The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 5, Number 37, September 15, 2002, Article 9


Dick Johnson writes: "Last week I wrote that the best way to glean numismatic information from city directory research is to create "strings" about a person or business -- to search a run of directories by year until you can identify when a listing starts and when it stops. This week let's talk about where to find city directories. If you live within commuting distance of seven American cities, you are, indeed, fortunate. For in each of these cities is a large collection of city directories. * In Washington DC are three such libraries: the Library of Congress, the DAR library, and the National Archives. * In Worcester Massachusetts, the American Antiquarian Society library has a collection that might even surpass all others. A bibliography was once compiled of all early American city directories, AAS had all those listed, save eight. Other cities with large collections: * Salt Lake City, the Family History Library. * Boston, the New England Historic & Genealogical Society library. * New York City, the New York Public Library. * Chicago, the Newberry Library. * Fort Wayne, Indiana, the Allen County Public Library. Almost every large city library has a run of their own city's directories, and perhaps a neighboring large city or two. State libraries usually have all for the cities in their state. Only rarely will you be able to use original bound volumes. Most all will furnish either microfiche or microfilm rolls. You will have to learn how to use the reader machines for each of these. Modern readers have a photocopy device attached. Find a page, center it on the screen, drop a coin in the device and seconds later you have a photocopy of the photographed image (other libraries have an honor system, they will accept your count and payment). Granted, you are two generations away from the original, and all the streaks from years of use of the film will be reproduced as well. But you do get an image, and that saves you from manual copying. I learned to carry a roll of quarters and a notebook to record exactly what I was looking for and note which entries I had checked (or photocopied). Learn to thread the microfilm into the machine yourself (generally the fiche and rolls are self-service). For rolls start the machine at slow speed even if you want something at the end of the roll. If you jam the film, ask for help from the attendant (don't try to fix it yourself). You never want to break the film (this requires a splice or to replace the roll). This is how a pair of researchers compiled the most useful book on early American Artists (up to the Civil War): George C. Groce and David H. Wallace. Their book, "The New-York Historical Society's Dictionary of Artists in America" published by Yale University Press, 1957. From learning the "strings" of artists in both city directories and business directories they next went to Census records, and then other sources. From all this they could glean dates of birth and death, then added as much biographical data they found or deemed useful for such an artist directory. What does that directory have to do with numismatics? Plenty. I have found 246 of the artists listed in G&W engraved coins or medals, or prepared their designs (and are included in my directory of American artists of coins and medals). All the early die engravers are included, all the mint engravers, all the engravers at private firms. It is very accurate information in G&W (I have found only one transposed date!). Here is what the authors say about city directories: "Probably no single source has provided more artists' names than the directories of towns, cities, counties, states, and regions, of which the first appeared in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia shortly before the end of the 18th century. In some cases directories provide the only information we have, while in others they provide a fairly reliable chronological and geographical framework on which to hang otherwise unrelated information from other sources." Next week I will discuss further numismatic use of data from city directory research."

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

The Numismatic Bibliomania Society is a non-profit organization promoting numismatic literature. See our web site at

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

To subscribe go to:



Copyright © 1998 - 2012 The Numismatic Bibliomania Society (NBS)
All Rights Reserved.

NBS Home Page
Contact the NBS webmaster