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    Apr 20 2019

    U.S. Mint Coinage Die Records

    One of the fundamental questions in American numismatic research relates to coinage die production and usage within the U.S. series. Since the 1850s, collectors have avidly pursued U.S. coins by die marriage, beginning with the early copper coins and today more extensively. Most of this work has been done by examining the coins directly, as the Mint has never centralized the related records.  Imagine if this information had been cleanly preserved by the Mint – the Red Book might have listed die counts along with mintage records from the beginning, and the hunt would be on to find the coins.  As it is, researchers must ferret out the information from multiple locations within the National Archives & Records Administration, and even then our knowledge is not complete. To the rescue comes Roger Burdette, who has gathered together the known archival data, consolidating research from Bob Julian and others to do so. This is now available on Newman Portal. Although not 100% comprehensive, as much of the data was probably never recorded to begin with, die variety researchers of 19th century coinage in particular will find useful information to complement to their investigation of the actual coins.

    Link to U.S. Mint coinage die records on Newman Portal:

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    Apr 08 2019

    U.S. Mint Newsletters on Newman Portal

    If the Mint had an employee newsletter, what would be in it?  Complete details of all Mint delicacies from dies to fantasy coins?  Catalogs of the work of every engraver? Production records of each piece of equipment within the Mint?  We can dream! But, apart from dreaming, we can actually answer this question, courtesy of John Graffeo, who scanned The Mint at Philadelphia, an internal Mint newsletter, for the period 1969-1971. These were located at the National Archives in Denver and scanned under the sponsorship of Newman Portal. 

    Much of the content is typical for such a publication – appeals for employee safety, lists of new employees and service anniversaries, notes on Civil Service and benefits program changes, etc. But, amid the quotidian chaff, there are a few gems. In the September 1971 issue, Engraver Frank Gasparro comments on his appearance on “What’s My Line?,” which aired in late 1971 or early 1972. Gasparro notes “You certainly get coached on the show. You even have to sign a contract to verify the show is on the up and up. I thought the show would help in selling the Eisenhower dollar. The public is still not aware of the impact of the new silver dollar, nor are the people aware of the obverse and reverse design. When the panel and I discussed the reverse of our coins, like the penny, nickel, Kennedy-half and quarter, they were actually stumped as to what was on the reverses.”

    Also useful are notices of employee awards, which in some cases detail process improvements within the Mint, and retirement notices that lend color to the careers of Mint employees. In 1969, there is coverage of the (fourth) Philadelphia Mint opening, along with sentimental observations on the closing of the third Mint. The publication as a whole provides insight into the Mint as a workplace, a different perspective from collectors who are only interested in the end products. Additional employee newsletters will be found in box 5 of the Denver Mint archives group, Miscellaneous Correspondence and Memos 1897-1994, on Newman Portal.

    Link to The Mint at Philadelphia on Newman Portal:
    Link to Denver Mint Miscellaneous Correspondence and Memos 1897-1994 on Newman Portal:
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    Apr 04 2019

    F.C.C. Boyd Colonial Paper Money Inventory

    Recently scanned by Newman Portal is the inventory of colonial paper money from the F.C.C. Boyd estate. Michael Hodder wrote of the Boyd collection in the Ford III (Stack’s, 5/2004) catalog: “Despite not having many reference texts to assist him, he built the basis for what may be the most comprehensive private collection of Colonial American paper currency ever formed.” Eric P. Newman was able to personally inspect portions of the collection as they were sent to him for review, c. 1963, by New Netherlands (Charles Wormser and John J. Ford, Jr.), who handled the Boyd estate. The file includes correspondence related to possible acquisitions by Newman. This appears to have not occurred, and the Ford sale catalogs indicate that many pieces were acquired by Ford from the Boyd estate. Numerous examples from the Boyd/Ford collection were used for plate images in Newman’s Early Paper Money of America (first edition, 1967), and these likely trace to this period in the early-1960s when Newman had access to the material. The inventory includes notes by Walter Breen, who would have been enlisted by New Netherlands for the task.

    Link to the F.C.C. Boyd Colonial paper money inventory:
    Link to John J. Ford, Jr., sale catalogs:

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    Mar 29 2019

    John Kraljevich Opines on Indian Peace Medals in Verse

    Is it possible to deliver a numismatic presentation that is at all once authoritative, compelling, entertaining, and rhyming? Indeed it is, and, to prove this is no April Fools farce, the video proof may be seen on the Newman Portal. Captured by David Lisot at the 2013 Early American Coppers convention in Newark, OH, the ten-minute talk is chock-full of couplets such as “My girlfriend objected ‘the whole thing in verse?’ I know, I know, I’ll have to rehearse.” The Q&A portion was not delivered in verse, so there are always additional challenges for Mr. Kraljevich. Such is the spirit of the EAC that the presentation was naturally well-received. The next edition of the annual EAC convention will be held May 2-5 in Dayton, OH, and the educational forum presenters will be hard pressed to sustain the same level of creativity!

