Coin World published two short articles in 1969 about the availability of the John Leonard Riddell monograph reprint. The first article appeared in the June 4, 1969, issue, noting that the book was available from an Edward P. Beals in California for $10. The second article noted that the book had been reprinted by the Sociedad Numismatica de Mexico and was available from that society, also for $10. Both articles had brief biographies of Riddell but provided no details about the decision to reprint his monograph.
The copy of the reprint in Coin World’s library is No. 80 of 550.
Riddell is a fascinating figure: brilliant, driven, mercurial. He knew nothing about melting and refining when President Van Buren appointed him to the position of melter and refiner at the New Orleans Mint in 1839. Some of his early efforts at performing his appointed tasks were disastrous; he lost a considerable amount of gold and silver on January 11, 1840. when glass vessels burst while they were being heated. He was eventually able to produce silver ingots for refining but continued, at least initially, to have problems refining gold, which was brought to the attention of officials in Philadelphia and Washington. However, he grew into the position and became quite skilled. He introduced techniques that would be used into the early 20th century.
He also was unpopular with some employees at the New Orleans Mint because of his actions, and became the subject of numerous complaints.
He fired two employees, claiming they were incompetent, and then sought to have one of his brothers appointed to fill one of the vacancies (another brother had already received an appointment at the facility). When Riddell failed to promote another employee, the disgruntled laborer spread rumors about Riddell, alleging incompetence, stealing, cowardice, default and that he had murdered Riddell’s recently dead wife. Riddell and his brothers tracked down the Mint employee and "chastised him on the piazza of his boarding house." Riddell was charged with assault and battery, and convicted. However, the judge chose to fine Riddell rather than imprison him because of his importance to the Mint. The assault resulted in months of correspondence between New Orleans and officials in the East as Mint superiors sought details on the incident.
Riddell's term as melter and refiner ended on Dec. 4, 1848, when Treasury Secretary Robert J. Walker dismissed him without explanation to the bewildered appointee.
Anyone wanting to learn more about Riddell should seek out one of the best biographies of Riddell, written by Karlem Riess and published Sept. 1, 1977, in Tulane Studies in Geology and Paleontology, two fields in which Riddell excelled. The article can be found at
www.tulane.edu/~matas/historical/docs/Riddell_LD_5427_T822.pdf. I used the article for my two-part article on Riddell in the October 11 and October 18, 1999, issues of Coin World .