouts over what is more or less the winner-take-all format of today.

1945.42.830.obv.600

Arguably the most important lottery in American history was created by the Continental Congress in 1776 for “carrying on the present and most just and necessary war.” The “scheme” of the inaugural United States Lottery rather entertainingly refers to ticket holders as “adventurers.” Tickets were issued in different classes as the amount of awards and the cost of tickets escalated. This “Class the Third” ticket in the ANS collection was rather curiously signed but not seemingly issued as it lacks a number. Note the lines in the ‘No.’ field, which was meant to prevent alteration after a given ticket had a number written on it.

ANS, 0000.999.57379
ANS, 0000.999.57379

Just as the issuing and counterfeiting of Continental currency was part and parcel of the larger conflict, financing via lottery was another arena of contention. The ticket below was used as part of a Loyalist lottery held in British-occupied New York City in 1777 to raise money for the provisioning of British troops.

ANS, 0000.999.57381
ANS, 0000.999.57381

Although the rebellious colonists prevailed, the victory seemed to have done little to whet the public’s appetite for the lottery, and they proliferated in the United States during the late eighteenth century. A series of scandals in the nineteenth century, and the burgeoning of more or less fraudulent commercial lotteries hurt their reputation, but as today’s Powerball drawing suggests, the lottery still occupies a prominent place in American life and continues to play a significant role in funding public projects.

Matthew Wittmann

Telegraphic Numismatica

Detail of Morse from the reverse of an 1896 $2 silver certificate, ANS 1980.67.17
Detail of Morse from the reverse of an 1896 $2 silver certificate, ANS 1980.67.17

On January 6, 1838, American polymath Samuel F. B. Morse and his partners Leonard Gale and Alfred Lewis Vail hosted a successful private trial of their new electric telegraph system. Morse was a celebrated painter who became fixated on the idea of creating an expeditious means of long-distance communication when his wife fell ill and died while he was away (the news, delivered by mail, arrived only after the fact). Morse’s signature contribution was adding extra circuits or relays to the existing electromagnetic systems, which ensured that the telegraphic signal would carry over longer wires. The first message that was transmitted that day was an aphorism: “A patient waiter is no loser.” (The more famous phrase associated with the telegraph, “what hath God wrought,” was sent in 1844 as part of a public demonstration of the new commercial telegraph line between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.)

The electric telegraph expanded exponentially in the mid-nineteenth century, transforming commerce and communication throughout the United States and eventually around the world. The key to the globalization of the technology was overcoming the challenge of manufacturing underwater cables that were durable enough to survive and transmit signals across vast distances. The first successful effort to lay a trans-Atlantic cable was undertaken by the Atlantic Telegraph Company headed by Cyrus W. Field. On August 16, 1858, the first message was sent from England to the United states, which read: “Europe and America are united by telegraphy. Glory to God in the highest; on earth, peace and good will toward men.” Shortly after, Queen Victoria and President James Buchanan exchanged congratulatory messages, but the cable failed after just a few short weeks.

ANS, 0000.999.4493
ANS, 0000.999.4493

Nevertheless, the venture had demonstrated the viability of undersea cables, even if there were some technical issues that still needed to be worked out. The New York Chamber of Commerce commissioned a medal from Tiffany & Co. to celebrate Field and the engineers that had made the project possible. The richly symbolic result depicted Columbia and Britannia holding a cable across the globe. In the small cartouche below the figure of Mercury stands with the fruits of American commerce, which includes a beaver.

A more entertaining version of Tiffany’s rather formal medal were a series of tokens struck for the occasion by George H. Lovett of New York City.

ANS, 0000.999.4501
ANS, 0000.999.4501

Here an electrified handshake takes place across the Atlantic between ‘Brother Jonathan,’ a contemporary personification and parody of a New Englander, and a British gentleman. The latter asks “How are you Jonathan,” to which he responds “Purty well old feller, heow’s yer self.” Another fascinating momento from this event was a token produced by Granville Stokes, a merchant in Philadelphia who purchased a portion of the failed cable.

ANS, 1952.110.26
ANS, 1952.110.26

Stokes had the cable cut into quarter-inch thick slices and a suitable die was made to serve as a housing and advertising card for his business. It was then attached so that a cross-section of the cable showed as the reverse. It was not until 1866 that trans-Atlantic telegraphic communication was re-established when a new 1700-mile long cable went into operation.

