Imagination in Coin Collecting

The following excerpt is taken from an article by Robert W. Benroth of Ohio in the January 1942 Numismatist. While some of the "imaginings" noted have since been proven to be tall tales, the idea that coins can transport you through history remains an important aspect of numismatics.

This article deals with the coin collector who collects coins because of his imagination. He lives with each individual coin of his collection, reminiscing through the facilities of his mind and historical knowledge of that individual coin, the period in history when that coin was a medium of exchange, or that period, personage, or event that it commemorates.

He will examine his silver tetradrachm and live back in the days of Alexander the great, or his denarius of Tiberius and imagine it as being used by the Disciples of Christ, or even handled by Christ himself.

He will look at his Pine Tree shilling and go back in his imagination to the days when the Pilgrim fathers were settled in New England, where in 1652 the Court of Massachusetts appointed John Hull, strictly against the laws of England, as mint master, to strike some silver coins for use in the New England Territory. He will imagine this as the first act of revolt against England. He will see, in his mind’s eye, John Hull, mint master keeping one coin in every ten as his wages for operating the mint, and will think of his coin as one of the ten that John Hull claimed. He will reconstruct the life of the Hull family until that great event of their lives, the marriage of their daughter and the granting of her dowry of her weight in Pine Tree shillings, when again his mind’s eye will picture his individual shilling as going onto the balancing scale as a part of her dowry.

Another coin that will give him much joy and work his imagination over time will be his Lady Godiva halfpenny. He will imagine almost 1,000 years ago when Lady Godiva rode nude on a white horse through the streets of Coventry, as a protest against the tyranny of the unjust taxation of that day or think of the Coventry of today, again subject to unjust tyranny at the hands of modern weapons of war.

He will pick up his Fugio cent and live back in the days of George Washington and the problems that confronted our ancestors at the beginning of our nation. He will even imagine George Washington as having this individual coin in his possession some time or other during his term as the President of the United States.

He will examine his Jackson cent and re-live the great political fight and hard times during the Presidency of Andrew Jackson, and his Civil War tokens will reconstruct to his mind’s eye, the great struggle between the States in which his father or grandfather may have played an important part.

The silver trade dollar will make him visualize the continual fight by the so-called "silver bloc" in Congress, bringing him up to the present day when silver is still a very important issue for almost any Congressional consideration.

He will pick up his "Gypsy Rose Lee" quarter of 1916 or 1917 and imagine back to the First World War days when women were "coming into their own" and public opinion demanded that more clothes be put on Liberty.

His commemoratives will make his imagination run riot, for every commemorative has some historical background of great interest or is dedicated to the life of some great personage of the past or present.

He will pick up his Bridgeport commemorative half dollar and live back in the days of the Cardiff Giant and Jenny Lind, made famous by P.T. Barnum, whose likeness appears on this coin. His Cincinnati commemorative will have him humming the beloved Southern ballads of that famous composer, Stephen Foster, and his Columbian half dollar will bring about the rediscovering of America while traveling with Christopher Columbus on the Santa Maria in 1492.

In fact, a collector who has an imagination can pick up almost any coin and, by perusing his history books, reconstruct in his mind, many an enjoyable evening of reminiscing. Yes, the coin collector with an imagination is, in all probability, the basis of the science of numismatics, for he lives, breaths, and talks his coins until the end.



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