ON PICTURES OF THE FIRST UNITED STATES MINT
The E-Sylum (8/8/2010)
I recently acquired Volume 3, No. 7 (whole No. 31) of the American Journal of Numismatics dated November, 1868, in David Sklows Auction sale #10. In it, is a great picture of the mint taken in 1854 with a short story by the photographer.
What is interesting is that I also previously purchased a book titled Old Philadelphia, In Early Photographs 1839-1914, 215 prints from the collection of the free library of Philadelphia, by Robert F. Looney, from David Sklows Mail Bid Sale #5. In it is exactly the same photograph listed as #77 as in the Journal.
The description in this book states that the photograph was from 1861, seven years after the picture in the American Journal of Numismatics! Obviously one if not both have the incorrect date. I would tend to believe the date in the AJN since the article was written by the photographer.
Well, the picture is not exactly the same. The photograph in the AJN is trimmed on the sides to fit the page, but it is a real photograph, pasted onto the page.
Len Augsburger writes:
Congratulations on acquiring the AJN issue - it is a classic item of American numismatic ephemera.
As you point out, the AJN version of this photograph was cropped. The original (as shown in Looney) is from the Charles Poulson scrapbooks. The catalog of the Library Company of Philadelphia gives additional commentary on this photograph:
"One of images originally part of a series of eleven scrapbooks compiled by Philadelphia antiquarian Charles A. Poulson in the late 1850s entitled "Illustrations of Philadelphia" The scrapbooks contained approximately 120 photographs by Philadelphia painter and pioneer photographer [Frederick De Bourg] Richards of 18th-century public, commercial, and residential buildings in the city of Philadelphia commissioned by Poulson to document the vanishing architectural landscape."
Richards photographed other buildings about the same time, including the nearby Declaration House, which has an interesting connection to the first Mint - more in the book on that.
The author of the 1868 AJN article has not been conclusively identified - Benjamin Betts seems the best guess, but no one knows for sure. Also unexplained is why the letter is signed "B. B." when the photographer was more likely Richards. We consider the Poulson scrapbooks more definitive on this point than the AJN article, they are earlier, and contain more context. Barring additional research finds (always a possibility), that's our best guess at this point.
To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see: SOME EDUCATIONAL HIGHLIGHTS OF THE ANA CONVENTION (www.coinbooks.org/esylum_v13n31a10.html)