ANS, 0000.999.57219
ANS, 0000.999.57219

The means by which signals were sent and interpreted via the telegraph was by what came to be known as Morse code. In this system, numbers, letters, and symbols were assigned a combination of dots and dashes that allowed for quick communication by simply tapping on a receiver. Skilled technicians could transmit a remarkable amount of text, up to 30 or 40 words per minute. A silversmith named S. W. Chubbuck from Utica, New York, seemed to have a particular interest in the Morse code system. This silver token is one of two minted, though more were made in bronze, and it depicts the full “Morse Telegraph Alphabet” and advertises his business, which apparently had a connection to the telegraph industry. Chubbuck later issued paper scrip during the Civil War that also included a tutorial in Morse code.

ANS, 1945.42.278
ANS, 1945.42.278

Perhaps the most famous bits of telegraphic numismatica are the Canadian nickels minted during the Second World War. New twelve-sided five-cent pieces were struck in brass and chrome-plated steel in 1943 amidst metal shortages caused by the war. As you can see, the device on the reverse was a torch splitting through a large V, which both indicated the denomination (5 ¢) and nodded towards the Allied ‘V for Victory’ campaign.

ANS, 1944.33.1
ANS, 1944.33.1

Some will note that the rims of the coin look a bit strange. This is because Thomas Shingles, the engraver of the Royal Canadian Mint, included a message along the rim in Morse code. Beginning at 6 o’clock (under the N) and reading clockwise it says:

We Win When We Work Willingly

Here’s a closer look at the top edge where the word “WORK” is spelled out: W (·——)  O (— — — ) R (· — ·) K (— · —)

1944.33.1.det

And with that short lesson in Morse code we end our short survey of the numismatics of the telegraph!

Matthew Wittmann

Frohes Neues Jahr | Happy New Year

The dawning of a new year has long been an occasion for celebration, but at least in numismatic terms, it seems to be the Germans who party the hardest. During the late nineteenth century, striking small medals and giving them away as one might send cards to friends and family was a common practice. But this new year’s numismatic practice extended all the way back into the eighteenth century as well.

ANS, 0000.999.3066
ANS, 0000.999.3066

This commemorative medal was struck to mark the beginning of 1718. The obverse apes Roman imagery in depicting Charles VI as a conquering hero and celebrates the Holy Roman Empire’s defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the Austro-Turkish War. The expression for best wishes in the new year in the exergue is rather tangential here, but the rise of specialist firms like Ludwig Christoph Lauer in the nineteenth century democratized the practice of medal-making.

ANS, 1940.100.723
ANS, 1940.100.723

This pretty medalet depicting angels with the inscription VIEL GLUCK ZUM NEUEN JAHR (good luck for the new year) is a nice example of the sort that were being struck and given away around this time. This particular one marks the beginning of 1890.

The most common form that these new year’s trinkets took in Austria and German was in medals that resembled business cards. The example below is a particularly rich one.

ans, 2011.2.1

ANS, 2011.2.1

The medal is the work of Franz Kounitzky, and you can see on the top of the car that the “sender” of this card (as indicated by the “ABS”) was Paul Schulz. It features an incredible ensemble of good luck charms for the new year of 1906: an automobile with a pig driving, a female figure holding a large cornucopia and a chimney sweep holding ladder with horseshoes sit in the back; there is a four-leafed clover on the luggage on top of the car; behind it is a devil with cut off tail raising its fist in anger (presumably the pig has just run him over?). Whatever the case, Frohes Neues Jahr!

Matthew Wittmann

A Countermark Christmas

I was casting about for a subject appropriate to the holiday season when I came across this coin:

ANS, 1943.132.4
ANS, 1943.132.4

And so I figured I would review some of our more interesting countermarked coins for the holiday season. This 1843 US large cent was apparently countermarked for one A. S. Warner as a Christmas gift in 1845. I am not sure if the maker had a full set of letter punches because a C has been used instead of a G in “GIFT.” It has also been suggested that the maker may have been drinking.

ANS, 1957.109.4
ANS, 1957.109.4

This is a silver four drachm minted in Alabanda around 170 BC that has been countermarked with the head of Tyche to revalidate the coin for circulation in Caria (southeast Turkey).

