Category Archives: Modern

Curiosities of the United States Paper Money Cabinet, Part II

If you have not read Part I of this two-part series and would like to do so, please click here.

As we continue our exploration of miscellaneous paper issues from the United States, we trek further into the world of the odd, the strange, the comical, and the confusing. Let’s dive straight in with two examples of one of the most well-known and most successful private note series ever issued: Disney Dollars.

Although perhaps more appropriately described as a type of corporate or company scrip, Disney Dollars were not meant to be issued to and used by employees—unlike other, more notorious forms of company scrip, such as those issued by lumber and coal companies, the use of which was ultimately outlawed with the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. Instead, Disney Dollars were meant to be used by customers at various Disney facilities, including Disney theme parks, resort hotels, merchandise stores, and food and drink venues. Despite the fact that Disney Dollars are no longer available for purchase, they are still accepted by Disney at many of those same facilities.

Obverse and reverse of a One Disney Dollar note featuring Mickey Mouse. ANS 1989.78.1

Disney Dollars were a hit from the beginning, and were exchanged at parity with the U.S. dollar. In fact, their free and easy exchange from USD into Disney Dollars and vice versa almost certainly contributed to their success, as they could be purchased at face value and spent at face value, but many Disney collectors quickly realized from the outset that it was worth holding on to at least some of these notes, either because of the potentially limited runs of certain notes and series (i.e., natural scarcity), or because their use as currency (exchanged for goods and/or converted back to USD) coupled with their eventual wear and tear and the passage of time would result in more common notes becoming scarce, or at least becoming scarce in higher grades.

This proved to be true, and although many Disney Dollars can still be purchased for relatively modest sums—even in uncirculated grades—there are many other Disney Dollars that are truly scarce, be they proof issues, condition rarities, or simply issued in very limited numbers or sold during a very limited window. Paper Money Guaranty (PMG) even grades them. To satisfy the trivia addicts out there, here are some additional fun facts about Disney Dollars:

  • The idea for Disney Dollars was conceived by Disney artist Harry Brice
  • The first Disney Dollars were issued in 1987, and the final notes issued in 2016
  • Notes were printed in denominations of $1, $5, $10, and $50
  • Various series prefixes exist, including A, B, E, D, F, and T
  • Like U.S. paper money, low and interesting serial numbers can command a premium
  • 500 Yen and 1000 Yen notes were issued for Tokyo Disneyland starting in 1988
  • Errors exist, such as the 2013 $1 101 “Dalmations” note (correct spelling: Dalmatians)
Obverse and reverse of a Five Disney Dollars note featuring Goofy. ANS 1989.78.2

Next up is an object that should be familiar to anyone who lived during the 1990s when tobacco advertising and promotional activities were less restricted than they are today: a Camel cigarettes brand One Camel Cash note, also called a C-Note. While reminiscent of the slang term for a United States $100 bill, the Camel C-Note did not have quite the same purchasing power. In fact, as of March 31, 2007, Camel Cash has had effectively zero purchasing power, as this was the expiration date set by R. J. Reynolds to redeem any outstanding Camel Cash notes. Interestingly, this is in stark contrast to Disney, who continues to accept Disney Dollars long after the last notes were produced.

Although falling somewhere between a coupon and corporate scrip, Camel Cash notes could not actually be used to buy tobacco products; rather, the owner of said notes could send away for a catalog of Camel-branded goods, then redeem the collected C-Notes on promotional products. One wonders what kind of job promotion or bonus the inventor of this advertising scheme received upon unveiling a plan to induce users of a highly-addictive product to collect enough paper notes from the repeated purchase of said product, in order to redeem them for schlocky promotional wares designed to advertise the same highly-addictive product!

The One Camel Cash note in the ANS collection features a George Washington-esque Joe Camel on the obverse (Washington did grow tobacco, after all) and a litany of instructions and disclaimers on the reverse. Of special note is Joe Camel’s “signature” which also somehow manages to incorporate the semi-subliminal image of a burning cigarette into it.

Obverse and reverse of a One Camel Cash note featuring Joe Camel. ANS 1993.125.1

In the realm of satirical (perhaps even conspiratorial) paper notes is this One Counterfeit Dollar featuring very explicit anti-United Nations sentiments on both the obverse and reverse. It is (quite clearly) not professionally printed, and was likely crafted using a combination of photocopying hand-drawn elements together with cut-and-pasted images. On the obverse we find an image of Henry Kissinger at center, along with the names “Mao Tse-Dung” and German philosopher (and founder of the original Bavarian Illuminati) Adam Weishaupt, as well as an address for a Seattle-based action group, who presumably created and distributed the note—an address that appears to be situated in Burien, Washington, otherwise known as Seola Beach.

