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Oct 04 2017

The Portal Opens #2 (John Kraljevich): Robert E. Lee in Numismatics

Public art reflects the identity, history, and priorities of the nation that produced it, from the largest statue to the smallest coin. As a discipline, numismatics helps us understand the imagery that appears on coins, medals, and paper money: who designed it, what inspired it, where it was used, and by whom.

The current debate about the disposition of monuments erected to honor the Confederate States of America enables us to examine what coins, medals, and paper money have in common with other forms of public art, along with the evident differences. The most obvious contrasts are scale and location: there are no numismatic items that are 10 feet tall, nor any that dominate a public square. On the other hand, government issued coins dominate the theoretical public square in a way that no single statue ever could.

The lack of a standard book, monograph, or article written on the coins and medals that depict Robert E. Lee is an intriguing omission in the literature. The resources of the Newman Numismatic Portal can help fill that gap. If an author ever wished to catalogue Lee’s numismatic memorials, this would be a prime place to begin.

The first reference to a numismatic item related to Lee appears in the Proceedings of the Numismatic and Antiquarian Society of Philadelphia for May 1865 through December 1866. ( The minutes of the January 4, 1866 meeting record that among the donations made to the society were “seven white metal medals by [Philadelphia dealer and medalist] Mr. Charles K. Warner,” including one depicting General Ulysses S. Grant on the obverse with a reverse inscribed “SURRENDER OF GEN. LEE TO GEN. GRANT APRIL 9 1865.” This same reverse was later muled to obverses depicting both Washington (listed as Baker-625, and Lincoln.

The first medal depicting Robert E. Lee was issued in 1871, shortly after his 1870 death, though the exact circumstances of its issuance remain undiscovered. Like most of the 19th century medals related to Lee, this portrait piece was issued to support the fundraising for a Lee commemorative statue, a process that typically blurred the lines between public and private spheres. Sold to support the construction of a Lee memorial in New Orleans, the 1871 Lee tribute medal depicted his bust facing left on the obverse with an inscription that included “Who Will Ever Live in the Hearts of His Countrymen” and the names of four of his principal battles: Manassas, Spotsylvania, Fredericksburg, and Wilderness. The reverse showed the seal of the state of Virginia with Lee’s birth and death dates. The marketplace for this medal, which is known in white metal and bronze, was clearly outside of the numismatic marketplace, as reflected by the length of its absence in the NNP auction catalogue database. The first auction appearance was in Ed. Frossard’s March 23, 1881 sale, a full decade after the medal’s creation, where an example brought 95 cents, a strong price that reflects its then-perceived rarity. One wonders what Frossard, a former captain with the 31st New York Infantry (, might have thought of it.

The New Orleans statue for which the 1871 Lee portrait medal was struck was honored with another medal when its construction was completed, issued upon its unveiling on February 22, 1884. The date chosen for the ceremony, George Washington’s birthday, was hardly accidental. The medal is today quite common and is listed in the So-Called Dollars book by Hibler and Kappen as HK-758. The first appearance of the 1884 unveiling medal recorded in the NNP was listed in Lyman Low’s sale of June 3, 1886 (, where examples were offered in both bronze and white metal. Low noted that the medal depicted an “erect statue of Lee on tall column,” a faithful rendition of the statue as installed. Low, a member of the 13th Massachusetts Infantry, faced Lee’s army at Gettysburg, Fredericksburg, and elsewhere. The New Orleans statue was dismantled on May 19, 2017.

Lyman Low’s June 1886 sale also included the first appearance of the 1883 statue to mark the installation of Lee’s statue in Lexington, Virginia, where Lee had been the president of Washington College, now Washington and Lee University. Low describes the medal as showing a “recumbent statue of Gen. R.E. Lee,” perhaps the only American medal that depicts a soldier asleep in his uniform. The statue by Edward Valentine remains in the Lee Chapel at Washington and Lee. The Confederate flags that once surrounded it were removed in 2014.

 The final Lee statue represented on a 19th century medal was issued for the May 29, 1890 dedication of the statue that today (August 17, 2017) remains on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia. Just over a year later, the first one turns up in an NNP-listed auction catalogue, the July 17, 1891 sale of the Mrs. Thomas Warner Collection by Henry and Samuel Hudson Chapman ( It brought 90 cents.

 Though medals sometimes brought high prices the very first time they were offered, there generally wasn’t much numismatic appetite for medals depicting Lee or other Confederates in the 19th century. An April 1892 offering ( of 13 miscellaneous Confederate medals, including three depicting Jefferson Davis, three depicting Robert E. Lee, two showing Stonewall Jackson, four of the (now very popular) Wealth of the South tokens, along with several others, brought just 45 cents. A single 1887 Pennsylvania National Guard medal in bronze in the same sale brought nearly three times as much.

 Offerings of Lee medals became far more commonplace in the 20th century, as the supply of medals and badges depicting Lee that were produced for meetings of Confederate veterans and related groups (like the Sons of Confederate Veterans and United Daughters of the Confederacy) swelled and came to the notice of numismatists. As an example, the November 2002 Presidential Coin and Antique sale ( offered two Lee portrait badges from reunions of the Union of Confederate Veterans, one from the 1900 reunion of the Union Confederate Veterans in Louisville, Kentucky, the other from the 1902 Dallas gathering that was attended by more than 114,000 people.