ANS, 1953.171.1081
ANS, 1953.171.1081

A rare bronze as struck in Rome during the brief but supposedly debauched reign of Caligula (AD 37-41). The purpose of the ‘AV’ countermark on the reverse, which depicts the Roman goddess Vesta, is unclear.

ANS, 1960.111.363
ANS, 1960.111.363

The reverse of a silver thaler minted in the German state of Württemberg during the early sixteenth century. The eagle countermark is thought to represent and validate the coin for circulation in the Hanseatic City of Lübeck.

ANS, 1917.215.2628
ANS, 1917.215.2628

A gold dinar bunduqi minted in Maghrib during the reign of Ismail Ibn Sharif (AD 1672-1727), the warrior king who consolidated the power of the Moroccan Alaouite dynasty. The counterstamp, a key between the initials JR, is supposed to have been that of King João V of Portugal, which maintained a string of coastal fortresses and trade centers along the Atlantic coast of northwest Africa.

ANS, 1913.130.209
ANS, 1913.130.209

This is a very worn 1795 US half dollar that features a neat countermark which resembles a spoked wheel. The speculation on the container is that this was marked for circulation in the Bahamas, but that seems dubious. Fred Pridmore suggested that it might be a Dharmarckra, a Buddhist religious emblem. Perhaps one for the “Mysteries from the Vault” series.?

ANS, 1970.156.712
ANS, 1970.156.712

So we are cheating a bit on this last one, which is not really countermarked, but is an appropriately repurposed coin. This is the reverse of a well-worn 1815 silver real from Columbia that some enterprising nineteenth-century American re-engraved as a Christmas gift for a loved one.

Happy holidays and for those in the giving mood, please consider donating to the American Numismatic Society as part of our year-end appeal.

Matthew Wittmann

Identifying Roman Coins on Micropasts

Micropasts is a web platform that hosts crowd-sourced collaborative research projects focused on archaeology, history, and heritage. The admirable goal of Micropasts is, in their words, to “improve how people traditionally distinguished as academics, professionals and volunteers cooperate with one another.” To this end, the website hosts a variety of projects that allow for contributions from enthusiasts, scholars, and the interested public on a wide variety of different topics. It is jointly run by the UCL Institute of Archaeology and the British Museum with support by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Micropasts.org
Micropasts.org

A relatively straightforward example of how the website works is a project that seeks to transcribe diaries kept by the noted Egyptian archaeologist, Sir Flinders Petrie. The project page includes a tutorial on how to contribute, which can involve either transcribing material directly from the scanned document, or reviewing the work of others to ensure its accuracy. A somewhat more complicated project is one by the British Museum that involves photo-masking medieval Pilgrim badges to create 3D models of the artifacts. All of the projects use the same simple interface which makes it easy to understand how you can help out, and there is a useful ‘Statistics’ tab for each that traces how the overall project is progressing.

There are a wide variety of different and salutary projects that users can contribute to, but we mention here because of a recently-launched numismatic one called the Roman Imperial Coin concordance.

ocreThis project was formulated by Daniel Pett of the British Museum and Ethan Gruber of the ANS to facilitate the addition of Roman coins catalogued in the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) to the NEH-sponsored ANS database Online Coins of the Roman Empire (OCRE). The tutorial explains just how the process works, but the essential task is for users to try and identify more precisely what the RIC (Roman Imperial Coinage) number for a given coin drawn from the PAS database is. If and when a more precise identification of the RIC number is made and confirmed, it can then be integrated into the larger OCRE database. pasrgbsize4The PAS, which is a voluntary program that records small archaeological finds by the public in the UK, presently has over 200,000 Roman coins in its database so it is a potentially rich resource for additional coins and data for OCRE.

Denarius of Tiberius, ca. AD 36-37 Portable Antiquities Scheme
Denarius of Tiberius, AD 36-37 | NCL-294EF5
Portable Antiquities Scheme

Of course, objects like the denarius above can only be integrated into OCRE when they have been properly identified so if you have time to lend a hand, head over to the project website!

Profiles in Research: Katherine Smoak

Last week Katherine Smoak, a graduate student in the Department of History at Johns Hopkins University, visited the ANS to research coins and counterfeiting in the eighteenth century Atlantic world. Katherine was kind enough to sit for a short interview about her work, and what follows is a lightly edited transcript of our talk.

ansvissmoak

What brings to you to the ANS today?

