Is it possible for you to own a numismatic library without owning a
Yes, and it’s no mystery how; literature abounds with plots
featuring coins, especially in detective stories. So many money-themed
Sherlock Holmes tales fill the canon that Holmes-reading numismatists
recently formed a club, The Fourth Garrideb.
Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe chased a privately minted gold
piece in The High Window, better known under its reissued
title, The Brasher Doubloon.
My favorite numismatic whodunit is Ellery Queen’s The Mystery of
the President’s Half Disme.
Ellery Queen appeared to be his own Dr. Watson, writing prolifically
about his exploits from 1929 to 1971. “Ellery Queen,” however, was
actually the joint pseudonym of Brooklyn-born cousins Frederic Dannay
and Manfred B. Lee, except that Dannay was born Daniel Nathan, and Lee
was born Manford Lepofsky.
So Nathan/Dannay and Lee/Lepofsky were Ellery Queen, except when
they wrote four mysteries under another joint pseudonym, Barnaby Ross.
As Ellery, the cousins were detective royalty. Their novels, short
stories, anthologies, radio and TV series, movies, and even their own
monthly mystery magazine, made Ellery America’s favorite mid-century sleuth.
With so many bases to cover, the cousins pioneered recycling,
routinely meeting deadlines by reusing plots under different titles.
According to Francis M. Nevins, in Ellery Queen: The Art of
Detection, the third episode of NBC Radio’s series “The Adventures
of Ellery Queen” for 1942, broadcast Feb. 19 to 21, was titled “George
Queen expanded that radio script into a short story for
Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine for
February 1947, under the title “The President’s Half Disme.”
The cousins next used the story to fill February’s slot in their
anthology Calendar of Crime (1951). It has since been
republished in other anthologies, such as in Haycraft’s and Beecroft’s
Ten Great Mysteries (1959).
The plot features an intellectual battle royal between the king of
sleuths and the father of his country. Ellery is summoned to the
Clarke farm, a few miles south of Philadelphia, where Washington
supposedly buried, in a copper case crafted by Paul Revere, a 1791
half disme, underneath one of a grove of oaks.
(Dannay was enough of a numismatist to know that half dismes weren’t
struck in 1791; I won’t reveal the inventive explanation.)
But every oak has been felled, every stump pulled, every hole dug
beneath, and there is still no sign of Revere’s handiwork holding the
unique half disme.
Ellery wrestles with George Washington’s ghost, even chops down a
cherry tree, and deduces where in the grove the president buried the
first coin struck by the United States, just as dawn is breaking: on
Unless you insist on first editions, you can build a library of
literature about coins for a mysteriously low sum. You can fill a
bookshelf with numismatic mysteries for $100 or less.
Only Ellery Queen could explain why anyone wouldn’t do it!