First Photographic Plate in American Numismatics
Exhibited by Jim Neiswinter - 2002
|Click on the case numbers to go directly to the image of the case and the corresponding description.|
The first coin-collecting boom in this country was triggered in 1857 when the government reduced the size of the cent. The mint recalled the large cents for melting & people realized they would soon be hard to find. The popular way to collect cents was in a date set – the large cent was made from 1793 to 1857. Edward Cogan was one of the first coin dealers in this country. On November 1, 1858 he sold a date set of cents. The result of this sale was published in newspapers around the country. Both Cogan & Joseph Levick credit this sale with the 'commen-cement of the furor for paying high prices for fine specimens of cents'. (Left side of the case)
Montroville Dickeson published the American Numismatic Manual in 1859. This was the first Encyclopedia of American coinage. He used tinted lithographic plates to show the types of coins. His descriptions of the varieties left much to be desired & the plates were only for distinguishing types. They were not good enough to distinguish the different varieties. (Right side of the case)
With the boom in collecting being led by the large cent, it wasn't long before the first published study of the series appeared. The front page of the March 1, 1859 edition of the Boston Evening Transcript contained an article, written by Dr. Augustine Shurtleff of Brookline, Mass., entitled 'About Cents'. It provided the first descriptions of the different varieties of the large cent series, with particular attention paid to the first year - 1793. (Left side of the picture)
The 1793 portion of 'About Cents' was reprinted in the April, 1859 issue of the Historical Magazine. (Sheldon numbers are written in next to each variety). The entire article was reprinted in the November Historical Magazine. If you compare Shurtleff's descriptions of the 1793 cents with what Crosby wrote 10 years late in the 1869 AJN article it is obvious that Crosby borrowed heavily from 'About Cents' and except for the position of 1 variety (S10) the emission sequence is the same. (Right side of the picture)
Joseph Levick & Sylvester Crosby combined on 'The Cents of 1793' in the April 1869 issue of the American Journal of Numismatics. Crosby provided the text, while Levick was responsible for getting together the coins for the plate. He advertised in the AJN for all 1793 cents to be sent to him & wrote letters to all known collectors of that era. It was his intention to make the plate as complete as possible by showing all the existing varieties in the best possible condition. His purpose was for each variety to be recognized by a number or letter. He wanted cataloguers to adopt one way of describing a piece, let it be known by that title, so all collectors may recognize it at once.
This 1871 Edward Cogan catalogue, of Governor Packer's collection, was the first time Crosby's designations were used in an auction catalogue. It took until the end of the century before most dealers used them consistently.
This first version of the plate has the year, 1868, and J.N.T. Levick hand printed in a box in the lower right corner. Levick did not take the photograph. He was responsible for the arrangement of the coins laid on pins attached to a board. The photographer was a professional named Rockwood. The coins on this version are all slightly (1mm) larger than the actual coins. I believe that Levick had Rockwood retake the plate after an unknown number of this version was printed.
On the final version the camera was moved back, so the coins are actual size. The lighting & positioning of the coins was changed slightly, & Levick's name was typeset. The photographer's name & address are im-printed between Obv. 11 & Rev. K. Due to the cost of producing the plate, I think that Levick sent both versions to the subscribers of the AJN. One theory is that regular members of the ANAS received the final version, while corresponding members got the first.
This Edward Cogan sale of the Mortimer Mackenzie collection in June 1869 (just 2 months after Levick's AJN plate) was the first use of photography in an auction catalogue. One of the 5 plates was this one of cents. All six of the 1793 cents on this plate were also used on Levick's plate. The photographer is not known, but my guess would be Rockwood.
The completeness of the plate is such that Levick & Crosby missed only 2 collectable varieties of the year. Both varieties are R 6 today. Crosby discovered the S12 (a marriage of Obv. 10 & Rev. K) in 1870 & the S7 (a new obverse mated to reverse C) in 1878.