The Numismatic Bibliomania Society Logo



The E-Sylum: Volume 3, Number 27, July 2, 2000, Article 12


Stuart Segan writes:

"As hackneyed is the party line that Breen is the greatest researcher of US numismatics, so too is the rebuttal in which Breen is reduced to "pure conjecture, speculation, guesswork, and embellished hypothesis." Further, Moulton's assertion that "Breen did not necessarily change the face of American numismatic scholarship for the better" is absurd and wrong.

Scientific method, and Breen's application of same to American numismatics, is at the heart of the controversy. Scientific method is not concerned with facts so much as it is with method and hence the use of the word method and not fact. If one formula or way of looking at a situation leads to "truth" we are closing in on what is known as theory.

To cite one example, Newton developed a theory, often referred to as the Theory of Gravity. Within limits (no pun intended for those familiar with the "little rocks") Newton was able to predict the motion of moving bodies nearly precisely and for a wide range of moving bodies. The generality of the theory was so profound it was not proved "wrong" for 150 odd years. To complete the example, Einstein's General Theory of Relativity was able to account for some ridiculously small wobble in the movement of at least one of the planets that was not accounted for by Newton's theory. While Newton technically was "wrong" it would be the dilettante that runs around saying "Newton was wrong, Newton was wrong."

Now back to our humble domain of American numismatics. Breen to a degree constructed a theory of American numismatics. His theory when applied to various situations at the US Mint resulted in predictions that were correct. Needless to say in other cases the predictions were wrong - no big deal really. It is the dilettante that hangs his hat on Breen's mistakes and looks no further at the groundwork Breen provided. It is method and not fact with which we are concerned.

It is sad that this discussion continues. Breen's admirers (and yes, I am obviously one of them) at their best understand scientific method and intuitively appreciate Breen's humble approach to the overall question of American numismatics. At their worst Breen's admirers overlook a great deal of flaws both professionally and personally in order to keep the ideal of his work fresh. Breen's detractors at their best grant that Breen did some good work but there are lots of mistakes. At their worst, they lose sight of scientific method altogether and see only the mistakes.

Breen's method in my opinion flowered around the late 1940s which makes it about 50 years old. We might quibble that the "facts" in the Encyclopedia are wrong. It is riddled with method and that IS Breen's contribution. Breen for this reason changed the face of American numismatic scholarship most decidedly for the better."

Wayne Homren, Editor

Google NBS ( Web

Content presented in The E-Sylum is not necessarily researched or independently fact-checked, and views expressed do not necessarily represent those of the Numismatic Bibliomania Society.

This is a static archive page documenting the originally published content. Links were active at the time of publication but may no longer work. Check subsequent issues for corrections and commentary.

The Numismatic Bibliomania Society is a non-profit organization promoting numismatic literature.   For more information please see our web site at There is a membership application available on the web site.  To join, print the application and return it with your check to the address printed on the application.  Visit the Membership page. Those wishing to become new E-Sylum subscribers (or wishing to Unsubscribe) can go to the following web page link.

To submit items for publication in The E-Sylum, write to the Editor at this address: E-Sylum Editor



Copyright © 1998 - 2020 The Numismatic Bibliomania Society (NBS)
All Rights Reserved.

NBS Home Page
Contact the NBS Webmaster
Privacy Policy