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    Nov 25 2020

    U.S. Mint Sweats Gold

    An old (and fraudulent) trick in the gold business is to vigorously shake a bag of gold coins together, in an effort to free a few bits of the previous metal in the form of dust, which can be sold to the benefit of the owner. The devalued coins still retain their face value, so there is no loss in that regard. This is known as “sweating” gold. The U.S. Treasury engaged in the same practice, though to be sure not on a deliberate basis. 

    An 1893 letter from the U.S. Treasurer to the Superintendent of the Philadelphia Mint notes that bags used to store gold coins contained measurable amount of gold dust. Two bags are noted in this correspondence, one yielding 2.87 grains of gold and the other 2.16 grains (worth 12.3 cents and 9.3 cents respectively). Enos H. Nebecker, the U.S. Treasurer, notes a number of coin bags from the New York assay office had been forwarded to the Mint for harvesting the remaining gold. Presumably the number of bags was large, as the shipping costs from New York to Philadelphia would have offset any profit.

    What the government took with one hand it gave back with the other. Congress made appropriations to make the country’s circulating coinage whole, so that if underweight gold pieces were returned to the Mint, they could be melted and recoined at full weight.

    Link to February 27, 1893 correspondence: https://archive.org/details/extractgolddustfromoldcoinbags18930227/mode/2up
    Link to U.S. Mint general correspondence on Newman Portal: https://nnp.wustl.edu/library/archivedetail/515202


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    Nov 12 2020

    Bowers & Merena’s Coin Collector on Newman Portal

    The 1990s represented heady times for the numismatic firm of Bowers & Merena, with the Eliasberg and Bass sales leading the way. Bibiliophiles were richly treated as well, with a steady stream of books from Q. David Bowers in addition to the house organs Rare Coin Review and The Coin Collector. Newman Portal has recently digitized The Coin Collector, a 144-issue run published from 1994 to 2003. This tabloid-sized emission was primarily a vehicle for fixed price sales but also included research articles and other features. Few runs seem to have survived, as most collectors discarded copies after checking for items of interest. 

    Newman Portal acknowledges Joel Orosz for loaning his run for scanning, as well as Jennifer Meers at Stack’s Bowers who provided several missing issues. We are also grateful to Collector’s Universe, the copyright holder, for making this content available for full-view.

    Link to The Coin Collector on Newman Portal: https://nnp.wustl.edu/library/publisherdetail/539529

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    Nov 06 2020

    Ernie Nagy Publishes Numismatic Collateral of British and American Abolition

    Black history is drawing increased attention in our society, with the formation of related academic programs and focal points such as the recently opened National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. Numismatics forms another lens through which to view Black history, with notable contributions such as John Kraljevich’s Black History Month blog, initially published in 2017. Ernie Nagy’s monograph Numismatic Collateral of British and American Abolition is the latest contribution to the field. This work serves as a catalog of American and British coins, tokens, and medals related to the 18th and 19th century abolition movement. Britain was well ahead of the U.S. in this regard, as these artifacts well demonstrate. Graphics and layout for this work were provided by Lianna Spurrier under sponsorship of Newman Numismatic Portal. 

    Link to Numismatic Collateral of British and American Abolition on Newman Portal: https://nnp.wustl.edu/library/booksbyauthor/539733

    Link to John Kraljevich’s Black History Month blog: http://omeka.wustl.edu/omeka/exhibits/show/nnp-selections/blackhistorymonth2017
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    Oct 30 2020

    Prison Tokens, Coupons and Scrip of the United States and Canada

    Recently added to Newman Portal, courtesy of authors Bob Hewey and Jim Delaney, is the book Prison Tokens, Coupons and Scrip of the United States and Canada. The foreword summarizes: “You may ask, ‘why were there special kinds of money used in prisons, jail and reformatories?’ There are good reasons not to allow legal tender coins and bills in the hands of prisoners. The ready availability of such currency could encourage bribery, extortion, gambling and facilitate acquisition of contraband and escapes. Still, there needs to be some type of money so that inmates can purchase discretionary items, such as snacks, tobacco, toiletries and reading and writing supplies. This catalog will focus on the token coinage and scrip issued to address these problems in the United States and Canada.” 