I am a Ph.D. candidate at Johns Hopkins University and I came to look at Caribbean coinage. I have been working on an article about counterfeits made in Birmingham and shipped to the Caribbean, mostly of Spanish and Portuguese coins, but also French billon coins.

And how did you get interested in numismatics?

Initially it came through an interest in crime and punishment in colonial America. I came across counterfeiters in this context and reviewing court records just made me realize how rich this sort of material about coins and paper money was.

What sort of material did you look at today?

Mostly at trays from the Caribbean cabinet. I am particularly interested in small change used mostly by enslaved peoples like black dogs and stampees.  And then I was also looking at some higher value coins like cut Spanish silver and Portuguese gold half-joes that had been variously clipped and plugged. I was really interested in the counterstamps and what that means for different islands as they tried to certify weights and keep coins in circulation amidst a flood of counterfeits.

What is a black dog?

It was a small French coin that was supposed to be a copper and silver alloy that was sent to the French colonies in the Caribbean, but ended up circulating much more widely. My understanding of them from what I have been reading is that by the 1780s and 1790s, most all of the black dogs in circulation were counterfeits and not the original imported coin. What is circulating is something like a trade token that was being produced en masse in places like Birmingham and shipped to merchants and planters to use as small change.

Part of what was so exciting for me looking at the trays today was just to see what these coins I have been reading so much about looked and felt like. Getting to feel how heavy a silver dollar was and how tiny some of the cut pieces are was really great. With the copper coins, seeing how crude and thin and easy they presumably would have been to produce and counterfeit was interesting. Seeing how much counterfeit material there was relative to genuine coin on particular trays was pretty remarkable. The wear and clipping and plugging on the gold joes was pretty amazing and thinking about the tactile interactions with money that people are having and how you can feel when a coin has been altered.

Was there a particular coin that you found illuminating?

ANS, 1927.143.1
ANS, 1927.143.1

One of the most exciting things I saw was this Portuguese half-joe that had been holed and counterstamped for Trinidad, Berbice, and Martinique. Being able to see the clipped edges and weigh it and see just how crude the holing looked was neat. All of the marks just show how widely this coin circulated in the Caribbean. This was my first time actually seeing a half-joe. It was really exciting for me to hold one after reading all these legislative minutes and Board of Trade letters about them.

And what are your future plans for the research you did here today?

Beyond this article about the production of counterfeits in Birmingham for the Caribbean that I have been working on is my dissertation, which explores the larger world of counterfeiting in the Atlantic world throughout the eighteenth century. I want reconstruct the ways that counterfeiters operated, building on the work of people like Kenneth Scott and Philip Mossman, and look at what the presence of counterfeits does to how people interact with money. The working title of the project is “Circulating Counterfeits: Making Money and its Meanings in the Eighteenth-Century British Atlantic.”

You can find out more about Katherine’s ongoing research and publications here.

Coins at NYC's Tenement Museum

Orchard Street, ca. 1898 Tenement Museum
Orchard Street, ca. 1898
Tenement Museum

The Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side explores the history of immigration in New York City with a variety of tours and exhibits centered along a row of former tenement houses on Orchard Street. The museum employs an innovative approach that uses a combination of historical preservation and historical narrative to connect visitors to the experience of immigration and instill an appreciation of the role that it has played in shaping American life.

©Alan Roche
©Alan Roche

Although the museum has since expanded, it was originally housed in a five-story tenement building at 97 Orchard Street that was constructed in 1863. To visit, you need to sign up for one of the assorted guided tours, which will take you through a particular floor of the building that has been arranged to show how the different groups of immigrants that inhabited the neighborhood over the years lived. The “Shop Life” tour, for example, looks at the various stores that occupied the basement of the building, which has been fixed up as an 1870s-era German saloon (my review). The 4th floor tour focuses on Irish immigrants, and so on. The building was originally divided into twenty apartments in addition to the two basement-level store fronts and it is estimated that over seven thousand immigrants lived there at one time or another, so there are a lot of stories to tell!

In any case, the reason that I am blogging about the Tenement Museum here is that they posted this on their Instagram account the other day:

As the caption indicates, the museum is presently expanding and discovered an old coin in the walls at 103 Orchard Street. Intrigued, I contacted to them to find out if they had found any other numismatic material over the years.

