USA Coin Album: Some Older Numismatic Books of Interest – Part Two
Posted on 2/15/2011
One of the best studies of how our various coins came to be and their impact on the economy began as a research paper by a graduate student in economics and became his doctoral thesis. Only years later was it published as a book. Neil Carothers was teaching money and banking when he found himself unable to answer some of his students’ questions, because no one had yet written such a book. Fractional Money: A History of the Small Coins and Fractional Paper Currency of the United States was published in 1930 but went largely overlooked outside of economic circles. Some astute numismatists knew of its existence, yet copies were quite scarce. I finally secured one from a Bowers and Merena Auction in 1983 and had read it twice when, just seven years later, that same firm published an inexpensive reprint in paperback! Oh well, I still cherish my original edition, which is ex libris former ANA President M. Vernon Sheldon (1949-50). An internet search revealed that, as of this writing, both new and used copies of this reprint are readily available at reasonable prices. The original 1930 edition remains expensive, but one copy was available. I was surprised to see that a new, hardcover reprint is offered by Kessinger Publishing, LLC. Until performing this search, I had not heard of this reprint, which I’ve also not seen mentioned in numismatic publications. Perhaps the publisher intended it for students of economics and did not equate the book with coin collectors.
Another book that was reprinted by Bowers and Merena Galleries in 1987 is titled Recollections of a Mint Director. This was actually an extract from a longer book by Frank A. Leach titled Recollections of a Newspaperman: A Record of Life and Events in California, published in 1917. Leach was Superintendent of the San Francisco Mint at the time of the devastating 1906 earthquake and fire, and he later served as Director of the Mint in Washington, DC. The paperback reprint reproduces only those chapters dealing with his mint experiences, but these make for fascinating reading. On the internet I found only one new copy of the paperback, and this was quite expensive. Several used copies were available at reasonable prices. I have the original 1917 hardcover in my library, too, and copies of this book don’t cost too much. Even so, the complete 1917 text has likewise been reprinted recently and is available from internet sellers at a low cost in both paperback and hardcover editions.
One of my favorite reads is Haraszthy at the Mint, by Brian McGinty. The original hardcover was published in 1975 as part of a series titled Famous California Trials. It tells the story of Agoston Haraszthy, a Hungarian immigrant who became the first assayer of the San Francisco Mint. Charged with embezzlement, his 1857 trial was sensational and resulted in his acquittal when it was discovered that the missing bullion had drifted out through the mint’s chimneys and deposited itself on nearby rooftops! Haraszthy soon left government service and founded California’s first winery in Sonoma, a concern which still operates today (I’ve toured the Buena Vista Winery and tasted its wares). Though I learned of this book early enough to buy it from the publisher, it shortly thereafter went out of print and became maddeningly difficult for numismatists to find. Enter the internet, which has made nearly all things possible, and several used copies were available during my recent search. Adjusting for inflation, the cheapest of these listings cost about what I spent 30 years ago.
Another book from a few years back that’s worthy of mention is a publication of the Nevada State Museum. Of course, that institution is housed in the former Carson City Mint building, so it’s not surprising that this book is titled Mint Mark: “CC” – The Story of the United States Mint at Carson City, Nevada. Written by Howard Hickson and first published in 1972, this nifty little paperback is sold to visitors of the museum, which is where I got my 1975 printing. Reprinted several more times since then, the latest edition I could find online was issued in 1990. Fortunately, the museum still sells this well-illustrated book for just $8 plus shipping. While Rusty Goe’s superb 2003 book The Mint on Carson Street is much more extensive and well worth acquiring, the Hickson work is a great way to whet your appetite for the larger volume while supporting the museum.
David W. Lange's column, "USA Coin Album," appears monthly in the Numismatist, the official publication of the American Numismatic Association.