How Fourth-Graders Turned Their School Closet Into An Archaeological Dig

 

Students at the Children’s Workshop School in New York City have created a fantastic project: Closet Archaeology!

 

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A display of some of the coins found by the class. Photo from Closet Archaeology Instagram.

A few years ago, student Bobby Scotto, already a budding numismatist and archaeology enthusiast, began pulling small items out of the crack between the floorboards in the closet of his classroom. Mostly wheat pennies, Bobby’s treasures attracted the notice of other students, who also began examining the floorboards.

 

Rather than directing the students back to the original schoolwork, teacher Miriam Sicherman found ways to incorporate the exploration into her curriculum and the whole class began researching and developing good recovery habits and documentation of finds. Sicherman even brought in a working archaeologist to discuss how she preserves finds to make sure as much information about each find is retained. The students have learned to document where and when each item was found, the condition it was found in, and more. They have also learned how to research their finds and put them into historical context.

 

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Alan Lederman’s long-lost money

And what finds! Apart from dozens of old coins of many varieties, they have found baseball cards, candy wrappers, a 1921 Red Cross pin, and more. They actually managed to track down the original owner of an envelope with $2 in it that came out of the floorboards: Alan Lederman, who attended the school when it was P.S. 61. Alan said, “I did remember that we would bring in to the teacher a dollar or two every week and then around the winter holiday we would get back a nice lump sum amount for holiday presents. P.S. 61 was fine, I still remember several of my classmates there.  I really don’t remember losing the $2. But as I recall, a slice of pizza was about 15 cents to 25 cents at that time, so I guess I could have had a lunch or two for the $2. I was stunned to learn that someone had found the money after all those years. And it was amazing that they had simultaneously found a composition by my then classmate Jane Itzkowitz, who I remembered from so long ago. And it was amazing that Miriam was able to track down two of my other P.S. 61 close classmates. One is now an official of the Consumer Products Safety Commission, and one is a Professor at the University of Washington. I was then able to track down recent YouTube videos they made. It was amazing to see them again on the screen!”

 

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Alan Lederman’s envelope from 1959, which held the $2

Teacher and overseer of the project, Miriam Sicherman, said, “My students pursued a project that was invented by them, and through that, they came to see the world as a place where something interesting might be hiding around every corner. Teachers always want to cultivate curiosity in their students, and in this case, the students were nurturing their own curiosity. At first, my role was mostly to stay out of their way, and let them develop that curiosity as well as the technical skills of extracting artifacts through the gap in the floor. As the project progressed, I helped logistically in terms of creating time in our schedule, scheduling excavation sessions in other classrooms, obtaining storage materials, contacting experts for their advice, and teaching them some basic online research skills. I tried to facilitate rather than to direct the project.”

 

When asked about how the project helped her students better understand history, she elaborated, “I have often seen kids connect more viscerally to historical artifacts than to other sources of information, like informational books. I often take students on field trips to places like the Wyckoff Farmhouse Museum (a Dutch farmhouse in Brooklyn that was built in the 1650s and has many artifacts) or the African Burial Ground, which has many replicas of skeletons and artifacts. Kids love learning from these objects–guessing what they are, comparing them to what we use nowadays, and imagining the people who once made or used them long ago. When it came to our project, this interest was magnified because the kids themselves had discovered the artifacts–they weren’t chosen by a teacher or museum guide; they were unmediated by adults. So this made the kids even more curious and engaged with the background of many of the artifacts.”

 

The students continue to make discoveries, and have even ventured into the closets in other classrooms. Bobby continues to be interested in numismatics, history, and archaeology, and hopes to be able to add metal detecting to his skills soon. You can follow the Closet Archaeology project on their Instagram.

A Look at Labor Day

 

 

Today we celebrate and honor all workers, especially those in manual labor.

 

 

Capture04In the late 19th century, support began to rise for a holiday to celebrate labor, and provide a time of rest and festivity for labor workers and their families. Though the origins of the holiday are somewhat in question, the generally accepted story is that Labor Day sprang from a General Assembly of the Knights of Labor in New York City, in September of 1882. The Secretary of the Central Labor Union, Matthew Maguire, proposed a national Labor Day holiday to be held in subsequent Septembers.

 

 

Capture02Oregon was the first state to officially celebrate Labor Day in 1887. Thirty states celebrated Labor Day by the time it was made a federal holiday in 1894. After workers were killed by the Army and Marshals Service during the Pullman Strike of 1894, when factory workers who lived in a Pullman company town struck for better working and living conditions, Congress unanimously approved Labor Day as a national holiday, and it was signed into law by President Cleveland only 6 days after the Pullman Strike ended. While some favored the traditional European date of May 1 for a labor celebration, others were concerned that a May Day celebration would result in Haymarket-style incidents, and would support socialist and anarchist movements.