The Tenement Museum has about 10,000 items in their collection, which includes objects discovered and preserved from the former tenements at 91, 97, and 103 Orchard Street, and historical objects that have been donated or acquired to use for its tours and exhibitions. The artifacts found range from wooden toys to animal bones. We visited to take a look at the eight coins that were found in the buildings (there are additional coins and tokens that came in as donations), which ranged in date from 1876 to 1929. The oldest, an 1876 ‘Indian Head’ cent pictured below, was found in a rat’s nest under the floorboards.

TM-IndianHeadCent

Seven out of the eight coins in the collection were pennies, which is hardly surprising given that higher value coins were less likely to go missing. There was a wooden privy in the back court of 97 Orchard Street that sat above a mortared-brick vault filled with water that was periodically drained into the sewer system. When archaeologists excavated the back yard in the 1990s, the narrow vault yielded a trove of artifacts, including a 1909 Lincoln cent.

TM-LincolnCent

This was the first year that this famed coin designed by Victor David Brenner was minted. Lincoln’s portrait was added at that time to celebrate the centenary of his birth, and this was the first US coin to feature a president and the motto ‘In God We Trust.’ The new penny struck a chord with the public and became a popular keepsake. How this one ended up the privy, we will never know, but it is an interesting bit of Americana. The other coins were two Indian Head cents (1893, 1906), and four more Lincoln cents (1910, 1912, 1926, 1927).

TM-LibertyHeadNickAt right is the obverse of the 1908 ‘Liberty Head’ nickel that workers discovered in the walls the other day. As work on the buildings is ongoing, we suspect that more coins will be uncovered in the future and we will update this post if and when we hear about something new (see update below). In the meantime, I would encourage anyone to do a guided tour or check out one of the many other events at the museum.

TenVisit

Thanks to curator David Favaloro (left) and collections manager Danielle Swanson (right) for hosting us!

Matthew Wittmann

Tenement Museum
Tenement Museum

Update: It seems that just yesterday (12/15) another coin was found under linoleum laid in one of the apartments at 103 Orchard Street and it is real classic…a 1918 ‘Mercury’ dime.

Gilbert & Dean and Counterfeiting in Boston, 1806-1808

A combination of restrictive regulations and lack of available specie ensured that there was a persistent dearth of coinage in the British North American colonies over the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. One result of this lack of “hard” money was that the British colonists were the first society in which paper money became the predominant form of monetary exchange.

0000.999.29334.obv.noscale
Reverse of an 1760 five pound note printed by Franklin and Hall (0000.999.29334).

Despite the hopes of Benjamin Franklin and other promoters of the paper money experiment, the viability of the system was consistently threatened on two fronts. The first was the temptation that seemed to inevitably lead governments to print more money than could be covered by the treasury. The second was counterfeiting. The latter can be illustrated by the fact that the initial authorized issue of paper money was made by the colony of Massachusetts Bay in December 1690. The notorious counterfeiter Robert Fenton was brought up on charges for passing altered notes the following spring. The battle between authorities and counterfeiters was joined in earnest as the size and scope of paper money emissions expanded in the eighteenth century.

Colonial newspapers were replete with notices cautioning readers about circulating counterfeits and treasurers posted notices and broadsides for the public with instructions about how to identify false bills. As we have reviewed here before, the Continental Congress financed the revolution with huge emissions of paper money that the British attempted to undermine with organized counterfeiting. The excesses of the Continental Congress were such that “Continentals,” as the paper currency was known, depreciated to a point that they were practically worthless. Still, it enabled the rebellious colonists to win the war even though it poisoned much of the public on the viability of paper money as anything other than a emergency measure. Indeed, the Constitution specifically prohibited states from issuing paper money, but when the newfound US Mint was unable to meet the monetary needs of the populace in the 1790s, paper money in the form of promissory notes issued by private banks came to the fore.

By the early nineteenth century, the failures of the Continental currency had seemingly been forgotten as private banks around the country pumped a new flood of paper money into the economy. As with earlier emissions, this created opportunities for counterfeiters. Because each bank was issuing its own bills there was a certain amount of confusion among the public about what was what amidst the swirl of often crudely executed bank notes. This eventually gave rise to an entire genre of publications known as “counterfeit detectors” that we explored in part one of this series. But up until those serials were widely available in the 1820s, the public had to rely on a combination of common sense and luck to navigate the complexities of the emergent paper monetary system.

