The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 22, Number 19, May 12, 2019, Article 14

JOHN MCALLISTER, JR. (1786-1877)

John Lupia submitted the following information from the online draft of his book 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. This week's subject is Philadelphia collector John McAllister, Jr. John notes that "May 12th happens to be the 189th anniversary of the death of his father John McAllister, Sr." -Editor

McAllister, John Jr. John McAllister, Jr. (1786-1877), was born on June 29, 1786, at the northwest corner of Second and Market Streets, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, son of John McAllister Sr. (1753-1830), a Scottish immigrant and manufacturer of canes and whips, and Frances Wardale Lieber (1746-1814).

In spite of Herkowitz's 1996 mischaracterization of John McAllister, Jr., as "anonymous in Philadelphia society" the McAllister family and McAllister Company remained very prominent in Philadelphia society for about 125 years as businessmen, manufacturers, and collectors. There are three generations of John McAllisters, who were antiquarians and collectors. This biography focuses on only the first two.

The American paterfamilias : John McAllister Sr. (1753-1830), arrived in America in 1775 from Scotland. In 1781, he established a turner shop on Market Street, between Front and Second Streets, Philadelphia manufacturing whips and canes. In 1790, McAllister assisted in publishing the advertisement for the Manly Medal in Carey's Magazine for April 1790. Perhaps McAllister also assisted in the notice cited by Lupia, American Numismatic Auctions, published in Dunlap's American Advertiser, Monday, December 22, 1794. In 1796, he bought on speculation a quantity of spectacles selling them as a sideline...

By 1830, the McAllister family became the dominant Philadelphian manufacturer and proprietor of optical equipment and instruments. After the death of John McAllister, Sr., May 12, 1830, John McAllister, Jr., with Walter B. Dick, et alia, carried on the business under the firm name of John McAllister, Jr., & Co. Six years later, in 1836, John McAllister, Jr., retired leaving the company to his son William Young McAllister who renamed it William Y. McAllister & Co.

John McAllister, Jr., was educated in Philadelphia, and graduated at the University of Pennsylvania in 1803. He had been for many years the oldest surviving alumnus of that institution prior to his own death in 1877. He was an avid antiquarian of local Philadelphia history and particularly in local antiquities. He was very close to other antiquarians of Philadelphia such as John Vaughan Merrick who presented him with a gift of 15 (fifteen) of the 16 different Continental bank notes that at that time were believed to comprise them in their entirety.

Merrick letter to McAllister on Continental Paper Money Merrick letter to McAllister on Continental Paper Money p3

Above : Bifolia 4 page undated letter (circa 1855 - 1860) from J. Vaughan Merrick to John McAllister, Jr. sending him 15 of the 16 known varieties of Continental Paper Money issued. The reverse side opens up to two pages one of which contains the full list of Continental Notes presented as gifts together with their denominations, serial numbers, dates of issue Resolution of Congress, and names of signers. This feature of the letter provides these notes with provenance dating back to Merrick and McAllister. An exceptional piece of American numismatic history especially for Colonial paper money collectors. Courtesy Lupia Numismatic Library. Unique.

On his 25th birthday, June 29, 1811, at Rockland, New Castle County, Delaware, he married Eliza Melville Young (1790-1853), the daughter of William Young (1755-1829), a Philadelphia printer, bookseller, and the original publisher of the Columbian Magazine. They had ten children...

During his retirement John McAllister, Jr., devoted his time to antiquarian research on Philadelphia including his investigations of the United States Mint, Colonial coinage, particularly Washington cents since he is noted having a 1791 specimen, and of course, Continental Currency. His notes from the 1840's are frequently cited by modern day numismatists since it is the origin of the claim that George Washington deposited the silver to mint the first half dismes..

Dave Bowers, American Numismatics Before the Civil War, tells us : "In the 1840's, continuing through the 1850's, numismatist John McAllister was quite interested in the history of the Mint and interviewed Adam Eckfeldt and other officials. Unfortunately he never published his findings." And further on he notes : "1857, October : "Restilla" a nom de plume for John McAllister, a Philadelphia numismatist (who is also a contender as the inventor of the word telegram), told of the 1791 Washington cent and of discussing coinage history with Jonas R. McClintock and Adam Eckfeldt, earlier of the Philadelphia Mint." The pseudonym "Restilla" is a mirror image nom de plume, i.e., McAllister spelled backwards.

McAllister, Sr.'s, fame persisted decades after his death as a great numismatist. As George Fuld (2008) astutely pointed out : "Snowden, in his 1861 catalog, quoted a letter from John McAllister of Philadelphia, who stated he could recollect that "Robert Scot [sic], one of the first engravers of the Mint, had his room in Carter's Alley, next to the corner of Second Street, and it may be that himself, or some engraver in his employ, executed the die."

McAllister, blind and suffering from partial paralysis for two years finally died on December 17, 1877 at his residence at 14 North Merrick Street, Philadelphia. He is buried in Woodlands Cemetery.

To read the complete article, see:

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