The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 18, Number 49, December 6, 2015, Article 18


John Lupia submitted the following information from his Encyclopedic Dictionary of Numismatic Biographies‎ for this week's installment of his series. Thanks! As always, this is an excerpt with the full article and bibliography available online. This week's subject is Robert W. Mercer. -Editor

Robert Wood Mercer (1840-1894), was born in Ohio on April 12, 1840 the son of Joseph Mercer (1806-1862) a native of Ohio and Anna Day Mercer (1813-1855) from Virginia. Mercer was married to Rosetta Waddell (1843-) on December 31, 1867, at Gallia, Ohio, and they had two sons Robert Waldo Mercer, (1871-), and Cleaney W. Mercer (1874-1907). It seems reasonable to assume that his last son was named after the well-known Cincinnati numismatist and collector Thomas Cleaney.

We shall see that Mercer was a self-made man and, as some, went the way of a self-destructive man as well.

During the Civil War he enlisted in Company B, Ohio 18th Infantry Regiment on 4 September 1861. He mustered out with the rank of Private on 9 November 1864.

After the Civil War he became a merchandizer specializing in stencils. Over time he added other items and eventually included items typical of the classical curiosity cabinet. On December 27, 1866 he advertised as R. W. Mercer & Co., 56 ½ Jefferson Street between Second and Third, in the Louisville Daily Courier for agents “in every city and town in the South to sell name plates, stencil brands, and alphabets, badges, baggage and key checks, etc.” Evidently he either moved back to his home state in Ohio or else the address in the ad was that of an agent living there since we find that on May 19, 1868, he advertised in the Cincinnati Gazette “Agents Wanted” R. W./ Mercer “Brand cutter” 162 Main Street. On January 20, 1869 he advertised in the Cincinnati Daily Enquirer selling stencil brands at 5 cents per letter with an address at 162 Main Street, Cincinnati. Over a decade late he will call his store “the Stencil Stock House”.

By the mid to late 1870's he became a coin dealer and owner of The Curio Store, 147 Central Avenue, Cincinnati, Ohio; and also at 148 Main Street, Cincinnati, Ohio, later on he moved next door to 147 Main Street.

MERCER, RW, WARNING Warning to Collectors postcard

In September 1877 he was elected a member of the Ohio Archaeological Society. Though an amateur archaeologist at best he fancied himself a real archaeologist though he had no formal training or experience whatsoever. He was, however, considered by many including experts to be an authority on Indian relics and artifacts. Unfortunately his notoriety as an expert and dealer in Indian relics caused him to create a black list and controversy among the other dealers. This is the least of his crimes.

MERCER, RW 1879 letter

In the July 1879 issue of Numisma we find the notice of the coin sale of 590 lots of R. W. Mercer catalogued by himself held at Cincinnati on May 23d.

In the January 1881 issue of Numisma we find the report that his collection was catalogued by W. E. Woodward of 1704 lots and sold by Bangs & Co., New York on December 8, 9 & 10th, 1880. (also cited in Scott’s Coin Collectors Journal). Mention was made that “a few copies of this catalogue were issued with a heliotype plate, at 30 cents each. Thick paper copies with the plate, and priced, can also be obtained of Mr. Woodward at $1.oo each.”

In the March 1881 issue of Numisma the January 17-18th sale of Coins, Paper Money, Union Envelopes, etc., comprising 529 lots, catalogued by S. H. Morgan, was sold by D. F. Henry, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

MERCER RW 4-1-1881 Numismatical Directory postcard

He is best known for his publication of Mercer’s Numismatic Directory in the second half of 1881.

In the September 1881 issue of Numisma he announced the publication of his publication, The Collector’s Guide, for thirty-five cents per year.

The Cincinnati Enquirer, Thursday, December 24, 1891, page 12 tells us more profoundly about the character of Robert Wood Mercer in a public notice of divorce titled "Mercer's Misery".

R.W. Mercer, the curiosity dealer on Central avenue, near Fourth, would probably like to dispose of his wife, Rosetta, "as a relic". This is based upon the allegations of a petition for divorce filed by him yesterday. He says that for seven years they have not lived together as husband and wife, though he has provided for her. He alleges that she has refused to cohabit with him, refused to prepare his meals, mend his clothes or in any way attend to her household duties. She beat him with a poker, called him a libertine, a drunkard and accused him of having a vile disease. He says she sent him and his friends vile letters and postal cards, and called at his store and abused him. He became in fear of his life and had to leave home. They live in the Normandy Building on Race street."

The suggestion by Rosetta Mercer is that her husband while carousing at saloons and houses of ill repute contracted a venereal disease. We shall find his alcoholism and derelict behavior was indeed passed onto his eldest son who, like his father, gets into serious trouble because of it.

MERCER Cin. Enq. 12-29-91, p.8

He died June 18, 1894 in Van Wert County, Ohio at 54 years, 2 months and 6 days of his age.

His son Robert W. Mercer, continued his father’s business advertising the reopening of Mr. Mercer’s store doing business as R. W. Mercer & Co., in The Antiquarian in the premiere issue in September 1897. However, the son ran ads in The Museum in July and August 1895 continuing his father’s business uninterruptedly.

To read the complete article, see:

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Wayne Homren, Editor

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