While newspapers occasionally carried warnings about counterfeiting activity, information often circulated more slowly than the fake bills. In the only significant study of the early organized effort to combat counterfeiting in print, William H. Dillistin highlights the seminal work of the Boston firm of Gilbert & Dean. Samuel Gilbert (b. 1777) and Thomas Dean (b. 1779) were trained as printers by the noted journalist and publisher Benjamin Russell. Their early partnership was centered on producing the Boston Weekly Magazine (1802-1808), which featured work from a variety of important early American writers, most notably Susanna Rowson. Seeing opportunities in the new economy, the partners gradually moved away from publishing into more speculative financial ventures as lottery, stock and exchange brokers.

The freewheeling commercial world that was budding in Boston during the early nineteenth century has been ably captured by Jane Kamensky’s The Exchange Artist (2008). Kamensky focuses on the story of Andrew Dexter, Jr., a speculator whose rise and fall served as a cautionary tale for the newfound banking and paper money industry.

Exchange Coffee House, Boston
Exchange Coffee House, Boston

The book is well worth a read, but the short version is that Dexter financed his schemes by gaining a controlling interest in a particular bank and then issuing more bank notes than the institution could ever possibly redeem. The most infamous of these was the Farmers’ Exchange Bank of Glouscester, Rhode Island, which issued an incredible number of notes beginning in the spring of 1808. Dexter quite literally used the bank to print money in order to finance an extravagant real estate project known as the Exchange Coffee House.

ANS, 0000.999.13755
$10 bill issued by the Farmers’ Ex Bank in April 1808 (ANS, 0000.999.13755)

The scheme eventually collapsed when the public realized that the bank was unable to meet its extensive obligations, but knowledgable exchange brokers likely reaped a profit by divesting themselves of the specious notes in advance.

The public thus needed to be wary not only of counterfeiters, but of bankers as well. Uncertainty allowed exchange offices and information brokers like Gilbert & Dean a variety of ways to profit from their particular knowledge. In February 1806, the firm published a broadside (12″ x 18″) that promised “to meet the public anxiety respecting Counterfeit Bills” by listing known fakes in circulation and providing details about all of the regional banks that issued notes. The Baker Library at Harvard University has the only copy of this seminal counterfeit detector that we know of.

48764460

A typical description listed problems with the paper (too dark, too thin, etc.) or details like poorly set type and missing or altered elements for the public to ferret out fake bills. Gilbert & Dean were notably not doing this as a public service but to reap a profit, as the broadside cost 12 and a half cents (a bit or eighth of a dollar). Nearly fifty examples of counterfeit bills are noted, giving a good impression as to the scope of the problem.

Only Sure Guide (1806)
University of Chicago

The broadside was such a success that the firm published a follow up during the summer of 1806. The Special Collections Research Center at the University of Chicago holds a copy of this rare pamphlet entitled The Only Sure Guide to Bank Bills; Or, Banks in Now-England: With a Statement of Bills Counterfeited. Promising “utility with profit,” it also warned:

If any one should suffer for want of informationrather than buy a pamphlet, the blame must attach to himself alone; and he will not receive that commisseration which in justice he ought.

The twelve-page pamphlet provides details on forty-six banks while noting that there were seventy-four banks in operation in the whole United States, the balance of which were located in New England. The copy held at the University of Chicago includes a two-page “Postscript” dated a month after the original printing that updates some of the information therein. A typical entry read as follows:

Farmers' Exchange BankCharacteristic identifiers for the three counterfeit denominations were noted. Undoubtedly because of the extent of it, the last sentence notes that the bank was issuing new bills “from the stereotype,” which refers to a method developed by the inventor Jacob Perkins that used steel plates with intricate design features in an attempt to combat counterfeiting. The 1808 ten dollar note pictured above was one of the bank’s new bills produced using Perkins technique. Of course in the case of the Farmers’ Exchange Bank it was not counterfeiting, but the outright fraud of issuing of so many genuine notes that ended up fleecing the public in the end.

