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Edgar Holmes Adams – Coin Collector

Coin collector, numismatic researcher, author, and editor. Businessman. Olympic swimmer. Born April 7, 1868, in Grafton, West Virginia. Died May 5, 1940, in Bayville, New York.Numismatic Affiliations: ANA #785 (served as Governor, 1907-08; editor of The Numismatist, 1912-15); ANS.

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Edgar H. Adams notes on 1796 Eagles from his untitled personal notebook of United States Gold Varieties. This notebook was sold by Stack’s Bowers on 8/7/20 for $5.760. Image: Stack’s Bowers.
Edgar H. Adams notes on 1796 Eagles from his untitled personal notebook of United States Gold Varieties. This notebook was sold by Stack’s Bowers on 8/7/20 for $5.760. Image: Stack’s Bowers.

In 1880, the young Edgar Holmes Adams was accidentally shot in the leg after tripping over a shotgun that was dropped by a friend; this left him crippled for much of his early life. It was at this time that he is believed to have been living with his grandmother, three aunts, and his younger sister in Clarksville, Ohio.

Adams married Sarah E. Kelly, a New York native of Scotch-Irish ancestry, in 1895, and at some point before 1900, he moved to New York City. His 1900 address was 110 East 22nd Street, New York, New York. Adams began writing about numismatics for the New York Sun newspaper in 1900. He took a job writing for the New York Timesin 1906.

It was around this time that Adams took up swimming as a competitive sport, soon representing the United States as a swimmer in the 1904 Summer Olympics held in St. Louis, Missouri. There he won a silver medal in the plunge for distance event – a “sport” regarded dubiously by many in the swimming world and which would soon disappear from international competition.

He joined the American Numismatic Association (ANA) in 1905, and is known to have attended the 1908 ANA Convention in Philadelphia and the 1909 ANA Convention in Montreal.

Adams served as the fourth editor of The Numismatist (1912-1915) and was the first to take a salary. He was also the author of several of his period’s standard numismatic references. Adams specialized in patterns, trial pieces, and territorial and private gold issues. According to Q. David Bowers, Adams was the “most prolific numismatic researcher of the first half of the 20th century.” Adams was also the author of the landmark book Official Premium List of United States, Private and Territorial Gold Coins (1909) and Private Gold Coinage of California, 1849-55, It’s History and Its Issues (1913, PDF Link).

Edgar H. Adams notes on 1796 Eagles from his untitled personal notebook of United States Gold Varieties. This notebook was sold by Stack’s Bowers on 8/7/20 for $5.760. Image: Stack’s Bowers.
Edgar H. Adams notes on 1796 Eagles from his untitled personal notebook of United States Gold Varieties. This notebook was sold by Stack’s Bowers on 8/7/20 for $5.760. Image: Stack’s Bowers.

In Premium List, Adams revealed what would now be considered a shocking indifference to federal-issue gold coins struck after 1838, especially eagles and double eagles, of which he wrote “Very few of the ten-dollar pieces issued after 1804 bear a premium…” and “Not many of the double eagles command a premium, for the reason that there are only a few collectors who gather the denomination.”

On the other hand, Adams was the first to identify and publish the existence of the 1909/8 double eagle overdate, which he shared details about in the May-June, 1910, issue of The Numismatist.

Edgar Holmes Adams assisted Julius Guttag in putting together Guttag’s collection of Latin American coins. Adams also published the Catalogue of the collection of Julius Guttag, comprising the coinage of Mexico, Central America, South America, and the West Indies in 1929.

Published Catalogue with Fixed Prices, No 1. in December 1913. Co-authored United States Pattern, Trial and Experimental Pieces (1913) with future Treasury Secretary William H. Woodin. In this book, Woodin and Adams proposed a rarity scale that quantified survival rates from 501 or more (R-1) to unique (R-15).

Adams/Woodin Rarity Scale
R-1 501+ R-2 301-500 R-3 101-300 R-4 76-100 R-5 51-75
R-6 6-36 R-7 26-35 R-8 21-25 R-9 9-16 R-10 13-15
R-11 9-12 R-12 6-8 R-13 4-5 R-14 2-3 R-15 Unique

On February 11, 1911, Adams held his only public sale, the catalog for which was titled Rare Pattern Coins, Comprising Many Pattern Duplicates of Mr. William Woodin.

Later in life, Adams edited Wayte Raymond’s Coin Collector’s Journal.

Adams died at his home in Bayville after a long illness.

In 2014, Adams was inducted into the PCGS CoinFacts Coin Dealer Hall of Fame.

Sales of Edgar Holmes Adams

Image: Kolbe & Fanning.
Image: Kolbe & Fanning.

Catalogue of Auction Sale of Rare Pattern Coins. Comprising Many Pattern Duplicates in Different Metals, and of Various Denominations, Belonging to Mr. William H. Woodin, of New York City. Among Them the Excessively Rare Commercial Dollar of 1875, the Famous “Schoolgirl” Dollar of Barber of 1879, Gold 1880 Barber Stella in Proof, Six Bright Red Copper Half Dollars of 1877, Each of Different Design, “Washlady” Silver Dollar, “Washlady” Half Dollar and Quarter in Copper, Longacre 1872 Commercial Dollar, 1863 Dollar with Motto, Aluminum, and Many Other Rarities. New York. February 10, 1911.

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Sources

Bowers, Q. David. Virgil Brand. Print. 14.

Lupia, III, John. Encyclopedic Dictionary of Numismatic Biographies. Website.

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CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes presents expert analysis and insights from Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker, the award-winning editors of CoinWeek.com.

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