US Coins

New book explores early collections and exhibits

The Joys of Collecting column from the Jan. 9, 2017, weekly issue of Coin World:

Almost from day one of my interest in coin collecting I have found numismatic history to be one of my favorite specialties. I have written a lot on this since 1961, when this column first appeared. As you read these words I am about to send the manuscript for my latest book off to Whitman: The History of Coin Collecting in America. It incorporates a lot of information I did not use in earlier books and articles.

For a long time I have been track­ing down information on early museums. The first, the American Museum, was established by Pierre Eugène Du Simitière shortly after the Revolution, and contained no fewer than nine Massachusetts silver coins and seven Higley coppers! Dr. Joel Orosz wrote a book about Du Simitière.

More obscure and probably unpublished — I had never heard of it until in recent times — the North Carolina Museum in Raleigh, which was opened in 1818 by Jacob Marling, a talented artist, either had a display of coins or wanted one — as advertisements stated that any donors of such would be recognized. So far I have found little else, other than that, a few years later, the premises were occupied by a church.

The Kunze Cabinet of Coins and Medals formed by Rev. John Christopher Kunze was donated to the New-York Historical Society by his heirs on July 14, 1818. It was featured for a while, then was stolen. Exactly what it contained and where the pieces are today is unknown.

The best-documented early public display was at the New York State Library, which in 1856 published a detailed catalog. P.T. Barnum’s American Museum in New York City consistently advertised coins and medals, but no listing has been found.

In the new book is a section on the famous 1804 dollar. Correspondence by William E. DuBois, co-curator of the Mint Cabinet, reveals that on July 12, 1843, Matthew A. Stickney of Salem, Mass., was sent a Class I 1804 dollar for which he had negotiated a trade during a Mint visit on May 9. This was traded in part for a 1785 Immune Columbia coin struck over a 1775 British gold sovereign, some Massachusetts silver coins, and some other pieces.

Years later, by 1864, Stickney owned or had available another 1804 dollar, probably a newly minted Class II piece, that he offered to George Seavy. The first detailed showcasing of the 1804 dollar as a great rarity seems to have been done by W.C. Prime in Coins, Medals, and Seals, 1861, although it had been mentioned in 1858 by Joseph Mickley. 

I like 1804 dollars and in 1999 wrote a book about them. (Thanks to Charles Davis for recent correspondence on this.)

If you have unpublished information on obscure early collections you can share, write to me. I can also use inventories of coins owned or exhibited by museums and colleges prior to 1861 that had American coins (except for the New York State Libruary) But hurry. The deadline is close.

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