The reverse of this note features more anti-U.N. messaging, as well as suggestions that a New World Order plot is afoot (a joint effort by both Richard Nixon and Soviet politician Leonid Brezhnev if the note is to be believed). Although no contemporary date is listed, the imagery and themes on this issue suggest that it was fabricated in the late 1960s or early 1970s, during Kissinger’s time as National Security Adviser under Nixon, and when both were pursuing a policy of détente with the Soviet Union, and rapprochement with China.

Obverse and reverse of a One Counterfeit Dollar anti-United Nations note. ANS 1998.55.1

Lastly, a colorful—if not initially confusing—paper note with a declared value of One Thursday Buck. Taking center stage is Santa Claus, holding a bag underneath a rainbow with a money tree and pot of gold at our right and his left. Satirical exclamations abound, from the E Pluribus Kiddem within the rainbow, to the Ezeemunny Certificate at the top border. The note is “signed” by both Pass De Buck, and Ham N. Eggs, the latter giving a clue as to what this note is satirizing.

On the reverse we find For Use In Bankrupting / Scrambled Eggs For California, along with a list of affected parties to this State of Confusion, and a clearer picture begins to form. Upon further investigation, this note was produced to criticize the nascent Ham and Eggs movement, which was a plan borne out of a pension movement championed by physician Francis Townsend, whose Townsend Plan and subsequent Townsend Clubs helped propel the creation of the federal Social Security program. The Ham and Eggs movement advocated for a similar old-age pension plan, but one specifically designed for California residents. Their initiative was ultimately defeated in 1938, perhaps due in no small part to these satirical One Thursday Buck notes.

Obverse and reverse of a One Thursday Buck note featuring Santa Claus. ANS 2007.28.18

COAC 2021: The Victor David Brenner Sesquicentennial

Figure 1. Photo of the control room main monitor during one of the talks.

After a hiatus of a dozen years, this last Friday and Saturday (17–18 September) saw the resumption of the Coinage of the Americas Conference (COAC) series at the American Numismatic Society. Since the mid-1980s, COACs have been one of the leading venues for the presentation of academic research pertaining to numismatics of the Western Hemisphere. Previous conferences, and their published proceedings, have covered topics on colonial and federal coinages and medallic art in the United States.

Figures 2 and 3. Speaker Christopher Bach presenting his talk, “Victor D. Brenner and the painterly influence of Joaquín Sorolla.”

Thanks to the sponsorship of the Resolute Americana Collection and the Stack Family, ANS Assistant Curator Dr. Jesse Kraft’s efforts to revive the series this year were successful. Along with conference co-organizers Scott Miller (ANS Fellow) and Patrick McMahon (MFA Boston), Dr. Kraft decided to commemorate the sesquicentennial of Victor David Brenner’s birth with two days of papers devoted to the artist’s life and works.

Figure 4. Speaker and conference co-organizer Patrick McMahon virtually responding to questions following his talk, “Victor David Brenner’s Society of the Cincinnati Medal in Context.”

Born in 1871 in what is now Lithuania, Brenner initially followed in the family business of jewel engraving before immigrating to the United States in 1890. After studying in both the United States and, most notably, in Paris with famed French medallic artist Oscar Roty, Brenner quickly positioned himself to become one of the foremost medallists working in New York City, the center of US medallic art. Brenner’s most well-known artwork is, undoubtedly, the Lincoln Cent of 1909, which remains in production today; with over 450 billion examples produced in the 112 years since it was introduced it is the most reproduced piece of art in human history. While it is known that Brenner created a significant body of work beyond the Lincoln cent, much of his other work has been overshadowed by this single piece.

Figure 5. Speaker Taylor Hartley enjoying the exhibit of Brenner’s work organized for the conference in the ANS’s Sage Room by Jesse Kraft and Scott Miller.

Many of the papers in this year’s COAC sought to explore the full range of Brenner’s work, and these efforts were quite informative. By the end of the conference, the trajectory of Brenner’s career, before his life was cut short in 1924 by cancer, came into clearer view. Always pushing himself to obtain greater skills, Brenner explored a number of techniques and styles in medallic art production, more perhaps than many of his contemporaries, designing over 200 medallic works of art throughout his 35-year career. At the same time, towards the end of his career he seemed to have been making an attempt to move decisively away from medallic art towards larger bas-relief and sculpture in the round. His largest artwork, and one of his more successful, is the Mary Schenley Memorial Fountain in Pittsburg, PA, also known as “A Song to Nature”. Significantly, his career path was, in many ways, opposite that of his contemporaries: he began as an engraver of small objects moving towards larger sculpture while others started with larger works before attempting medallic art. Curiously, however, after his success with the 1909 Lincoln cent, Brenner’s career never really took off in the way that those associated with the doyenne of US sculpture Augustus Saint Gaudens did; indeed, Brenner was never part of the Saint Gaudens circle. To the end, Brenner remained something of a struggling artist, designing and producing a number of different sculptural objects, including bookends and wall fountains, many of which were only recently identified and attributed to Brenner by some of the conference speakers. The proceedings of the conference are expected to be published by the ANS in the coming year. In the meantime, a video recording of the conference will soon be available on our YouTube channel. A list of the speakers and their papers can be found here.

