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What happens when numismatists and bibliophiles have an informal gathering? Compelled to memorialize minutiae – what the American Numismatic Society (ANS) motto calls “the little things” – we occasionally see works created that seem disproportionate to the import of the actual event. We’ll see why that’s not actually true, case in point being the 1991 EAC “Midnight Sale,” a work recently scanned at the ANS under the sponsorship of Newman Portal. Ostensibly an auction catalog, but in reality a lovingly produced paean to the fellowship of colonial coin collectors, this document well conveys the convivial conclave that occurred in a hotel room in the early hours of April 28, 1991, during the Early American Coppers annual convention.
Billed as “worth getting out of bed for,” the 24½ lot sale catalog (24 lots of Connecticut cents, the lone Vermont copper meriting only “half” a lot) features at least one page per lot with several full page photographs. Walter Breen was enlisted for the technical descriptions, and, whatever you think of Breen, there is no question that the man knew his Connecticut coppers. These descriptions were presented in Walter’s familiar handwriting on “Howard Johnson” lot tickets, just the first sign of a low-brow affair. The “terms and conditions” of the sale only reinforce the jocular mood, representing what every auction house wishes they could put in their boilerplate, but are prevented from doing so by the attorneys. “Under no condition shall bidding proceed in chronological order,” or “This is a clean auction. No smoking, no drinking, no drugs, no….never mind, the cops are gone. Do what you want.” In contrast to standard practice, the catalog itself was produced only after the sale, and even then distanced by several years. Most of the lots sold for under $100.
This document, though farcical on its face, well relates the spirit of the era. These collectors enjoyed coins, they enjoyed spending time with each other, and they were clever authors who could recreate the repartee in writing. Next to a time machine, this auction catalog is about the closest one can get to what must have been a rip roarin’ good time. Lot commentary, following the technical notes, well conveys the mood. “We don’t know how this Vermont slipped in, and we do apologize for it. However, we note that researcher Gary Trudgen has not written an article on this variety which makes us suspect that it is even less interesting that we originally thought.” All in all the work is a message to present collectors, that scholarship and stoogery (to “coin” a word) need not be mutually exclusive.
Link to The Midnight Sale: https://archive.org/details/midnightsalepriv00ring/page/2
In 1846 William E. DuBois authored the first substantial history of the U.S. Mint Cabinet, today held by the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. and known as the National Numismatic Collection. The summer 2008 issue of The Asylum described this book:
Davis 325. 1 plate, medal-ruled. A table summarizes the Mint cabinet at the time, some 3800 pieces, of which approximately 10% were U.S. issues. There is no specific cataloguing of the U.S. coinage, but this important work describes the genesis of the collection: “The collection was commenced in June, 1838. Long before that date, however, Mr. Adam Eckfeldt, formerly Chief Coiner, led as well by his own taste as by the expectation that a conservatory would some day be established took pains to preserve master-coins of the different annual issues of the Mint, and to retain some of the hnest foreign specimens, as they appeared in deposit for recoinage. As soon as a special annual appropriation was instituted for this object, by Congress (which was as soon as it was asked), the collection took a permanent form, and from the nucleus above mentioned, has gone on in a continual course of augmentation since. It is now nearly as large as we expect or wish to have it, excepting, however, that specimens of new coinage, domestic or foreign, must be added as they appear.”
DuBois presumably inquired directly with his father-in-law Adam Eckfeldt in reference to the origin of the Mint Cabinet. The Google Books copy of Pledges, scanned in 2015 at the British library, is a desultory black and white affair conveying little charm of the original. While the content is faithfully preserved for the purposes of text search, researchers working from this copy will find little in the way of historical inspiration. The Newman Portal copy is a full-color reproduction taken from the Eric P. Newman library. Warts and all, the damp stained copy more effectively transports the reader back to the time of issue. Quirks such as the odd insertion of a color plate depicting “the pearl of great price” (was this a leftover from some other project?) ask the user to critically assess the physical copy within the context of the era. While physical copies are ideal, not all scans are equal, and, like collectors of physical books, researchers will do well to search out the best virtual copies.
Link to Pledges of History on Newman Portal: https://nnp.wustl.edu/library/book/523984
Link to Pledges of History on Google Books: https://books.google.com/books?id=vCVkAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA30&dq=pledges+of+history&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiNs-b42p3gAhXB6IMKHU1cDS0Q6AEIKjAA#v=onepage&q=pledges%20of%20history&f=false
Image: cover of Eric P. Newman copy of Pledges of History