The E-Sylum:  Volume 10, Number 36, September 10, 2007, Article 10


On Friday morning I took the tube to my usual stop on Tottenham
Court Road, but turned a different direction toward the British
Museum.  I went through the main entrance on Great Russell Street,
walked up the stairs to the first floor and through the money
gallery.  A small room off to the side of the next room held the
"Illegal Tender" exhibit, and at the back of the room was what
looked like a giant steel safe door with a small window beside
it.  A young oriental woman came to the window;  I told her who
I was and that I had called yesterday about seeing some coins
today.   She ushered me in and instructed me to leave my backpack
in the nearby cloakroom.  After making sure they were allowed,
I removed my notebook, books, laptop computer, magnifier and
laptop computer.  Within a minute I was allowed in to the
Student Room.

Set up like a library reading room, there were a set of eight
tables and chairs arranged in a rectangle at the center of the
room.  Four security cameras stared down from above.  The
attendant had a desk at the front with video monitors.  His
name was Philip, and he was quite pleasant and helpful.  I
filled out a form with my name and address, and he took my
driver's license to record my identification.

I was quite unprepared other than having my copy of the Comitia
Americana book and a copy of the old 1922 guide to the exhibit
(A Guide to the Department of Coins and Medals in the British
Museum, Third Edition).  My primary goal was to see if they had
some of the Franklin medals described in the Adams-Bentley book.

I guess I don't know what I expected, but had assumed the museum
would have some sort of collection catalog handy, if not online
then some old printed index.  No such luck.  I had no way of
knowing for sure that the items I'd like to see were even in
the museum's collection.  But I asked for the 1777 and 1786
Franklin Medals and Libertas Americana medals to start.

While waiting I looked at the books shelved around the room.
Most were behind locked glass doors.  What caught my eye first
were bound volumes of "Marked Catalogues".  The earliest I
noticed were for the years 1770-75, 1776-79 and 1780-85.  Four
of the later volumes were labeled "Sale Catalogues Marked by
Young".  The first contained sales to 1818.  Subsequent volumes
were for 1822-1824, 1825-1833 and 1834-1838.  There were many
shelves of these, all bound in brown cloth.

Also on the shelves were bound catalogues of the Montague Collection
1895-97.  Other sale catalogues included firms such as Sotheby's,
Spink, Christie's, Baldwin's and Galata.   While I waited another
gentleman arrived.  He asked to see "William III and George I
Ha'pennies"   A third gentleman arrived later in the morning.

Two trays were brought out for me and set on my table.  Both were
filled with medals.   The first tray held a 1777 Benjamin Franklin
of Philadelphia medal (p167 in Adams-Bentley).  I read the description
of the medal and viewed the photos to ensure I was looking at the
right piece (I was).  I also viewed the 1786 Benjamin Franklin medal
by Dupre (p179) and three different Libertas Americanas.  One stood
out for its great condition.

I leafed through Adams-Bentley and made a couple more medal requests.
I also asked for some early U.S. copper coins.  The next tray they
brought out held a gorgeous John Paul Jones Comitia Americana medal.
Although it had some very minor rubbing to high points on the reverse,
the medal was stunning - an absolutely beautiful medal with amazing
detail not only in the obverse bust of Jones but in the naval
scene on the reverse.

The Anthony Wayne medal was also quite beautiful with fabulous
detail in the battle scene.  Just like I always read a book's
bibliography, I always look at the tags stored with museum specimens.
This one included a note reading "mf't from the original die,
according to John W. Adams 20/1/2004".  Small world - it's no
coincidence, but it was interesting to see that I was treading
in John's footsteps.

The U.S. large cent tray held a number of early dates.  There
were three 1793 Wreath Cents, three 1794s and many others through
1829.  The 1793s included Sheldon numbers 9 and 11c.  The first
was a great red uncirculated piece.  The tray of Half Cents had
a high grade circulated 1793 example and a lovely red-brown 1794.
Interestingly, the tray also included eight red uncirculated
Lincoln cents from 1998-2001.

Before leaving I asked to see Jennifer Adam.   I had spoken to her
on the phone after learning of her interest in J.S.G. Boggs.  We
talked for a while about Boggs, and NBS and The E-Sylum.  I asked
if I would be able to visit the museum's numismatic library, but
she told me that although they'd bring out any book I requested,
no one is allowed to browse because the books are stored together
with the coins.   I was getting short on time, and wouldn't be
able to usefully request any books.  I had to get back to the
office to help fulfill our client's request for some additional
work.  I returned the remaining trays, packed my bags and left
the building.  What a joy it would be to be able to have more
time to view coins and medals from the collection.  I thanked
everyone, repacked my bag and headed for the door.

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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