    The main body of the book consists of a state by state (and province) listing of known issues, and a quick check of ebay reveals an active collector market for these money substitutes. Tokens appear to be the most common form of prison money, struck in base metals at minimal cost. Various shapes are encountered, perhaps to discourage counterfeiting, including quatrefoils and octagons. Plastic and wooden pieces also appear in the series. One finds also scrip and coupon books, the latter used to suppress trading between prisoners, who must present the book along with the coupon. This is a scheme shared used by universities, when distributing student tickets for athletic events.

    Link to Prison Tokens, Coupons and Scrip of the United States and Canada on Newman Portal: https://nnp.wustl.edu/library/book/589917
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    Oct 22 2020

    Friends in High Places

    While the National Archives remains inaccessible to researchers, Newman Portal continues creating transcriptions of previously scanned material. Recently processed is an 1893 letter from the Superintendent of the U.S. Assay Office in New York City, Andrew Mason, requesting that Philadelphia Mint Superintendent Oliver C. Bosbyshell supply a medal of the Assay Commission for that year. The “ask” was made on behalf of collector Harlan P. Smith of New York City, whose cabinet was featured by the Chapman’s in a 1906 sale. The Assay Commission medals were struck in low quantities (not all mintages are recorded, but 40-50 pieces is typical) and do not appear on U.S. Mint fixed price lists of the era. Did Smith get his medal? Quite likely so. His 1906 auction sale catalog  included an extensive run of Assay Commission medals, including an 1893 silver example (lot 1664, AC-37) housed in a “morocco case.” Smith’s Assay Commission medals turned out to be a tough sell, with the Chapman’s buying-in most of the pieces, including the 1893 example at $2.60.

    Link to U.S. Mint General Correspondence on Newman Portal: https://nnp.wustl.edu/library/archivedetail/515202
    Link to Chapman auction sale catalogs on Newman Portal: https://nnp.wustl.edu/library/auctioncompanydetail/21
    Link to U.S. Mint fixed price lists on Newman Portal: https://nnp.wustl.edu/library/publisherdetail/512757
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    Oct 18 2020

    The First Half Eagle Struck in 1795

    A research query forwarded by Q. David Bowers pointed us toward the biography of Henry William de Saussure, the second director of the U.S. Mint, who had a short tenure in that position, July -October 1795. Written in 1841, the biography lends a charming anecdote regarding the Mint under de Saussure: 

    “General Washington, whose habit was to see the heads of departments every week at his table, upon one of these occasions, expressed to the director of the mint his satisfaction at the activity which had been introduced into the silver coinage, and added, ‘I have long desired to see gold coined at the mint but your predecessor found insuperable difficulties. I should be much gratified if it could be accomplished before I leave office.’ ‘I will try,’ was the reply ; and the director went to the mint, summoned the officers, ascertained the wants and difficulties of each department, and by great diligence, speedily removed all obstacles. In six weeks he carried to the President a handful of gold eagles, and received his thanks and approbation.” 

    Breen’s Encyclopedia gives a coining period of July 31 to September 16, 1795, for the first half eagles and further states that the half eagle dies were in production while David Rittenhouse was still Mint Director. A $5 gold piece from the Yale University collection, said to have been the first struck and reputedly owned by Martha Washington, was stolen in the 1960s, along with a Brasher doubloon and other pieces, and never recovered. The piece is alluded to in correspondence from Dick Picker to Eric Newman, May 1, 1962, after Yale curator Ted Buttrey exhibited the piece at the New York Numismatic Club. Buttrey commented to Len Augsburger via email on June 17, 2017, “The $5 gold, like the Brasher, was part of the Yale collection which I curated. The collection was stolen after I left Yale in 1964. The Brasher showed up later, but there is no way to trace the $5.”

    Link to Memoir of the life, character, and public services, of the late Hon. Henry Wm. De Saussure on Newman Portal: https://nnp.wustl.edu/library/book/589594

    Link to Richard Picker correspondence on Newman Portal: https://nnp.wustl.edu/library/archivedetail/520539
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    Oct 11 2020

    Kolbe & Fanning 100th Sale Video

    Held in conjunction with the June 2006 Long Beach show, Kolbe & Fanning’s 100th sale was a milestone in the history of this firm that has served numismatic literature collectors since 1969. George Kolbe recently forwarded a videotape of this sale, which was digitized and is now posted on Newman Portal. While the quality of the tape is consistent with home video of the period, the video conveys well the flavor of the sale. Bidding for frontline lots is considered and drawn out, while typical material moves more quickly. Highlights of the sale included a large paper copy of Hickcox’s 1858 work on American coinage, one of five known (lot 42, realized $40,250, 00:17:57 into the video, and extending until 24:35, during which the lot was re-opened), and a superbly bound set of the first four large format Chapman brother’s auction catalogs issued with plates, ex. Harry W.Bass, Jr. (lot 479, realized $43,700, 01:54:45 in the video). 

