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The E-Sylum: Volume 4, Number 11, March 11, 2001, Article 13


Last week Asylum Editor E. Tomlinson Fort asked:

"Who is the only numismatic author ever to win the Nobel Prize for Literature?"

The smartypants replies always get here first. Tom DeLorey answered:

"John Steinbeck, who wrote "The Gripes of Wrath" about the flame wars in the newsgroup"

Andy Lustig was the first to supply a correct answer (but not the only correct answer - there are two):

"In 1926 the government of the newly founded Irish Free State formed a coinage committee to plan for a new Irish coinage. The chairman of the committee was the Irish poet William Butler Yeats. Nobel Laureate Yeats wrote a book on the subject."

Scott Miller writes:

"Shame on you. I have attached the card entry from the ANS which includes an essay by William Butler Yeats, laureate for 1923."

[Shame indeed - I should have known. I handled a copy of that book once, and asked myself, is that THE Yeats? I figured, nahhhh... -Editor]

George Kolbe also knew about the Yeats book, as did Henk Groenendijk and Peter Gaspar, who signed his note "E-Sylum proud subscriber #1" He wrote:

"Just read the latest E-Sylum, and enjoyed it, as always. I haven't had time to look at the web site mentioned, but I'll be surprised if the answer isn't William Butler Yeats and the book the description of the origin of the first coinage of the Irish Free State in 1928. It is among the handsomest of 20th century coin books and has true historical importance in recording the process by which designs were solicited and the winning designs by Percy Metcalfe (sp?) selected."

Tom Fort originally posed his question to the NBS Board. As E-Sylum editor, I shamelessly appropriated it for publication. Actually, Tom had a different Nobel Laureate in mind. He offered to buy a lunch for board members who answered correctly. I'm proud to say the Board does not consist entirely of dummies like myself. Tom writes:

"When I sent out my trivia question last week, my intended answer was Theodor Mommsen, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1902. Mommsen published a major monograph on Roman Republican coinage in the 1870's along with a number of articles. Only Bob Metzger got this answer correct, for which I owe him a couple of strombolis next time he is in Pittsburgh.

However, Pete Smith then wrote me the following: "William Butler Yeats won the Nobel prize for literature in 1923. He was part of the committee on coinage design and co-author of "Coinage of Saurstat aEireann" (Coinage of the Irish State) with McElligott, McCauley, O'Brien, Dermod, Bodkin et al. He also wrote articles for periodicals including Coin World. Larry Mitchell also knew about Yeats' numismatic writings, though I did not. Therefore, I now owe Bob, Pete and Larry lunch next time they are in Pittsburgh."

Wayne Homren, Editor

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