Ira S. Bushnell, a New York City attorney, was a leading numismatic
scholar in the 1850s. Many of his findings were published years later
in 1875 by S.S. Crosby in Early Coins of America. Bushnell’s
pioneering An Arrangement of Tradesmen’s Cards, Political Tokens, also
Election Medals, Medalets, &c. Current in the United States of
America for the Last Sixty Years, 1858, set the stage for the
widespread collecting of these series.
Augustus B. Sage, a New York schoolteacher with a sharp mind and a
love for coins, contributed a series of articles in 1857 to the
New-York Dispatch. An anonymous reader, “Numismatist,” took exception
to certain of Sage’s comments. Not long afterward Bushnell, who used
that pseudonym, became acquainted with Sage and they became friends.
In 1859, Sage, by then the founder of the American Numismatic
Society and a leading rare coin dealer, commissioned George H. Lovett
to create the Numismatic Gallery series of medals. The first honoree
Bushnell died Sept. 17, 1880. His magnificent collection was
purchased by Lorin G. Parmelee, a Boston numismatist who had a private
cabinet second only to that of T. Harrison Garrett in Baltimore.
Parmelee extracted pieces of interest and then sold the Bushnell coins
to the Chapman brothers — S. Hudson and Henry — who created an auction
catalog unlike anything ever seen. More than 140 pages in length and
printed on impressively large folio sheets, it described 3,000 lots.
Copies with photographic plates were available for the unheard of
price of $5 (nearly a week’s wages for a factory worker at the time).
Descriptions included extensive historical information.
The auction created a sensation and was highly admired — except by
certain other coin dealers, some of whom spent a lot of effort
publishing what they could find in typographical and other errors.
None other than the estimable W. Elliot Woodward could not resist
noting, for example, that the Chapmans had relocated Harvard from
Cambridge to New Haven (Lot 328), had moved the Charitable Mechanic
Association from Massachusetts to New Jersey (Lot 2117) and had George
Washington posing as a seated kangaroo on a medal (Lot 1230).
Similarly, Woodward’s sale of Oct. 16 to 18, 1882, began with a long
diatribe against the Chapman brothers, their puffery and misuse of
terms, among other transgressions. More anti-Chapman comments appeared
in his sale of Jan. 8 to 10, 1884, among other places.
The Chapmans went on to lead the field of auctions, inheriting the
mantle from Woodward who was in the twilight of his remarkable career.
Q. David Bowers is chairman emeritus of Stack’s Bowers Galleries
and numismatic director of Whitman Publishing LLC.
He can be reached at his private email, email@example.com,
or at Q. David Bowers LLC, Box 1804, Wolfeboro, NH 03894.