At my request Roger Burdette forwarded the following write-up about some very interesting letters he found during his research in the U.S. government archives. This is a great example of numismatic research using original source materials. Thanks, Roger!
Bibliophiles generally appreciate what goes into researching the books they love. Here's a recent example of how a specific letter was located.
Several weeks ago I found an unusual letter during a page-by-page search of press copy books [RG 104, entry 235, vol 461] in the U.S. Mint archives at NARA, College Park MD. It was a simple reply to Henry Franc, Jr. of Washington DC acknowledging his suggestion about the date on the Standing Liberty quarter. Buried among thousands of pages for 1924, the letter got my attention because I had seen nothing in the archives dated this early referring to the date on the quarter.
By itself, the letter said little, but it indicated that Mr. Franc had made some sort of specific suggestion relating to the coin's date. I knew that from 1916-1924 the date was exposed to abrasion and that many quarters from this period were dateless, although otherwise in collectable condition. Beginning in 1925 the date area was recessed so the digits were protected.
Curious, I decided to look for Mr. Franc's original letter. The mint's reply included a few clues: it was dated January 11, 1924; it was sent to Secretary of the Treasury Mellon; and it had been forwarded to the mint director for disposition. These clues told me that the original was likely in the mint's "Letters Received" files. This would be Record Group 104, entry 229 – somewhere in three hundred eighty-five boxes of correspondence!
Whenever I visit an archive, I list the content of each volume, box and folder accessed. Over time, the list has grown to become a valuable index that helps find specific materials. A check of this list showed that letters for 1915-1925 were filed alphabetically by year, not by date received as were most earlier documents. The list showed that box 311 covered letters received with senders' names beginning with "F" during 1924.
On my next visit to NARA, the staff pulled the requested box plus a couple adjacent ones in case the letter had been misfiled. Within five minutes of opening the box, I'd located Mr. Franc's original letter filed with a carbon of the reply.
The letter and mint reply combined with the mint's change of the quarter's date (and only the date), suggest that Henry Franc's letter might have started the "ball rolling." Obviously, this is just a theory until confirmation can be located. However, this is the first documentary indication of why the quarter's date was changed for 1925.
Of greater significant is what this little anecdote indicates: there is much to be discovered in the archives if we care to look for it.
Thanks again, Roger. Below is his transcription of Mr. Franc's letter. To view full-size images of the letters, just click on the images here to go to our image archive on the Flickr web site.
Jan. 21, 1924
Secretary of the Treasury:
If you will examine at random a few silver 25¢ coins of the current design, you will find a serious fault in the fact that after a very short period of circulation the date is almost invariably worn off. The rest of the design is reasonably well protected by a raised edge – but the date, in low relief on a sort of plateau, is the first detail to show abrasion. If the date has any reason for being on a coin, it should be permanent: coins of the older mintage show dates plainly after 20 to 30 years active circulation – two or three years are enough to make the date on the newer design either wholly illegible or nearly so.
Henry Franc, Jr.
THE BOOK BAZARRE
DAVID F. FANNING NUMISMATIC LITERATURE
announces that the September issue of The Bookshelf
, their bimonthly fixed price list of numismatic literature, is available for downloading from the company's Web site at
Wayne Homren, Editor
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