US Coins

American Numismatic Society reawakens: Bowers

The Joys of Collecting column from the May 2, 2016, Monthly issue of Coin World:

Located on the 11th floor of 75 Varick St. in New York City, the American Numismatic Society today is a dynamic organization with the greatest numismatic library in America and, perhaps tied with the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian, the greatest institutional collection.

Actually, the two are very different. If you want to be amazed by Colonial coins and large copper cents, the ANS has everything. If you want to see the be-all and end-all in American gold coins, go to the Smithsonian. To learn more about the ANS check the Internet.

The hobby (or is it an industry?) of coin collecting has a rich history dating back to the 19th century. I find this to be fascinating to explore. The ANS is a vital part of that.

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As mentioned in recent columns, the society was founded New York City in 1858. In this year and in 1859 it was a brilliant comet in the numismatic sky and held many meetings. Then it flared out and disappeared, or seemed to. 

Lo and behold, at the home of George H. Perine, M.D., on Jan. 23, 1864, a meeting of the ANS was held. In attendance were Mortimer S. Brown, Isaac J. Greenwood, Edward Groh, Frank H. Norton, James Oliver, and Dr. Perine — several old members plus the new face of Perine. Enthusiasm must have prevailed, for another meeting took place March 11, at which time the name of the group was changed to the American Numismatic and Archaeological Society, probably in an effort to appeal to a wider population than just the numismatic community. The society had a collection, including some coins, tokens, and medals from the earlier days. 

On Monday, April 4, 1864, the Metropolitan Sanitary Fair opened in New York City, proceeds to benefit sick and wounded soldiers.

Along with hundreds of paintings and many exhibits in a large building on 14th Street near Sixth Avenue, the ANS had an exhibit of interesting coins dating back to ancient times. 

April 27, 1865, the ANS commissioned local engraver Emil Sigel, well-known for his many Civil War tokens, to create a 3-inch medal depicting recently martyred President Lincoln. A die broke and many other problems beset the project. Not until April 1866 were medals available for subscribers, by which time the martyred president had been dead for a year. Today such medals are rare and highly prized.

The motto of the ANS is “Parva Ne Pareant,” which translates to “Let not the little things perish,” the “little things” being, of course, coins. What with coins threatened with oblivion by electronic payments, we all hope that from the lowly cent to the Sacagawea and Native American dollars to the American Buffalo gold $50 whatever-it-is (it takes many times face value to buy one), that coins do not disappear anytime soon.

Not to worry, as my new 70th edition Guide Book informs me that last year 8,766,322,410 Lincoln cents were struck, or more than two for every man, woman, and child in America.

At the ANS meeting of March 22, 1866, it was announced that the society’s cabinet held more than 1,700 coins, medals, and tokens. All was well — onward and upward with dynamism!

But more good things were to come.

In May of that year, the American Journal of Numismatics was launched by the ANS, the first such magazine. Until then, information was available only on a catch-as-catch-can basis — information in auction catalogs, some erudite and some naïve.

Now for the first time there was a well-written and -edited source to learn of new discoveries, to contemplate auction prices, to post and answer queries, and to comment on what was happening. 

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