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History and Numismatics

By Harvey G. Stack, Senior Numismatic Consultant

Author: Stack's Bowers Galleries / Friday, January 25, 2013 / Categories: Harvey G. Stack Remembers
The numismatic world has a new commemorative dollar to collect -- the Presidential series. Or, one could also collect the gold half ounce “First Lady” series. As these new coins are released into the market they remind us of past presidents and the families of our forefathers. They also pique our interest in the history, lore and character of each presidential family. It brings us closer to those who formed our nation and led it as it grew. Each presidency has its own stories and this history has always excited thoughts and imaginations.

Most recently, the cable network HBO ran a series about John Adams, our second president. The story of Adams and his family, before during and after his presidency has stimulated interest in national history and the coins further enhance our appreciation of these great figures of the past.

It will be awhile before George H.W. Bush and his son George W. Bush will appear on dollar coinage. Yet those interested in the stories of their lives will have to study the past to learn more about them. In the New York Times Magazine section, dated July 22, 2007, an interesting story appeared discussing George Bush I (1796-1859), which told of one of the ancestors of the Bush family. Certain background deserves to be added to the biographies of the two Bush presidents.

According to Ted Widmer who wrote the New York Times article, George Bush (1796-1859) was a first cousin of George W. Bush’s great-great-great grandfather. He was very interested in esoteric religions and his opinions were described as liberal and he was profoundly interested in the traditions of the Mideast. He can be found in the 20th-century Dictionary of American Biography, in which no other Bush family member was mentioned. He read so incessantly that his parents became concerned. He later entered the ministry but his controversial attitudes left him with no church to go to. He considered himself a specialist, predicting the Second Coming.

By 1831 he had become a professor of Hebrew and Oriental languages and had published a book The Life of Mohammed, in which he expressed deep respect for the prophet yet there were also many negative opinions; he often called the prophet an “imposter.” Surprisingly he concludes his writing of the life story of Mohammed by calling him a “remarkable man.” These opinions made him very controversial. Though out of print in the 19th century, it was published again in a limited edition in the mid 20th century. In 2004 the book was denounced by Egyptian censors, but in 2005 it was ruled acceptable and it was concluded that “Bush I,” a religious scholar, may not have been an enemy of Islam as thought by the earlier censors.

I think considering the ancestry and family history of the presidents can add numismatic interest as the Presidential dollars are issued. History has always been commemorated in coins, but additional facts and stories can enhance the appreciation of each special dollar issued and the respect that each president deserves.