The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 21, Number 26, July, 1, 2018, Article 26


Another selection from the Kolbe & Fanning sale 150 of highlights of the John W. Adams library is lot 361, the rare and important 1861 Vattemare catalogue. -Editor

Vattemare’s 1861 Catalogue Vattemare, Alexandre. COLLECTION DE MONNAIES ET MÉDAILLES DE L’AMÉRIQUE DU NORD DE 1652 À 1858, OFFERTE A LA BIBLIOTHÈQUE IMPÉRIALE TANT AU NOM DU GOUVERNEMENT FÉDÉRAL ET DES CITOYENS DES DIVERS ÉTATS DE L’UNION AMÉRICAINE QU’EN SON PROPRE NOM... CATALOGUE AVEC NOTICES HISTORIQUES ET BIOGRAPHIQUES. Paris: Imprimerie de Ad. Lainé et J. Havard, 1861. 12mo, original printed russet wrappers. 2 blank leaves, 134, (2) pages, 2 blank leaves. Wrappers reinforced with archival tape. Completely deacidified. Very good. $250

“Alexandre Vattemare is recognized among American numismatists as one of the fathers of the discipline in the New World, having assembled the first comprehensive collections of American coins, medals, and paper currency, and produced the first comprehensive catalog of American numismatics.” — Alan Stahl, in The Extravagant Ambassador: The True Story of Alexandre Vattemare, the French Ventriloquist Who Changed the World, Boston Public Library, 2007. Nicholas Marie Alexandre Vattemare, founder of the System of International Exchanges, was born in Paris in 1796 and died there in 1864.

A man of many talents, he was a surgeon early in his career and later became a well-known ventriloquist and magician who traveled throughout Europe and America. He subsequently gave up this occupation to promote adoption of his Système d’Échange International, initially aimed at the exchange of duplicate books between libraries, especially government publications. Later it was extended to include works of art, maps, natural history specimens, coins, medals and other similar objects.

He came to America in 1839 and again in 1847, and was granted funds by Congress and by several state legislatures to further his scheme, which met with greater success here than in Europe. He effected several exchanges with the National Institute (later the Smithsonian Institution).

This elusive 1861 work describing American coins, medals and tokens from 1652 to 1858 was written to complement the holdings of the Bibliothèque Nationale. Following an interesting historical overview, from colonial issues to pioneer gold, some 381 pieces are described in detail. Sometimes mintages (frappage) are noted, and many of the early entries feature historical notes that are usually interesting if not in all cases completely accurate.

A few excerpts follow: Vattemare provides a detailed description of a Brasher doubloon “qui se trouve à la monnaie fédérale de Philadelphie...”; he notes that the cents of “1808 à 1815” bear “le portrait de madame Madison”; of an “1815” cent he writes that “Vu la cherté du cuivre, occasionnée par la guerre avec l’Angleterre, il ne fut pas frappé de cents en 1815. L’existence de cette pièce prouve une fois de plus qu’il y avait à Birmingham un monnayage clandestin de pièces américaines, introduites aux États-Unis par le Canada et la Nouvelle-Écosse”; an 1840 half cent (“Demi-cent”) is described as bearing the “Effigie de Mme Patterson”; he discusses “médailles de paix,” noting that “Les peace medals sont les seules qui portent l’efigie du président des Etats-Unis,” and that “Après le déclaration d’indépendance, les premières médailles ont été exécutées en France... Notre collection comprend 14 de ces médailles, 4 de Duvivier, 7 de Dupré et 3 de Gatteaux”; etc. A Table Alphabétique is provided for the sections on both coins and medals, the latter is also accompanied by a Liste de Graveurs.

All in all, the Catalogue is a most interesting early source of information on American numismatics. Of the author, “Vattemare the Magician,” as he is termed in American Numismatics before the Civil War 1760-1860, Q. David Bowers writes that Vattemare visited America two or more times in the 1830s to the 1850s and “came upon the numismatic scene in the form of a mini-tornado of frenetic activity.” Apropos of the section heading, Bowers humorously observes that “Upon visiting Matthew A. Stickney, the well-known Salem, MA, collector, Vattemare was watched very closely by his host, who was somewhat fearful that by sleight-of-hand he might purloin his prized 1804 silver dollar!”

Scarce and important. Ex Craig and Ruanne Smith library (Kolbe Sale 95, lot 192); ex David F. Fanning’s February 2008 fixed price list, item 182; ex William A. Burd Library.

For more information, or to bid, see:
Vattemare's 1861 Catalogue (

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Wayne Homren, Editor

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