 

 

Capture03Labor Day became a day of rest for workers and their families, often complete with festivals, speeches, and parades. The tradition of Labor Day sales sprung out of this, as stores moved to take advantage of workers who now had a whole day to shop. However you celebrate, The Stamp & Coin Place wishes you a happy Labor Day!

 

 

The stereo cards shown here, along with other vintage collectibles, can be found in the Stamp & Coin Place store on eBay.

Celebrating Women’s Equality Day

 

This Saturday is Women’s Equality Day, and we wanted to celebrate by telling the stories of a few women you may not have heard about. These women were actresses in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and were popular subjects for postcards in their day. But there’s so much more to their lives than that.

 

Eva-moore-1894Eva Moore was born in England in February of 1868, and acted on stage until 1945 (her daughter was Laurence Olivier’s first wife.) But apart from her successful theater career, Eva was a strong believer in women’s suffrage. She performed in films and plays that advanced the cause of voting rights for women, and was active in meetings, marches, and other demonstrations. She was one of the founders of the Actresses’ Franchise League, but was forced to resign when she took a role in a sketch that implied women preferred romance to voting rights, something which greatly offended her fellow suffragettes.

 

It is possible that she actually prevented the assassination of Liberal prime minister Herbert Asquith. In September of 1909, a “Mrs. Moore” approached Scotland Yard with a letter that indicated two suffragettes had begun target practice with pistols, for an attempt on Asquith’s life. The inspector in charge of the case said, “Mrs Moore says she has been making efforts to restrain these women for some time past and has used her power to have them removed from the carriage entrance to the House of Commons, fearing that something would happen to Mr Asquith. But now she finds they are getting out of hand, and therefore she thought it best to inform the authorities.” While it may have been a different Mrs. Moore, Eva Moore was known to be good friends with Asquith’s sister-in-law, and certainly would have been in a position to know which suffragettes might have been planning violence.

 

During World War I, Eva raised money for charities, including hospitals, and received the Ordre de la Reine Elisabeth. She died in 1955.

 

Marie Tempest was born in London, and educated in Belgium and France. She became a renowned actress, known for her unconventional beauty and “golden voice.”

 

Though she was legendary on stage, her legacy is the work she did to ensure fair pay for actors and actresses. In 1934, she was involved in the founding of actors’ union Equity. Marie hosted a dinner at the famous Savoy hotel for 85 of the top entertainers of her day. The dinner was more than a simple party, however, as Marie allowed none of the guests to leave until they had signed their assent to a statement: “We the undersigned, hereby pledge ourselves that we will not enter into any engagements with theatre managers on conditions which would deny our right to refuse to work with non-members of Equity.”

 

Tempes_in_A_Greek_SlaveFor her golden jubilee in May 1935, a benefit performance was held at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. King George V and Queen Mary attended, as did J. M. Barrie, Noel Coward, and Somerset Maugham, amongst others. $5000 from the event was donated to the Royal Hospital to be used for medical bills of entertainers and performers. Noel Coward later wrote of Tempest, “she wastes no time on personal inhibitions or inferiority complexes. In fact, she takes off her coat and gets down to the job of the moment with less shi-shi than any actress I have ever met…. Despite the fact that for fifty years she has performed a multitude of plays to multitudes of people, she has always contrived to remain the mistress of her tradition rather than allow any tradition to become the mistress of her.” Tempest was created a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1937; in 1941, her house was destroyed in the Blitz. She said, “Hitler has taken nearly everything from me but my life, but you can’t live on regret.” She died in 1942.

 

Lena Ashwell came from a military family; she was born on the ship Wellesley while it was anchored in the River Tyne. After realizing that her singing voice was not good enough to make her a professional singer, she took up acting. Successful on the stage, she began to take the reigns behind the scenes, managing first the Savoy Theatre, then her own theatre, the Kingsway, in 1907.

 

She was a passionate supporter of women’s suffrage. When asked by a fellow suffragette to “pledge your militant sisters to call a truce and to abstain from any act of violence or hostile demonstration,” Ashwell replied, “I hold a strong belief active efforts on the part of every non militant Suffragist to obtain suffrage rights for women will eventually force those prejudiced or obtusely indifferent to realise the vital necessity for reform. Only the courageous can put an end to militancy by publicly asserting their belief in women’s suffrage, and taking active steps to redress the evils of which militancy is the hideous result.”

