By Hubert Walker for CoinWeek ….
With contributions by Karl Newman
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You can hardly be blamed for taking the man’s immortality for granted; he’d made it all the way to 106, after all. But as each of us went about our business Wednesday, secure if not content in the status quo of our lives, the sad news finally broke: Eric P. Newman had died.
The coin hobby’s celebrated centenarian, Eric Pfeiffer Newman was a noted numismatist, author, coin collector and philanthropist. He was born in St. Louis, Missouri on May 25, 1911 to Samuel Elijah Newman, a surgeon, and Rose Newman (née Pfeiffer), a pianist. He first became fascinated by coins when his grandfather Adolph Pfeiffer gave him an 1859 Indian Head cent while Newman was a young boy, and his parents, quick to appreciate the broad multidisciplinary education that numismatics provides, made sure to encourage his new-found interest.
By the age of 10, Newman would use most of his weekly allowance of five cents to take the streetcar downtown to the St. Louis Stamp and Coin Company. It was here that he met another of the great mentors in his life, the one who taught him the value of learning about coins and inspired him to a lifetime of teaching others about numismatics. The 36-year-old Burdette G. Johnson was the owner and operator of St. Louis Stamp and Coin. He was a self-taught numismatist with an impressive working memory, apparently memorizing an entire 20-volume set of books on world history, and he saw something of himself in the young Eric when he first met the boy in his coin shop. During one of his visits to Johnson’s store, Newman wanted to buy a particular coin that he didn’t know anything about. Johnson famously refused to sell it to him, handing Newman a book on the type–along with instructions to come back only once he’d read it and to tell Johnson what he had learned.
The experience would be one of the great turning points in Eric Newman’s life.
After Newman graduated from John Burroughs School, a private prep school in the suburbs of St. Louis, in 1928, he enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It was here that he met the legendary collector and Wall Street heir “Colonel” E.H.R. Green. As the story goes, Newman and some classmates were using a crystal shortwave radio to communicate with the expedition of Admiral Richard E. Byrd to the Antarctic but their equipment created a lot of static and frustration. When Col. Green found out about the problem his youthful numismatic friend was having, he gave Newman and his group free reign to use Green’s personal radio station based at Round Hill, Massachusetts.
And not only does this story speak to the power of numismatic camaraderie that we in the hobby are often lucky to know for ourselves, but Newman and his friends even managed to save the life of one of the expedition members who was suffering from appendicitis at the South Pole! Col. Green came to MIT to thank them all personally, obviously very impressed with his numismatist friend.
After earning a bachelor’s of science degree in 1932, Newman found a part-time job with the law firm of Taylor, Chasnoff and Wilson. He then went on to matriculate from Washington University in St. Louis with a Doctor of Law degree in 1935 and returned to work for the firm in a more official capacity. But Washington University would continue to be important to him and his commitment to education for the rest of his life.
This is also when Newman first joined the American Numismatic Association (ANA). He would go on to be a member for the next 82 years.
A year later in 1936, Colonel Green died. Familiar with his friend’s collection, Newman wanted to purchase a particular 1861 $5 St. Louis Demand Note but heard no response from Chase National Bank, the executor of Green’s estate. Newman wrote again, emphasizing his personal connection to Green. This time the bank replied, but only to tell him that he would have to buy all 40 lots of Missouri notes in the collection. Undeterred, Newman mustered up the $600 appraised value of the notes from his still very supportive family.
Upon this successful purchase, Newman told his mentor Burdette Johnson about it and the rest of the Green collection. Johnson then fronted Newman the cash to buy almost all of what remained – including the only five-known 1913 Liberty Head nickels. He let Newman keep whatever he wanted and took a selection of equal value for himself.
In 1938, Newman co-founded the Missouri Numismatic Society and served as its first vice president. He also served as the secretary-treasurer of the Central States Numismatic Society (CSNS) in 1939. Newman’s first published numismatic work (on the paper money of the state of Missouri) appeared in 1941.
The year 1939 would also see another of the great turning points in his life when he married Evelyn Edison, the love of his long life and the scion of a successful local shoe store. He had first noticed her when he saw Evelyn wearing a necklace made of coins while Newman was at her family’s store (he would later leave his law firm in 1944 to work for Edison Brothers Stores, becoming an executive vice president in 1968 and staying with the company for 43 years).