While Gilbert & Dean were providing information to the public for a seemingly modest price, behind the scenes they were also using their inside knowledge of the financial system to profit where they could. The firm’s links to the publishing industry afforded them the opportunity to paint banks in a flattering or unflattering light and as all paper money already circulated at a discount, they could to some extent manipulate the exchange value of given notes in ways that would benefit the firm. The number of court cases that Gilbert & Dean were involved in certainly suggests that they were not shy about using this leverage. An account of Gilbert and Dean v. The Nantucket Bank in July 1808 reads as an almost comical story about the lengths to which banks and brokers would go to impugn each other’s reputations. The firm brought the suit against the bank when its agent was seemingly unable to redeem a thirty dollar note for specie when he visited its office. Although the bank was undoubtedly engaging in some legal shenanigans and lost the case, its fear that Gilbert & Dean could ignite a run on the bank was certainly valid. There’s a reason that so many exchange offices and brokers were linked to publishing and the nascent counterfeit detecting industry; it gave them real power over how a bank and the paper money it issued was perceived by the public. In part three of this series, we will look at a New York City broker who played this game particularly well.

Finally, it should be noted that the counterfeiters themselves openly mocked Gilbert & Dean’s publications, which suggests that were not nearly as effective as advertised. In his wonderful memoirs, the criminal-cum-folk hero Stephen Burroughs included the text of a letter he purportedly sent to Gilbert  & Dean in 1809 when he was one of the most prolific counterfeiters in the country.

$1 note for Union Bank of Boston counterfeited by Burroughs in 1807 Smithsonian National Museum of American History
$1 note for Union Bank of Boston counterfeited by Burroughs in 1807.
Smithsonian National Museum of American History

The letter opened by noting that he had seen their Only Sure Guide to Bank Bills pamphlet and expressed admiration for their “kind labors for the public weal.” Burroughs sarcastically mocked the recent and spectacular failure of the Farmers’ Exchange Bank by suggesting only “Officers of the Pancake Exchange” could tell real pancakes from counterfeit ones. Gilbert & Dean probably did not care a whit about this as the firm ended up in control of the Exchange Coffee House that resulted from that epic swindle!

Matthew Wittmann

PELLA: Coins of the Kings of Macedonia

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The American Numismatic Society has launched a digital project that promises to be an important new research tool in ancient Greek numismatics. PELLA: Coins of the Kings of Macedonia is a comprehensive and accessible online catalogue of the coinage produced by the kings of the Macedonian Argead dynasty from 700 to 310 BC. In its current version, PELLA uses the numbering and typology system developed by Martin Price of the British Museum to catalogue individual coin types with additions that greatly enhance its usefulness as an online resource. So, for example, here is a silver tetradrachm struck under the authority of Alexander the Great that is classified as a Price 4.

ANS, 1908.229.1
ANS, 1908.229.1

If you follow this link to the search results, you will be presented with a typological description and all examples of that type from participating institutions. In this case there are 45 objects from the ANS and the Münzkabinett Berlin, which are accompanied by a useful visualization of the geographic and historical context of the coins in the form of a map delineating mints and find spots with a sliding timeline underneath.

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Below this, all of the coin specimens are detailed and usually pictured, making comparative study relatively simple. Perhaps the most useful tool for researchers can be found in the Quantitative Analysis subsection at the bottom of the page. Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 4.42.34 PMIt calculates and lists the average axis, diameter, and weight of all the examples for the Price 4 specimens, allowing for straightforward analysis of variations within a given type.

One of the other noteworthy features is that the platforms allows for searching based on the symbols common to this coinage. Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 1.49.17 PMIn the Browse menu, you will find that there are a variety of options for customizing a search along the left hand side of the page. Under the Symbol menu, there are boxes arranged by location which have lists and checkboxes which allow for searching either particular symbols or locations. Although the precise terminology used to describe the various symbols is a work-in-progress, the feature will make it much easier for researchers to investigate this oft-debated subject.

If all of that is not enough, perhaps the neatest feature of the website centers on the way it allows users to Visualize Queries. This gives you the ability to construct a search and query the database with the results displayed as a graph or chart. Below is one that I created which shows the weight of the tetradrachm in ten-year intervals from 340 BC to 140 BC. Notwithstanding what seems to be some bad data in the one outlier decade, what you can see is a slow decline in the weight of the tetradrachm over two centuries.

chart (1)As a linked data platform, PELLA connects to the relevant pages in the online collection databases of the contributing institutions, which presently includes the ANS, the British Museum, and the Münzkabinett Berlin. The catalogue also shares data with the Inventory of Greek Coin Hoards Online, and further links will be created as the project expands. All of this is made possible by stable numismatic identifiers and linked open data methodologies established by the Nomisma.org project.