By David Hill for American Numismatic Society (ANS) ……
From time to time at the ANS Library, we still get books and other numismatic items from the library of Gordon Frost, a warmly remembered friend of the American Numismatic Society who passed away over 10 years ago. Frost was a devoted collector of numismatic literature, and when he died in 2011, his basement library in Queens, New York, was overflowing with it. Thanks to Frost’s wife Rosalie, and the persistent efforts of ANS fellows Normand Pepin and Scott Miller, we have been the recipient of all kinds of interesting items from Frost’s collection over the years.
Recently, I was looking through some of the odds and ends that Scott had brought in, and a couple of old newspapers in particular caught my eye.
Though they were published nearly 30 years apart, both carry at least a portion of the same column – basically a list and description of varieties of US cents beginning with the first in 1793. The Mohawk Standard of Delta, N.Y. (April 1886) ran it under the title, History of U.S. Cents. The Luzerne Union of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania (August 24, 1859), stuck with the original title: About Cents.
In both cases the column is signed “A. S.”, and, if you’re like me, you might see those initials and the year 1859 and think “Augustus Sage”. But we would be wrong.
As discussed a few years ago in the E-Sylum, the writer was Augustine Shurtleff (1826–1901), a Massachusetts physician who helped found the Boston Numismatic Society in 1860. He was a collector of at least some Greek and Roman pieces, as well as American tokens, medals, and coins—these being among the coins in his bequest to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. In 1863, nearly 40 years before he died, some of his collection was sold by W. Elliot Woodward.
ANS member and large cent enthusiast Jim Neiswinter considers Shurtleff’s article—which first appeared in the March 1, 1859, issue of the Boston Evening Transcript—to be the “first published variety study of Large Cents.” In fact, Jim thought so much of it as a landmark that he named his second book after it: About Cents II.
When the article appeared in the Mohawk Standard, it was serialized. The copy we received from the Frost library is number two in the series, covering the years 1795–1799. It is also just the second number of the Mohawk Standard, so the first installment of About Cents must have appeared in its debut issue. A comparison of the text of the article in the two different publications shows that the latter one was not an exact reprint. In the 1859 version, for example, Shurtleff listed “five well-marked varieties” for the year 1795. By 1886, the number had become four. I don’t know if Shurtleff had anything to do with updating the column when it appeared 27 years after its debut, but I do know that the Mohawk Standard still lacked a chronological follow-up, since it posted the following notice: “We have a description of the U.S. Cents down to 1858. If someone will send us a description from that date down to the present, we shall be grateful.”
As it turns out, the library already had a couple of issues of the Mohawk Standard prior to receiving the Frost copy. Published in Delta, New York, “in the interest of collectors,” the publication contains numismatic content written by a collector from that town, Dr. Charles Edward Fraser, one of whose articles was a rundown of cents similar to Shurtleff’s. His discussion of the 1806 cent gives a glimpse into his own collection. He said the finest he ever saw had been offered by the Chapman brothers for $125 and that “the next finest specimen is in my own collection.” That one, he said, “was found while tearing down a building at Delta in 1868, and forms the nucleus of my present cabinet of coins.”
Fraser also wrote about his collection of Conder Tokens for both the Mohawk Standard and The Numismatist. In 1879, he did the catalog for the sale of some of J.E. Barratt’s collection, but he may have stepped outside of his comfort zone when it came to the Roman portion of the collection. The American Journal of Numismatics saw the prices realized for coins he had touted in that category and concluded, “his knowledge of the value of ancient coins seems to have been somewhat limited.”
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