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The Beginning of Interest in Collecting American Coins

By Q. David Bowers, Chairman Emeritus

Author: Q. David Bowers / Tuesday, May 06, 2014 / Categories: From the Desk of Q. David Bowers

The other day Jack W., a long time friend and client from California, sent me information from The Coin Collector’s’ Manual, or Guide to the Numismatic Student in the Preparation of a Cabinet of Coins, by H. Noel Humphreys, published in two volumes in London in 1853. On page 536 as part of a discussion of the value and desirability of coins, the issues of North and South America, of course including the United States, occupied just one sentence. Here it is:

“The independent money since coined by the newly-formed republics of North and South America is of too recent date to require description here.”

This of course is mighty interesting, as by 1853 North America had a tremendously rich history of coinage, not only from the colonial era but state coinage of the 1780s plus almost countless issues from the half cent to the double eagle, struck at Philadelphia and for some denominations at the branch mints of New Orleans, Charlotte, and Dahlonega.

Although numismatics would not be front-row center in American hobbies until 1857-1858 when the discontinuation of the half cent and large cent aroused great sentimental interest on the part of the public, by 1853 there were at least a couple hundred enthusiasts in the United States. In my book, American Numismatics Before the Civil War, I devote many pages to pioneer collectors active in the late 18th century and early 19th centuries.

The first coin dealer in the United States was John Allan, who was engaged in the trade in the 1820s. By 1853, there had been a number of auctions featuring coins for sale, including the impressive offering of the John Roper Collection that crossed the block in 1851. Perhaps Mr. Humphreys in London knew nothing about this or whatever. It is curious for him to say that the republics of North and South America are “newly-formed.” Perhaps he was not aware that the British lost the American Revolution in 1781, after which the United States, which had declared independence on July 4, 1776, indeed became a republic. This must have escaped his notice!