 

When World War I broke out, Lena was determined that the soldiers fighting on the front lines should not be deprived of the high culture available to those at home. The War Office, however, did not agree. Soldiers were expected to make their own entertainment with writing and reading letters, playing cards, and occasionally playing football, when time and fighting allowed.

 

484px-Lena_Ashwell_002Reality backed up Lena’s views. Boredom was a massive problem in camps, and soldiers began to organize crude, bawdy shows for entertainment. Ashwell kept pushing: she insisted that every camp have its own theatre, and benefit from professional entertainers. She organized the first tour in 1915; Ashwell and her fellow performers often had to wade through mud, use suitcases as a stage, and sleep in barns. However, Lena was proved more than correct: the soldiers were eager for any kind of professional performance, and showed a particular love for Shakespeare.

 

Lena wrote, describing a scene in which Novello sang “Keep the Home Fires Burning,” which he had just written: “When he sang it, the men seemed to drink it in at once and instantly sang the chorus, and as we drove away at the end of the concert, in the dark and the rain and the mud, from all parts of the camp one could hear the refrain.” The performers used whatever furniture and props were at hand to stage comedies, romances, and dramas. One Shakespearean performance took place in a horse hospital. It was common for injured soldiers to be wheeled out of hospitals, even in bad weather, to enjoy the performances. After every show, the performers visited the wounded, often stopping to sing for a single soldier.

 

Womens_War_Services_-_An_Exhibition_Art.IWMPST13754.jpgAs word spread about Lena Ashwell’s shows, demand for shows on the front lines increased. She organized parties to perform for men on the front lines; shows were interrupted by artillery and anti-aircraft fire. Lena wrote, “I found myself in a tent which seemed in the darkness to be far away from everything and everybody. I stood on a table and recited all the poems that I knew, but wished with all my heart that I had learnt many more, as the audience grew and grew, and they sat silently around like hungry children. It was a quaint, gentle, peaceful evening, and curious that on that night I should have been nearer the firing line than at any other moment.”

 

For four years, over 600 performers (over half of them women) staged shows in France, Egypt, and Malta. Tens of thousands came to the performances; impromptu shows broke out on ships, train stations, and other unusual locations. By 1917, many of the touring groups were composed entirely of women, something the authorities worried about but the soldiers enjoyed greatly. It had been the first major effort to entertain troops on the battlefield, a tradition that continues to this day.

 

According to the Telegraph, “When she was asked to compile a record of their experiences, Ashwell called on the letters and diaries of her artists – nearly all of which seemed to concentrate mightily on food and transport. It did not surprise her, for she herself had found that the war was so terrible that it was impossible to express anything about what they had seen. But she believed that they had performed a service on a par with the Red Cross or St John Ambulance. Her own recollections were always the tears and the cheering which accompanied thunderous applause in the battle zones.”

 

Lena Ashwell was awarded the Order of the British Empire, and died in 1957 at the age of 84.

 

The battle for women’s equality has been long and hard-fought, and it’s not finished yet. But it’s important to remember the stories of women like these,who fought for what they could, where they could.

 

Postcards of each of the women mentioned here are currently available in the Stamp & Coin Place store.

When Ben Franklin Hacked Nature to Fight Counterfeiters

 

 

The American colonies had a serious problem. Most did not have large reserves of precious metal with which to make legal tender coins, but not enough coins were coming in from England. To offset this, many of the colonies began printing their own paper money. Unsurprisingly, this lead to new problems: not every note was worth the same between colonies, and some colonies printed so much that they could never hope to redeem all of it. Worst of all, paper money was easy to replicate; a sentence of death on counterfeiting wasn’t much of a deterrent.

 

 

Enter Founding Father and quintessential American genius Benjamin Franklin. Before the fight for independence, while Franklin was still a Philadelphia printer, he was charged printing money for Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and others. It was also hoped that the brilliant printer would find a way to make currency more secure. His solutions were equal parts psychology and technology.

 

 

Franklin’s first technique was as simple as it was brilliant: he simply misspelled Pennsylvania on the colony’s bills. A forger, he argued, would think the real bill was a fake with a misspelling, and use the real spelling on his new fake bills.

 

 

Counter2021_R1_smBut it was his second anti-counterfeiting technique that really changed things. Franklin realized that no man-made engraving would be as difficult to reproduce as the natural “engraving” of the veins on a simple leaf. Better yet, a print from a leaf would be unique to that leaf, and not replicable by any other. Using different leaves for different denominations of notes, Franklin softened a leaf by covering it with a damp cloth, and then pressed it into plaster. When the plaster cured, the delicate imprint of the leaf remained. Copper was poured into the impression to make a plate for printing.

