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    Aug 20 2018

    Early U.S. Mint Research Sponsored by Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society

    At the John Reich Collectors Society meeting held August 15 at the ANA convention in Philadelphia, researchers David Finkelstein and Chris Pilliod presented preliminary results on composition testing of United States 1794 and 1795 coinage. At issue was the question of whether David Rittenhouse, Mint Director, sanctioned the manufacture of silver coinage outside the legal standard. The Mint Act of 1792 mandated an 89.24% standard, but Albion Cox, the melter and refiner, recommended a 90% standard, as coinage with a higher proportion of copper tended to turn black. Interestingly, the annual assay tests of 1795 and 1796 (for coinage for 1794 and 1795, respectively) are unrecorded in the archives. 

    Finkelstein and Pilliod noted the shortcomings of XRF (X-ray fluorescence) testing, which supplies data that is only “skin deep” – about ten microns below the surface. Instead, they arranged for ICP-AES (inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectroscopy) testing of cut coinage samples. Quoting from Wikipedia, ICP-AES “is an analytical technique used for the detection of chemical elements. It is a type of emission spectroscopy that uses the inductively coupled plasma to produce excited atoms and ions that emit electromagnetic radiation at wavelengths characteristic of a particular element. It is a flame technique with a flame temperature in a range from 6000 to 10000 K. The intensity of this emission is indicative of the concentration of the element within the sample.”

    Pilliod and Finkelstein tested eight silver pieces (one 1794 half dollar and seven 1795 half dollars). Due to the value of the coins, low grade and problem pieces were selected for destructive testing. The 1794 was particularly worn, what Sheldon would have called “basal state,” and was donated by the Terry Brand estate, which recently sold a large group of 1794 half dollars through Heritage Auctions. The Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society (EPNNES) sponsored the acquisition of other coins. Each piece was sliced into three sections and polished, resulting in small mirrorlike fragments that were then subjected to ICP-AES. Complete statistical analysis is not complete, but preliminary results suggest that, with a high degree of confidence, 1795 silver coinage was indeed struck to a higher standard than that required by law. Chris Pilliod and David Finkelstein will publish full results in due course, and we look forward to studying the complete findings. Mint Director David Rittenhouse was a careful, precise, and rigorous scientist, and, and David Finkelstein likes to say, “there are no coincidences” in numismatic research. 
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    Aug 11 2018

    19th Century Records of the National Numismatic Collection

    Newman Portal users Saul Teichman and Roger Burdette recently contributed a pair of documents to Newman Portal that provide information on the U.S. Mint Cabinet (today the National Numismatic Collection in the Smithsonian) from the 19th century. Both originate from material in the National Archives & Records Administration (NARA). Thanks to the efforts of Bob Julian, John Graffeo, Roger Burdette, Craig Sholley, and others, the Newman Portal currently contains over 200,000 pages of material scanned at various NARA facilities, including Philadelphia, College Park (MD), and Denver.

    The document “Collection of United States and Foregin Coins in the Mint Cabinet at Philadelphia” (from NARA record group 104, entry 160) is a handwritten record, “prepared by the Curators of the Cabinet” in 1869.  Interestingly, the catalog provides numismatic valuations of each piece, stating “The…value is an average of two principal and recent sales – the Seavey and Liliendahl collections at auction; with occasional reference to the Haines and Mickley sales.” The curators were thus somewhat familiar with the commercial conditions of the day. Two 1804 dollars are listed (a third was added to the collection later), valued at $500 and $100. The entire collection of several thousand pieces is appraised at “near $20,000.” Needless to say today’s statistics are substantially increased, on the order of a million pieces and a valuation of a  billion dollars.

    A second document, from 1887, represents correspondence from Philadelphia Mint Superintendent Daniel M. Fox to U.S. Mint Director James P. Kimball (NARA record group 104, entry 229). Fox writes to Kimball, transmitting a list of U.S. pattern coins from 1794 to date. Although not explicitly stated, this likely represents an inventory of the Mint Cabinet at the time. Fox was clearly aware the list was not comprehensive, stating that he identified 341 pieces, while the Robert Coulton Davis list (published about the same time in Coin Collector’s Journal) listed 479 examples. Today, all of this information is available with a quick glance at Whitman’s United States Pattern Coins, ably championed by Q. David Bowers and Saul Teichman. Numismatics builds on itself, and today’s knowledge is built on these early sources, which represented the best information available at the time.