    Link to Kolbe & Fanning’s Auction Sale One Hundred video on Newman Portal: https://nnp.wustl.edu/library/book/589357
    Link to Kolbe & Fanning auction sale catalogs on Newman Portal: https://nnp.wustl.edu/library/auctioncompanydetail/513111
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    Oct 03 2020

    Charles Opitz Odd & Curious Reference Collection to be Sold

    Kagin’s has announced the sale of the Charles Opitz reference collection of odd and curious money, scheduled for the ANA National Money Show in Phoenix, AZ, on March 12. Odd and curious money encompasses just about anything outside of the familiar “form factors” of typical metal coins and paper money. Porpoise teeth, cardboard coins, woodpecker scalps, and hoe money are only a few of the hundreds of categories available to the collector of non-traditional forms of money. Charles Opitz’s excellent guide to the subject is available on Newman Portal, and this massive 843-page compendium represents a lifetime of research on the subject. With multiple illustrations on nearly every page, this will be the definitive guide for the foreseeable future. For collectors with any interest in the subject, the Opitz sale will be an important opportunity to view and study these intriguing objects.

    Link to Charles Opitz Odd & Curious and Traditional Money on Newman Portal: https://nnp.wustl.edu/library/booksbyauthor/1482

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    Sep 27 2020

    A Debate Over Star Points

    Barber silver coins (1892-1916) have six-pointed stars on the obverse, and five-pointed stars on the reverse. Why? Five-pointed stars grace the U.S. flag, and the Great Seal of the United States follows suit. A recent bit of U.S. Mint correspondence, scanned and transcribed by Newman Portal, sheds light on the situation in 1891, with the forthcoming advent of Barber coinage. Heretofore, the six-pointed star was featured on the obverse of the Liberty Seated coinage since 1838 (the 1837 Liberty Seated dime was the no stars variety), while Draped Bust coinage featured six-pointed stars on both obverse and reverse. Mint Director Leech wrote to Philadelphia Mint Superintendent in October 1891 “I agree with the engraver that the six pointed star looks richer, and you are authorized to use it on the obverse” while “the five pointed stars will be used on the reverse,” with no additional explanation. All the known pattern pieces exhibit this scheme. So, the obverse use of six-pointed stars seems to have been simply the preference of the engraver, which withstood bureaucratic inquiry, while the reverse stars remain a mystery.

    Link to 1891 Leech correspondence: https://archive.org/details/newdesignexperimentalhalvesstarpoints18911024/page/n3/mode/2up
    Link to U.S. Mint general correspondence entry on Newman Portal: https://nnp.wustl.edu/library/archivedetail/515202
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    Sep 18 2020

    Works of James Ross Snowden

    James Ross Snowden, U.S. Mint Director from 1853 to 1861, oversaw the large growth of silver coinage following the Coinage Act of 1853, the opening of the San Francisco Mint in 1855, and the 1860 creation of the Washington collection in the Mint Cabinet. The Newman Portal “Books by Author” view (accessible under “Library” from the home page) provides an “at a glance” overview of Snowden’s biography (contributed by Pete Smith) and written works. The evolution is easy to see – Snowden, beginning in 1857, sought to document the operations of the Mint and the holdings of the Mint Cabinet. Clearly, he intended to leave the office more organized than he found it. The pamphlets published from 1857-1859 (digital copies recently provided courtesy of Craig Sholley) documented internal Mint business, along with the related legislation from the U.S. code. The works published in 1860-1861, much more known to numismatists today, were the first comprehensive views of the Mint Cabinet (today the National Numismatic Collection). The file concludes with a little-known work from 1864, published after Snowden left office, The Coins of the Bible, and its Money Terms. Although not stated, Snowden likely drew upon the Mint Cabinet as a resource for this final work.

    Link to Snowden “Books by Author” page on Newman Portal: https://nnp.wustl.edu/library/booksbyauthor/1816

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