The many treasures of the American Numismatic Society’s archives include not only the Society’s own history and papers documenting the activities of many of its former staff and officers. There are also resources for researchers, many of which document the activities of numismatic collectors or dealers, but some of which are of scholarly interest. The Allan Evans papers are an example of a research resource of great interest to numismatists, even though it is not the work of a numismatist.
In the late 1930s, the Mediaeval Academy of America sponsored a research project to be carried out at Harvard University by Allan Evans, assisted by Florence Edler de Roover. The project was to compile evidence on the relative values of late medieval coins from primary sources of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, to provide a guide for historians seeking to understand monetary transactions in the documents of that period.
The researchers gathered material about the alloys, weights, and values of coins from merchant manuals, arithmetic textbooks, and other sources, assembling 35-mm film images and photostats of their sources. The core of the collection consists of excerpts from around 50 manuscript sources, together with extensive notes on coinage systems and monetary systems. The primary focus of the source material is Italy, especially Florence, but because of the wide-ranging connections of Florentine businesses such as the Medici family, the coins discussed range over most of Europe. Evans and Edler prepared most of a manuscript on the topic, but in 1940 the work came to a halt when Evans was recruited by the State Department as an intelligence analyst.
In 1951, after Evans had decided not to return to academia, he turned over the materials to Edler, whose husband Raymond de Roover made use of them in his work. After Raymond de Roover died in 1972, Florence Edler de Roover turned over the materials to Robert Lopez for the Mediaeval Academy. Concluding that the project could not be published as is, but that the work should be made available to interested scholars, Lopez and Paul Meyvaert offered all the materials from the project to the ANS in 1976. Some additional material that Evans had sent to David Herlihy was given to the ANS by Reinhold Mueller in 1985.
Peter Spufford published a description of this collection and its history in his essay “Late Medieval Merchants Notebooks”, published in the book Kaufmannsbücher un Handelspraktiken vom Spätmittelalter bis zum beginnenden 20. Jahrhundert (Franz Steiner Verlag, 2002). The collection attracts occasional visitors, but Spufford’s hope that the project could be completed and published in some form turned out to be over-optimistic. Given the advance of scholarship on related topics since the 1930s, the original concept is by now obsolete, although the source materials remain as relevant and useful as always.