Figure 6. Alan Roche and Ben Hiibner manning the newly installed control room during the Zoom broadcast of the conference.

One final note: this year’s COAC also marked a significant change in the way that the ANS will, in the future, host and present conferences. After a substantial investment in new equipment, and thanks to the efforts of Ben Hiibner and Alan Roche, this year’s COAC was a fully hybrid event, simultaneously live and virtual. Those unable to attend in person were able to participate both as speakers and audience members via Zoom. Such hybrid events will continue to allow us to reach a greater proportion of our membership as we resume our usual schedule of events, talks, and conferences.

From Mound House to Manhattan, Part II

This is the second segment of a three-part series to update ANS members and interested guests on the MACO Archives and the pending move of die shells and plasters from their present location in Mound House, Nevada to New York, New York.

After the immense amount of preparation that took place during “Mound House to Manhattan, Part I,” the time had come to put the plan into action. On May 22, with laptop, overly-detailed excel spreadsheet, and solid strategy in mind, I boarded a plane destined for Reno, Nevada. My fine Hyundai Santa Fe rental then took me half-an-hour south to Carson City (just 6.5 miles east of Mound House), to the hotel I would call home for the next 13 nights.

That first evening, I had the pleasure of meeting Rob Vugteveen, self-proclaimed “creative problem solver” and former Northwest Territorial Mint employee, and his family. Rob graciously offered his services to the project. Over dinner, we discussed the goals I had set for the following two weeks: (1) to prepare nearly 20,000 die shells for absorption by the ANS upon their arrival in New York City, and (2) to better pack the 5,000 of the more delicate pieces in order to survive the 2,700-mile journey. However, the magnitude of the collection (both in the vastness of the archive itself as well as the diameter of the individual pieces), proved challenging to these lofty goals.

The necessity of this trip to Nevada was evident early on. While compiling spreadsheets and estimating spatial requirements back in NYC, I had been under the impression that the boxes housing these die shells were all the same size: 24” x 24” x 18”. This was largely due to the lack of calibration target in the images or ability to compare box sizes to surrounding points of reference. In reality, five (5) different-sized boxes were used, and none of them were the aforementioned measurements. Fortunately, the adjusted space requirements were minimal, but this game of theoretical Tetris proved a point: that the ANS was not ready to simply ship this material to its new home without (at the very least) a basic visual inspection to fully prepare ourselves for what we were about to undertake.

If you recall from “Mound House to Manhattan, Part I,” I had gone through many, many images in order to make preliminary decisions of the die shells, entering my thoughts into an Excel spreadsheet by highlighting the cells either red or green. With this document, Rob and I began to go through the collection (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. Jesse Kraft (r.) and Rob Vugteveen (l.) in Mound House, NV, beginning to prepare the MACO die shells for their journey across the country.

Pallet-by-pallet, we compared them to the MACO Spreadsheet and used red and green Sharpies to mark the individual item labels with their respective color. From there, we were essentially able to ditch the spreadsheet and work directly from the boxes. We now began on an item-by-item level—opening each box and separating the “reds” and the “greens” from one another—placing each category into a new box and sealing it when it reached its max weight (ca. 50 pounds), which left most boxes grossly (but necessarily) under-packed.

We had gone through 12 pallets (192 boxes) before suddenly realizing that, at this rate, we would run out of time without even starting on our second task. One achievement from the process, however, was that by the time we were through those 192 boxes, there were only 182 boxes left on the pallets, as we were able to condense those initial boxes by about 5%. Even greater efficiency was found in the fact that we were able to stack the boxes 5-high (as opposed to 4-high, as they previously were) due to information garnered from the shipping companies. This simple change saved an astounding 25% of space.

Though it was now clear that we could not work on an item-by-item basis, the savings we found by working on a box-by-box level proved significant. Perhaps if we worked with that in mind, we would be able to save time, but also continue to condense the material enough to be worthwhile. Instead of having pallets that contained all “greens” and others with all “reds,” we knew that some boxes would be what we called “orange”—those with both red and green pieces (art teachers need not comment).

With efficiency still in mind, the plan shifted to include a gradient of “oranges.” Essentially, we set up all the “reds” on one side of the room and all of the “greens” on the other then filled in the gap. Just after the “pure reds,” we began to place boxes that had all “reds” and only one “green.” Once we found all of those, we began to pallet boxes with all “reds” and two “greens,” followed by those with three “greens,” and so on. Eventually, the last remaining boxes were those which were all “green” but only had a single “red” piece. By the time we were through, we had an order of “red,” mostly-red “orange,” mostly-green “orange,” and “green” (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. Pallets separated into their prospective groups.

