Paul Withers submitted these notes on some interesting information to be found in some otherwise dry old Mint Reports.
There is nothing so dead as an old book. Well, that might be true of a piece of popular pulp fiction now forty or fifty years old, but what about a dry as dust piece of statistical compilation from a past century ?
The time is 6am and the day of a dealer in numismatic books is a long one, though only because I wake early. As a reader of this journal you are a self-confessed bibliophile, so you may know what I mean.
A bibliophile too, I have been fascinated by the written word ever since I could read, and there is only a very short part of my life when I can remember not being able to read. Well, actually, I can’t really remember a time when I couldn’t read. All that I can remember is that I was about to go into Miss Averill’s class and we had been warned in advance that Miss (married women in those days could not be teachers) Averill stood no nonsense and that we would have to learn some difficult words, that, at least was what Miss Carter in the reception class told us.
Miss Carter was young, pretty and lovely, so what she said must be true. Miss Averill, on the other hand was old, had a moustache, and a double chin that wobbled when she blew the whistle in the playground, or got angry with someone. My infant brain wondered about difficult words, but all that I remember now is Miss Averill’s double chin and that unlike Miss Carter, who smelled, subtly of perfume and things nice, Miss Averill smelled of mothballs and Miss Averill.
Two years later when I was six and could read fairly fluently, I began to read anything and everything I could lay my hands on, from newspapers to sauce bottle contents labels if there was nothing else around. It was then that I learned about difficult words. What was an anchovy, and why was there anchovy in sauce ? ‘Don’t be daft’, I thought, when Mam told me that it was a fish. You don’t put fish in HP sauce, even a six year old knows that, but in those days I had never heard of garum, and curiously, my computer dictionary, although it knows about ‘anchovy’, it hasn’t heard of ‘garum’, when I can think of at least two meanings for it – but that’s the result of reading widely for the last sixty-many years.
But in those days, life and words were often confusing. For years our milk had been delivered by an old man who came to the back door with a churn and our daily pint was ladled straight from his churn into our jug. Then it all changed and milk came in bottles. The bottles had CWS in big letters on them, now six-year olds don’t know what acronyms are, much less six-year olds back in 1948, but this one knew that in Welsh, the letter W is a vowel (well, it’s called double-u, isn’t it ?) In Welsh it is sounded rather like the oo in shoot. So, knowing that milk came from cows, it seemed only natural that that’s what appears on the bottle, so for a while I spelled the animals that give us milk as cws.
But CWS isn’t how you spell cows, even though it is not far off, and the Welsh word for cows, and the word for milk are certainly nothing like CWS, so I was to learn that didn’t fit either, the more so because the word for milk in welsh is quite different in the south of Wales from the word that I would now use here in the north of Wales. When I asked, I was always asking, I was told that CWS stood for Co-operative Wholesale Society.
What does “Co-operative mean ?” I asked. “You want to know too much” said my mother who was more aware of the quarterly dividend she got from the local biggest and cheapest shop in town than the principles and practices of the Co-operative movement. I was later to find, of course, that whilst some questions could be answered in a few words, or by a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’, other questions, sometimes even the same question could take up a whole book.
I am still asking questions, and still reading, of course. Reading remains fun and it still doesn’t matter what it is, though these days I don’t chew my pencil whilst I read. This is why I cannot resist reading the books that I put onto our database so that they can appear on our new website. The latest one that comes to mind shows that there are avenues into which numismatics takes us that are fascinating, even though one might think that they are nothing more than compilations of statistics that were dead in the water a century ago.
What have I found to read and why ? The second question is best answered first. I have been adding to each listing, a description of the book. This has necessitated reading some of those about which I knew nothing – and in any case, who, picking up a book can resist opening it and taking a quick peek ? What have I found ? Well, about 4000 items that will appear on our new website when it is up and running.
One of the items was :
Annual Report of the Comptroller of the Currency to the Second Session of the Forty-seventh Congress of the UNITED STATES.? December 4, 1882.
Published in Washington, in 1882, it is a PB and has 94 pages. Now you might suppose that the usual rule applies and that the longer the title of a book, or an article, the more boring it is, or that something with a title like that is by its very nature something that would render even a hardened, questioning bibliophile as rigid as the proverbial ramrod. But no ! It is full of interesting information, not only to to someone keen on knowing how many coins of which type were struck and at which mint in that financial year, but it is full of socially important stuff too. Immediately springing to one's notice is the chapter entitled: National Bank Failures.? Three banks had been placed in the hands of the receivers.?
One comment is interesting: viz. the directors of the Pacific National Bank of Boston undertook to make good the impairment of its capital stock... now there's a thought with which to conjure, why has that not happened in the current bank collapses, in which the directors seem to have gotten away free of all encumbrance ??
Another bank, the First National Bank of Buffalo, had had its funds misappropriated by its president and had had to go into receivership. That must have made the headlines, if only in Buffalo. Who was he ? What had he been doing ? How had he been doing it ? Was it gambling, supporting his aged mother, other women, drinking or what ? How much did he steal ? Did he get away with it ? Oh !? And there's loads more. Of course, there are no graphic details in the book, only the raw facts, but one is tempted to find out more. If I were a journalist, or had time to spare, there could be an article there.
In the same handful of books to be added, there was one that appeared to promise even less, than the Annual Report of the Comptroller of the Currency. It was the
Report of the Commissioner of the Imperial Mint for the Year Ending the 30th of the 6th Month of the 15th Year of Meji (30th June 1882).
This is clearly a clone of western Mint Reports, and it gives, as they do, all the statistics for the year: import of gold and silver bullion, copper, amounts refined, numbers of coins made, and the like, but it goes to extra lengths, because it reports on the health of the employees of the Imperial Mint. We learn that one of the officials of the Assay Office and Refinery was suffering from gonorrhea ! In other years of the same Report similar statistics are given for other sexually transmitted diseases, including syphillis.
Anonymity might be taken seriously nowadays, but in one of the instances, where the particular department was split into workers and officials, we learn that one of the officials was suffering from something unmentionable in polite society at the time. If it had been one of the 46 workers there would have been some chance of remaining anonymous, but as there were only two officials in that department, serious embarrassment cannot have been far away after the report was published.
We also learn that Imperial Mint did not trust their own assay department, for when the equivalent of the Trial of the Pyx was carried out samples were also sent to the US and the Royal Mint in London, where analyses were carried and the results compared. Fortunately, they were found to be satisfactory.
Given all of the books that have had to pass through my hands for me to say something about them, it is a miracle that I have not shut down completely in a reverie of reading old books, and some new ones too !
The all-singing, all dancing website goes live in about a week. You will find it at
THE BOOK BAZARRE
DAVID SKLOW - FINE NUMISMATIC BOOKS
the Q. David Bowers Research Library Sale Part IV on February 12, 2011, including:
Very Rare First edition 1881 Andrews 1816-1857 United States Large Cents
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