“Anybody here have email?”
It would be surprising if, in 2012, any working-age person would
fail to answer “yes” to this question.
Twenty years ago, however, when Numismatic Bibliomania Society
member Wayne Homren began asking that of his fellow NBS members,
hardly anyone responded. The Internet was second nature to Wayne, for
he had been using it since 1980, when he had started working at Bell Labs.
Finally, in August of 1998, at the NBS annual meeting in Portland,
Ore., a dozen hands went up, and Wayne sniffed opportunity. He
envisioned an electronic newsletter that could keep NBS members in
contact with each other between appearances of their quarterly print
journal, The Asylum.
Accordingly, on the morning of Sept. 4, 1998, the NBS’s inaugural
email publication was sent to 49 wired members. It didn’t have a name
at first. Wayne wanted to call it The Babbler — that being
what people in an asylum are wont to do — but NBS Board members liked
his second choice, The E-Sylum, suggesting an electronic
version of The Asylum.
By any name, The E-Sylum was a hit. Only a few hours
after its first inbox appearance, the roster of subscribers grew to
59: an increase of more than 20 percent in a single day! The list
quadrupled during the next six years, in the process outstripping the
membership of the NBS. Today, more than 1,500 E-Sylumites scattered
around the world eagerly await the lengthening shadows of Sunday
evening, when the latest version, still edited by its founder, pings
into the email inbox.
Why has The E-Sylum been so successful?
Timeliness is surely one reason. It contains breaking news about
new books, auction catalogs and price lists, along with reviews and
the latest NBS happenings. Its length and variety provide another
reason, for each week brings more than 20 pages of fascinating
stories, covering all aspects of numismatics — not just numismatic
literature — meaning that you are almost guaranteed, no matter what
your specialty, to find something of interest.
Still another reason is that The E-Sylum is the best
place to ask that tough question, for Wayne’s list of subscribers
includes the biggest brainiacs in the world of coins, among them Eric
P. Newman, Q. David Bowers, D. Wayne Johnson, Ken Bressett, John W.
Adams, John Kraljevich and George Frederick Kolbe. This stellar lineup
unfailingly answers even the most arcane questions.
Finally, there is the genial hosting of Wayne himself, who moves
deftly from light-hearted banter to heavy-duty scholarship to
plain-spoken editorials. If there is something rotten in the
(numismatic) state of Denmark, he will call it out, but he also
delights in the whimsical and the out-of-the-way. In fact, Wayne has
concocted elaborate hoaxes on April 1 or thereabouts, keeping coin
literature fanatics on their toes.
Thanks to the generosity of the NBS, every issue of The
E-Sylum — that’s pushing 1,000 — is available for free at the NBS
This priceless archive is searchable, and no topic is too obscure.
Are you interested in restoring leather bookbindings? Four
articles on that topic. How about Bungtown tokens? Three articles on
that one. Subscribe to The E-Sylum. It’s more than just free:
JOEL J. OROSZ is a charter member of the Numismatic Bibliomania
Society and co-author of The Secret History of the First U.S.
Mint. He can be reached at Joeljorosz@gmail.com.