Getting through this arduous task was a relief as, not only was this dusty and backbreaking labor, but in the end, it had also provided me with the order for which everything will be brought back to New York: as many “reds” as possible destined for our storage facility in Brooklyn and the “greens” to our headquarters in Manhattan. As I mentioned my relief of knowing this order, Rob joked, “Jesse can sleep easy tonight,” as if the grueling work we just completed wasn’t enough to knock a man out in its own right.

But I’m happy to report that it wasn’t all work and no play. Fortunately, halfway through this business trip, I was able to take a day off to explore…and what better way to spend the day in Carson City than at the Historic Carson City Mint and Nevada State Museum! Friend and ANS Member, Rob Rodriguez treated me to a tour of the facility and exhibits, followed by an afternoon in Virginia City. Rodriguez’s knowledge and love for the area is apparent. At the Mint, we were able to see “Coin Press No. 1” in action (Fig. 3).

Figure 3. Jesse Kraft with Woodrow Davis, Coiner of Press No. 1 at the Carson City Mint. Jesse is holding the Nevada State Capitol Sesquicentennial Medallion, which was struck just moments before the photograph was taken.

This press was built in 1869 by Morgan & Orr and was the original press used at the Mint to strike many of the Carson City rarities; pieces that numismatists from all over now cherish. Still in operation today, the press strikes half-dollar-sized medals for visitors—currently in the process of creating the Nevada State Capitol Sesquicentennial Medallion. Virginia City is known as the epicenter of the Comstock Lode, where Samuel Clemens failed as a miner, began work with the Territorial Enterprise newspaper, and changed his name to Mark Twain. It was because of the Comstock Lode that the Carson City Mint existed. Seeing the geographic connections between the Lode, Carson, and even Reno and San Francisco was a very nice numismatic sidebar to the entire Nevada work-trip.

Other highlights included dinner at the fabulous Mangia Tutto Restaurante in Carson City with friends and ANS Members Howard and Kregg Herz, and a 0.6-mile hike up to the Kings Canyon Falls, one of the natural springs that regulates the height of nearby Lake Tahoe. Lastly, I acquired some authentic western attire from historic Virginia City (our office’s “Western Wear Wednesday” will never have looked so good) (Fig. 4). Refreshed, I was back to work.

Figure 4. Jesse Kraft with some authentic Virginia City Western wear, which he proudly wore for his homecoming that coincidentally fell on the weekly “Western Wear Wednesday” at the ANS Headquarters.

The next day’s focus was on task number two: repacking what truly needed to be repacked. Due to time constraints in 2018, only about 15,000 of 20,000-odd die shells were photographed, individually wrapped, and safely packed into boxes. At that time, the crew was unable to complete the final 5,000 objects of the collection, so (out of necessity) they were hastily stacked into boxes directly on the pallet. Packed for a quick 6-mile jaunt from Dayton to Mound House, they would not likely survive the 2,500-mile journey they are about to make. Sadly, even now, we found pieces that were clearly broken in their prior transit, not before.

Figure 5. Epoxy die shells for the 1986 ANS medal to commemorate the centennial of the Statue of Liberty.

Most of these objects are epoxy die shells (Figs. 5 & 6). Epoxy die shells were introduced in 1975 as a cheaper and quicker alternative to copper galvano die shells. Unlike the hardy copper die shells made by MACO, the epoxy die shells are quite fragile and if one were dropped on the floor, it could easily shatter on impact. Not only were these most-fragile die shells in direct contact with each other, but each box weighed far beyond their intended capacity.

Figure 6. A box of epoxy die shells waiting to be packed up and shipped to New York City.

While I have gone through the MACO material numerous times on paper, digitally, and with the finished medals, the physical die shells are an entirely different beast. Navigating the added weight and cumbersome size and shape of each piece added an unexpected amount of time to the process and, in the end, the clock ran out. I am happy to report that Rob Vugteveen and I achieved 95% of what we had hoped to before the time came for me to leave. Thankfully, Rob lives nearby and is able to wrap everything up before the trucks arrive. All in all, the second phase of getting the MACO die shells from Mound House to Manhattan was a success.

Please stay tuned for “From Mound House to Manhattan Part III,” which will focus on the actual move of the die shells across the country! It will be an exciting few days!

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.”

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.


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.

The New Navy in New York

At the end of the Civil War, the United States had the second largest navy in the world after the Royal Navy of Great Britain, a result of the Union’s attempt to blockade Southern ports. By 1880, however, the US Navy had dropped to 12th place as Congress became increasingly preoccupied with westward expansion and was unwilling to fund a navy for which it saw little need or purpose. A change of perception brought about in part by German, British, and Spanish encroachments in the Americas, a violation of our self-proclaimed Monroe Doctrine, encouraged new spending to begin to modernize the fleet, to introduce a new steel and steam navy to replace the old wooden one.

