By Charles Morgan for CoinWeek …..
When pursued for maximum enjoyment, numismatics concerns not only the collecting and study of coins, medals, and other objects but also the collecting and study of things that might be considered the far-flung fringes.
But it is in these “far-flung fringes” where books, pamphlets, newsletters, photographs, ephemera–even factoids and trivia–form a constellation of contextually important items that add greatly to the collector’s experience.
Of course, they say that true collectors are genetically predisposed to collect a broad array of things connected to their interests. But most dilettantes, myself included, had to start somewhere. In my case, coins came first.
It was only after I entered my third period of collecting that an interest in the hobby’s past really began to take root. I started to study the people, publications, events, and other things from the hobby’s past and see how they reverberate in the present day. In my career, I have had the good fortune of meeting many of my idols. Q. David Bowers, the “dean” of numismatic literature is read by most that take a serious interest in United States coins. Getting to know him and contribute to the publication of his book on modern dollars was a real thrill for me.
Also richly rewarding are the relationships that I’ve formed over the years with other notable figures, too many to name. For these folks, I not only collect works but also shared experiences. I am fortunate that my participation in the numismatic hobby as the editor of CoinWeek affords me this opportunity.
But what about figures from the hobby’s past? Of these individuals, my collecting is done primarily through books, objects, and second- or third-hand information. I am just as delighted picking up a new book or story about a past notable figure as I am about picking up a new coin.
So I’d like to share with you a few thoughts about a book by one of these figures of the past–early 20th-century numismatist Albert R. Frey–that I recently acquired.
Frey was a major figure in the New York City numismatic scene in the early 1900s. Born in 1858, he was active around the turn of the century, publishing books on coins and encased postage stamps. Frey joined the American Numismatic Association (ANA) in December 1900 and was given member number 225. He later adopted the number 12. In 1905, Frey was elected President of the Association. As president, he sought to strengthen the ANA’s bona fides, bringing it more up the level of his hometown American Numismatic Society (ANS) (which he joined in 1910). In 1911, he took over editorial duties on The Numismatist.
Frey’s writing was sophisticated for its time. From his ouevre, three works stand out to me. In 1901, he collaborated with “Little Eddie”, the son of firebrand Ed Frossard, to publish The Copper Coins of the United States. In 1914, he published the landmark work The Dated European Coinage Prior to 1501. And in 1917, he published Dictionary of Numismatic Names.
This week, a copy of the 1947 edition of Numismatic Names arrived at my office.
As I understand the work, it began as an article published in the American Journal of Numismatics in 1916 and was expanded upon for the purposes of the book. The 1947 edition was published two decades after Frey’s passing and features additional content in the form of a glossary that was contributed by Mark M. Salton.
The publisher of the 1947 edition took me by surprise, for it was Barnes & Noble – today, one of the few big box retailers still around. One doubts that they’d publish a new edition of a niche work like this today. My example was signed in 1948 by Dr. Jose D. Jiménez. As of now, I do not know if Dr. Jiménez was a numismatist of note, but I intend to find out what I can.
In the introductory text, Frey makes his point immediately:
The purport of the present book is a twofold one. The beginner will find in it definitions of such terms as he will encounter during his perusal of numismatic works in both English and foreign languages. The advanced student and collector will have his labors facilitated by the large number of citations of authorities which have been consulted in the preparation of this volume.
In this text he also thanks the members of the ANA, who assisted with the preparation of this work. Three of these individuals–Edward T. Newell, Howland Wood, and Sydney Nowell–are well known to many collectors.
As the Dictionary gets to work, laying out terms primarily germane to the study of world and ancient numismatics, one truly sees the brilliance of Frey’s efforts. His dictionary definitions often offer a morsel beyond what one might expect.
Take his definition of the term “Augustalis”:
A gold coin issued by the Emperor Frederick II as king of the Two Sicilies. They were struck at Brindisi from 1197 to 1220, and were valued at one and a quarter gold Guilden. The design on these pieces is copied from the Roman Aurei: the Emperor’s head is laureated, and he is clothed in Roman costume, from which fact they derive their name. Italian numismatists refer to this coin by the name of Agostaro.
As I read it, the first half is necessary to the completion of the dictionary entry and one might expect the non-numismatist to stop there. Frey completes the entry with context and an aside!
This is how Frey handles “Disme”:
A pattern of experimental coin of the United States issued in 1792, with a corresponding half. See Dime.
And looking at “Dime”, we get:
A silver coin of the United States, the tenth part of a Dollar. This coin, and its corresponding half, were authorized by Act of Congerss, April 2, 1792. The half Dime was first coined in 1794 and discontinued in 1873. The Dime was struck in 1796 and is still coined. See Disme.
What a close reading of the 260+ pages of entries makes clear to me is not only did Frey command a mastery of the subject matter but also that his prose effectively communicates the perspective of one making a serious study of a complex subject.
I’m impressed by the fact that Dictionary of Numismatic Names holds up as a work to be read, and not just as a relic to be collected.
Before I bought the book, I knew that Frey was a major figure in his time. I knew that he was commemorated in medallic form and that he had a love for Shakespeare and animals. I now know that the man’s prose has stood the test of time and I look forward to spending a future rainy afternoon learning more of what Frey had to say about my favorite hobby.
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About the Author
Charles Morgan is the editor of CoinWeek.com and is an award-winning writer and co-author of 100 Greatest Modern World Coins. He has also produced more than 500 videos and podcasts that cover a wide range of numismatic topics. Charles served on the Board of Governors of the American Numismatic Association (ANA) from 2021-2023. He is an associate member of the American Numismatic Society (ANS) and a Life Member of the Numismatic Literary Guild (NLG).