 

 

Until very recently, this process was only a guess, as no extant records of the process were known. However, three 18th-century metal blocks found in a vault at the Delaware County Institute of Science in Pennsylvania (now in the care of the Library Company of Philadelphia) turned out to be plates from this printing process (though likely from a successor, not Franklin himself). Such items rarely survived more than a few years, as metal dies were usually melted down and recast into other objects once they became too worn for printing. One of the blocks was one of the leaf plates; the other two were decorative.

 

 

leaf1According to CoinBooks.org, “Using some very high resolution digital photography, and matching the blocks to currency in the collections of Winterthur and the American Antiquarian Society, as well as that from DCIS, Linker and Green determined that all the blocks were—in fact—cast, making possible some of their more intricate devices, such as variable surface height so that some low-relief areas print as gray—rather than the firm black of the higher relief elements and the white of recessed areas—and cross-hatching scored into the lead after casting.” This process resulted in a print that was virtually impossible to replicate by engraving or any other counterfeiting technology of the time. The blocks from the DCIS feature three sage leaves, which appeared on Franklin’s shilling bills for Delaware in the 1760’s; the slogan on these bills was, appropriately enough, “To Counterfeit is DEATH.”

 

 

16038683682_4e439139e0_mEven with Franklin’s ingenious new anti-counterfeiting technology, public faith in paper money continued to decline, especially during the War for Independence, when money printed by the new American government was practically worthless. The new Congress resolved in early 1776, “that if any person shall hereafter be so lost to all virtue and regard for his country, as to refuse to receive said bills in payment,” or obstruct or discourage the currency or circulation thereof, . . . such person shall be deemed, published, and treated as an enemy of his country, and precluded from all trade or intercourse with the inhabitants of these colonies.” The British even produced large quantities of excellent forgeries of American paper money, furthering the distrust of currency. It wasn’t until the Secret Service took over the persecution of counterfeiting in 1865 that public trust in currency began to reach acceptable levels.

 

 

Counterfeiting has been a concern for as long as human civilizations have used money of any sort. But it is rare to see an anti-counterfeiting measure as ingenious as Franklin’s.

The Flip of a Coin

 

 

Tabletop game designer David Schirduan is about to release a new role-playing game that does something unusual: it relies on coins to move the story forward. We talked to David about his new game and how coins can be used as a storytelling device.

 

388b70f4d61f8a3af6f3cf7c176a1a96_originalPast and Present (PP): Explain a little bit about your new game Clink and how coins are used in it.

 

David Schirduan (David): Clink uses coins as currency and as a random generator. It’s a role-playing game where each player pretends to be a Mysterious Drifter without a past. The rules of the game help all players to work together and tell a story like classic westerns, ronin films, or noir tales.

 

Whenever an action is in doubt the player flips a coin to see what happens. To make things interesting coins are flipped several times to provide various outcomes. Maybe you succeed at what you were trying to do, but there’s some kind of cost or setback. Or maybe you failed miserably and things are worse than you expected.

 

Coins are also used to make characters stronger. Drifters are created as blank characters; just like when a new character enters a scene. The audience doesn’t know anything about them. Players can spend coins to add more details to their Drifter during the game; details like: “My Drifter is an old army doctor”, or “My Drifter used to be a bandit.” These details can help the Drifters accomplish their goals and add to the story of the game.

 

 

PP: How did you come up with the idea to use coins as a mechanic in the game? Why coins?

 

David: Most role-playing games use dice. The last game I made used cards and I wanted to try another game with something different. Coins are simple; everyone has flipped or spent coins. They have a nice weight and feel good to play with.

 

As the game took shape, coins just made more and more sense. They fit the western theme. Coins keep the game simple and straightforward. They allow the game to be played anywhere; homes, bars, military bases, schools, etc.

 

Coins are just fun!

 

 

 

762818b5686849e32762e1ea335a466e_originalPP: Do you use specific coins for the game, ask players to use their own, or are the coins merely metaphorical?

 

David: I thought about making special coins that players would purchase for Clink, but I decided against it. Instead players are encouraged to use any special coins they own. I like to play with a one euro coin, a five rand coin, and a small medal I picked up from a yard sale. As long as it has two different faces you can play Clink with anything from beer coasters to manhole covers (Crossfit Clink!)

 

I like seeing picture of people playing with their own coins; it makes the game feel a little more personal.