Funding for three new steel cruisers was authorized in 1883 reflecting US naval doctrine at the time: in the event of war, the primary purpose of the navy would be to protect US seaborne trade while disrupting the trade of the enemy. Cruisers were therefore the ideal type of warship: comparatively lightly armored and gunned, but able to cruise alone at long distances in search of enemy cargo ships. By the end of the 1880s, the first generation of steel cruisers were in the water (USS Atlanta, Boston, and Chicago), all of which carried a complement of auxiliary sails to extend range, followed by a second and then third generation of sail-less cruisers, USS New York and Brooklyn, and together these ships represented the US Navy’s reemergence from its decades-long slumber (Fig. 1), which soon ignited an arms race with Germany to build the second most powerful navy after the undisputed leader, the Royal Navy.

Figure 1. Lithograph by Granville Perkins depicting in the foreground (l. to r.) the torpedo boat USS Cushing, the cruisers USS Newark and USS Chicago, and battleship USS Indiana (ca. 1894).

Although Congress was now funding new ships nearly every year, including the first-generation battleships, the Indiana-class, launched in the mid-1890s, there was still considerable push-back on the expenditure, resulting in ships that were not always up to European par. By the turn of the century, however, that was to change as the US Navy became the darling of the public eye having starred in several magnificent naval parades in New York harbor.

The first took place on April 27, 1893 in conjunction with the Columbian Exposition held in Chicago. In order to show off its new ships and nascent fleet maneuvering abilities, Congress authorized funds for a naval review similar to those sometimes hosted by the Royal Navy to be held at both Hamptons Roads and in New York harbor, and sent out invitations to the world’s navies. While the response was mixed, those that truly counted, the British, the Germans, the French, and the Spanish, responded by sending their latest cruisers to parade up the Hudson River to the newly built Grant’s Tomb alongside the new cruisers of the US Navy (Fig. 2).

Figure 2: Lithograph published by Kurz & Allison depicting the Columbian Naval Parade, April 27, 1893. The HMS Blake leads the line of foreign ships (black hulls), while the USS Baltimore leads the US line (white hulls).

No such international parade of ships had ever taken place in the US before and this certainly caught the eye of many illustrators and artists. Fred Cozzens, for example, a Staten Island-based artist, produced chromolithographic views of the naval review that were part of a larger set that appear in 1893 featuring nearly two dozen new US ships, including many still under construction (Figs. 3–4).

Figure 3. Lithograph by Fred Cozzens depicting the Columbian Naval Parade, the HMS Blake leads the line of foreign ships (black hulls), while the USS Baltimore leads the US line (white hulls) (1893).
Figure 4. Lithograph by Fred Cozzens depicting the USS Atlanta and Yorktown in parade dress (1893).

Cozzens’ set of 24 high quality prints were issued in a volume entitled Our Navy: Its Growth and Achievements, with commentary by a Lt. J. D. Jerrold Kelly, clearly meant to drum up support for naval expansion. In a similar vein, the US Navy sponsored the construction of the faux battleship USS Illinois, a full-sized replica made of staff, not steel, of one of the Indiana-class ships then under construction that was set alongside a pier at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago (Fig. 5). It proved to be a popular exhibit.

Figure 5: Postcard depicting the faux battleship USS Illinois (1893).

Not long after the closing of the Exposition, growing tensions between the US and Spain over Cuban independence finally erupted in the spring of 1898 when the USS Maine, an armored cruiser reclassified as a 2nd class battleship soon after launching, blew up in Havana harbor with great loss of life, where it had gone to show the flag for American business interests in Cuba (Figs. 6–7).

Figure 6. Token depicting the USS Maine (ANS 0000.999.38891).
Figure 7. Token depicting the USS Maine (ANS 1967.225.597).

At the time the cause of the explosion was determined to be a Spanish mine, just cause for Congress to declare war, although it may well have been an internal explosion as later naval historians have suggested. By the end of the summer, the New Navy had scored two remarkable and crushing victories over the Spanish navy, one under Commodore George Dewey leading the Asiatic Squadron in Manila harbor in the Philippines (May 1, 1898), and the other under Commodore William T. Sampson leading the North Atlantic Squadron near Santiago in Cuba (July 3, 1898). Both naval battles set the United States on its course to become an 20th century imperial power. At the Treaty of Paris (December 10, 1898), Spain ceded the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico to the US; both warring parties agreed to let the Cubans have their independence.

In August 1898, the squadron under Sampson aboard his flagship USS New York with his second in command Commodore Winifred Scott Schley aboard USS Brooklyn returned to New York harbor, home to the Brooklyn Naval Yard and the Tompkinsville Naval Station (Staten Island). Still in their wartime grey paint, the ships paraded up the Hudson again as far as Grant’s Tomb to the cheers of great crowds in boats and along the waterfront (August 26, 1898) (Fig. 8).

