The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 20, Number 21, May 21, 2017, Article 17


Dave Hirt submitted these notes on collector John Edgar Burton. -Editor

I have been doing some research on 19th and early 20th century collector John Edgar Burton. If he was living today I am sure he would be am enthusiastic E-Sylum reader, as he collected both coins and books.

His coins were sold in auctions by dealers Haseltine, Woodward, Massamore, Anderson Galleries, and Mehl (two sales). The Woodward sale is given an A rating by Adams. I own all these catalogs except the sale by Massamore. His books were sold in eight sales by Bangs, Anderson Galleries, and American Art. I do not own any of these book sales, so I am not sure how much was numismatic.

In 1929 Burton wrote a rather lengthy biographical article to the ANA in which he claimed to be the oldest living coin collector. It was published in the the October 1929 Numismatist issue. For any readers who have access to this issue, the letter is interesting. He started collecting coins in 1854. He said,

"I was fortunate in that Jimmie Dolbie a saloonkeeper where my grandfather, a soldier of the war of 1812 took his nip daily, and Dolbie told me I could come in each day after school and look over all the cents and half cents in the till and take out what I wanted and put another in its place."

He later got the addresses of all the early dealers including Grandpa Coogan (sic), He later visited early dealers in New York city and Philadelphia. He said that at age 82 he is as interested in coins as when he was a boy.

Thanks, Dave. That sounds like quite a collection. In response, John Lupia submitted the following information from the online draft of 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. -Editor

John Edgar Burton

John Edgar Burton (1847-1930), was born son of John Edgar Burton, Sr. (1825-1874), a boot and shoe maker, and Ruth Jeanette Allen (1826-1895).

He was born in New Hartford, Oneida County, New York on October 19, 1847.

He began collecting Large & Half Cents in 1854. He was one of the four youngsters in New Hartford, New York, who were coin collectors by that date. The other three were Charlie Millard, Stevie Childs, and Byron Case. Burton tells us in his autobiographical letter to the A.N. A. between July and August, 1929, and Moritz Wormser suggested it be read at the Third Session, Tuesday, August 27, 1929, at the A, N. A. Convention, and recorded in the minutes :

"I was fortunate in that Jimmie Dobie, a saloonkeeper, where my grandfather, Asa Allen, a soldier of the War of 1812, took his "nip" daily, and Dobie told me I could come in each day after school and look over all the cents and half cents in the till and take out any I wanted and put another in its place. I secured in a few years a considerable collection of these. By 1857 I had the best in town. Soon I learned the address of John W. Haseltine, John W. Scott, Elliot Woodward, W. H. Sampson and Grandpa Coogan. Later I visited all five of these dealers and began to realize that the old coin business was a big affair.

On this trip I met Mr. S. H. Chapman, who was then a clerk and associate in the office of John W. Haseltine, in Philadelphia. On my next trip I met Mr. Bangs, of Bangs & Co. , 789 Broadway, N. Y. I was a principal in the public schools of Illinois at this time and had a limited bank account, but got so well acquainted that I found there was such a thing as credit.

Having secured a better position in the schools at Lake Geneva, Wis. , I bought from these dealers a large lot, including 1809, 1811, 1814 and a new little white cent of 1856, said to be the rarest thing out. I have since made thirty-nine trips to New York and learned much of the world and of the numismatic line of dealings.

I have enjoyed several old-time wine dinners with John W. Scott and others in the business world, but so far as I now know all these old-line dealers have passed on into the land not marked on maps, except only the Chapman brothers, who are still living and with whom I still deal and purchase choice varieties. I am always proud of my old-time friends and can truthfully say that I have never yet met a dishonest man in the old-coin business. It is a cheerful and pleasant pastime, an intelligent and historically valuable field, and its value to the young is all for good and no hidden foe lurks behind an old coin.

