In my first column I promised to discuss how you can “buy the book
and the coin” simultaneously: purchasing books with embedded coins or
medals. These two objects simply go well together.
Why does a book about John D. Rockefeller mount a Winged Liberty
Head dime on its front cover? Since Rockefeller was America’s first
billionaire, a dime may seem inadequate for John K. Winkler’s
cleverly-titled biography, John D.: A Portrait in Oils. It
turns out, however, no coin could be more appropriate.
Rockefeller was America’s greatest rags-to-riches story. Operating
with ruthless efficiency, his Standard Oil Co. bought out countless
competitors, making him plenty of enemies in the process. Rockefeller
hired one of the pioneers in public relations, Ivy Lee, to advise on
polishing his image. One of Lee’s insights was that Rockefeller’s
philanthropy, although prodigious, had been done too quietly. He
counseled Rockefeller to give a dime — as ostentatiously as possible —
to every child he met. This he did, until he became inextricably
linked with the humble “Mercury” dime.
Given the 1929 publication date of John D.: A Portrait in
Oils, the 1927 dime on the cover of my copy may have been
Uncirculated when placed into its recess, but years of exposure to the
atmosphere have stolen its luster, rubbing against other books has
flattened its high points, and let’s not even think about what glue
has done to its reverse! However, it still is a fascinating marriage
of book and coin.
So is The Lincoln Centennial Medal, which is indeed a medal, but
also the title of the book that serves as its gilt-edged case. During
1908, a year before the centennial of “Honest Abe’s” birth, several
commemorations were under way, from preserving the Lincoln farm and
birthplace near Hodgenville, Ky., to building a transcontinental
Lincoln Road, a forerunner of today’s interstate highways. The Lincoln
Centennial Medal and its sister volume, The Lincoln Tribute
Book, joined in this parade of honor by presenting informative
essays literally wrapped around quality medals. The centennial medal
of the book’s title is a high-relief bronze 62 millimeters in
diameter, with Lincoln in profile looking left on the obverse and, on
the reverse, a mixed wreath of palm and oak, enclosing Lincoln’s
facsimile autograph incised into the surface. The medal rests in a
die-cut opening within a thick pasteboard insert that is bound into
the middle of the volume and can be detached for display.
One of the essays, by George N. Olcott, tells about the medal’s
sculptor, Jules Edouard Roine of Paris, and about the imagery he
employed. We learn that palm symbolizes resilience, and oak was given
to Romans who saved the lives of fellow citizens, hence the choice of
these leaves for the wreath. Giving the book another numismatic
connection is its dedication to Archer M. Huntington, then president
of the American Numismatic Society.
How much will these fascinating book-coin hybrids cost? You can
buy John D. from a numismatic bookseller for little more than the cost
of the embedded dime. Lincoln Centennial is rarer, and costlier, but
no more than a garden variety Uncirculated Morgan dollar.
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.