"In response to Michael Marotta's review
of the Breen Encyclopedia in the June 18th E-Sylum, I'd like to
suggest that Walter Breen did not necessarily change the face
of American numismatic scholarship for the better, as Mr.
Marotta outlines in his glowing review.
While it is true that Breen was commissioned by Wayte
Raymond to do research in the Archives in the early 1950's,
which led to the first publication of Mint documents that had
long been ignored, the fact remains that after the initial
articles were written for the Numismatic Scrapbook and
other publications, Breen did not have access to official
documentation, and for the most part, relied on his memory
and "exalted" status for future writings, much of which was
pure conjecture, speculation, guesswork, and embellished
When any numismatist seriously researches the early American
issues, it becomes clear in many instances where Breen is
incorrect and/or incomplete in his writings. Contrary to the
earlier review, the fact remains, a majority of his writings were
not backed with documentary proof. A prime example of this
can be seen in his original 1977 book "Encyclopedia of United
States and Colonial Proof Coins", which he later "revised and
corrected" in 1989.
It is absolutely amazing that an entire book length discourse
about early American "Proof" coinage can be construed from
nothing but shiny, new mint polish on the surface of a coin,
whether it is well struck or not. To date, there has not been a
single shred of documentation to support any claim of any early
so-called "Proof" issues prior to the use of the close collar. The
1795 Lord St. Oswald "presentation piece" story, p.33, is
perhaps the "highlight" of creative rhetoric from Breen. None
of which is true. For an accurate review, see the Fall 1994
Breen was a pioneer researcher, and as such, did a credible job
- up to a point. Just because a book has a fancy cover and a lot
of pages with illustrations doesn't necessarily make it a valuable
source for accurate information. Yes, there are numerous
errors contained in his "Complete" Encyclopedia. Let us not
continue to glorify the mistakes and oversights of Breen's various
works. Numismatically speaking, anything that is not verifiable
from an official source, is strictly theory and nothing else. Mr.
Marotta needs to heed his own words, "search for the truth rather
than relying on authority".
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