While not yet available for general sale, I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of the new biography of America's numismatic
elder statesman, Eric Newman. Here are my initial thoughts, having read through about half of the book by tonight's publication time.
First, I want to assure our numismatic readers (and that should be nearly all of you), that the focus of this book is numismatics. While
the story of this centenarian's life is presented quite well, numismatics is the central focus of the tale. This should be evident in the choice
of authors - Len Augsburger, Roger Burdette and Joel Orosz are among the top numismatic researchers active today, and they are well versed in the
nuances of the American coin trade and its personalities and controversies of the last 100 years.
Newman's life has touched on and driven the story of several major numismatic events in this timespan, and all are addressed in this
volume. Its title Truth Seeker is quite apt, for Newman's role in these events was as a tireless seeker and teller of numismatic
truths, unfazed and undeterred by opponents who would rather paper over the facts for commercial or personal gain.
From the authors' Foreword:
Before we could dig into any of the documents, however, we exercised a privilege denied many biographers for our subject is still very
much alive and in possession of an encyclopedic memory and quick wit. We sat with him around the table in the Newman family dining room,
firing away our numismatic queries. Eric, age 102 at the time, seemed to draw energy from the cross-examination. In fact, each of our 13
sessions terminated only when his wife Evelyn would ask: “Are you boys just about done with your questions?”
Our blunt questions elicited unvarnished answers. Newman did not trim, did not equivocate. When it came to issues of right or wrong,
ethical or unethical, there was only one word to describe his stance: uncompromising.
From the Introduction:
Eric Newman grew up in a world today’s collector can only experience through paper and ink and faded photographs. He came before the
millions of children who pulled Lincoln cents out of their pockets and plugged them into cardboard cutouts. There was no Internet, no
television, not even radio in his Missouri hometown. Nor was St. Louis a hub for would-be coin collectors.
The city might still have been the “gateway to the West” in the early 20th century but it had no coinage mint, and its Assay Office –
which served miners returning from Western gold fields – closed in 1911, the year Eric was born. By age 11, his only connection to the
outside numismatic world was a downtown coin store, St. Louis Stamp and Coin Co. Young Eric, on a 5-cents-a-week allowance, began to buy
inexpensive coins from Burdette Johnson, the store’s proprietor. Johnson’s role in Eric’s life as mentor, friend and eventually business
partner would change both their lives.
Newman went on to get a business and engineering degree from MIT and a law degree from Washington University in St. Louis, to begin a
career as a lawyer and business executive, to marry his sweetheart, Evelyn Frances Edison, and start a family.
Then there is Eric Newman as numismatic researcher and author. For years, research took priority over the convention scene for Newman.
If he was going to get on a plane for numismatic purposes, he was more likely to be visiting a library than attending a coin show. “We
didn’t have everything on microfilm in the early days, we didn’t have everything on computer,” he recalled. “We had to go from library to
library and read every bit of it and make notes and try to piece together all the wonderful information that was out there.”
Newman’s first such article appeared in 1941, on the subject of an early St. Louis bank note, and was published by the Missouri
Part I covers Newman's early years in five short chapters, and Part II covers his family, wife Evelyn, and their globe-trotting
family. But numismatics is a theme throughout, including the coin necklace worn by Evelyn when they first met.
Those 59 pages are just a warmup for the wild numismatic ride to follow. Remaining parts of the 418-page book cover Eric's
acquisition of much of the Col. E.H.R. Green collection, his relationship with Burdette Johnson and numismatic scholars Wayte Raymond,
F.C.C. Boyd, John J. Ford, Jr., Q. David Bowers, George Fuld and Don Taxay.
Extensive sections cover The Fantastic 1804 Dollar, the 1853 $20 U.S. Assay Office of Gold controversy, the Lilly Collection and
counterfeit western bars, and the pursuit of Clapp Large cents switched out of the American Numismatic Society collection.
Along the way of course, the book covers Eric's research and publication of several landmark books including The Early Paper
Money of America, and multiple important papers and monographs including those authored in his 2nd century.
Above is an image of one of the hardbound advance copies. The regular edition is not yet available for purchase. Stay tuned for more
information. I'm still working my way through it, but am already convinced this is the one book an American numismatist must have in
their library to understand the full sweep of numismatic research and commerce in the 20th century and beyond.
Hats off to Eric, and kudos to the author team for pulling these multiple important stories together in one handy volume. But even a
large, well-researched book such as this cannot encompass all the facts and details; it provides the framework on which future research of
the era will rest, opening new questions for 21st century truth-seekers to pursue. They will be standing on the shoulders of a numismatic
giant, Eric P. Newman.
To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
NEW BOOK: TRUTH SEEKER: THE LIFE OF ERIC P. NEWMAN
Wayne Homren, Editor
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