    Link to “Collection of United States and Foregin Coins in the Mint Cabinet at Philadeplhia” (1869) on Newman Portal:
    Link to 1887 listing of U.S. pattern coinage on Newman Portal:
    Link to NARA materials on Newman Portal:

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    Aug 02 2018

    American Numismatic Society announces gift from Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society

    ANS Press Release (July 30) For over sixty years the American Numismatic Society (ANS) has offered an intense eight week long summer course in numismatics to select graduate students. Always interested in numismatic education, Eric P. Newman’s generous lifetime endowment of the ANS’s Summer Seminar has allowed the ANS to continue to train new generations of numismatists. Following Mr. Newman’s passing in November 2017 at 106 years of age, the ANS received word that per his request the Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society was donating an additional $50,000 to the Seminar’s endowment fund to be used to enhance the stipend of the Visiting Scholar, always a renowned numismatic scholar invited to assist in teaching the Seminar.

    To further acknowledge Mr. Newman’s contributions to the ANS’s premiere educational program, the ANS has renamed the Scholar’s title in his honor. The first Eric P. Newman Visiting Scholar is Prof. Mariangela Puglisi of the University of Messina in Sicily, who is also the first recipient of the Newman Visiting Scholar medal. The presentation of the medal to Prof. Puglisi took place during a special ceremony at the ANS on July 27, 2018.   Executive Director Ute Wartenberg remarked, “We are so grateful to Eric’s children, Andy Newman and Linda N. Schapiro, for their continued generosity for the Summer Seminar and numismatics in general.”   

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    Aug 01 2018

    Eric P. Newman Inventory Copy of Early Paper Money of America

    The Newman Portal recently digitized a first edition copy of Early Paper Money of America. Published in 1967, the work was immediately the standard reference for colonial paper money. Although Newman had a longstanding interest in early American currency, the “nail in the coffin” was his acquisition of the Harley Freeman collection in 1963 – with this reference collection in hand, Newman was now virtually compelled to publish. Newman made careful annotations in this first edition copy, recording his personal inventory in addition to numerous clarifications. Paper money is more traceable than coinage as issued notes were assigned serial numbers, so this document serves as an important pedigree record. Purchasers of colonial currency from the Newman sales may wish to compare their notes with this recently scanned Newman inventory.

    Link to Early Paper Money of America (inventory copy) on Newman Portal:
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    Jul 29 2018

    Newman Portal Adds The Virginia Numismatist

    With the permission of the Virginia Numismatic Association (VNA), Newman Portal has added The Virginia Numismatist for the period 1965 to 2012. Issues were scanned at the Library of Virginia in Richmond, VA under Newman Portal sponsorship. While including the usual updates on local numismatic events, the publication also presents numerous feature articles such as Richard Doty’s “Virginia Numismatics at the Smithsonian,” as found in the March 1999 issue. I also enjoyed Tom Kays’ “Digging up the First Federal Coins in Virginia” from the Summer 2003 issue. Newman Portal recognizes Tom Kays and Dave Ellison of the VNA, and Errol Somay of the Library of Virginia for their assistance with this project.

    Link to Virginia Numismatist on Newman Portal:
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    Jul 21 2018

    San Francisco Committee of Vigilance Medals

    A Newman Portal user this week forwarded photos of what appears to be a hand-engraved, numbered 1851 medal from the San Francisco Committee of Vigilance. Composition analysis indicates the piece is sterling silver. A check of the Newman Portal for “Committee of Vigilance” yields a few clues. Vigilante associations were common in the 19th century, and were formed in San Francisco in 1851 and again in 1856. The 1856 committee is well-documented, and the Huntington Library in San Marino, CA holds 2,500 applications for the group. This committee struck a member’s medal, and the Ford XX catalog (lots 3283-3285) includes a 13-page article on the topic. These committees were no mere ceremony.  The June 1933 Numismatist summarized the activities of the earlier 1851 committee – 4 hanged, 1 whipped, 14 deported, 1 ordered to leave the state, 1 handed over to the authorities, and 41 discharged. 

    The three examples of the 1856 medals in the Ford sale sold at the $25k-$30k level. Is this hand-engraved 1851 piece an early, crude, prototype for the later struck medals? We checked with a California expert on 19th century American medals, who believes the piece to be an outright fantasy.

