Most numismatic authors outlive their books. Roger Cohen wrote
United States Half Cents: The Little Half Sisters in 1971,
and was still alive (and very dismayed), in 1983 to see Walter
Breen’s Encyclopedia of United States Half Cents become the
go-to volume. A select few numismatic authors, however, produce books
that outlive them. The shining example is Sylvester Sage Crosby’s
Early Coins of America, still considered — 141 years after
its publication — as the standard reference on Colonial coins!
R.W. Julian’s Medals of the United States Mint: The First
Century, 1792-1892 provides a modern example of the evergreen
numismatic reference. Happily, it has not yet outlived its author, but
its four decades as the definitive catalog safely places Julian in
Connect with Coin World:
up for our free eNewsletter
Like us on
us on Twitter
The secret to the book’s longevity is quality research; Julian
practically lived in the National Archives for weeks, literally
finding reams of previously unknown information.
He divides all the medals produced by the U.S. Mint in its first
century into 14 classes, starting with those made for the members of
the annual Assay Commission, ending with Religious and Fraternal
Medals, and covering topics such as Indian Peace Medals and Life
Saving Medals in between.
Julian illustrates and describes each medal, obverse and reverse;
gives each a discrete catalog number; identifies its engraver; lists
its size and composition (gold, silver, bronze); provides a brief
history; and reveals if the original dies still repose at the Mint
(making restrikes a possibility). All of this is invaluable to the
researcher and collector, but the most fascinating parts of the book
occur when Julian exposes the ample dirty laundry that always
accumulated at the 19th century Mint.
Consider the fiasco surrounding MI-19, the Military gold medal
honoring Brig. Gen. Eleazer Ripley’s heroics during the War of 1812.
Congress authorized the medal on Nov. 3, 1814. The Mint took almost 24
years to strike it! Julian recounts the entire comedy of errors,
starting with the Mint’s foot-dragging (not until 1821 did engraver
Moritz Furst prepare the reverse). Ripley added to the problem by
stubbornly refusing, for five long years, to provide his own portrait
for the obverse. Then accusations that Ripley hadn’t participated in
the battles mentioned on the reverse stalled progress for years until
proven false. Finally, Chief Coiner Adam Eckfeldt had to pay for the
gold used to strike Ripley’s medal out of his own pocket, so it wasn’t
until 1838 — only a year before he died — that Ripley at last received
his tribute, and Eckfeldt got reimbursed (through a special act of
Congress)! That is just one case; a whole series of stories documents
the personal profiteering of Eckfeldt’s successor, Franklin Peale, who
pocketed proceeds from medals made by Mint employees, on Mint time,
with Mint material, using Mint presses.
Julian impartially catalogs the famous (Founding Fathers and
Presidents) and the forgotten (Joseph Pancoast and the Rajah of Subi).
Medals of the United States Mint requires 424 large format pages to
illuminate the first century of the Mint’s medallic output, and is
supplemented by Rich Hartzog’s Price Guides for the medals, which were
published in 1982 and 1986. Though Hartzog’s prices are obviously
outdated, Julian’s medallic masterpiece is timeless; buy it from
numismatic booksellers without fear it will ever become obsolete.