The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 20, Number 28, July 9, 2017, Article 16

SUSANNA MINNS (1839-1938)

John Lupia submitted the following information from the online draft of his book of numismatic biographies for this week's installment of his series. This week's subject is Susan Minns of Boston, inspired by the Newman Numismatic Portal item earlier in this issue. Thanks! As always, this is an excerpt with the full article and bibliography available online. -Editor

Boston Gentlewoman's Dance of Death St. Louis Dispatch 9-1-1929
St. Louis Dispatch, September 1, 1929

Ms. Susan Minns was an avid art, antique, coin and curio collector who amassed the largest known collection of items of the iconographic theme of the Dance of Death. She is well-known to art historian researchers for her collection of "the Dance of Death" donated to the Louvain University Library, which contains coins and medals, as well as manuscripts, incunabula, and rare printed books and curiosities. She was a generous philanthropist donating land and monies to various charities. She also authored several books including the very rare, Genealogical Histories of Minns and Allied Families in the Line of Descent of Miss Susan Minns, valued at $1,800 in 1927.

Susanna "Susan" Minns (1839-1938), was born the third of three children on August 21, 1839, daughter of Constant Freeman Minns (1800-1841), a wealthy merchant, and Frances Ann Parker Minns (1804-1892), in Lincoln, Middlesex County, Massachusetts. Her two older siblings were her sister Frances (1837-1869), and her brother Thomas (1832-1913). Her grandfather Thomas Minns (1773-1836), was the publisher of the Massachusetts Mercury, the editor of the Boston Palladium, and the printer for the Massachusetts legislature. Her great-grandfather William Minns (1728-1816) fought in the American Revolution. She was named after her grandmother Susanna Mitchell Minns (1777-1865).

About 1853 she began to collect woodcuts and books illustrated with woodcuts. She even engaged herself in making woodcuts as a hobby.

Her 1868 U. S. passport describes her as 5'-4" tall, and thirty-two years later she shrank a half inch since her 1900 passport describes her as 5'-3-1/2" tall.

Her sister Frances Antoinette Minns died a week after her 33rd birthday in Naples, Campania, Italy, on February 18, 1870; which began Susan's interest in collecting items of the "Dance of Death" sparked by the sentiment of memento mori ( the Latin adage which recalls the brevity of transient earthly life and the vanity of the accumulation of material goods, wealth and the pursuit of pleasures). Readers will remember Isaac Francis Wood and his stationery which illustrated memento mori. Late medieval art produced a plethora of works illustrating the "Dance of Death" and memento mori, especially after 1348 when the Black Death brought sickness and death to nearly half of Europe.

In 1887, Sylvester Rosa Koehler (1837-1900), became the curator of prints at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where he had been working as acting curator in 1885. There he befriended Miss Minns and advised her about her collection. By 1887 she learned her collection of the "Dance of Death" was larger than that exhibited in New York.

14 Louisburg Sq Susan Mimms home She lived in the family 6,253 square foot four-story townhouse at 14 Louisburg Square, Boston, Massachusetts, and became the sole owner after the death of her brother Thomas in October 1913. The house is currently valued at over $8 Million USD and is listed as the eleventh most valuable home in Boston.

In 1922, the New York architect Whitney Warren (1864-1943), who designed the new Louvain University Library contacted Susan Minns to stop the auction sale at the American Art Association, New York. Preventing buyers to win bids Minns supplied $12,500 in funds to buy the items. The auction realized $17,645.50, earmarked as a donation to be given to the Executive Committee of the United States for the Restoration of Louvain University.

White spacer bar

Dance of Death catalog Collection of death Coins Sold NUM June 1922 288

In 1929 she bequeathed the remainder of her "Dance of Death" Collection to the Louvain University Library, Louvain, Belgium. A full page story was published by Frank P. Sibley, "A Boston Gentlewoman's Unique "Dance of Death" Collection," St. Louis Dispatch, Sunday Magazine, page 3, September 1, 1929. The King of Belgium decorated her with the Order of the Golden Palm for her generous donation of the collection and money.

She died in August 2, 1938. She was buried on August 4, 1938, at Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Middlesex County, Massachusetts.

To read the complete article, see:

To read the Isaac Francis Wood article, see:


SELECTIONS FROM THE JOHN HUFFMAN LIBRARY: Browse and Shop Approximately 3,000 Numismatic Books from the Respected Library of John Huffman—All Books Discounted 40%. Click here or go to click on “All Subjects” and select “John Huffman Collection”

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

The Numismatic Bibliomania Society is a non-profit organization promoting numismatic literature. See our web site at

To submit items for publication in The E-Sylum, write to the Editor at this address:

To subscribe go to:



Copyright © 1998 - 2020 The Numismatic Bibliomania Society (NBS)
All Rights Reserved.

NBS Home Page
Contact the NBS webmaster