By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek ….
114 years ago today, Dr. George Francis Heath died at his home in Monroe, Michigan. He was 57 years old.
Heath was a larger-than-life figure, both in physical stature (numismatic writer Jack Ogilvie once wrote that the doctor was “big, fat, and good-natured”) and in the role he played in his community on Monroe. He was not only a leading physician in the community but was also elected mayor three times.
In 1888, Heath debuted a four-page pamphlet called The American Numismatist. The publication attracted a small but loyal following in the succeeding years, becoming the mouthpiece of a growing hobby in the United States. The response it garnered from other collectors – eager to learn from and trade with their fellows but stymied by their isolation from each other – inspired Heath to work towards establishing a national organization to facilitate the community he so enthusiastically wanted.
The February 1891 issue of Heath’s Numismatist famously asked “What is the matter with having an American Numismatic Association?”, and by October 8 of that year the American Numismatic Association (ANA) was born.
Heath was a co-founder.
For his role in founding the ANA and bringing collectors together from all across the U.S. into a singular organization, Heath was given ANA member number 1.
From 1892 to 1894, Heath served as the Association’s second president (the first was William G. Jerrems, in case you were wondering). Heath proposed that the ANA hold annual conventions so that the hobby’s leading collectors could meet once a year to share their expertise, exhibit their collections and share in a brotherhood of friendship.
The early ANA had all of the characteristics of a small and elite club; many of its early members are still known today to serious students of the hobby.
Intriguingly, in addition to his work on The American Numismatist, Heath assumed the nom de plume “Numismatic Sphinx” for a column he wrote for American Boy magazine, starting in January 1900.
In that regard, Heath introduced countless boys to the hobby of coin collecting.
After his death, Heath’s friend Howland Wood managed the sale of his collection. Beyond coins, Heath collected ancient pottery, antiques, and literature.
On what would have been the occasion of his 75th birthday in 1925, the Association that Heath brought to life raised a sum of $652 to place a memorial stone at Heath’s gravesite.