Much has already been written (see links below) about Karl Moulton's new book, John J. Ford, Jr. and the ‘Franklin Hoard’ .
I'll try not to rehash those discussions, and instead focus on some other aspects of the book.
One thing I will reiterate though, is that this is quite a hefty tome, perhaps
three volumes worth of material within one set of glossy covers. Don't consider the book's price alone ($250), but be aware of what you're getting for your money. The 903-page hardbound is printed on glossy paper and is chock full of full-color photographs of documents, coins, gold and silver bars, people, and more. For the bibliophile, it's a treat - also pictured are quite a number of numismatic books, catalogs and periodical articles which address the subjects at hand.
At the recent Baltimore show I sat next to David Lange at dinner one night, and we talked about the book. He and I were in such agreement that I asked him to contribute to this review. He writes:
I have no particular interest in the commercially issued coins and ingots of the Old West beyond what I need to know when attributing submissions to NGC, but then Karl Moulton's new book is not a catalog in the vein of Don Kagin's 1981 reference work. The primary virtue of Karl's book is its behind-the-scenes look at that segment of the coin market during the 1950s-70s. I found his account of the lives of John J. Ford Jr. and Gerow Paul Franklin to be immensely entertaining as both history and great gossip.
JJF in particular was one of a kind, and for that most of us should be grateful. My one and only interaction with him came around the time of the Great Debate of 1999 when he was seeking numismatists of the current generation who had not been prejudiced by earlier episodes and might support his assertion that the prooflike USAO twenties were genuine products of the period. I had not yet seen one, but I'd seen plenty of genuine California pioneer pieces. He showed me an example of one of the coins in question, and I immediately blurted out that it just didn't look like 19th Century surfaces. I don't recall his exact words at that point, but they certainly did not include an invitation to join him for lunch.
The reproduction of so many vintage letters, invoices, etc. in Karl's book gives one a good understanding of the players, both Ford and Franklin, as well as their customers and their sometimes shadowy associates. While the book has a certain scrapbook feel to it, Karl's running interpretation of these documents is both insightful and well written.
It takes a leap of faith to plunk down the rather high price of this book, but then it is a whopping 900+ pages and a high quality product. Anyone who loves the history of our hobby as much as I do will not think twice about making this investment, but the cost may limit its sales overall. Those persons still on the fence about acquiring Karl's book should remember, however, the old axiom that when an expensive book is out of print it can't be bought at any price...
Getting back to numismatic literature for a moment, the author notes in his Preface that
"Generally speaking, what Ford presented over the years was accepted as fact, and copied in auction catalogues that offered items he had originally marketed or owned. Ford's background information can also be found in reference books where the writer had checked with Ford, since he was apparently the only one who knew the background story about such items."
Early in the book several such references are pictured, including Don Kagin's 1981 Private Gold Coins and Patterns of the United States and the 1982 Bowers and Ruddy Henry H. Clifford collection sale.
Rightfully, the author notes in his Preface that
"It needs to be pointed out that in modern numismatic literature references there was no intent by the writers to perpetrate a fraud. They apparently did not know, or suspect, that some of the items they were describing were modern fakes. What is presented now was, for the most part, not common knowledge at the time; therefore, they should not be accused of intentional wrongdoing."
Moulton started with the numismatic basics, going far back in the known literature to review the earliest known documented bars and ingots. For example, two Moffat & Co. bars were described in the U.S. Mint collection in 1849 and 1851 by Eckfeldt and DuBois.
The book covers a tremendous array of issues, artifacts, people and events, from the first North Carolina gold find in 1799, to the 1849 gold rush and money circulating in San Francisco in 1855, to the 1909 Zabriske sale Augustus Humbert items, Roosevelt's 1933 gold order, the first appearances of the questionable gold bars in the 1950s, Buttrey's 1972 research, and the 1999 "Great Debate" between Buttrey and Michael Hodder, at which I was present.
As for my back-of-the-book test, the bibliography spans eleven full pages, and the index seven (The E-Sylum gets twenty-seven listings!) There are footnotes throughout, but no extensive end notes. However, the book's all-inclusive methodology makes these less necessary; while some have called Moulton's a "scrapbook" approach, to me it's a fabulous collection of original source material, with page after page of correspondence and documents reproduced in full - a researcher's paradise.
I knew John Ford. Or rather, I should say I met him on multiple occasions, sometimes spending time at length, and had several other interactions by telephone and mail. I can attest to the characteristics generally ascribed to him. He had a wide and deep numismatic library and was extremely well read on U.S. numismatic history. He knew his subjects deep and cold. Yet he had the insufferable form of brilliance that holds contempt for those less brilliant than he (perhaps your Editor included, for all I know). A fastidious penny-pincher, he could be equally insufferable even among friends. Yet he was a fascinating conversationalist, a raconteur who could hold court for hours on his favorite subjects.
What Moulton has written is far more than a story of the disputed "Franklin Hoard". He's assembled a mass of material shedding light on the enigmatic John J. Ford, an undisputedly key figure in American numismatics. While not a biography, it covers many key events in Ford's life and career. Even without the voluminous material relating to the "Franklin Hoard" pieces, the book is valuable for students of American numismatics, for all the reasons David Lange outlined and many more. I recommend it to everyone, particularly bibliophiles and other students of the hobby. It's a fascinating read.
Copies of the John J. Ford, Jr., and the 'Franklin Hoard' book can be ordered at the price of $250.00, by sending payment to:
PO Box 1073
Congress, AZ, 85332
Questions can be directed to Karl at:
To read the earlier E-Sylum articles, see:
NEW BOOK: JOHN J. FORD, JR., AND THE FRANKLIN HOARD
BOOK REVIEW: JOHN J. FORD AND THE FRANKLIN HOARD (Kleeberg)
HARVEY STACK ON FORD, FRANKLIN, AND FALSE GOLD
BOOK REVIEW: JOHN J. FORD AND THE FRANKLIN HOARD (Weinberg)
Wayne Homren, Editor
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