Evelyn and Eric Newman were important fixtures in the St. Louis social scene, known and respected for their philanthropy and business acumen for over 70 years. Many of the institutions and educational efforts they helped fund centered around Eric P. Newman’s love of numismatics. The pair created the Eric P. Newman Foundation in 1958 and the Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society (EPNNES) in 1981. In 2003, the couple gave $2 million to the Washington University Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts to launch the Newman Money Museum at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum. Opening in 2006, the museum’s 3,000-square-foot space features permanent and rotating exhibits (including portions of Newman’s own famous collection, owned by the EPNNES), parts of Eric Newman’s numismatic library and a research workspace.
And with the multiple sales of the Newman Collection of U.S. coins and paper money, the Eric P. & Evelyn Newman Foundation has received around $60 million from the auction proceeds (as of 2015). One major initiative resulting from those funds is the ambitious Newman Numismatic Portal, which seeks to digitize the vast quantity of numismatic literature and ephemera that has been produced over the last two centuries and make it accessible online free of charge to any and all researchers and coin enthusiasts.
But beyond numismatics, both Evelyn and Eric were passionate world travelers, visiting more than 150 countries over their lifetimes. Their experiences abroad informed both their hobbies and their philanthropic endeavors.
They also had two children, Linda Newman Shapiro and Andrew E. Newman. Evelyn died on September 1, 2015 at the age of 95 after a long and successful life in her own right. November 29 of this year would’ve been the couple’s 78th wedding anniversary.
While Newman’s collection United States Federal and Colonial coins and paper money was one of the finest private collections ever assembled, he was just as well-known for his research and numismatic scholarship – most of which went into over a dozen books and numerous articles and essays.
His books include: The 1776 Continental Currency Coinage: Varieties of the Fugio Cent (1952); Coinage for Colonial Virginia (1957, 1962); The Fantastic 1804 Dollar (1962; tribute edition 2009), co-written with Kenneth Bressett; Nature Printing on Colonial and Continental Currency (1964); The Early Paper Money of America (1967, 1976, 1990, 1997); American Circulation of English and Bungtown Halfpence (1976); The Eagle That Is Forgotten: Pierre Eugene Du Simitiere, Founding Father of American Numismatics (1988); The Dollar $ign: Its Written and Printed Origins (1995); and U.S. Coin Scales and Counterfeit Coin Detectors (2000), co-written with A. George Mallis.
He joined the American Numismatic Society (ANS) in 1944 and served in a multitude of positions with the organization over the next several decades. One of the most notable of these positions being as an instructor at the ANS Graduate Student Summer Seminars, beginning in 1952.
For more information about his career, please check out the recent biography Truth Seeker: The Life of Eric P. Newman (2016), written by Len Augsburger, Roger Burdette, and Joel Orosz, and edited by James Halperin for Ivy Press.
In fact, it was author and Newman Portal curator Len Augsburger who sent out notice of Newman’s death. According to Augsburger’s statement, there will be no service or memorial.
Eric P. Newman: Honors and Awards
Below is a sampling of the various awards and honors that Eric P. Newman garnered throughout his long career in numismatics:
- 1959: ANA Heath Literary Award (“The Continental Dollar of 1776 Meets its Maker”)
- 1960: ANA 25-Year Membership Award
- 1964: Heath Literary Award (“Nature of Printing of Colonial and Continental Currency”)
- 1964: ANA Medal of Merit
- 1965: Roosevelt University Lecturer in Numismatics Award
- 1966: Heath Literary Award (“Sources of Emblems and Mottoes”)
- 1966: Western Pennsylvania Numismatic Award
- 1969: ANA Farran Zerbe Memorial Award
- 1972: New Orleans ANA Honoris Causa Award
- 1978: ANS Archer Milton Huntington Award
- 1982: Numismatic Literary Guild (NLG) Clemy Award
- 1985: ANA 50-Year Membership Award
- 1989: ANS Endowment Medal No. 4
- 1991: Medal of the Royal Numismatic Society
- 1992: Commendation from the Commonwealth of Virginia (House Joint Resolution No. 271) of the Commonwealth of Virginia
- 1993: ANA Exemplary Service Award
- 1996: ANA Numismatist of the Year
- 1996: ANS Gold Membership Medal for Distinguished Service
- 1997: ANA Lifetime Achievement Award
- 1999: Colonial Coin Collectors Club (C4) Lifetime Achievement Award
- 2001: Burnett Anderson Memorial Award for Excellence in Numismatic Writing (Awarded jointly by the ANA, ANS, and NLG)
- 2007: Central States Lifetime Achievement Award
- 2010: ANA 75-Year Membership Award
- 2011: Rittenhouse Society Gold Medal
- 2013: PCGS Set Registry Hall of Fame
- 2015: Heath Literary Award (“18th-Century Writings on the Continental Currency Dollar Coins”)
- 2015: Wayte and Olage Raymond Memorial Award
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