Patrick McMahon submitted these thoughts on Cornelius Vermeule. Thank you.
Last week, Pete Smith wrote that his article about Cornelius Vermeule was a
frustrating article to research. I can honestly say that that fact would have delighted Cornelius himself. And I have to say I still miss him terribly!
I didn't know Cornelius Vermeule until the last four or so years of his life. But during that time, he would call me at least three times a week. He was wheelchair-bound and had limited opportunities to visit the museum . But when the Classical department told me he was in the building I would come to see him. He was larger than life and this is mostly a reminiscence, but I do have one correction about the re-issue of Numismatic Art in America.
When we talked to each other, we mostly talked about numismatics, the Red Sox, or Boston College. He also liked to send requests or musings on postcards by regular mail. He would fill every inch of space on the card, vertically separating the text from the address with one of his address labels. He would always cross out
Dr. on the label and write
Khedi in its place. And he always signed off as Khedi. I have one message from him where he was criticizing the then new Presidential dollars (he did not like the size) and signed off as Khedi Rittenhouse. Khedi is Arabic or Turkish for
Dog and he loved dogs. He created a large collection of medals focusing on dogs and eventually gave it to Princeton University. He was a great character and storyteller and he liked nicknames and coded references—he always referred to the MFA as
Mother Museum. Harvey Stack knew him as
Bucky. I stuck with
When Cornelius would answer the phone his greeting was Marhaba? And sometimes he would answer in a fake voice. One time when he was being pestered by a reporter that he did not wish to talk to, he answered with one of his fake voices, a female sounding voice and he told the caller that Dr. Vermeule was away on vacation in New Zealand. He was absolutely thrilled to see the eventual article said something about how he could not be reached for comment and his
housekeeper had said he was out of town.
When he retired from the museum in 1996 a bibliography of his writing was published and it runs 61 pages in length. His first article was a biographical essay in 1944 of the numismatist Henry Cohen for the Stacks family's Numismatic Review. But his second article was about the brand new transit token being used on one of the NY/NJ transit systems. His tastes ranged over almost everything and in addition to his dogs he claimed to have tortoises wandering his house. I am still not quite sure which of his stories were true and which were tests of my gullibility. At the museum he had stores of model trains and baseball cards. He also used to leave dog biscuits for Cerberus on the plinth of the great sculpture by Thomas Crawford that he and Emily gave the museum the funds to purchase. When he would refer to Emily, which he did quite often, he referred to her as his
late but punctual wife.
Pete mentions the new edition of Numismatic Art in America. This was one of the
requests Cornelius assigned to me—being his eyes for him because of his cataracts. I also think he just wanted to stay out of the details. So I would review the galleys with him over the phone and suggest things to be updated or changed and then send them back to Whitman. We did a lot of work helping source some of the images from the original edition where they couldn't be replaced by something from Stacks digital archive. But Cornelius did not write the updated entries for the recent coins like the State Quarters. David Alexander did that work and I remember when I told CCV who Whitman had chosen for that he was quite pleased with that choice. I think it was a good choice too because Cornelius definitely did not have much positive to say about recent Mint products!
For more on the Orpheus and Cerberus statue, see:
Orpheus and Cerberus
David Gladfelter has something to add as well.
"Thanks to Pete Smith for expanding his biography of Mr. Vermeule. I regret not having met this delightful person; I knew him only through what he has published.
"At a coin show some years ago, Charlie Davis had at his table a good number of old but serviceable National Coin Albums and pages, which I have always liked for their safe storage capacity and easy-to-view clear slides. I picked out several, including some that once belonged to Mr. Vermeule. They are nice association items, and show that when he started collecting, probably in the late 1940s-early 1950s time frame, he began with
nickels and dimes just like everyone else, expanding to more specialized fields as his hobby matured into a discipline.
"Warning: Once the bug bites you, that can happen."
Indeed. Thank you - nice association items.
To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
CORNELIUS CLARKSON VERMEULE III (1925-2008)
Wayne Homren, Editor
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