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Sep 15 2019

Emperor Norton Biography

Recently added to Newman Portal is Albert Dressler’s biography of “Emperor Norton,” the colorful self-proclaimed California king, who issued a number of 19th century bonds or scrip in the name of “The Imperial Government of Norton I.” Joshua Abraham Norton (1818-1880) was born in England, and came to San Francisco in 1849. Norton was unsuccessful in business but apparently a compelling personality, one that might have been more richly rewarded in today’s culture, an environment more willing to support the eccentric celebrity. He paraded about San Francisco in full regalia and issued various and sundry edicts abolishing the U.S. Constitution, demanding that church leaders officially recognize him as “Empower,” etc. His scrip was accepted in local restaurants, akin to the modern artist J.S.G. Boggs, whose stylized adaptations of U.S. money were originally passed as “money.” Today both Norton and Boggs notes are highly collectible and usually worth much more than face value.

Link to Emperor Norton of United States
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Sep 08 2019

The Gold St. Patrick Pieces

In processing Eric P. Newman’s Bowers & Merena archive box we ran across some interesting correspondence related to the gold St. Patrick pieces. Two pieces are known, one authentic and one fake. The unquestioned piece was presented in Ford VII (Stack’s 1/2005, lot 2, realized $184,000) and bears a sterling provenance dating back to the UK in the late 18th century. The fake piece appeared in Norweb II (Bowers & Merena, 3/1988, lot 2386) where it was described as “controversial” and sold “as is.” 

John Kleeberg later wrote of the false piece, in Newby’s St. Patrick Coinage (proceedings of the 2006 ANS Coinage of Americas Conference, published in 2009). Kleeberg states that Emery Norweb was upset with John J. Ford, Jr. over his refusal to sell her the genuine piece from the Boyd collection, and speculates that subsequently a gold forgery was manufactured by Paul Franklin and placed in an obscure English auction in an attempt to conceal its true origin. The Norweb’s acquired the piece in 1962 via Spink’s as intermediary, and the matter remained quiet until the time of the Norweb II sale.

The Newman correspondence now reveals the back story leading up to the March 1988 sale. In November 1987, Newman wrote to Hodder in response to a request for Newman’s opinion on the piece. Newman was certain the piece was fake, in part because it matched dies known to produce false pieces in silver (described by Newman in The Numismatist, May 1963). Hodder’s description in the catalog addressed the points Newman made in 1963, but acknowledged that the piece remained “perplexing and controversial.” Hodder was open about its technical problems, freely stating, for example, that the absence of a reeded edge on the gold piece matched no other known St. Patrick pieces. 

Newman’s file goes on to indicate that R. Henry Norweb, Jr. contacted him by phone on March 10, 1988, two weeks prior to the Norweb II sale. The piece was subsequently withdrawn. Newman wrote to Hodder on March 15, “the withdrawal of the piece from sale and the gift by the Norwebs to ANS is in my opinion a good solution.” The Ford VII catalog described the Norweb piece as a “fake from well known fake dies” and today this remains the consensus opinion.

Link to Ford VII sale catalog on Newman Portal:
Link to Norweb II sale catalog Newman Portal:
Link to Coinage of Americas Conference proceedings on the St. Patrick pieces (2009):
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Aug 31 2019

Newman Portal Continues Digitization of Chapman Correspondence at American Numismatic Society

One of the treasures of the American Numismatic Society archival collection is a group of business correspondence of Samuel Hudson and Henry Chapman, Philadelphia coin dealers c. 1880 to 1930. This tranche of letters provides an insider’s view of the coin business for the period. An example is the file of William Dickinson, a St. Louis numismatist. Negotiation is a timeless thing, and Dickinson’s missive of March 12, 1892, complaining about consignment rates well illustrates the point:

“…in regard to the sale my Coins, I am appalled by the fact that at your terms proposed for disposing of them every half dollar must realize 67 cents in order for me to obtain its face value, whatever the cost to me may have been….shall I not better dispose of them here at private sale….many of the pieces I took of you paying you 10% [apparently referring to a buyer’s commission]. Now if by you sold I must pay 25%, making 35% for me, more than one third this cost to me. I shall lose less by selling them here…..I feel I am paying pretty dear for a defunct whistle to pay 35% for indulgence in this fad….you can appreciate the occasion of my hesitation to sell at auction….”

Dickinson eventually came to terms with the Chapman firm, and his named sale was presented by the Philadelphia brothers in March, 1894. Newman Portal acknowledges David Hill, ANS Librarian, and Lara Jacobs of Internet Archive for their assistance with this project.

Link to Chapman / Dickinson correspondence:
Link to Chapman sale of Dickinson collection on Newman Portal:
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