 

 

PP: Clink includes a lot of futuristic technology in its spaghetti western setting; why did you choose to use a traditional currency like coins instead of a higher-tech credit system?

 

David: Originally the game was specifically for classic westerns. However I love stories like Firefly, Supernatural, or Harry Dresden; I knew I wanted Clink to be more flexible. The incredible artwork by Per Folmer blends together sci-fi, early frontier, and slight horror.

 

As for currency I’m sure that the Drifters in the game might use space credits or beaver skins or something. But I didn’t see the point in making players learn a new currency system. Using coins you have on hand makes the game simpler and easier to play.

 

 

95111d1d95b9383acd25323022c24808_originalPP: Finally, in your opinion, what is it about a coin flip that makes it such an iconic image in storytelling?

 

David: Anticipation. It reminds me of a quote from scientist poet Piet Hein:

 

“Whenever you’re called on to make up your mind…the best way to solve the dilemma is simply by spinning a penny. No – not so that chance shall decide the affair while you’re passively standing there moping; but the moment the penny is up in the air, you suddenly know what you’re hoping. ”

 

Watching the coin sail through the air, not knowing how it will land; it’s fun! Often Drifters will be trying dangerous things and having the outcome rely on a coin flip builds tension and excitement. What will happen to our heroes? How will they escape the burning ship? What’s the story behind Pearl, the new Drifter?

 

I don’t know. Why don’t we flip for it?

 

 

You can find David on Twitter, and check out Clink on the Kickstarter page. Looking for some special coins to play Clink with? Check out our selection!

Coin and Currency Sites to Visit on Your Vacation

 

It’s summer, and many people are heading out on vacation. But there’s no reason not to celebrate your hobby on the road! Here’s a list of coin- and currency-related attractions and exhibits in all 50 states (and DC, of course!)
Alabama: The El Cazador Museum, which preserves the artifacts of the 1784 shipwreck, including its shipment of “pieces of eight.”

 

Alaska: The Alaska Mint, a private mint and also the northernmost mint in the US, as well as the starting point for the Iditarod race.

 

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The Good Enough Mine

Arizona: The Good Enough Mine, which provided some of the metal for the New Orleans Mint.

 

Arkansas: Due to a corruption-fighting measure in Arkansas legislation, you can go into the Treasury vault and examine the tax money. You can even take a selfie while holding the money!

 

California: The classic choice is Sutter’s Mill, where the Gold Rush began. If you’re looking for something a little more off the beaten path, check out the Penny Bar in the McKittrick hotel, which is completely covered in pennies.

 

Colorado: Of course there is the Denver Mint, but don’t forget the American Numismatics Association Money Museum in Colorado Springs.

 

Connecticut: The Mitchelson Coin Collection at the Museum of Connecticut History has one of the premier collections of American coins in the world, including a 1907 ultra high relief Saint-Gaudens $20 gold double eagle
District of Columbia: The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History is a must-see, with its exhibit of coins, currency, and medals.

 

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Coin Beach

Delaware: Find coins from old wrecks on Delaware’s Coin Beach!

 

Florida: No visit to Florida is complete without a visit to the king of shipwreck salvage, Mel Fisher’s Treasures.

 

Georgia: The Mint at Dahlonega hasn’t been in use since the 1860’s, but the Dahlonega Gold Museum and Mint (housed in the old county courthouse, since the original Mint building burned down) are definitely worth a visit.

 

Hawaii: The statue of King Kamehameha I depicted on the Hawaii State Quarter is striking, and something you’ll want to see for yourself.

 

Idaho: Collectors of all types will enjoy the Idaho Falls Collectors’ Corner Museum.

 

Illinois: The Money Museum at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago is a solid choice for kids and adults alike. 

 

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Roman coins found in Indiana

Indiana: While digging for construction, workers found a collection of Roman coins that appeared to have once been kept in a leather bag. Some of the coins are on display in the Falls of the Ohio museum

 

Iowa: For currency aficionados, the Higgins Museum of National Bank Notes is definitely something to check out.

 

Kansas: The University of Kansas has an excellent collection of ancient coins.

 

Kentucky: Clay City, Kentucky, is home to one of the most unusual replica coin controversies. (You can also visit the Fort Knox visitor’s center while you’re in the state, but don’t expect to see much gold!)

 

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New Orleans Mint

Louisiana: The New Orleans Mint is a classic choice but don’t pass up Louisiana Treasures: they have an excellent display of World’s Fair tokens.

 

Maine: The Maine Penny is an unusual artifact at the Maine State Museum. It’s a legitimate Viking coin, but found too far south for the Vikings to have brought it. What’s its story?

