At my request Max B. Spiegel forwarded the following fascinating account of his recent visit to Evergreen House, once home of the fabulous Garrett numismatic collection, later auctioned by Bowers and Ruddy. -Editor In the January 2009 issue of The MCA Advisory, Elliot Wehner and I published an article about a tour of John Work Garrett’s underground coin vault and Wayne asked me to share some of that experience with readers of The E-Sylum. I immediately recalled a discussion a while back in the E-Sylum about the private acquisition of coins from the Garrett collection prior to the auctions of the 1970s and ‘80s. I believed, as I’m sure many other numismatists have, that those auctions and private sales effectively liquidated all of the Garrett numismatic holdings at the Johns Hopkins University.
Recently I met Earle Havens, the Curator of Rare Books at the Sheridan Libraries of Johns Hopkins (those interested in medals, particularly the Comitia Americana series, may know him from his previous work at the Boston Public Library), and I scheduled a visit with him to view the Garrett collection of numismatic books. I also viewed some documents relating to the Bowers and Ruddy auctions, as well as the original photographs from the catalogs, and this alone warrants a detailed article in a future issue of The Asylum.
Although I had visited the Evergreen House (once the home of two generations of the Garrett family) on several occasions in the past few years, I had never been able to view the underground vault where he stored his collection. Having lost a significant part of his coin collection in the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904, Garrett had a special fireproof vault built beneath his new library.
That extraordinary library, designed by Lawrence Hall Fowler, was completed in 1928 and was one of Garrett’s favorite places. The vault was built with a special dumbwaiter, so if Garrett wanted to view any coins he could simply tell a servant what number tray he wanted and it could be sent up. Garrett never even had to leave his chair!
After Elliot and I had met with Earle, we were offered an incredible opportunity to see Garrett’s coin vault. Looking around the Fowler library and its priceless books, we never would have guessed that entry to the vault was made by rolling up one of the carpets and pulling up a few floorboards. To the right of the narrow staircase that led into the vault was the ingenious dumbwaiter that delivered coins to the main floor of the library.
The vault is composed of two cramped rooms. The first was lined with several safes of varying sizes, while the second was filled with gray archival boxes. As our pulses quickened, we knew we had to see the insides of the safes and boxes.
Our guide opened the first safe and, to our amazement, started pulling out trays filled with medals and tokens! Although there did not appear to be anything of significance, we were told that there are currently 1,665 medals stored inside the safes. Most likely these medals and tokens were not all from the Garrett collection and instead represented the combined holdings of the entire university.
As it turns out, the contents of the gray archival boxes proved to be significantly more interesting. Inside perhaps hundreds of white envelopes were many of the foreign coins and medals destroyed by the Baltimore fire. Although some are melted beyond recognition, a quick peek into a few envelopes revealed a copper peace medal, identifiable by its “Peace and Friendship” reverse, joined to another blackened medal.
I had assumed that all of these medals had been donated to the American Numismatic Society, but a large number remain in the Evergreen House.
It is an amazing experience to essentially walk in the footsteps of one of America’s greatest collectors (not just of coins, but of books, fine art, and more). Located in the middle of Loyola College in the northern part of Baltimore, the Evergreen House is just a short trip from the city’s famous Inner Harbor.
I should also mention that there is currently a student exhibition at the Evergreen House entitled, It’s a Man’s World: The Collections of the Male Garretts. I went back to the museum at the beginning of January, and I noticed that a few coins from the Garrett collection (on loan) were on display in the library, and the dumbwaiter was lifted into view.
The exhibit runs until March 31, which is just enough time for visitors to the Baltimore Coin & Currency Convention to check it out--and the entire Evergreen House for that matter!
Many thanks to Max for sharing his experience and photos with us. I hope several of our readers take advantage of the exhibit to visit Evergreen House. -Editor
Wayne Homren, Editor
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