In the annals of our hobby, 1859 is particularly important. As
related last week, Augustus B. Sage cataloged three coin auctions that
year. Earlier, auctions had been occasional, often several years
elapsing with none at all.
Even more important in 1859, the first large-size book intended for
coin collectors was published by Lippincott: the American
Numismatical Manual of the Currency or Money of the Aborigines and
Colonial, State and United States Coins with Historical and
Descriptive Notices of Each Coin or Series. The author was
Montroville W. Dickeson, a fascinating man who was a medical doctor,
but who spent much time in the West digging into Indian burial mounds,
gaining lasting fame among archaeologists for this endeavor. Much
could be written about him, including such trivia as that he was owner
of the Philadelphia building where Ebenezer Locke Mason Jr. had a coin shop.
The American Numismatical Manual was hardbound, nearly 300
pages, and had embossed illustrations with tints of coinage metal
colors. Thousands of copies were sold. In 1860 and 1865 other editions
were published, now with American Numismatic Manual instead of
Numismatical. The Dickeson manuals were giant steps forward for
Dickeson started from scratch in gathering information, or almost.
He consulted collectors, dealers, and historians, and drew upon
scattered published sources. The Manual contained an incredible
amount of useful information.
As a pioneering effort, it also had its faults. Mint marks were not
the slightest bit important to any coin collectors at the time, and
not even the Mint Cabinet, launched in 1838, bothered to notice them.
In passing, Dickeson suggested that a gold coin with the C Mint mark
identified it as being struck in California!
In the meantime, rare coins captured the fancy of newspaper and
magazine editors who ran many stories about them. By that time the
story of the 1652-dated Pine Tree shilling, as given in a romantic
tale by Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1841, was well known. Mint master John
Hull offered as dowry for his marriageable daughter her weight in such
coins. It was no surprise that in 1859 such pieces were highly desired
by collectors, and a nice example would fetch several dollars.
In the meantime Mint Director James Ross Snowden was being inundated
with requests for Proof coins, patterns, and other key issues. This
catalyzed a most remarkable change of direction for the Mint — my
subject next week!