The Numismatic Bibliomania Society


The E-Sylum: Volume 25, Number 29, July 17, 2022, Article 15


Although the primary coin collection of Capt. Andrew Zabriskie was sold by Henry Chapman, another sale took place at a much later date as discussed in The E-Sylum last year. The July 1999 issue of The Rail Splitter has a cover article by Donald Ackerman titled "The Zabriskie Legacy" with a sidebar article by David E. Tripp. With permission, we're republishing these here. -Editor

Donald L. Ackerman

Few collectors of political Americana know the name Andrew C. Zabriskie. But numismatists (coin collectors) are more than familiar with that moniker —- and, more importantly, what it represents in the way of provenance. Zabriskie was one of the most prominent collectors of American coinage in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In fact, Zabriskie served as President of the American Numismatic Society at the turn-of-the-century. The sale of his collection by Henry Chapman in 1909 is considered, even today, a seminal event.

Ancient history... why then, should today's Lincoln collector be concerned with him? For one thing, he amassed what will always be considered the single finest assemblage of Lincoln tokens, medals, and political badges. Second, in 1873, at the age of nineteen, he published — at his own expense — the very first catalog devoted exclusively to Lincoln medals: A Descriptive Catalogue of the Political and Memorial Medals Struck in Honor of Abraham Lincoln, Sixteenth President of the United States. A total of 187 medals (including metal varieties) were each assigned a number (a Zabriskie number). The sequence was based on descending order of size, with measurements in the American scale prevalent at the time. Only seventy-five copies were printed, each selling for $1.50. (A flawed copy of this scarce work recently sold in the Harry Bass sale for $300).

Sothebys Zabriskie sale cover Until earlier this year, no one outside the immediate family knew that Captain Zabriskie's collection (he was quite proud of his military rank) of Lincolniana still existed. A good deal sold in the Chapman sale. Even more was gifted to the American Numismatic Society in Manhattan where it remains in their permanent collection. But a core collection sat sight-unseen in a box in a safe from the time of Zabriskie's death in 1916 until rediscovered by family members in 1951. For reasons unknown, this blockbuster discovery was relegated to a closet shelf for an additional forty-eight years. Like the Paul Masson wine ad of years ago (No wine before its time) — No collection before its time— family members arranged a house call with Sotheby's coin department and, with seeming nonchalance, consigned the collection for a sale.

Andrew Zabriskie The idea of a numismatist collecting political items may now seem strange, but this was not always the case. Virgil Brand, a millionaire Chicago brewer, actively collected from the late 1870's through the first two decades of the next century. Not without cause, he became known as the world's greatest coin collector. The collection remained intact until fairly recently and, when cataloged, was found to contain a total of 365,000 items. The last installments of his collection, auctioned by Bowers & Merena in 1990, included a modest assortment of election medals; the majority represented the 1860 and ‘64 campaigns of Abraham Lincoln. The world's greatest political collector, J. Doyle DeWitt, had deep roots in the numismatic community and, prior to publishing his own work on politicals, wrote several articles for leading numismatic journals. And it used to be the case that coin shows were considered productive sources for political items. With the demise of many of the old-time dealers, this is now seldom the case. Still, many items in the political series (hard times tokens, Civil War tokens, inaugural medals) have found a devoted following among segments of the coin collecting population.

The symbiotic cord between coin collecting and political collecting has its antecedents in the mid-nineteenth century. Prior to the introduction of the photographic campaign badge in 1860, practically all campaign buttons were, in fact, tokens and medals. Just as silent movies reached their zenith as an art form concurrent with the introduction of talkies, so did campaign medals reach a golden age just as the more popular ferrotype made its first appearance. From an artistic perspective, the medals produced from 1856 to 1868 are unsurpassed. But medals continued to be popular for quite a number of years — large quantities were produced through the election of 1892 with examples of high artistic merit most often produced by veteran engravers from the ‘60's. The introduction of the celluloid pinback button (our modern campaign button) in 1896 was too much to bear, and put the final nail in the election-medal coffin.

Andrew Zabriskie political items The greatest interest in the political series by coin collectors took place around the time of the Civil War. The first catalog of election medals was published in 1858: Charles I. Bushnell's An Arrangement of Tradesmen's Cards, Political Tokens, Also Election Medals, & c. Current in the United States of America for the Last Sixty Years. This was followed in 1862 by Alfred H. Satterlee's An Arrangement of Medals and Tokens, Struck in Honor of the Presidents of the United States, And of the Presidential Candidates From the Administration of John Adams to That of Abraham Lincoln. This compendium contained twenty-six Lincoln medals. The Bushnell collection was sold by Henry Chapman in 1882. The Satterlee collection was sold by W. Elliot Woodward in 1862.

