US Coins

'Plain Talk' almost became the ANA's journal

The newspaper "Plain Talk," aimed at youth, included a coin column by Charles Tatman. The newspaper almost became the official journal of the ANA.

Original image provided by the author.

The "Numismatic Bookie" column from the July 18, 2016, issue of Coin World:

Last month, we discussed the “long, strange trip” taken by The Numismatist to become the official journal of the American Numismatic Association. This month we focus on The Numismatist’s unofficial predecessor as the ANA’s official journal: the monthly newspaper Plain Talk, and its coin columnist, Charles T. Tatman. 

Dr. George Heath started The Numismatist as a private publication in 1888. In his February 1891 issue, he advocated the creation of the ANA. In the July issue, he nominated a slate of officers. Heath also suggested that since his candidate for secretary, Tatman, was Plain Talk’s coin columnist, that paper should be the ANA’s “official organ.”

Heath’s gift as a politician rivaled his skill as a physician. His suggested officers haled from strategic regions of the United States and Canada. Tatman represented the East Coast, was a fine writer, and a rising star in numismatics. Since March 1891, he had conducted the “Coin Department” of Plain Talk, a New York-based, nationally distributed monthly newspaper for youth, with regular columns on several hobbies. 

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Tatman’s first Plain Talk column, for March 1891, echoed Heath’s question in February’s issue of The Numismatist: “Why should there not be an American Numismatic Association?” By May, with Heath’s blessing, he was prepared to lead the charge: “The American Numismatic Association! Collectors of coins are waking up to the fact that they need a national society. Let all who desire to band the body of collectors together with fraternal ties express themselves through Plain Talk.” July’s “Coin Department” announced welcome news: “It has now become a sure thing that an American Numismatic Association will be formed this year.” The next month, Tatman published the first ANA membership roster, with Heath member #1 and Tatman member #2. A total of 25 pioneers were listed, including combative dealer Ed Frossard, at #14.

Tatman’s September 1891 column announced that all ANA members (by then, 26), had voted for Dr. Heath’s slate of officers, so Tatman was the ANA’s secretary. No action was taken, however, on Heath’s suggestion that Plain Talk should become its journal. Tatman acted as if it was, issuing a detailed report in his November column on the first ANA convention, held in Chicago the month prior. This coverage continued into 1892, although with occasional errors. In The Numismatist for May 1892, Heath couldn’t resist asking “… Brother Tatman to please make our friend Frossard, Counterfeit Detector, instead of Counterfeit Director.” 

In The Numismatist for June 1892, Heath announced that at the next convention, ANA members would be asked to formally choose an official organ; either “Plain Talk as at present” or The Numismatist. Heath’s next announcement, however, rendered this “choice” meaningless: “Secretary Tatman, owing to absence in Europe, has resigned as Secretary of the ANA…he will not be able to conduct the Numismatic Department in Plain Talk the coming year.” The Numismatist became official journal by default.

Tatman, as we shall see next month, returned to provide an important service to the ANA from 1893 to 1895, but thereafter, due to his busy law practice, he withdrew from numismatics. Assembling a complete set of Plain Talk during his time as coin columnist (March 1891 to May 1892) constitutes a major challenge for any dedicated numismatic bibliophile! 

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