Anyone who doubts that a man who has reached his 100th year could
still have a sense of humor has never met Eric P. Newman.
Shortly before his 100th birthday on May 25, he was asked how
he would like to be remembered and Newman quickly responded, “I am not
dead yet so do not write a premature obituary.”
mother died when she was 55 and my father when he was 65 — I’m the
lucky one,” Newman said. “Medicine and numismatics have kept me
Collectors have no farther than their
bookshelves to see evidence of Newman’s enthusiasm for numismatics,
filled with works about early American coins and paper money
considered the standards on their subjects. And he is most certainly
not done in his research and writing career either. He is currently
working with a collaborator on a numismatic research project, but
refused to provide details on the topic.
Newman as a prolific writer and researcher is like saying the Rocky
Mountains are a nice pile of stones.
He is the author
or co-author of The Early Paper Money of America; The
Fantastic 1804 Dollar, with Kenneth E. Bressett; The 1776
Continental Currency Coinage & Varieties of the Fugio Cent;
and U.S. Coin Scales and Counterfeit Coin Detectors, with A.
George Mallis, to name a few of his writing accomplishments.
In addition, Newman has written hundreds of articles for
periodicals, including Coin World; the American Numismatic
Association’s magazine, The Numismatist; the Society of Paper
Money’s journal, Paper Money; and the American Numismatic
Society’s publications and other numismatic publications.
When asked the secret to the many writing and research
collaborations he has experienced, Newman said, “Circumstances develop
where two people can work together [on a problem] that would be
difficult for one person to do alone.”
1804 Dollar, written with Ken Bressett, is just one of several
examples of collaboration he offered.
“Ken had all the
information about who owned the 1804 dollars and general information
about the coins but I was interested in studying the technique of how
the coins were made,” Newman said. “The combination was absolutely
perfect — I was doing one part of the research and he was doing the
other. I submitted all my work to him and that’s how we wrote the
Newman said the key to a successful
collaboration is to “have confidence in your team mates.”
A similar situation came about in 1975 when Newman began
looking into some English coins found by local treasure hunters with
metal detectors at a highway construction site in Philadelphia. Newman
later co-authored an article about the find with Peter Gaspar, a
professor of chemistry at Washington University in St. Louis. The
article, published in the March 1978 issue of The Numismatist,
was titled “The Philadelphia Highway Coin Find.”
[Gaspar] is a specialist in English minting techniques so he was
hitting [the research] from that angle and I was hitting it from the
American point of view,” Newman said. “We discovered we were dealing
with Colonial-era counterfeits of 1699 English halfpence coins.”
For a successful collaboration in terms of numismatic
research, Newman said, “You must realize that the accomplishment is
“I’ve been plain lucky to trip over things.
But when I started you had to read books in any language available [on
the subject of the research] and spend time running down blind alleys
over and over again,” Newman said. “Research has changed from hit or
miss to finding something [on the Internet] using a word.”
Newman attributes his boundless curiosity to the
family dinner table when he was growing up in St. Louis.
“Everybody would discuss what happened to them that day. We didn’t
talk about things of monetary value or divorce or cancer,” Newman
said. “Everybody [in the family] would help everybody else.”
He also credits traveling the world with further stimulating
his curiosity. Newman said he first traveled to Europe with his family
when he was 10 years old. “I blotted up everything and then I went
back when I was 14 and I realized how important it is to see and
experience the cultures of other countries.”
Newman said when he and his wife, Evelyn, were married
in 1939, “my wife got the travel bug and we went everywhere in the
world where they would let us in — Syria, Mongolia, Afghanistan,
At last count the Newmans have visited
more than 150 countries.
They celebrate 72 years of
marriage in 2011. Newman said the couple have always been partners —
“If I could help her with something I did and she helped me.”
The dedication page in his book The Early American Paper
Money, reflects his view of that partnership: “To my talented and
charming wife Evelyn whose independent stream of creative ideas and
accomplishments has continued to effervesce our mutual enjoyment
during my many years of numismatic research.”
He said his favorite coin is the gold 1792 George
Washington President pattern privately made by Obadiah Westwood of
Birmingham, England, from dies engraved by John Gregory Hancock.
Newman said it’s his favorite because “it’s unique — only one
gold piece was made” and the fact that he believes it was a pocket
piece carried by Washington himself.
“It was given to
him by someone trying to get a contract for minting copper one-cent
coins. It’s worn, no denomination on it; because Washington rode so
many places on horseback the piece was rubbed constantly by his
clothes,” Newman said.
Newman said three silver pieces
and a number of copper pieces were struck all with the same
Col. E.H.R. Green
Newman is the only person alive today who once owned
all five of the 1913 Liberty Head 5-cent coins.
story behind how Newman acquired those coins and other numismatic
rarities really began when Newman was a student at Massachusetts
Institute of Technology in the late 1920s.
