Lesser known collector and dealer H. A. Ramsden left his mark at the ANS

John Reilly’s membership certificate for the Yokohama Numismatic Society, signed by Ramsden

There are certain numismatic personalities I expect to encounter over and over again as I work with the historical collections at the ANS—Howland Wood, Sydney Noe, Thomas Elder, Henry Chapman. But there is a more obscure figure I sometimes find myself running into. This would be H. A. (Henry Alexander) Ramsden, a collector and dealer who exhibited an boundless enthusiasm for his area of expertise, Far Eastern numismatics, passionately working at it right up until his untimely death at the age of 43 in 1915.

Postcard of the Kobayagawa Company of Yokohama (ANS Archives)

Throughout the Society’s library and archives are pockets of materials associated with Ramsden. There are  his numerous letters in the Howland Wood, John Reilly, and Bauman Belden papers, for example. There are his publications—books, but also periodicals like The Numismatic and Philatelic Journal of Japan, which he founded and edited. Rummaging around in the library’s pamphlet files recently, I happened upon what turned out to be an uncataloged item. It was ANS treasurer John Reilly’s membership certificate for the Yokohama Numismatic Society, which included the stamped signature of Ramsden.

Holiday greeting card from the Kobayagawa Company (ANS Archives)

Many ANS members will recall the Reilly Room at the ANS building on Audubon Terrace where the Far Eastern numismatic collections were kept and displayed. Reilly obtained much of what would become the ANS’s premiere collection in that area from Ramsden. Though his influence still strongly reverberates, Ramsden remains a somewhat mysterious figure. There are no known photographs of him. Howland Wood supplied the ANA with what little he had on him for Ramsden’s obituary in the Numismatist, information Wood had gleaned from a biographical letter Ramsden had sent him in 1914. Not too much has been added to what we know about him since. His father was a British diplomat. The younger Ramsden followed in his father’s footsteps and came to be stationed in Japan as a representative of Cuba. He married a Japanese woman and went into business with her brother, stamp collector and

A spade coin from the ANS collection. Like many of those acquired from Ramsden, it is held in a board that has been specially cut to conform to the coin’s unique contours. 1937.179.17030.

dealer Jun Kobayahawa, in Yokohama. He built up an enormous numismatic collection, over 15,000 specimens, including Chinese, Japanese, and Korean coins, as well as an impressive library. His unexpected death threw the future of these collections into question, and after some back and forth with the executor of his will, they were purchased by Reilly, who retained ownership, though they were housed at the ANS. Reilly’s daughter Frances formally donated the materials in 1938.

Part of a page from a catalog of coin rubbings distributed by Ramsden for the Yokohama Coin Club

Ramsden may not be as familiar a name as some, but his legacy lives on in the ANS’s outstanding Far Eastern numismatic collections. In 2009, a student in the Society’s Eric P. Newman Graduate Seminar in Numismatics, Lyce Jankowski, produced an extremely useful research paper on the Society’s Chinese collection, documenting what she had uncovered on the subject. One interesting fact was that, had Ramsden lived longer, he might have left an even bigger impression on the ANS. Just a few months before Ramsden’s death, Wood had suggested that he might come to New York to be the curator of what Wood was already calling “the best collection of Far Eastern coins known.”

4 thoughts on “Lesser known collector and dealer H. A. Ramsden left his mark at the ANS”

  1. Nice job, David. I wish we knew more about this guy. Who had the little wooden plaques made, Ramsden or Reilly?

  2. H. Ramsden spent a long time mounting the coins on the wooden plaques himself. He explained it in his correspondence with H. Wood (ANS Archives). He was an enthusiastic collector with an extraordinary life. He left a fantastic collection, which the ANS can be very proud of, thanks to the Reilly donation.

  3. Thank you, Lyce! I was just about to write in response how you discuss this in your paper. Also how you found there were other such coins mounted by Ramsden in wooden trays in the John Robinson Collection at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass.

  4. Here is his death notice:
    The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884-1942), 24 February 1915, Page 4

    Some of his works are available on line from the Japanese Diet Library.
    Chinese early barter and uninscribed money, by H.A. Ramsden
    Chinese openwork amulet coins
    Siamese porcelain and other tokens, by H. A. Ramsden

    A library in Japan has many of his monthly Numismatic and Philatelic Journals of Japan on line.
    If you want some of his articles, I have quite a few of them in my files.
    I have a book which contains his Numismatic Monthly (a Japanese language publication) which only ran for a short time.

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