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This and That

Edgar H. Adams of the Numismatic Hall of Fame

In 1969 the American Numismatic Association opened its Hall of Fame gallery at its headquarters in Colorado Springs. In the first year one of those enshrined was Edgar H. Adams. Do you recognize his name? Do you know what he did?

Edgar H. Adams

Adams, born in 1868, was not a “young numismatist” as a teenager, or if he was, we have not been able to find a paper trail. Instead, we first encounter him in 1905, when in his thirties he signed on as a member of the ANA. He was a newspaper reporter, mainly for the New York Sun, it seems, but also for the Times and other sheets of the day.

The Sun felt that the subject of rare coins would be interesting to its readers, and set up a special “department” with Adams in editorial charge, at $12 per week for his columns. In June 1907, Farran Zerbe, who had already become important enough in numismatics (as a writer and also as distributor of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition commemorative gold dollars) to be controversial, ran into Adams at the Stickney sale. This grand event was conducted via the Catalogue of the Celebrated Collection of United States and Foreign Coins of the Late Matthew Adams Stickney, Esq., Comprising one of the Greatest Collections Ever Sold in this Country. Unique Colonial and State Coins, Brasher’s 1787 New York Doubloon, 1815 Half Eagle, and an Original 1804 Dollar, a rather elegant production of 222 pages (very large for the era) turned out by Henry Chapman.

Soon, Zerbe wrote this for the August 1907 issue of The Numismatist:
“It was my pleasure to meet Mr. E.H. Adams of New York, at the Stickney sale. Mr. Adams has no commercial or collecting interest in numismatic specimens, but he is today doing the science as much good as anyone in this country. He is well informed on the subject and a seeker for more knowledge.
“During the past two years he has been a regular contributor to several of the leading journals of the country, and his favorite topic has been coins. His articles which have appeared in The New York Sun have been copied and republished throughout the country. Numismatic statements appearing in the lay press have in the past mostly merited humorous criticism by knowing ones. Mr. Adams’ writings have proven an exception to the rule; they are carefully prepared authentic statements.”

Adams warmed up to the hobby and became a highly competent researcher. Today his Private Gold Coinage of California 1849-1855, published serially in the American Journal of Numismatics in 1911-1912, stands as one of the finest specialized works on American coins ever written. He was also a skilled photographer, and took the pictures and assisted William H. Woodin with the 1913 opus, United States Pattern, Trial, and Experimental Pieces. Being a List of the Pattern. Trial, and Experimental Pieces Which Have Been Issued by the United States Mint from 1792 Up to the Present Time.

In 1912 he became editor of The Numismatist, and also contributed a column, the masthead for which is shown above. Probably today in 2004 there would be great offense taken at portraying a classic goddess this way in a coin periodical, but at the time few people cared—nude and semi-nude figures were a part of art.

In 1915 he relinquished the editorship, and although his name appears now and again in numismatics in later times, including in connection with Wayte Raymond, he seems to have lost his fervor. By the time of his passing, on May 5, 1940, his name was scarcely familiar to most collectors.

More could be written about Adams, a great figure in the history of our hobby, whose star burned brightest for only about a decade.