Figure 8. Lithograph by Fred Pansing depicting the USS New York and USS Brooklyn leading the naval parade past Grant’s Tomb, August 26, 1898.

An even bigger turnout, however, came little over a year later (September 29–30, 1899), when Dewey returned to New York from the Philippines aboard his flagship, the cruiser USS Olympia (today a museum ship at the Independence Seaport in Philadelphia), where he led both squadrons, now in peacetime white paint, in a momentous naval parade again to Grant’s Tomb (Figs. 9–11), an event that was also recorded in moving pictures by Thomas Edison.

Figure 9. Souvenir object from the naval parade on September 29–30, 1899 (ANS 1939.144.1).
Figure 10. Souvenir decoration from the naval parade on September 29–30, 1899 (ANS 0000.999.38764).
Figure 11. Victory float anchored near Grant’s Tomb, September 1899.

Dewey had already become the hero of the war, completely eclipsing Sampson and Schley, who were involved in a bitter, public dispute over which of the two had actually won the Battle of Santiago (Figs. 12–13).

Figure 12. Souvenir decoration from the naval parade on September 29–30, 1899 depicting Dewey and Schley as the victors over the Spanish navy (ANS 0000.999.38790).
Figure 13. The Sampson Medal (West Indies campaign medal) by Charles Barber (obv.) and George T. Morgan (rev.) depicting Sampson as victor (1901). Unissued production sample (ANS 0000.999.38837)

In Dewey’s honor, a temporary triumphal arch was also erected near Madison Square Park (Fig. 14).

Figure 14. Souvenir decoration from the naval parade on September 29–30, 1899 depicting the temporary triumphal arch for Admiral Dewey (ANS 0000.999.38746).

Such naval parades in New York harbor became more commonplace in the decades to follow and have continued to the present day with New York Fleet Week coinciding with Memorial Day, although this year, sadly, the events, like so much else, will be virtual.

The Franc: A Coin, A Currency, and Orphan

The Franc is one of the oldest and most widespread currency units in the world, currently the official currency of 25 states or autonomous territories. However, the Franc was never intended to become the name of a currency until the French kingdom issued a specific gold piece to gather the massive ransom needed to free King John II the Good, prisoner of the English since the disastrous Battle of Poitiers in 1356. He was depicted in full armor on a horse, with the legend Johannes Dei Gracia Francoru(m) Rex. From “Francoru(m)” came “Franc”. This famed coin is called the Franc à cheval (1905.57.35 and 1966.163.48).

Born in a 14th-century disaster, the Franc carries another unusual quality: it derives its name from the name of the people and nation who minted it. To this day, the Afghani and the Boliviano are the only other eponymous currencies, possibly with the Euro. “Franc” probably derived from old Germanic, meaning “spear”, or possibly “bold”, then came to designate a confederacy of tribes who put pressure on the Roman Empire’s northeastern border. Once they settled in Gaul in the 5th century, the word “Francia”, later “France”, came to name the country inhabited by the Franks. It then accrued the wider meaning of “free person” as well as straightforwardness, hence “franchise”, “enfranchised” or “frank” in English, since the kingdom’s laws forbade slavery on its soil. This is how, much later, Sally Hemmings, a black slave owned by Thomas Jefferson and mother to his children, became technically a free woman during her stay in Paris, until Jefferson convinced her to return to the US.

The Franc’s bigger history takes off with the French Revolution. On April 7 and August 15, 1795, in the midst of the assignats crisis (0000.999.56432), as disorderly deficits and money printing had led to rampant inflation and monetary dislocation, the French Parliament created a Republican currency defined by 4.5 g of pure silver, the Franc, and decimalization was implemented at the same time, inspired by the newly established United States monetary system.

The famous 5-Franc coin, (1911.105.844) conceived by Augustin Dupré with Hercules holding liberty and equality, would inspire later French coinage design. Dupré is the same engraver who had created the 1783 Libertas Americana medal, commissioned by Benjamin Franklin (1964.67.1), which in turn inspired the Large Cent design (1977.203.1 and 1948.143.81).

With the wars of the Revolution and Napoleonic period in the later 18th and early 19th century, the Franc was by then poised to expand its influence (1966.164.324, 0000.999.34906, 1920.147.329, 1920.147.559, 1966.164.465, 1916.999.216, 1923.999.248).

After Napoleon’s final defeat, the Franc withdrew back to the France, mirroring the country’s troubled political history—3 more revolutions, 5 Republics, 2 monarchies, 1 empire, the collaborationist Etat français between 1940 and 1944, and few coups d’Eta (1957.117.9, 1957.172.2000, 1929.77.29, 1897.28.7, 1946.71.5, 1992.117.4974–5).