I am 82 and take as great pleasure and interest in a fine coin as I did when a boy. It is an honorable and a most commendable work and steadily growing, as it deserves, and has in its followers many of the best men now living. Its twin occupation, the stamp collecting branch, is ever growing and the work covers Europe, Asia, South America and Africa and Australia. If any one word represents the character of the men in these twin pleasures, it is the word sincerity. Yours for coins and stamps."

During the Lincoln campaign for presidency in 1859 he traveled by train to Utica, New York, where the twelve-year-old John Edgar Burton first saw him after climbing a telephone pole to catch a glimpse. That encounter developed into a lifetime devotion and passion for Lincoln and collecting Lincolniana.

In 1868, he graduated Cazenovia Seminary. He began his career as a school teacher in New York.

On December 7, 1869, Burton married Lucretia “Dell” Delphine Johnson (1850-1938).

In 1869, he moved to Richmond, Illinois taking a teaching position there.

In 1870, he moved to Lake Geneva, Walworth County, Wisconsin, as the new superintendent of schools.

He came to Lake Geneva in 1870, and after teaching school, in 1874, purchased and ran the newspaper Geneva Herald. In 1879, he began investing in various businesses and industry. Working from his office in Milwaukee, Burton invested heavily in mining.

In August 1880, he sold part of his coins as the John E. Burton collection catalogued by John W. Hazeltine, Sale 47, August 9-10, 1880 (See John Weston Adams, Vol. 1, 51).

His coin cabinet was purchased by Woodward in the Fall of 1881. His collection included a large amount of 1794 large cents, including the discovery S-33, and was sold October 26-28, 1881 by W. Elliot Woodward. One of the two catalog plates depicts large cents. According to Frossard he swindled both John W. Haseltine and W. E. Woodward in several coin transactions.

In 1885, he became manager of Equitable Life Insurance of New York for the entire state of Wisconsin. That same year he started iron and copper mining operations in the Gogebic Range in northern Wisconsin and Michigan. He was also involved in gold and crystal mining in California, silver mining in Colorado and Mexico, and tin mining in Alaska. Burton's businesses made him a millionaire.

In 1887, the copper mines in the Gogebic Range fail. In 1889, panic struck investors in his mining operations and they bail out. Afterwards he went to Mexico to begin silver mining there.

His main hobby besides coin collecting was collecting Abraham Lincoln books, manuscripts, and memorabilia, in which he amassed a huge collection.

In the late 1890s Burton's mining businesses failed. He was also a financial investor with Levi Odell and his invention of the Odell Type-Writer, owning 4/5 interest in the Odell Type Writer Company. He eventually lost his fortune and was forced to sell his collection of 3,000 objects of Lincolniana. Burton also collected books and paintings as well as coins.

He applied to the ANA in January 1915. See The Numismatist, Vol. XXVIII, No. 1, January (1915) : 21

His remaining coin collection was finally sold as well as his Lincolniana (Parts 1 & 2) in November 1915 by Anderson Galleries, New York.

Bibliophiles (and their spouses) will appreciate this photo. The caption reads: "John and Lucretia Burton, circa 1916, on the porch of their Lake Geneva mansion. John Burton amassed one of the nation's largest collections of Lincoln-related artifacts until financial woes forced him to sell nearly all of it. Here, Burton poses with a few of the 32,000 books he collected. Alongside him, Lucretia feigns a threatening pose should he dare bring another book or artifact into the home." -Editor

John & Lucretia Burton 1916

Photo published in a magnificent gem of an article by Lisa M. Schmelz, "Losing Lincoln," At The Lake Magazine, Autumn (2011) : 36-44;

The final two sales of his coins were sold by B Max Mehl sale 48, April 30, 1918 and sale 65, April 17,1923.

In January 1926, he had reapplied for membership with the A.N.A. with a new membership number.

He died in 1930 and was buried in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

Thanks to Dave Hirt for informing me of Burton's 1926 A.N.A. reapplication and new ANA Member No. Also, the two B. Max Mehl coin sales. Thanks Dave.

To read the complete article, see:

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Wayne Homren, Editor

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