    Link to Ford XX sale (Stack’s, 10/2007) on Newman Portal:
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    Jul 15 2018

    World Cup Gold Medal Pawned in Panama

    The Newman Portal can be used to locate numismatic items of most any genre, and the news of the day, from Moscow, is the World Cup finals championship. A gold medal (from the NASCA July 1979 sale, lot 1350), weighing in at a hefty three ounces, was struck in commemoration of the Brazil World Cup victory in 1970. The catalog description tells the story:

    “Presented on the occasion of becoming the first - and thus far only - nation to win the World Cup three times. As such, probably as important a sports medal as has yet been struck. Of additional interest, several countries have now struck commemorative coins with soccer themes. Although perhaps 20 such medals would have been issued, it is unlikely that most of the players and coaches will ever part with their medals (Brazilian soccer superstars are well-paid). We were told that the player who received this piece "blew a wad in Panama", and pawned it for bullion. We don’t expect additional examples to appear soon on the market. Indeed, the sale of this piece may strain Brazilian-Panamanian relationships!”

    We suspect there is much more to the story here, perhaps a Brazilian soccer historian can fill us in. The Newman Portal acknowledges John Herzog and Robin Majlak of Herzog & Co. for their assistance with auction sale catalogs of NASCA and R. M. Smythe.

    Link to NASCA July 1979 catalog on Newman Portal:

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    Jun 27 2018

    Walter Breen Authentication Certificates on Newman Portal

    Prior to the advent of the 3rd party “slab,” Walter Breen played a role in establishing authentication for various numismatic items. Breen’s expert opinions, which took the form of a “certificate of guarantee,” served to establish a basis for negotiation between buyer and seller. R. W. Julian has contributed electronic copies of a number of these, recently recovered from an Indiana estate. This group includes eight letters of authentication (dated 1975-1979) signed by Walter Breen on the Pine Tree Galleries letterhead. Coins authenticated are an 1851 double eagle, 1909-S Indian cent, 1787 NOVA EBORAC copper, 1787 Connecticut cent (M. 4-L), 1781 North American Token, Massachusetts $4 note (May 5, 1780), 1787 Immunis Columbia, and 1786 Vermont copper (BB-5). Breen signed many of these, likely in the hundreds, and they are collectible by variety. This group was written on the Pine Tree letterhead, but others are known on blank paper, usually signed with Breen’s signature purple pen. Other variants no doubt exist.

    Link to Breen authentication certificates on Newman Portal:
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    Jun 21 2018

    Scientific American on Newman Portal

    Scientific journal articles are on overlooked source of numismatic information. Craig Sholley and others have used sources such as the Journal of the Franklin Institute  to shed light on various technical issues within numismatics. The Newman Portal has recently extracted articles from Scientific American dealing with coins and paper money, and these are now available on Newman Portal. An article in April 1850 issue, for example, discusses the closure of the New Orleans Mint for administrative reasons – no one cared to apply for the open Treasurer position due to the lack of salary and the size of the bond required. Elsewhere, the February 1876 issue discussed protection of bank vaults. In total, approximately one hundred articles have been pulled and these provide an outsider’s view of American numismatics from an established and respected source.

    Link to Scientific American on Newman Portal:
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    Jun 13 2018

    Eric P. Newman's 1792 Washington President Gold Piece To Be Sold

    From a collection numbering many thousands of coins assembled over a period of nine decades, one coin stood head and shoulders above all others for Eric P. Newman: the 1792 Washington President $10 gold eagle pattern. Eric Newman (1911-2017) was the nation's foremost American numismatic researcher and author. His books and articles explored numerous and wide-ranging topics, but Colonial coinage and currency were his principal numismatic interests.

    How could anyone with such a vast collection, and such a long history of numismatic scholarship, point to a single specimen and call it his favorite coin? For Eric, it was obvious, for no other numismatic artifact of early America connects present day collectors and historians to our country's most foundational statesman more closely than the unique 1792 Washington President $10 gold eagle pattern. Eric acquired the Washington piece from the famed "Colonel" E.H.R. Green Collection in 1942. This piece, now graded Extremely Fine 45 by Numismatic Guaranty Corporation, displays glowing original greenish-gold surfaces that show the gentle wear consistent with a pocket piece that has seen no actual circulation.

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