Although most coin collectors profess an interest in history, most are content to discover history through coins alone - politicals are hardly worth the study. (Perhaps politicians are not deemed worthy of their attention.) But this was certainly not the case with Zabriskie. In his 1897 lecture entitled United States History As Illustrated by Its Political Medals, Zabriskie explained his philosophy:

As is well known, the fear of possible monarchical tendencies, in the days preceding the adoption of the Federal Constitution, prevented the use of any head, except that of the Goddess of Liberty, on regular issues of the coins of the United States. Looking back as we do, through a vista of more than one hundred years, it seems a pity that this phantom prevented the placing the bust of each President on the coins issued during his administration. This would have added an interest to the numismatic history of our country almost impossible to overestimate. We have, however, a series which in a degree can serve to make up this lack, and which in some respects is even more interesting than would have been a series of coins of the United States bearing the busts of the presidents. The series of coins bearing the busts of the presidents would delineate those candidates who were successfully chosen to rule over this country. The political series on the other hand not only delineates these successful candidates, but also shows us the features of those who strove in vain for the highest office within the gift of the republic.

The seeds of the Captain's fascination with the contemporary political scene were defined by specific memories:

I can distinctly recollect, as a boy, playing with a small American flag which had stamped across it the words ‘Clay and Frelinghuysen.' It was the sole surviving specimen of a number which had waved from my grandfather's house at 618 Broadway, when the great campaign procession took place... My own personal reminiscences of Mr. Lincoln are of the briefest character. I remember, as a boy of seven, seeing him as he was escorted through this city [New York] on his way to Washington for his inauguration, and recall my surprise that so many persons should crowd the streets to see this unassuming man drive by in a barouche, and whose only escort consisted of a few policemen and committeemen in carriages. With boyish recollections of the splendors accorded in their reception to the Japanese Embassy and the Prince of Wales in the previous year, my wonder is perhaps quite excusable. I remember four years later how, with awe-struck face, I watched the slow progress up Fifth Avenue of that solemn funeral car drawn by sixteen somber steeds and surrounded by the gray files of the Seventh Regiment.

Years later, Zabriskie would speculate on the popularity of collecting political medals:

In the year 1857 the United States government abolished the old copper cent and substituted the small nickel cent. This event had a very important bearing on American Numismatics; up to that time collectors of coins and medals had indeed been very few in number and societies devoted to the study of the science were entirely unknown in this country. It seems, however, to have occurred to a number of persons that the old copper cents were interesting, that a complete set of them would be a valuable thing to possess, and consequently, many started to collect sets of cents and half cents, as the half cent, which had been issued from time to time up to this year, had been abolished also. Many of these collectors, starting in a modest way, soon increased the field of their labors and gathered specimens of coins and medals of all countries. Naturally the interesting series of political medals attracted their attention...

Just why Zabriskie was attracted to collecting Lincoln is uncertain. The tumultuous events of the Civil War, to which he was an impressionable witness, were, no doubt, fertile ground. Current events often hold the greatest attraction for a beginning collector. Affordability and availability may have been other concerns. Accordingly, he came out with his Descriptive Catalogue... in 1873, devoted exclusively to Lincoln. In 1897, he declared, Far be it from me to weary you with a dry catalogue of all the various medals of which I might speak. Such a catalogue comprising a full description of the campaign medals of the United States is greatly to be desired and doubtless may at some future time be forthcoming... (It would finally come about in 1959 with the publication of J. Doyle DeWitt's A Century of Campaign Buttons). In 1873, however, Lincoln was his exclusive focus.

The preface to his inaugural work was simple and direct: In the following pages will be found descriptions of one hundred and eighty-nine Medals struck in honor of Abraham Lincoln. No President or public man in this country — Washington excepted — has been honored with an equal number of medallic memorials. I believe very few pieces have escaped my observation, and they are probably those known as ‘mules.' The infamous practice of muling, at one time carried to a great extent, tends to confuse any one attempting to catalogue political pieces. Those individuals who urge diecutters to strike them, can be looked upon with contempt by any true student of Numismatics. I am indebted to the late Mr. A. H. Satterlee's work on ‘Presidential Medals' for descriptions of some of the earlier politicals. Also, to several gentlemen, who furnished me with rubbings and information on the subject.

For those unfamiliar with the term, muling refers to the practice of combining obverse and reverse dies that did not originate together, thus creating a new variety of medal. In spite of his aversion to mulings, several are listed in Zabriskie's catalog. In addition, medals struck strictly for the purpose of selling to collectors are likewise listed - and are not differentiated as such. It is quite possible that Zabriskie did not find these equally objectionable to mules that often contained totally illogical and incongruent dies.

