US Coins

Archer Huntington plays role in ANS history

Archer M. Huntington, right, became absorbed with ANS activities, so much so he was elected the numismatic society’s president in 1905. He was the primary donor leading to construction of the ANS building, dedicated in 1908.

Original images courtesy of Q. David Bowers.

The Joys of Collecting colum from the June 6, 2016, Monthly issue of Coin World:

The American Numismatic Society, founded March 15, 1858, is the longest-established such group in the United States.

Beginning in May 1866, the ANS published the American Journal of Numismatics. Four years later the journal was given to the Boston Numismatic Society, which published it quarterly until 1907, when it was given back to the ANS.

About 10 years ago, I proposed the publication of a popular history of the ANS, for its 150th anniversary in 2008.

Although councilor Charles Anderson and the Whitman Publishing Co. were interested and wanted to learn more at the time, I was informed that there were other plans within the ANS to do such a book.

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So, I stopped working on an outline. This was probably beneficial for me, as a number of other books were written instead — on subjects that were more of a popular nature. 

Difficult years

The years 1903 and 1904 were difficult for the ANS. Meetings over the years had been held in various places in New York City, including for a long time in the University Building, but the group had to relocate when the building was demolished.  The spark of growth seems to have expired, and merger discussions were held with the New-York Historical Society (this group still retains the hyphen in its name). This idea was rejected, and several of the ANS leaders resigned.

Enter an angel in the form of Archer M. Huntington (1870 to 1955), an heir to the fortune of his stepfather, Collis P. Huntington of Central Pacific Railroad and Union Pacific Railroad fame. Archer, the son of Arabella Duval (Yarrington) Worsham, of Alabama, took the surname Huntington when his mother married Collis. As was true of Collis’ cronies — Western railroad millionaires Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker and Mark Hopkins (together with Collis known as the “big four”) — his fortune largely flowed from monopolistic exploitation of farmers and other rail customers, immense grants to the railroads by the government, and the bribing of politicians — a sorry chapter in American history. Today, the family names are somewhat sanitized by the monuments left by these men — including Stanford University and Huntington Gardens (Henry Huntington’s home in San Marino, Calif.). That said, numismatics can collectively thank Collis for the fortune that drifted down to Archer, who revitalized the ANS and changed its life forever. Archer, if not a born collector, came close. He started saving unusual coins at the age of 9. On Jan. 16, 1899, he joined the ANS. At the time he lived in Baychester, a section of the Bronx in New York City. Spanish studies were his specialty.

A new home

Earlier, Archer had published A Notebook in Northern Spain. By that time he was a benefactor to various organizations. In 1904 he would establish the Hispanic Society of America and finance a beautiful Beaux-Arts building on Audubon Terrace, on Broadway between 155th and 156th streets. Today the building remains as the Hispanic Society’s headquarters.

Archer became absorbed with the ANS, and on Jan. 16, 1905, he was elected president. He had an idea: Why not build a magnificent home for the society on Audubon Terrace next to the one he was creating for the Hispanic Society? Without the slightest hesitation, the ANS moved forward, with Archer being the main donor. Archer purchased the necessary lots.

Construction proceeded apace, and the new building, a veritable temple of stone, was dedicated on April 6, 1908, which was mistakenly thought to be the 50th anniversary of the founding of the ANS. (March 15 was the correct date). 

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