CITY DIRECTORIES -- PART II.
Dick Johnson writes: "Last week I wrote that the best way to
glean numismatic information from city directory research is to
create "strings" about a person or business -- to search a run
of directories by year until you can identify when a listing starts
and when it stops.
This week let's talk about where to find city directories. If you
live within commuting distance of seven American cities, you
are, indeed, fortunate. For in each of these cities is a large
collection of city directories.
* In Washington DC are three such libraries: the Library of
Congress, the DAR library, and the National Archives.
* In Worcester Massachusetts, the American Antiquarian
Society library has a collection that might even surpass all
others. A bibliography was once compiled of all early
American city directories, AAS had all those listed, save
Other cities with large collections:
* Salt Lake City, the Family History Library.
* Boston, the New England Historic & Genealogical Society
* New York City, the New York Public Library.
* Chicago, the Newberry Library.
* Fort Wayne, Indiana, the Allen County Public Library.
Almost every large city library has a run of their own city's
directories, and perhaps a neighboring large city or two.
State libraries usually have all for the cities in their state.
Only rarely will you be able to use original bound volumes.
Most all will furnish either microfiche or microfilm rolls. You
will have to learn how to use the reader machines for each
of these. Modern readers have a photocopy device attached.
Find a page, center it on the screen, drop a coin in the device
and seconds later you have a photocopy of the photographed
image (other libraries have an honor system, they will accept
your count and payment).
Granted, you are two generations away from the original, and
all the streaks from years of use of the film will be reproduced
as well. But you do get an image, and that saves you from
manual copying. I learned to carry a roll of quarters and a
notebook to record exactly what I was looking for and note
which entries I had checked (or photocopied).
Learn to thread the microfilm into the machine yourself
(generally the fiche and rolls are self-service). For rolls start the
machine at slow speed even if you want something at the end
of the roll. If you jam the film, ask for help from the attendant
(don't try to fix it yourself). You never want to break the film
(this requires a splice or to replace the roll).
This is how a pair of researchers compiled the most useful
book on early American Artists (up to the Civil War): George
C. Groce and David H. Wallace. Their book, "The New-York
Historical Society's Dictionary of Artists in America" published
by Yale University Press, 1957.
From learning the "strings" of artists in both city directories
and business directories they next went to Census records,
and then other sources. From all this they could glean dates
of birth and death, then added as much biographical data
they found or deemed useful for such an artist directory.
What does that directory have to do with numismatics?
Plenty. I have found 246 of the artists listed in G&W
engraved coins or medals, or prepared their designs
(and are included in my directory of American artists of
coins and medals). All the early die engravers are included,
all the mint engravers, all the engravers at private firms.
It is very accurate information in G&W (I have found only
one transposed date!).
Here is what the authors say about city directories:
"Probably no single source has provided more artists'
names than the directories of towns, cities, counties,
states, and regions, of which the first appeared in Boston,
New York, and Philadelphia shortly before the end of the
18th century. In some cases directories provide the only
information we have, while in others they provide a fairly
reliable chronological and geographical framework on
which to hang otherwise unrelated information from
Next week I will discuss further numismatic use of
data from city directory research."
Wayne Homren, Editor
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