 

Maryland: Learn more about metal conservation and early colonial coinage at St. Mary’s City museum.

 

Massachusetts: The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, has a legendary coin room. (Recommended by collector Kevin Cahalane.)

 

Michigan: The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor has over 40,000 ancient coins.

 

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Wells Fargo Museum

Minnesota: Wells Fargo is synonymous with business and commerce over a distance, so it’s no surprise they have a Minneapolis museum featuring gold nuggets and coins.  

 

Mississippi: The University of Mississippi museum features an extensive collection of ancient coins.

 

Missouri: The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City also has a Money Museum, perfect for all ages.

 

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50,000 Silver Dollar Bar

Montana: If you’re looking for something a little more unusual, head off the beaten path in western Montana. The 50,000 Silver Dollar Bar in Haugan hosts one of the largest silver dollar collections in the world, displayed on the bar top and walls of the establishment.

 

Nebraska: Don’t miss the Byron Reed collection at Durham Museum in Omaha; it’s an impressive assortment of ancient and colonial coins, as well as exonumia, currency, and historical documents.

 

Nevada: Of course the Carson City Mint is the top choice for Nevada!

 

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Saint-Gaudens Estate

New Hampshire: America’s smallest and least-visited national park is a hidden gem, especially for numismatists. The Saint-Gauden Estate hosts some of the sculptor’s best works.

 

New Jersey: Be sure to check out the Belskie Museum, which contains some of the work of Abram Belskie, sculptor and medalist.

 

New Mexico: If you can find the Santa Clara Museum of Natural History, you just might be able to talk them into telling you where the 7 Cities of Gold are…

 

New York: Much of our financial system was put into place by Alexander Hamilton (including the Mint!) You can see his old house, the Hamilton Grange, in New York City.

 

North Carolina: The old Mint in Charlotte has a museum with a complete set of all gold coins minted there.

 

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Lefor Bank Vault

North Dakota: Sometimes all that’s left is where the coins were. You can see abandoned bank vaults in Lefor and Silva.

 

Ohio: Check out the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland Learning Center and Money Museum.

 

Oklahoma: The Midgley Museum of collectibles has something for everyone, coin collector or not!

 

Oregon: A single penny decided the name of Portland, Oregon, and the original Portland Penny is on display at the Oregon Historical Society Museum. (For the pop culture addict, you can also see a Goonies exhibit at the Oregon Film Museum. Sadly, pirate treasure is NOT included.)

 

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US Mint in Philadelphia

Pennsylvania: What would a list of coin sites be without a mention of Philadelphia, the first and current Mint. American coin central!

 

Rhode Island: Coins aren’t just for collecting: have a blast at Spring Lake Penny Arcade, the oldest Penny Arcade Business in America. Not only is it still operating, but it still has the original pricing!

 

South Carolina: Something unusual for a niche currency collector: the US Army Finance Corps Museum.

 

South Dakota: One of the best producing mine in America, the Homestake mine. Not only has it produced vast amounts of ore, but it’s also been important to science!

 

Tennessee: Oak Ridge used to give visitors mildly irradiated dimes to show the changes radiation could make to silver. The site is now the American Museum of Science and Energy, and they definitely don’t give out radioactive coins anymore.

 

Texas: The Money Museum and Rarities Room in Houston is by appointment only, but does host an impressive collection. You can also visit the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Fort Worth.

 

 Utah: Copper mining made a big impact on this state; there’s a whole museum dedicated to it in the town of Magna.

 

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Site of Harmon’s Mint

Vermont: One of the earliest sites for post-colonial coin minting was East Rupert, where Reuben Harmon, Jr. minted coins for the new state.

 

Virginia: If colonial coins are your thing, visit the museum in Williamsburg. They have an excellent collection.

 

Washington: Blaine, Washington, right on the border with Canada, is home of the original wooden nickels.

 

West Virgina: Need a favor? The ghost that haunts this grave accepts coins in exchange for granting wishes.

 

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Largest penny in the world

Wisconsin: It may not be the most detailed penny in the world, but it’s (probably) the largest!

 

Wyoming: The Carissa gold mine and mill is an excellent historic site well worth a visit.

 

(All photos used under fair use.)

 

 

 

A French Oasis in Early Pennsylvania

 

Deep in the Pennsylvania wilderness, travelers at the end of the 18th century might stumble upon something extraordinary: a perfect little French town, complete with shops, a distillery, and a theater. What looked like ordinary log cabins on the outside had plastered walls, carpets, and other luxuries. A few years later, however, it was all gone. Today, only one building remains.