One result of the catalog's publication was a controversy between the author and a Cambridge, Massachusetts collector named Henry W. Holland. They traded barbs in a series of Letters to the Editor that appeared in the American Journal of Numismatics in 1874 and 1875. Holland's stated goal was the compilation of a complete list of Lincoln medals — as such, it was necessary to deliver some criticism of Zabriskie:

Those of your readers who have had occasion to consult Zabriskie's Catalogue of Lincoln Medals, have probably noticed that it contains some errors... I give below a list of one hundred and ten Lincoln medals not in Zabriskie... The mischievous practice of muling seems to have been carried to a greater extent than ever before.

Zabriskie responded: In the January issue of the Journal appears a communication from H. W. H., in which my ‘Catalogue of Lincoln Medals' is the subject of considerable criticism... He mentions as new varieties in metals some half-dozen medals in bronze, which I had already catalogued as copper. All collectors know that these pieces are identical. Mr. H. W. H. proceeds to swell farther his list by placing in the category of medals sundry pieces made from terra cotta, rubber, green clay, & c. These articles have no right to the title of medals, and I purposely excluded all such from my catalogue. I have a Lincoln piece made from soap, which has as much right in the list as the articles just mentioned! But Holland got the last word: Allow me to express my regret that the list of Lincoln Medals sent you should have so much annoyed Mr. Zabriskie... I am compelled to differ with him when he says that impressions from medal dies in terra cotta, rubber, & c. ‘have no right to the title of medals.' Such pieces are usually classed with medals and rarely, if ever, described by any other term: and when Mr. Zabriskie's collection is sold, I feel little doubt that even his Lincoln ‘article' (as he calls it) in soap, will be classed with the other Lincoln Medals, rather than with the snuff-boxes and stuffed birds, that under the name of ‘miscellaneous articles' may close his catalogue.

Zabriskie's article in soap no longer exists and was not included in the Sotheby's auction. Don't expect any snuff boxes or stuffed birds, either. Holland's passing and the sale of his collection in 1878 by W. Elliot Woodward put an end to the controversy. (There are certain advantages to dying after your adversaries.) Zabriskie never put out a revised catalog. The quest for a definitive, complete listing would finally be realized with the publication of Robert P. King's Lincoln in Numismatics which appeared serially in The Numismatist issues of February 1924, April 1927, and August 1933. In the preface to his work, King reminisced about Zabriskie:

I do not know of anyone quite measuring up to Capt. Andrew C. Zabriskie as a thoroughly kind and courteous gentleman, and I do not believe that I ever destroyed one of his letters, which were a great help to me in those days, as his collection was particularly strong in contemporaneous pieces, having been collected by him at time of issue or shortly after. During the early days of our acquaintance he presented me with a copy of his Lincoln Medal Catalog, the earliest of this kind and now quite rare, having an auction record of about $15. I have besides this many items in my collection presented me by him, medals as well as other things that somehow seem to appeal to a Lincoln collector's heart - photos, badges, etc., among the latter being a beautiful silk woven ribbon by Dreyfus, of Basle, Switzerland, which I value very highly.

Zabriskie spent his remaining years writing papers and delivering lectures on diverse topics, often returning to his first love - election medals and Lincoln. Comments made in his paper The Medallic History of Abraham Lincoln, delivered before the American Numismatic Society on December 6, 1900, are worthy of our attention:

...In speaking to-night upon the Medallic Memorials of Abraham Lincoln, I am, as it were, opening to you one of the side galleries in the life of that great man, and am not guilty of the presumption of attempting to lead your steps along the well-known paths of his life, already made so familiar to you by the many excellent biographies that have appeared from time to time ... varying in value from what may be pronounced excellent and readable, to the somewhat scurrilous vaporings of Mrs. Lincoln's colored waiting-maid... Months before the action of the convention was known, the Republicans had begun the formation of the Wide Awake organization which proved such an important factor in the campaign ... In the hats of some of these campaign clubs was worn a tin badge [DeWitt AL1860-1], bearing a hideous likeness of Mr. Lincoln. These are now rare, and how I came to possess this one may be worth relating.

Perhaps twenty years ago, seeing it catalogued for sale at auction, I sent a bid of two dollars for it, and afterwards was astounded to hear that it had sold for forty-two dollars. Some years later the purchaser sold it with his collection, and when I repeated my modest bid of two dollars my patience was rewarded by securing it for the small sum of one dollar and twenty-five cents. And here is a badge which I, as a boy of eleven, wore during the fall of 1864. Little campaigning was done, and the Wide Awakes had disappeared, but such campaign organizations as were formed were known as War Eagles... My task is finished... Like shells which strew the beach after the retreating tide, these little pieces of tin, or copper, or silver are left to us to mark the career of Abraham Lincoln.

And we, the collectors of today, have people like Andrew Zabriskie to thank for his research, dedication, and diligence in preserving these shells from the sands of time. His legacy is inspiring.

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Wayne Homren, Editor

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