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.

Case 1
  • 2 1857 cents
  • 1858 Cogan Sale
  • 1859 American Numismatic Manual
Case 2
  • 1859 Boston Evening Transcript
  • Copy of Apr. 1859 Issue of Historical Mag.
  • 1859 Historical Mag. (Nov. Issue)
Case 3
  • 1869 AJN article on 1793 Cents
  • Pictures of Levick & Crosby
  • 1871 Cogan Sale
Case 4
  • Plate – 1st Version
  • Plate – 2nd Version
  • Large Format Mackenzie Sale
Case 5
  • 1793 S15
  • 1879 Frossard Monograph
  • 1884 Woodward Sale – Levick collection
  • 1897 AJN article on 1793s by Crosby
  • Color Version of Plate

Case 1

image of case one of the ANA numismatic exhibit

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)

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Case 2

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)

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Case 3

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.

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Case 4

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.

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Case 5

image of literary exhibit

Starting in October 1896 & continuing in the January & April 1897 issues of the AJN Sylvester Crosby re-wrote his 1869 article. He used halftone photos on 3 separate plates to show 21 different varieties of 1793. This was 6 more varieties than was known in 1869. (The B reverse was proven to be an alteration. Levick thought so in 1869 but Crosby didn't believe him). Crosby printed 200 copies of his monograph in book form in late 1897. A 22nd variety (a marriage of Obv. 9 with Rev. I) was discovered early in 1897 & was included in the book. The last variety of 1793 was discovered in the 1980s.

Levick took no part in this project, but Crosby had a much easier job getting all the cents together. They all belonged to one collector – Dr. Thomas Hall.

Ed Frossard was the next to publish a treatise on early copper with plates. His Monograph of United States Cents & Half Cents 1793-1857 was published in 1879. The 9 plates include 1 of colonial coins, two of half cents, & the rest are large cents. His plate did not illustrate 3 varieties of the 1793 cents that Levick had (Rev. D, Obv. 12, & Rev. K), although he did show a new reverse for the Strawberry Leaf. His No. 6 was a worn example of his No. 7.

Both sides of this cent (S15) appeared on the plate as 12 & K. In 1869 this was the only known example of this variety. (Only 10 more have been discovered since.) The 6D, Strawberry Leaf, is still unique. How did Levick show both sides of a unique coin on the plate? Woodward's 1884 sale of the Levick collection provides the answer. Lots 803-823 were electrotype copies made by Crosby from the same coins that Levick used to make up the plate. So the plate showed one side of the actual coin while the opposite side showed the electro.

If Levick had a digital camera & a computer the plate would have looked something like this.

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