    Link to Early American Medals from Necessity to Ghent on Newman Portal:
    Link to David Lisot Video Library on Newman Portal:
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    Mar 24 2019

    Bowers & Merena Rare Coin Review on Newman Portal

    With the kind permission of PCGS president Brett Charville, Newman Portal is pleased to announce the availability of the Bowers & Merena house organ, Rare Coin Review, on Newman Portal. This publication ran from 1969 (them under the Hathaway & Bowers banner) until 2003, likely the longest such emission in American numismatic history (Stack’s Numismatic Review is also in the running). Rare Coin Review appeared bimonthly for most of its life, and contained feature articles, coin presented at fixed prices, auction previews, and copious commentary from Q. David Bowers on numismatic matters large and small. Sometimes, the small matters were the more interesting! On a personal note, this was the publication that drew the present writer back into numismatics after graduating from college. Rare Coin Review attracted some of the best writers in the field, as authors were simply more happy to write for Dave than for other editors. The coin offerings were of course the main draw for most readers, and one might find anything from a rare colonial to popular coins like Morgan dollars. There was always something for everyone, from the beginning collector to the specialist, and this was no doubt a great part of its appeal.

    Link to Rare Coin Review on Newman Portal:

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    Mar 16 2019

    Who Cut The Auction Catalog Plates?

    Recently scanned at the American Numismatic Society under the sponsorship of Newman Portal are the Worthington Bitler (1900-1987) notebooks on U.S. large cents. These notebooks, c. 1945-1960, document a large cent collector’s quest to categorize information in a specialized area. Arranged in scrapbook style, the collector included clips from published sources, personal notes, and plates cut from auction sale catalogs. The last represent a bibliophilic crime of high proportion, but one should remember such plates were not especially prized at the time. Bitler was simply trying to put order to the universe, organizing notes and photographs for each Sheldon variety. Volume no. 4 includes purchase records for the Bitler collection, which was comprehensive by Sheldon variety. Bitler’s prices paid were coded in Greek letters – here is a challenge for the numismatic linguist. The Bitler notebooks were no doubt carefully studied by Del Bland during his many visits to the ANS, and remain ripe for investigation by early U.S. copper researchers.

    Link to Worthington Bitler notebook for U.S. large cents, vol. 1, 1793-1794:
    Link to Worthington Bitler notebook for U.S. large cents, vol. 2, 1795-1814:
    Link to Worthington Bitler notebook for U.S. large cents, vol. 3, 1815-1857:
    Link to Worthington Bitler notebook for U.S. large cents, vol. 4, purchase records:
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    Mar 12 2019

    Newman Portal Adds Lianna Spurrier Video: “The Cent”

    Lianna Spurrier continues her series of videos aimed at young numismatists, and the latest entry “The Cent,” has been added to Newman Portal. This video traces the evolution of the U.S. cent from its inception to the present day. You won’t learn about the vagaries of Sheldon varieties here, but you will become familiarized with the major design types over the years, and hopefully be encouraged to dig further. Spurrier, a National Merit Scholar, is currently a senior at Morehead State in Kentucky, majoring in convergent media. She brings a fresh and welcome eye to the subject, and we look forward to her continued contributions to the field.

    Link to Lianna Spurrier videos on Newman Portal:
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    Mar 03 2019

    Doug Winter Books Available on Newman Portal

    Courtesy of Doug Winter, a number of volumes on U.S. gold coins are now available on Newman Portal. Winter has done much to popularize collecting of rare and better-date 19th century U.S. gold, and a good deal of his knowledge has been distilled into these books. While an Eliasberg-like quest of collecting the entire series is out of reach of most, there are many approaches to collecting gold coins that need not require filling every hole in one’s double eagle album. Collecting by branch mint is one popular approach, and indeed, this is a notion that Winter reinforces by publishing texts on a branch mint basis. New Orleans Gold Coins, 1839-1909, for example, discusses the New Orleans series on a date and mintmark basis, exploring rarity profiles, striking characteristics, and die varieties for each issue. Anyone interested in beginning a collection of similar coins will do well to consult these works.

    Link to Doug Winter books on Newman Portal:
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    Feb 25 2019

    Manhole Covers as Numismatic Objects

    A tongue-in-cheek presentation delivered by Gerry Tebben at the February 2019 Central Ohio Numismatic Association (CONA) meeting makes a convincing case that manhole covers should be considered as numismatic objects. Tebben makes the point that they are round, often dated, and have intrinsic value as bullion products. Further, many of these serve artistic and commemorative purposes that are not always apparent at first glance, and in this sense manhole covers could well be considered “very large medals.” Tebben discusses approaches to collecting manhole covers, and advocates for a split grading system, since most exhibit environmental damage on one side. As slabbing is not yet commercially available, Tebben explores considerations for storage and preservation. The presentation is surprisingly compelling, but might have been more in keeping with an April 1st meeting date.

    Link to Central Ohio Numismatic Association (CONA) presentations on Newman Portal:
    Link to Central Ohio Numismatic Association (CONA) newsletters on Newman Portal:
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    Feb 11 2019

    The 1991 EAC Midnight Sale

    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:

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