Last month, we discussed Emmanuel Joseph Attinelli’s Numisgraphics,
the indispensable bibliography of American numismatic literature from
its beginnings through 1875.
Three mysteries, however, still swirl around this great book.
First: Why were sales of the original 1876 edition of
Numisgraphics so dismal?
Second: 10 special “large paper” copies were published. Where are
Third: What happened to the photolithographs Attinelli made of the
Watkins Broadside (the earliest coin auction that he could find)?
Only the first mystery has been solved; the other two still
Regarding that first question, the market of those interested in
books about coin books was smaller than the market for those
interested in books about coins. As John W. Adams observes in his
Foreword to the 1976 Quarterman reprint of Attinelli’s work, Attinelli
made matters worse by choosing to distribute Numisgraphics himself,
thus foregoing a publisher’s marketing budget.
Numisgraphics received only one blandly positive review. All of
these factors combined for dismal sales. Only about 50 copies were
printed in 1876, and estimates of survivors range from Adams’ less
than a dozen, to Charles Davis’ reckoning, in his American Numismatic
Literature, of less than 25.
As Adams notes, the original edition was recognized as a rarity
almost from the moment of publication; it began appearing on
collectors’ want lists as early as 1879.
Regarding the second question, seven words are printed at the
bottom of the Attinelli’s Preface to Numisgraphics: “Ten copies
printed on large tinted paper.”
Large paper copies of numismatic books and catalogs are easily
identified, because all of the margins are noticeably broader than
they are in regular editions. Numismatic bibliophiles have avidly
searched for these 10 special copies for decades, but none — not one —
has ever been found.
Perhaps none were actually printed? Not so. Attinelli cataloged
one coin auction, for Bangs & Co. Auctioneers, the collection of
C. W. Idell, held Jan. 8 to 9, 1878. Lot 926 of this sale reads as
follows: “Numisgraphics. E. J. Attinelli. Royal 8vo, 123 pp. A list of
U.S. Coin Sale Catalogues, Books and other publications, referring to
Coins, Dealer price lists, etc.”
A note immediately follows: “Ten copies of the above were printed
(at $10 per copy) on fine large paper either of the 4 copies remaining
unsold can be had by addressing the author.” The term “8vo” is a
standard abbreviation for the “octavo” book size of 6 inches wide and
9 inches high. “Royal octavo” is typically 6½ inches by 10 inches in dimension.
Clearly, large paper copies were printed, and at least six of them
were sold for the then princely price of $10. How could such expensive
and special books simply vanish?
Regarding the third question, according to lot 921 of the Idell
sale, Attinelli printed 30 photolithographic copies of the Watkins
Broadside, one of which he used as Numisgraphics’ frontispiece.
Today, only one copy is definitely known to exist, in the
collection of the American Numismatic Society.
Where are the other 29?
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