While all of the previously mentioned medals appear to have been issued privately or by semi-public local entities charged with erecting public monuments, the Federal government has likewise honored Lee on multiple occasions. Until Booker T. Washington was honored on commemorative half dollars in both 1945 and 1946, Lee was the only non-President to have ever appeared on two different United States coins: the 1925 Stone Mountain half dollar and the 1937 Antietam half dollar. Even today, that group is a small one, as Christopher Columbus appeared on his second U.S. coin in 1992 and Benjamin Franklin joined the club in 2006. The Civil War Centennial Commission, created by Act of Congress in 1957, authorized and distributed a medal depicting Lee and Ulysses S. Grant that was struck not at the United States Mint but by the privately owned Medallic Art Company. Federal discomfort with overseeing what was sure to be controversial celebrations of the Civil War devolved most of the celebrations to state-run or semi-private entities. Grover Criswell’s correspondence with Eric Newman was written on letterhead that mentioned Criswell’s membership on the Florida Civil War Centennial Commission (

While these numismatic tributes are little known by today’s public, they reflect the same culture that erected the visible monuments so physically prominent. As such, they provide additional context to the works of stone and marble more familiarly recognized. That many of these numismatic pieces are directly tied to the monuments through fundraising or commemoration is particularly telling – it reflects a society wishing to commemorate historical figures in a variety of media. 

History itself is indestructible, and repositories like the Newman Numismatic Portal help researchers better understand American history through the broad lens of numismatics. Numismatics, like other forms of public art, helps tell the story not only of historical actors and events, but also how those actors and events were interpreted over time. The modern controversy over statues has helped many more citizens understand that history is not simply the past, but rather how the past is presented to the present and into the future.

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Oct 04 2017

The Portal Opens #1: John Kraljevich Joins NNP

We are pleased to announce John Kraljevich will contribute to the NNP Blog under the headline The Portal Opens. With no further ado, John's first follows.

The Portal Opens

The root of Eric Newman’s genius for numismatic research is twofold: first, deep sourcing, employing the best numismatic and non-numismatic resources; second, an ability to synthesize these widely disparate materials to tell a story no one has ever told before. There have been relatively few American numismatic researchers who have had the ability and the resourcefulness to accomplish truly original research. The boundaries have always been high, necessitating the gathering of a substantial library (and, often, a substantial budget to build it), travel to visit other collectors and repositories, and enough of a background in the non-numismatic allied disciplines of art, history, geography, and economics to make sense of it all.

With the introduction of the Newman Numismatic Portal, the height of those boundaries drops appreciably.

It would take a lifetime to gather these materials, but even then they would scarcely be as useful to a researcher as they are here. From mainstream references to runs of auction catalogs that contain information published nowhere else, the works made available on the Newman Numismatic Portal are fully indexed and searchable, giving researchers a chance to locate a long forgotten tidbit through means other than serendipity. Original research articles published in rare or obscure periodicals from the 19th century to today have long been underutilized; with the Newman Numismatic Portal, they come to the forefront. Manuscript materials, including the remarkable Newman archives and treasures from the library of the American Numismatic Society, are now available to researchers worldwide, a resource that makes this website a worthy addition to numismatic knowledge even were they the only things here.

But one need not be a serious numismatic researcher to find the portal useful. An unfamiliar medal may well be instantly identified by doing nothing more than keying in the words of its inscription. The rarity of a numismatic item may be revealed by a dearth of appearances in the auction listings archived here (or, on the flip side, it may be proven to be relatively common despite the marketing hype). A story that deserves to be widely known may be found to have been told just once and forgotten, refilling a gap that brings light to a more profound historical narrative.

For academics and non-numismatic writers, numismatics offers photogenic and easily understood relics of material culture, both lowly and profound. Unlike collectors, who cherish the rare and valuable, historians may find that numismatic items that are commonplace or nearly worthless serve as an ideal symbol or illustration, whether it be the token Rosa Parks dropped into the fare box before she famously found her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus, the medals Thomas Jefferson brought from Paris to deliver to George Washington on behalf of a grateful nation, or the Confederate $5 that was in Abraham Lincoln’s pocket when he died. Those stories, and thousands more, are here, ripe for the picking.

Eric Newman has spent nearly a century telling these stories. I’ve only been at it a couple decades, leaving me as a mere pup by comparison. With an historian’s ethic and a collector’s heart, I’ll be sifting the remarkable gifts of the Newman Numismatic Portal on a regular basis to identify stories to share. It’s akin to standing atop Cerro Rico, the mountain full of silver ore at Potosi: extraordinary treasures lie beneath the surface, just waiting to be uncovered. I’m excited to be the “chief storytelling officer” for the Newman Numismatic Portal, and excited to dig up what’s still hidden. I’ve got my pick and shovel ready. 

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Sep 26 2017

U.S. Comptroller of the Currency Annual Reports

The Legal Tender Act of 1862, authorizing $150 million in national “greenbacks,” along with the National Bank Act the following year, shifted control of the nation’s currency from a patchwork system of local banks to a centralized authority. The National Bank Act was hotly contested in Congress, with the issue of state vs. federal control always in the minds of legislators. The 1863 Act mandated an annual report from the Comptroller of the Currency, prior to this related information had been included in the annual reports of the Secretary of the Treasury.

The Comptroller reports included statistics on national banks, the legal tender supply, bank dividends and reserves, and all manner of odds and ends. The 1872 report complains about “shinplaster” notes issued by states in violation of federal banking law, apparently with the intent of escaping banking taxes. Summary data for the Mint detailing the annual coinage and bullion deposits is also found. The Newman Portal has added the Comptroller of the Currency annual reports for the years 1863-1980 (here). Newman Portal acknowledges FRASER, the digital library of the St. Louis Federal Reserve, for granting permission to reuse their existing digital scans.

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