E. Byrd’s first expedition to Antarctic (1928 to 1930) was in all the
newspaper headlines. At the time communication from Little America to
the United States was via shortwave radio, and Newman and other
students built crystal radio sets to listen.
said the static in the transmissions required frequent resending of
messages because only a portion would be heard at any one time.
To help relay the transmissions, Col. E.H.R. Green, the son
and heir of millionaire Wall Street investor Hetty Green, offered the
services of his radio station in Roundtree, Mass.
offer and the interest of the MIT students came in very handy during
that expedition. A member of Byrd’s crew was diagnosed with
appendicitis and required surgery.
“They [Byrd and the
crew] had dug under the ice and built rooms heated with oil flame
stoves,” Newman said. “But if they used ether during the operation it
would blow everything up.”
Newman said he and other
students volunteered to contact doctors all over the world, especially
Norway and Sweden, via shortwave to see how to do the surgery at
temperatures that hovered around 40 degrees below zero with the stoves
turned so the ether could be used as an anesthesia on the
To keep the patient warm during the procedure,
“We discovered that if you wrapped the person in 2 inches of felt and
cut a tiny slit for the operation it could be done,” Newman said.
“That’s what they did and he lived.”
Newman said Green
came to MIT to thank the volunteers who helped transmit the
information to Byrd. Newman remembers the visit clearly, though he
said, “I don’t know whether I shook his hand or not.”
By the time Green died in 1936 Newman had graduated from MIT and was
back in St. Louis where he had received his law degree from the
Washington University School of Law.
He knew that Green
“had a gigantic estate; he’d bought endlessly.” Newman decided he
wanted a $5 demand note of 1861 for St. Louis. The Chase National Bank
was executor of Green’s estate, “so I wrote a letter to the bank and
asked to buy the note,” Newman said.
“I didn’t get an
answer and I was very disappointed so I wrote again,” he recalled. “I
said Col. Green would like me to have that note.”
bank responded that they wouldn’t sell him the single note; he would
have to buy the group of 40 Missouri notes for the appraised value of
“I didn’t have $600 — that was about a quarter of
what I was making at the time,” Newman said. “So I talked to my family
and they assembled the $600 and I bought the group of notes. By this
time I was a complete numismatic nut.”
After his purchase arrived he visited his friend and
mentor Burdette Johnson, owner of the St. Louis Stamp & Coin Co.,
and told him what he’d bought.
“He asked me if I could
buy more. I said probably, but I didn’t have the money,” Newman said.
“Burdette said he could put up the money. It was the luckiest thing
that ever happened to me.”
Newman made many trips to
buy the coins and notes in Green’s estate and brought them to
“He gave me my choice of anything I wanted and he took
an equal value,” Newman said.
Johnson advised Newman on
the purchase of the five 1913 Liberty Head 5-cent coins from the Green
estate in December 1941. Newman purchased the five coins in two
transactions, first acquiring the two best examples in one transaction
that also included hundreds of other 5-cent coins. He purchased the
three remaining examples of the 1913 coin after consulting with
Johnson. Johnson later sold the four 1913 Liberty Head 5-cent coins
that Newman did not keep.
Newman began collecting coins
as a 7-year-old boy, when his grandfather gave him an 1859 Indian Head
cent. He credits Johnson for helping him grow as a collector. The two
met when Newman was 10 years old and Johnson was 36.
“One time he wouldn’t sell me a coin because he said I didn’t know
anything about it,” Newman said. “He gave me a book and told me to
read it and then come back and tell him what I learned. This changed
From then on Newman’s life has been dedicated
to educating and serving the numismatic hobby.
practicing law for 52 years, he retired from Edison Brothers Stores in
Before and after his retirement, Newman
delivered papers at countless Coinage of the Americas Conferences
hosted by the American Numismatic Society. He is the recipient of many
of the most prestigious awards from the ANA and the ANS as well as the
Royal Numismatic Society of Great Britain.
has more memories of the hobby than most people could muster, Newman
said he’s never considered writing an autobiography — “I’m too busy
living,” is his reply.
Newman Money Museum
In addition to his books and other writings he’s also
provided for a 3,000-square-foot museum, which opened in 2006. The
Newman Money Museum is housed within the Mildred Lane Kemper Art
Museum on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis.
In 2003 Newman and his wife donated $2 million to the
university to build the museum and for continuing expenses.
The museum houses exhibitions, some of them on a rotating
basis, from Newman’s extensive collection, which is known as
particularly strong in Colonial and early American coins and paper
The Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society
owns the collection. A portion of his library is in the museum and
workspace is provided for visiting researchers.
Meanwhile, he’s enjoying life. His family and friends gathered in New
York City the week of his birthday to celebrate and enjoy the
accomplishments of his 100 years of life. And probably to hear about
his next research project. ■