During this period, the Franc initiated a second period of geographic diversification as the 2nd French colonial Empire expanded across Africa, South-East Asia, and the Pacific. (examples of colonial currencies). (large group of colonial banknotes+1917.216.5102)

Examples of colonial franc notes.

Obviously, most of these pieces reflect the sense of European superiority that sustained the colonial project, highlighting the civilizing mission France was supposedly undertaking in its overseas territories. At about the same time, the Union Latine, an attempt at anchoring a wide range of currencies to the same gold standard, led to the Franc being used as a parallel currency unit in unexpected European countries like the Austrian-Hungarian monarchy, or the Kingdoms of Denmark, and of Sweden (Union Latine coin). (1929.103.14684)

In the wake of WWI, the end of gold convertibility, the great inflation of the 1920s, the economic depression in the 1930s, and then WWII, the Franc sustained multiple debasements. What had been a gold or a silver coin had become a worthless piece of base metal by the 1950s, until Charles de Gaulle reformed the Franc in 1958 (selection of 1920s-1940s pieces) (1947.2.686, 1980.109.1067, 1920.74.8, 1950.135.173, 1963.57.27, 1981.30.140, 1981.30.143).

ANS 1920.74.8

In the 1970s, after the collapse of the dollar-gold exchange standard, silver was abandoned and coins went back to their fiduciary character (1983.121.1).

The weirdest part of the Franc’s long history is that it has become an orphan: used today in Africa and the Pacific mostly, its mother country has abandoned it to merge into the Eurozone (1967.126.9, 1978.223.1, 1992.117.6807, 1992.117.6843).

Switzerland and Lichtenstein are now the last European countries using a Franc (0000.999.53004 and 1977.158.1414), while the Franc thrives, far away from the kings who created it (1905.57.35).

From Mound House to Manhattan, Part I

As many of you know, the American Numismatic Society purchased the archives of the Medallic Art Company (MACO) at a bankruptcy auction in 2018. The sheer size of this purchase, however, did not allow for the tale to end so quickly. Within weeks of the landmark purchase, components of the collection were shipped to various corners of the country. The medals and paper archives from MACO moved to the ANS headquarters in New York City; the dies and hubs were transferred to Medalcraft Mint, Inc., in Wisconsin, who is generously storing them for the ANS at the moment; and the galvanos, die shells, and plasters took a short drive to Mound House, Nevada, less than five miles from Dayton—where MACO last operated.

By early 2020, with a good portion of the medals catalogued, the ANS began to think about the parts of the collection that remained out of reach. While we were headlong into making plans, however, the COVID-19 pandemic altered reality for most people and put a halt to everything that we hoped would happen. Along with the rest of the world, the ANS heeded to CDC guidelines, masked up, and waited for life to find some semblance of normalcy.

The time has come, however, for the next chapter in the MACO saga to begin! With the third and most recent wave behind us, vaccines becoming more-readily available, and infection rates dropping by the day, the ANS is in the planning stages to transfer all of the galvanos, die shells, and plasters from Mound House to Manhattan (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. This image only shows about one-third of the boxes with MACO material that are currently stored in Mound House, Nevada. The other two-thirds are on the other side of the wall to the left.

Unlike the galvanos that many numismatists are already familiar with, these were not meant to be sold to interested buyers, but are all production galvanos, made for the sole purpose of creating dies to strike medals. Nearly the entire run of MACO products is represented in production-galvano format. To put quantity of this portion of the collection into perspective, just the material in Mound House equates to about 17,000 objects that are stored in roughly 1,400 boxes, which are situated on about 90 pallets and will likely take four (4) tractor trailers to completely move across the country. Given the size, these early stages have been no easy undertaking and involved three major tasks: organizing what we know exist to efficiently absorb the collection as it arrives, finding a location to store the material, and locating a long-haul trucking company.

The first step in the process was to organize the pieces that we have records for. To do this, I had nothing else but to rely on more than 20,000 photographs that were taken as the collection was packed up in 2018. At the time, knowing that this would likely be the last that any of this material would be seen for at least a few years, the ANS hired Lou Manna Photography, of Reno, Nevada, to image as many as he could (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. Lou Manna Photography and a dozen local college students helped photograph as much as they could in a less-than-favorable timespan.

Fully aware of the magnitude of the task at hand, Manna brought along a dozen college students to aid in streamlining the photography process, box the material, and load them onto pallets. Within the frame of each image, Manna included an individualized 5-digit barcode number to aid in keeping track of them. That same 5-digit barcode was then applied to the outside of the box in which they were stored, and a photograph of the outside of the box was also taken (Fig. 3).

Figure 3. One of the many images that show the pallets of boxes as they were loaded prior to their move to Mound House. There were 156 of these images to go through in order to begin to capture the contents of each box.

