Researcher exhaustively studies medallic representations of George Washington

Results published in illustrated two-volume work
By , Special to Coin World
Published : 12/15/16
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Generally imprecise engraving made do for illustrations and much basic information it might have been expected to provide was absent. 

I was able to examine a nearly pristine copy of Snowden in the library of Stack’s in the firm’s Midtown New York City office in 1995 while preparing my article for the American Numismatic Society’s Coinage of the Americas Conference. I could see that while possession of the Snowden book conferred glorious bragging rights for its owner, it actually offered little truly useful information to the researcher.

Before dissolution of the Stack’s library in 2012, I also glimpsed a mournful sight — an original printing of William Spohn Baker’s 1885 Medallic Portraits of Washington, housed in a stout manila envelope to keep its sea of disintegrating paper in one place.

In active use was the 1965 Krause Publications hardcover Baker reprint-update on glossy stock with revisions and illustrations by the late Dr. George Fuld.

Baker divided Washingtoniana into topics or categories from Colonial coins through spielmarken. He numbered each entry continuously without leaving space for future additions. “Baker” numbers were thus riveted onto the field, first in Fuld’s 1965 effort and then in the far more ambitious “Centennial Edition” of 1985 and the final 1999 volume prepared by Fuld and the late Russell Rulau. 

As their listings expanded, it was harder and harder to preserve Baker’s numbers, which now became confused and virtually incoherent. The reader had to memorize the newer editions’ layout to be able to find any desired item as numbers were not continuous.

My independent review of the 1985 Baker was joined by my examination of another strange opus by one Francis Pessolano-Filos offered by Eros Press, that offered an oddly assorted and colorfully misdescribed run of Washington medals. Little used, this effort contained and therefore perpetuated numerous factual errors and bizarre attributions. It sank from sight except for copies lurking on a few library shelves. 

In 1999, what was really a third edition of Baker appeared from Krause though still styled “2nd Edition.” It had been promised that this new volume would contain many additions and corrections made available by this reviewer and other interested researchers, but the new hardcover book was rushed to press to coincide with a promised auction of the Dr. Irving N. Schuster Collection, which never took place. 

Neither Rulau nor Fuld were enthusiastic at the prospect of extensive change, and in fact none appeared. Baker had now achieved the status of “holy writ,” making “tampering” with traditional wording perilous.

Both Fuld and Rulau have since died. Rulau had received all rights and materials relating to Baker from Krause’s later owners before his death. Never comfortable with computerization, Rulau had kept the Baker pages and source materials in hard copy including typed and handwritten file cards in his home office. 

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