 

This fairytale French oasis in the Pennsylvania countryside was Azilum (sometimes spelled Azylum). As the French Revolution got into full swing in the 1790s, many royalists and aristocrats fled the country in fear for their lives. Slave uprisings in French-owned Saint-Domingue sent other French refugees north.

 

azilum ASeveral influential Philadelphians sympathized with the French, and also saw a way to make a substantial profit off the exiled aristocrats. Stephen Girard, Robert Morris, and John Nicholson, among others, purchased 1600 acres of land in the northeastern part of the state, near the Susquehanna river; 300 of the acres were set aside for a town. There was a 2-acre market square, and 413 private lots, each about a half-acre square. Approximately 30 log cabins were built to welcome refugees who began arriving in the fall of 1793; other buildings housed a blacksmith shop, distillery, and theater. Crops and fruit trees were planted, and cattle and sheep brought to the colony.

 

The crown jewel of the colony was La Grande Maison, a two-story building 84 feet long and 60 feet wide. Legend persists that it was built in the hopes that Marie Antoinette and her children would be able to escape the Reign of Terror and settle there. This, of course, did not happen, though the building did house dignitaries who visited, including Louis Phillipe, who reigned as the last king of France from 1830 to 1848.)

 

The Philadelphian investors promoted their French oasis aggressively; agents met ships docking at the harbor to scout out French aristocrats who had money and a need to settle. The investors had bought the wilderness land at about $0.15 per acre; the French aristocrats bought it for 6 francs, a profit for the Americans of about 500%.

 

azilum CThe French families who came to Azilum did their best to recreate the life they had left, despite the difficulties of living so far from other communities. The interiors of the log cabins were plastered and covered in wallpaper, expensive rugs laid on the floors, and elegant drapes hung from the windows. Some families had even managed to bring expensive furniture to the New World. Glass panes were set into the windows, instead of cheaper options like greased paper or flaked mica. Dances and parties were constant pastimes, and the aristocrats hired landscapers to maintain their lawns in the French fashion. Visitors to the colony were amazed at the sheer luxury on display in the Pennsylvania wilderness.

 

This enchanted life was doomed from the start. The nearest town with supplies to be purchased was 75 miles away. Extreme weather made travel next to impossible in winter. Then Morris and Nicholson declared bankruptcy toward the end of the 18th century, and French investors were no longer willing to bankroll a home in America for the refugees. Finally, in the first years of the 1800s, Napoleon declared that all exiles could return; Azilum rejoiced at the news, and celebrated with a feast. As many families as could make the journey returned to France.Some colonists stayed and assimilated into American culture in other towns. Surnames like LaPorte, Homet, LeFevre, and Brevost may indicate descendants of these families.

 

The LaPorte house, which was held by the family until the mid-1800s, and then by a trust until it passed into government hands for preservation, is the only remaining original house at Azilum (though other buildings have been reconstructed.) It serves as a museum, housing many artifacts from the original settlers. This single building and its contents are all that remain of the tiny piece of French life in early America. The site of Azilum is marked and visible from the highway; it remains a popular subject for postcards.

The Postcards of Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg

 

Yes, that’s the actual name of this Massachusetts lake! Well, it’s one version of it.

 

s-l1600Officially, the lake is named Lake Chaubunagungamaug, which reflect the oldest Native American name for the small body of water. In Nipmuc, an Algonquian dialect, it means “lake divided by islands,” though a more generous translation could be “Fishing place at the boundaries–neutral meeting grounds.”

 

s-l1600 (2)According to Ives Goddard, Curator of Anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution, the earliest name for the body of water was Chabunagungamaug Pond. Several variations in spelling were also extant. In 1831, the name appeared as Chargoggagoggmanchoggagogg Pond, which seems to have been a cartographer’s error, confusing the original lake with nearby Manchaug Pond.

 

s-l1600 (1)The excessively long variation of the lake’s name was actually the creation of a local newspaper editor, along with the fictitious translation of “You fish on your side, I’ll fish on my side, and nobody fish in the middle.” Despite the non-historical origins of the longer name, some locals prefer it, and even take pride in being able to spell and pronounce it in its entirety. It is cited as the longest place name in the United States.

 

Such an unusual name makes for excellent mementos, and many postcards of the lake have been produced.

Patriotism Through Postage: Civil War Envelopes

 

The first official US postage stamps were issued in 1847, and decorative envelopes were not far behind them. By the middle of the 19th century, such covers were used to spread Union and Confederate sentiments. These political envelopes began to see use in the 1850s as divisions between Northern and Southern states were shaping up, though the earlier envelopes usually focus on images without slogans.