This was the only documentation that existed concerning the contents of each box—no paper records were kept during this process. While, unfortunately, time ran out and photographs for only about 10,000 galvanos were taken, they have proven indispensable in this early stage. All of the images were placed on a hard drive, handed over to the ANS, and sat quietly in New York City for the next three years.

The images were not taken in vain! With this triangulation, I was able to cross reference the photographs of each galvano with a box and a pallet. I made a gargantuan Excel spreadsheet and populated a single column with a list of boxes. The corresponding rows were then filled out with the 5-digit number unique to each piece. This painstaking process took several days to accomplish, but what was I going to do with the information? All I had was a list.

While I am not the final decision-maker on what pieces the ANS will ultimately keep forever and which we will not, we had already set some basic guidelines as to what we wanted. I knew that there are some obvious “keepers” and some obvious “non-keepers,” and knew that the list could be helpful in moving forward. For the following three weeks, I went through each of the 20,000 images, made a preliminary curatorial decision as to the fate of that piece, and highlighted the 5-digit number on my list either in green, for keep, or in red, for dispose of (Fig. 4).

Figure 4. A portion of the spreadsheet compiled to help organize the pieces prior to actual shipment. Those highlighted in green represent pieces that the ANS will potentially retain, while those highlighted in red are those the ANS may decide to not accession into the collection.

Basically, my opinion of the piece with the parameters in mind. Moving forward, this list will now be used for two purposes: (a.) to become the basis for how we present the collection committee with the objects the ANS would like to disperse, and (b.) to become the basis for the order in which each box is physically loaded into the truck for the 2,700-mile journey.

Some amazing pieces were uncovered during this process, too. Some important pieces included the galvanos for a series of medals that represent the Twelve Tribes of Israel as designed by Salvador Dalí; those for the 1940 medal of Clyde Trees—the manager of MACO who transformed the small company into an industrial medallic art factory—as sculpted by John Ray Sinnock; and nearly forty different galvanos that portray members of the Arapahoe, Cheyenne, Crow, Kikapoo, Oglala Sioux, Osage, Pawnee, and Wichita nations sculpted by Edward Sawyer between 1904 and 1912 (Fig. 5).

Figure 5. The raw photo files for three important galvanos—each important for very different reasons. (Top) A galvano designed by famed artist Salvador Dalí which represents the Tribe of Gad—one of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, (middle) The galvano for the 1940 medal of Clyde Trees by John Ray Sinnock, and (bottom) the galvano for the Navajo Chief, Tja-Yo-Ni by Edward Sawyer in 1904.

This last group is among the most important groups of Native American ethnographic renderings in any medium, perhaps second only to the paintings by George Catlin in the 1830s. While many of the MACO galvanos are of extreme importance or artistic mastery, these truly are priceless American artifacts.

The second main task for the move from Mound House to Manhattan was to find adequate storage near the ANS headquarters so we can start to process the material. If you have ever visited the ANS, you will know that it would be impossible to fit a warehouse worth of material into our already-tight quarters. Truth be told, this was the phase of the move that I thought might give the biggest headaches, as space in New York City (storage or otherwise) is not cheap and we needed the material relatively close by in order to actively process it. Fortunately, a particular website that specializes in commercial properties, had hundreds of potential storage spaces listed. Aside from being close by, the ANS had at least two other requirements: a relatively-small space (ca. 2,000 square feet) combined with a relatively-low rate (ca. $20 per square foot per year). The site allows for potential renters to enter these parameters into search queries in order to narrow the results. This left just two (2) locations available! From the images alone, one location immediately proved inadequate from a security point of view which left just one potential location that met all of our needs (Fig. 6).

Figure 6. An interior view of about one-half of the location where the galvanos, die shells, and plasters from Mound House will reside and wait to be processed at the ANS headquarters in Manhattan.

After meeting with the landlord and viewing the space, the ANS decided that the undisclosed location was perfect for our needs. Although finding the location proved easy, the process certainly proved more difficult and drawn-out once the real estate brokers and lawyers became involved. In the end, we got a great deal!

Of course, all of this would be for nothing if the ANS could not physically move the items. Therefore, in addition to organizing tens of thousands of images and hunting down adequate storage, I have also been in regular communication with a series of commercial freight trucking companies and have narrowed it down to four potential companies. Through this last process, however, I found out that trucking companies do not necessarily need ample time to take an order. In fact, they don’t even offer quotes that are good for more than 30 days—largely due to the fluctuating cost of fuel. Furthermore, in most cases they can provide service with as little as 24 hours’ notice, unless the product is extremely hazardous or extremely fragile—neither of which pertain to the galvanos, die shells, or plasters.

This is the first of a three-part series. The next installment will highlight the trip to Mound House to actually implement what I had planned while sorting the images and creating the Excel spreadsheet. Please stay tuned for “From Mound House to Manhattan, Part II,” to be published here on Pocket Change ca. mid-June 2021.

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.