US Coins

Editorial Opinion: The rare ability to explain complex topics in plain language

Richard (Dick) Doty was curator of the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution for 27 years. He had an ability that was unusual in the curatorial world: a way to break down complex topics into plain language.

Those who have read his books like America’s Money: America’s Story, chatted with him at an American Numismatic Association Summer Seminar or after one of his lectures, or who visited him at the Smithsonian can certainly attest to his unique ability to blend coins and history, with a dash of wit.

Doty was able to translate the often arcane jargon of numismatics into relatable concepts of history, economics and culture. In doing that he helped introduce countless new people to the hobby of coin collecting.

As Coin World columnist John Kraljevich recalls in his monthly column appearing in this issue, Doty, “understood the historical underpinnings, the economic issues, the big picture, better than most before or since.”

In what seems like a dream career for many collectors, Doty was able to turn a childhood interest in coins into a lifelong career in numismatics.

Like many collectors, he took a casual interest in coins when young, and after “paying his dues” as a professor in Iowa, New York and Guam, he joined the curatorial staff of the American Numismatic Society in New York City in 1974, and in 1986 he was appointed as a curator at the Smithsonian Institution.

As senior curator of the National Numismatic Collection, he maintained the nation’s collections of U.S. and world coins, tokens, medals, paper money and related items — an extensive group of more than 1.6 million objects ranging from ancient silver to modern credit cards.

His closing statement in the 2008 second edition of America’s Money: America’s Story foretells the challenges awaiting a new generation of researchers as they connect history with today’s money. He ended that text with a summary of the then-recent colorization of $50, $20, $10 and $5 Federal Reserve notes, issues involved with the failure of small-sized dollar coins to enjoy wide circulation and the longevity of the circulating 1-cent coin.

Doty wrote: “These developments are exciting for the hobbyist, but they are perhaps more important for the historian and student of numismatics: among other things, they proclaim that the exceptional, the unusual, and the local have by no means disappeared from America’s media of exchange, and that what appeared at first glance to be a closing door is an open one, welcoming, beckoning. Who knows where it may lead our people — and our money?”

Hopefully a new generation of scholars will continue in Doty’s research footsteps.


Steve Roach

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