The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 19, Number 21, May 22, 2016, Article 6


Readers had some great responses to Dave Hirt's question about the earliest American numismatic books. -Editor

David Fanning writes:

In reference to Dave Hirt's query about early American numismatic books, he asks if there are publications earlier than the 1740 work An Inquiry into the Nature and Uses of Money...

Yes and no. First, most of us do not consider works like this to be numismatic (Attinelli didn't either, for what it's worth). Generally speaking, books on financial history, monetary circulation and the economic ramifications of the issuance of paper money are held to be different than works written for collectors or scholars of coinage. It's a question of audience and intent: no one involved in the production of this 1740 title would have thought that it might be of interest to collectors of early American paper money.

Now of course such publications are held to be of some interest to collectors and scholars who value the context in which their colonial paper money was issued. For those collectors, I would recommend the four-volume set, Colonial Currency Reprints, edited by Andrew McFarland Davis (Boston: Prince Society, 1910-11). These volumes bring together and reprint 58 very rare early American publications issued between 1682 and 1751 on the subject of currency. The following is my usual commentary on this work:

An underappreciated masterpiece. Andrew McFarland Davis was a noted historian who specialized in the history of money in early American society. Conducting his research at a time when few appreciated the significance of his efforts, Davis published a number of monographs and articles on the subject, most of which remain significant in their particular area. His greatest contribution to historical research, however, is probably this extensive series of reprints. Davis eagerly sought out rare early American imprints discussing matters concerning paper money, many of which were only known by one or two copies. He reprinted these rare texts (generally pamphlets), thus making them available to scholars in his own time and ours.

His most valiant effort in this regard is Colonial Currency Reprints, a massive compendium of nearly 2000 pages encompassed in four volumes that reprints 58 of these extremely rare, yet important, records of our early financial history and experimentation with paper currency. The background is given quite well in the prospectus to the first volume:

“During the first half of the eighteenth century the American colonies of Great Britain emitted bills of public credit in denominational values, which first served as an auxiliary for the coin in circulation, and finally as a substitute for the coin which had been driven out of the country by these emissions. The experiment was started in Massachusetts Bay and gave rise to the publication of many tracts, some of which were devoted to an abstract discussion of the subject of the substitution of a paper currency for coin; some to the advocacy of private bills in place of public bills; some to the presentation of schemes for banks of issue the circulation of which should be based upon mortgages of lands; and some to the abuse of those who differed from the writers of the specific pamphlets on the topics under discussion.”

Only 250 sets were published. Clain-Stefanelli 13293. Davis 303. Grierson 219. McKerchar 2057.

Incidentally, Andrew McFarland Davis attributed the authorship of the 1740 work to Hugh Vans in the 1910 volume of the  Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society  and it is included in his Colonial Currency Reprints.

David Gladfelter also points to Colonial Currency Reprints. He writes:

This anonymous work is reproduced in toto in Colonial Currency Reprints, 1682-1751, Andrew McFarland Davis, editor (Boston, The Prince Society, 1911, reprinted 1964) vol. 3, pages 365-474. Davis ascribes the work to one Hugh Vance, and states that “its apparent purpose was to meet the arguments put forth by (Dr. William) Douglass in his ‘Essay concerning silver and paper currencies,' etc.” Davis traces 8 copies of the Vance essay in various libraries, including the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library. The Douglass essay is also reproduced in Davis (vol, 3, pages 217-250).

I was curious about the discrepancy in name spellings. David Fanning writes "Page 478 of Davis suggests that the name was originally spelled Vans and later Vance." -Editor

Lou Jordan at the University of Notre Dame writes:

I had tracked down two versions of that work and forwarded them to Phil Mossman a few years back. Attached are the two PDFs.

An Inquiry into the Nature and Uses of Money An Inquiry into the Nature and Uses of Money page

George Kolbe adds:

Two particularly notable works of American numismatic interest published later in the eighteenth century also came to mind:

1) The first listing in Attinelli, namely “The Charter Laws and Catalogue of the Books of the Library Company of Philadelphia,” 1764, “Printed by B. Franklin and D. Hall,” (it features an account of “The valuable Collection of ancient Medals, in the Library”); and

2) A 1786 work relating to paper currency by the author of “Common Sense,” famous pamphleteer and patriot, Thomas Paine (1737–1809), entitled “Dissertations on Government, The Affairs of the Bank, and Paper-Money.”

It is interesting to note that Franklin and Paine were well acquainted with each other. It was my good fortune to have once sold an example of the former work. The closest I ever came to acquiring the latter was placing what I considered a strong (but, alas, unsuccessful) bid in a Swann Galleries sale a number of years ago.

David Fanning adds:

Severals Relating to the Fund I do have a set of Davis reprints in my library and can confirm that the earliest work included therein is an eight-page pamphlet printed in Boston in March 1681/2 titled "Severals Relating to the Fund," a commentary on a mutual fund organized by several Boston businessmen that relied on "fund credit" instead of traditional money. The anonymous author has been identified by J. Hammond Trumbull as Rev. John Woodbridge.

At the time of Davis's writing, the only known copy was in the Watkinson Library in Hartford. I do not know if this remains the only known copy, but coincidence has that I am friends with the Special Collections Librarian at the Watkinson and will discuss it with him. In the meantime, here is Davis's image of the first page of the pamphlet.

Ed Hohertz writes:

I searched the local library (Cleveland Public) and found that the "Inquiry Into The Nature And Uses Of Money" book is on microform. In addition, there is another related book of the same year by the same publisher.

A Discourse Concerning The Currencies Of The British Plantations In America
Especially With Regard To Their Paper Money: More Particularly, In Relation To The Province Of The Massachusetts-Bay, In New England

Douglass, William
Microform - 1740

Thanks, everyone! This is quite a ripe mine of interesting material. Following the "Paper Money - Massachusetts" subject link I came to a number of intriguing titles, including "A Mournful Lamentation For The Sad And Deplorable Death Of Mr. Old Tenor" and "The Dying Speech Of Old Tenor". -Editor

To view the British Plantations in America entry, see:

To view the Paper Money - Massachusetts entries, see:

To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
Query: The Earliest American Numismatic Book (

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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