 

american-civil-war-envelope-1393774341GFaUnion envelopes often favored a 34-starred flag, a symbol of the illegitimacy of the Southern secession. Slogans often accompanied these designs, such as “we must keep the Flag where it e’er has stood,” and “Not a Star Must Fall.” Not all sentiments were so lofty. Some envelopes had designs with messages like, “If anyone attempts to haul down the flag, shoot him on the spot!” and “Hemp is better for traitors than cotton.”

 

CSA_Patriotic_Jeff_Davis

Confederate senders preferred phrases like “Liberty or Death,” “Fast Colors…Warranted not to run,” and “Southern Independence.” Poetry was popular as well, with such lines as “stand firmly by your cannon. Let ball and grape-shot fly. Trust in God and Davis, and keep your Powder dry.”

 

In the northern states, the Union flag took on special significance, as its 34 stars implied that the Southern states had no right to secede. Putting the flag on an envelope, then, was a clear message about the sender’s feelings regarding the legitimacy of the Confederate government.

 

Currier_&_Ives_-_Brig.-Genl._Michael_Corcoran

Prominent soldiers often found themselves on these envelopes. Generals Grant and McClellan were particular favorites, but Colonel Michael Corcoran of the 69th Regiment (the “Fighting Irish”) found popularity when he was captured by the Confederates for a year. Envelopes featuring Corcoran read “Sons of Erin — Let the watchword be Corcoran! Rescued if living. Avenged if dead!”

 

 

 

 

Destruction_of_Merrimac,_May_11,_1862.pngMilitary images also came into vogue. Corps insignia, flags, battle scenes, and more were pictured on these envelopes. Corner designs spread until they covered the entire envelope (and were the forerunner of the postcard, which became popular a few decades later.) Some envelopes ran designs in series to depict major events of the war, like Shiloh and the Battle of Gettyburg. Even the battle between the Monitor and the Merrimack found its way onto these envelopes.

 

 

800px-Civ_war_union_Patriotic_cover2By the time war began in 1861, people on both sides were collecting the envelopes as mementos, often never sending them through the mail at all. According to an article in a 1943 issue of American Collector, “Car Bell, the Hartford printer, issued a cover to promote this hobby. It showed a top-hatted gent, with carpet-bag, reading a newspaper which advised: ‘A collection of Union envelopes in a few years from now will form a most valuable and pleasing curiosity, and will be sold at double the original cost.’”

 

 

Over 15,000 unique patriotic designs are known, most of which express Union sentiments. These envelopes were created by 116 known printers, working in 39 cities. Charles Magnus (in New York) and James Magee (working in Philadelphia) were the two leading producers of collectible envelopes. Magnus worked next door to the famous Currier & Ives, and his work was similar to that of the famous duo. In fact, since it is known that Currier & Ives did artwork for other firms who put their own imprints on the design, some believe that most of the designs issued under Magnus’ imprint were actually done by Currier & Ives.

 

James Magee, on the other hand, had an eye for profit, and realized that collectors in Northern states would pay high prices for Confederate souvenirs. He began printing fake designs in Philadelphia and selling them as genuine rebel items.

 

Use of these envelopes declined as the war came to an end, though they are still highly prized as collectibles, particularly the unused envelopes.

The Strange Short-Lived Fad of Leather Postcards

 

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Postcards became extremely popular around the beginning of the 20th century, and manufacturers frequently added features to attract buyers. Postcards were embossed, gilded, embroidered, and made of different materials. For a brief time, leather postcards were all the rage.

 

While not rare enough to be particularly valuable, most people have never seen one of these leather postcards. Many were comedic or intended to convey romantic sentiments. Like most postcards, they were pre-printed with a spot for the address and a stamp.

 

s-l1600 (16)Leather postcards were only popular for a few years between 1905 and 1910 before falling out of favor. For one thing, the post office hated the postcards, due to their thickness, which caused problems with the mail sorting machines. (There was also some confusion as to the cost of mailing early postcards, and leather postcards only added to the confusion.) The cards were usually made of deer hide, and the design added by burning the leather (occasionally, the design was inked on.) Some even came with pre-cut holes so the postcards could be sewn together for pillow covers or other mementos. A trade magazine noted in 1906 that the demand for leather postcards had boosted the leather market.

 

However, the fad was short-lived, and paper postcards reigned supreme again for the rest of the 20th century, due to the ease and cheapness of production and mailing.