I ran out of time last week to list all of the interesting events at my meeting of Nummis Nova. Here another one: Tom Kays handed me a printout of an interesting article from the December 1870 issue of Scribner's Monthly. The article profiles flower sellers, toy balloon sellers, and one unnamed vendor of interest to numismatists - a man declared by the author to be "the first street coin-vender in New York."
In the category of "things never change," consider this excerpt from Scribner's Monthly – An Illustrated Magazine for the People, "The Street-Vendors of New York" by E.E. Sterns, Volume 1, December 1870, p118, which sheds light on an interesting time in American coin collecting when large cents were phased out.
In the year of the Fremont campaign, an intelligent young Irishman tried to sell some old cents which had accidentally come into his possession, but the coin-dealer would not pay what the young man thought they were worth, and he resolved to offer them to the public himself. Accordingly, to the consternation of his friends, he at once established himself as the first street coin-vender in New York, believing that he could at least make enough to buy a loaf of bread every day, and a pound of beefsteak on Sunday.
Fortune favored the young dealer, for the numismatic fever prevailed in 1857, and he surprised every one by clearing fifteen hundred dollars in eighteen months. Considering himself independently rich, he thereupon made a trip to the old country; but on his return he found such an abatement in the rage for coin-collecting, that since then he has only made a modest living as a street-vender of rare, curious, and ancient currency. For many years he stood at the corner of Broadway and Chambers streets, but last summer he migrated and became a Wall street dealer!
He is a man of moderate stature, quiet manner, and pleasant countenance, with short brown beard and moustache, comfortable attire, and a narrow green necktie embroidered with white silk. His coins are fastened in rows with copper tacks upon three small boards, which are covered with white paper, and suspended by loops of twine to the tips of the iron railing near the Treasury Building.
There are American coins on one of these boards, European coins on the second, and small silver Roman coins on the third, besides various medals and tokens in a square red, wooden, cord-suspended box, which also contains a little pile of dingy old paper "Continental money," varying in denomination from three pence to eighty dollars, and most of it
made in Pennsylvania, and inscribed with the ominous warning, "To counterfeit is death."
The highest price this vender ever received was paid for a cent of 1799, which brought forty-five dollars on account of its perfectness and rarity. He sold some time ago an album, containing eighteen hundred kinds of postage-stamps, for three hundred and seventy five dollars, and, in fact, drives a brisker trade of late in stamps than in coins. He also has for sale a very unique collection of "war envelopes," embellished with an infinite variety of patriotic designs. But these sell slowly, and "selling coins," he says, "is just like fishing; you never know when you will have a bite. Some days I don't get a dollar, and again I take fifty dollars in a single afternoon."
Question for the E-Sylum readers: Name that vendor!
To read the complete article, see:
The Street Venders of New York
To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
WAYNE'S NUMISMATIC DIARY: MARCH 13, 2011
Wayne Homren, Editor
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