The E-Sylum:  Volume 9, Number 11, March 12, 2006, Article 12


Patrick McMahon writes: "I am researching some of the numismatic
collections at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (where I work)
and the more I learn the more questions I seem to have. Often
those questions are as much about numismatic history as they
are about our collections themselves. I am hoping that maybe
some E-Sylum readers can help me learn more about someone who
catalogued coins for us in 1902.

In our records the cataloguer’s name is Prichard. We have
several old ledgers which were designed specifically for
listing and describing coins and they are filled with handwritten
descriptions of many (but far from all) of our earliest numismatic
acquisitions. The largest collection entered into these ledgers
is that of Augustine Shurtleff (about 4,800 pieces bequeathed in
January 1901) and the cataloguer signs off at the end of this
group with “Here ends modern section of Shurtleff Collection of
Coins; entirely registered by A. H. C. Prichard, (designer of
this volume), in volumes i, ii, iii of this Register, June 1902.”
There is at least one other volume which he signs and claims
to have designed.

The Shurtleff collection includes US and world coins but Prichard
is clearly most knowledgeable (and most descriptive) of the US,
British, and Canadian issues. For the English pieces he often
lists Grueber numbers and in other cases will give citations to
the American journal of Numismatics for further details. He does
this with Canadian tokens, for example, citing R. W. McLachlan
and using his numbers. He sometimes cites Crosby as well.

The binder and printer of the ruled pages is a Boston firm (J. L.
Fairbanks & Co. Stationers) but what little I have been able to
find seems to imply that the cataloguer was British and I am
curious about him and how the MFA might have come to engage him.

A search of the Numismatic Index of Periodicals turns up only
one reference and this gives the name as A. H. Cooper-Prichard.
I am reasonably sure that this is the same man because the article
is about the proper way to catalogue coins and he claims to have
spent many years identifying and cataloguing coins for museums and
private collections. This is in 1911, and the article is only one
long paragraph. It is one of the most entertainingly pompous pieces
of writing I have seen in a long time. My favorite bit is “To omit
a single detail of known information, regarding a coin or medal,
whether on the specimen itself or outside, is unpardonable. Almost
equally unpardonable is it to place one word too much in such a
description. That the greatest numismatic writers have sinned in
both these ways is nothing in favor of such carelessness any more
than bad jokes are excusable because Shakespeare, to please the
inferior sort amongst his audience, disfigured his writings with

This builds to a full froth, calling for “definite laws of
expression” and ends with a suggested 53 pieces of information
that ought to be included when cataloguing coins. I really want
to know — can there be more of this out there? Does anyone know
more about him? Other museums or collectors he may have worked

Google and library catalogue searches have so far lead to three
seemingly non-numismatic books (The Buccaneers in 1927;
Conversations with Oscar Wilde in 1931—apparently fictional, and
translation of a History of the Duchy of Luxembourg). He also
appears to have contributed to Oxford University’s journal, Notes
and Queries, and several of the references there are numismatic
in focus.

Our library doesn’t have electronic access to that database and
I haven’t had the opportunity yet to check the physical journals
(or the books) elsewhere. If all of these are by the same man,
his full name is Arthur Henry Cooper-Prichard and he was born in
1874. I would be grateful for any information or suggestions that
can help confirm who he was and help us develop some context for
his work here at the MFA.

The reference quoted above is “Proposed Arrangement of a Catalogue
of Coins” from the American Journal of Numismatics, v.45, #3,
July 1911 (pp.157-58) if anyone wants to read it in full.  Thanks!"

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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