We met at Gadsby's Tavern in Alexandria, VA. John Gadsby operated the hotel and tavern from 1796 to 1808. His establishment was a center of political, business, and social life in early Alexandria. The tavern was the setting for dancing, theatrical and musical performances, and meetings of local organizations. George Washington twice attended the annual Birthnight Ball held there in his honor. Other prominent patrons included John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and the Marquis de Lafayette.
Our host tonight was Bill Eckberg, who lives just a few blocks away, and held his wedding reception in the tavern in 2002. I pulled into a nearby parking space and got out to pump quarters in the meter. A city parking policeman quickly pulled up in a cart and silently waved a finger at me. "Is something wrong?", I asked, figuring I'd unknowingly parked in a handicapped or other restricted spot. He told me to stop feeding the meter - parking was free on holidays, and today was Veteran's Day. So I hung onto my last quarter, thanked him, and crossed the street to the tavern.
As I was reading the historical plaques posted on the walls I was greeted by Tom Kays and David Schenkman. As we walked in, Tom recognized the bartender and hostess, whom he knew from their time working at another local restaurant. It was like walking into Cheers with Norm Peterson - everyone knew his name.
We were directed to our table in a quiet back room where Bill was already waiting. There would only be the four of us, but we had a wonderful time sharing dinner and numismatic discussion. I ordered the Surrey County Peanut Soup and Jumbo Crab Cakes.
Bill told us about the lute player who once appeared regularly at the tavern. He dressed in period garb and would converse with diners about current events - of two hundred years ago to the day. Music continued to be a topic. Dave, who operates a banjo business, told about setting up at the Nashville Bluegrass Show and meeting Red Henry, a mandolin player. Red is active in the Early American Coppers Society, but Dave first knew him only as a musician, not a numismatist. Dave remembered times when as a child, his father's friend Victor Borge would stop by the house to play piano and trade jokes.
Dave told us about how he got started in the coin business. He had been a collector at a young age, but put all his coins in his father's safe deposit box before going off to military service. After returning he'd forgotten about the coins until his dad asked when he was going to get them out of his box. Dave had acquired a number of things he no longer was interested in keeping, so he began selling. Luckily, he'd made some good buys, including rolls of 1931-S and a roll of 1955 Doubled Die cents, which had appreciated in value while he was away.
Discussion turned to Alexandria coin dealer Gene Brandenburg of the Old Town Coin Exchange on King Street. Dave had purchased coins from him, as had Bill, who bought from Gene what became the first coin in his U.S. half cent collection. In other reminiscences, Dave told about buying Sutler notes from the Grover Criswell collection sale at an American Numismatic Association convention auction, and making a trade with former ANA general counsel Ellis Edlow (Civil War Tokens for the Fuld Virginia token collection).
Our theme for the evening was "coins of Presidents born in Virginia". Dave and I had nothing, and our host Bill could only offer one of the new dollar coins of Madison. But as always, Tom Kays came through with a very interesting exhibit. He'd assembled a group of coins dated in the birth year of each Virginia-born American President, including TWO for Washington since the year depends on the choice of Julian or Gregorian calendars (showoff!). By the way, there were eight Presidents born in Virginia:
Other great stuff Tom passed around included an 1871 medal by an Alexandria silversmith, a prize for "Perfect Recitation" awarded to Kate W. Duffy by the Mt. Vernon Institute.
Tom gave me a printout of the Colchester Treasure Hunting web site, which is this week's Featured Web Site. I passed around copies of the 1st and 2nd editions of Richard Doty's book, America's Money, America's Story. I quizzed everyone on the musical puzzle in the District of Columbia scrip notes (see the Quick Quiz elsewhere in this issue). Bill Eckberg named one of the tunes, and Dave got the other. Who will be the first to get both?
When it came time for dessert I ordered the Tipsy English Trifle, a sherry-laced pound cake layered with blueberries and vanilla pudding. Yum!
There were two outstanding questions for the evening, both posed by Tom Kays. We were stumped, but perhaps our readers can help:
For more information on Gadsby's Tavern, see: http://oha.alexandriava.gov/gadsby/
Wayne Homren, Editor
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