Challenging a classic 'numismyth' through scholarship

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Published : 07/17/13
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While sitting in a Philadelphia courtroom in the summer of 2011, covering the Langbord family’s quest to keep 10 1933 Saint-Gaudens $20 double eagles, I was introduced to a new term: “numismyth.”

The term describes long-standing and unsubstantiated material such as guesses and rumors that are accepted until they’re considered truth.

It came up in the ninth day of the trial as attorneys for the government questioned researcher Roger Burdette on the many mysteries of gold coins in the late 1920s and early 1930s as he served as an expert witness for the Langbord family. Burdette had previously used the term in various posting to online message forums.

Numismyths are pervasive in that since they have been around for so long, few question their veracity.

Thankfully, scholars like Richard Kelly and Nancy Oliver enjoy researching numismatic mysteries, and this week Coin World features a story by the research duo questioning the tale behind the well-circulated Hallie Daggett “ice cream” example of the 1894-S Barber dime.

The 1894-S dime is a legendary rarity from a production of 24 pieces, of which nine or so are known today. The classic tale is that Hallie, daughter of John Daggett, superintendent of the San Francisco Mint in 1894, spent one of three special 1894-S dimes given to her by her father on a dish of ice cream and kept the other two. Yet, did Daggett even ever own any 1894-S dimes, or is the story a fabrication concocted by a coin dealer to legitimize these rarities?

Research changes over time. In 2006, Oliver and Kelly believed that Hallie once owned three examples of the rarity. Yet, after visiting Siskiyou County in California, where they interviewed those familiar with the Daggett family, they now question whether Hallie ever saw an 1894-S Barber dime. A closer look at contemporary Mint records and newspaper reports strengthened their suspicions.

Sadly, Hallie Daggett died a pauper. But regardless of the truthfulness of the story, she’ll forever be connected to these classic rarities, and researchers like Oliver and Kelly will continue to debunk — or at least challenge — classic numismyths.

Best,

 

 

Steve Roach

sroach@coinworld.com

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