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Feb 02 2019

All Scanned Copies are Not Equal

In 1846 William E. DuBois authored the first substantial history of the U.S. Mint Cabinet, today held by the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. and known as the National Numismatic Collection. The summer 2008 issue of The Asylum described this book:

Davis 325. 1 plate, medal-ruled. A table summarizes the Mint cabinet at the time, some 3800 pieces, of which approximately 10% were U.S. issues. There is no specific cataloguing of the U.S. coinage, but this important work describes the genesis of the collection: “The collection was commenced in June, 1838. Long before that date, however, Mr. Adam Eckfeldt, formerly Chief Coiner, led as well by his own taste as by the expectation that a conservatory would some day be established took pains to preserve master-coins of the different annual issues of the Mint, and to retain some of the hnest foreign specimens, as they appeared in deposit for recoinage. As soon as a special annual appropriation was instituted for this object, by Congress (which was as soon as it was asked), the collection took a permanent form, and from the nucleus above mentioned, has gone on in a continual course of augmentation since. It is now nearly as large as we expect or wish to have it, excepting, however, that specimens of new coinage, domestic or foreign, must be added as they appear.” 

DuBois presumably inquired directly with his father-in-law Adam Eckfeldt in reference to the origin of the Mint Cabinet. The Google Books copy of Pledges, scanned in 2015 at the British library, is a desultory black and white affair conveying little charm of the original. While the content is faithfully preserved for the purposes of text search, researchers working from this copy will find little in the way of historical inspiration. The Newman Portal copy is a full-color reproduction taken from the Eric P. Newman library. Warts and all, the damp stained copy more effectively transports the reader back to the time of issue. Quirks such as the odd insertion of a color plate depicting “the pearl of great price” (was this a leftover from some other project?) ask the user to critically assess the physical copy within the context of the era. While physical copies are ideal, not all scans are equal, and, like collectors of physical books, researchers will do well to search out the best virtual copies.

Link to Pledges of History on Newman Portal:

Link to Pledges of History on Google Books:

Image: cover of Eric P. Newman copy of Pledges of History

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