Eric P. Newman is one of the foremost American numismatists of the 20th and 21st centuries. On Oct. 25, Washington University in St. Louis will dedicate a state-of-the-art numismatics facility in his honor.
The 3,000-square-foot Newman Money Museum, housed within the new Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, features items drawn from Newman’s renowned collection as well as a numismatics library and workspace for scholars. Displays survey the history of coins and paper money from their beginnings and to the present day, as well as the relationship between money, society, culture and commemoration and related issues such as production, inflation and counterfeiting.
“Mr. Newman’s interests are extremely broad, though his primary area of focus has been Colonial and early American money,” said Tom Serfass, curator of the Newman collection since 1990.
Several exhibits document the legacy of Benjamin Franklin, a central figure in the development of American Colonial paper money. For example, in the 1730s, Franklin helped curb widespread counterfeiting through his invention of “nature printing,” in which bills were printed with intricate leaf patterns.
“It took Franklin several years to work out, since nature’s designs were extremely difficulty to convert into print,” Serfass notes. “Of course, counterfeiters had the same problem and Franklin’s technology remained in use through the American Revolution.”
Exhibits also will explore the lasting influence of Spanish specie coinage, which was widely used until the mid-19th century. For example, the Spanish peso — also nicknamed the Spanish milled dollar or “piece of eight” — was comprised of eight reals, which Colonists often physically cut apart (“made change”) using a hatchet.
“Two reals, or two bits, equaled a quarter of a dollar,” Serfass notes. “That’s where the more modern terminology comes from. When the Colonies started printing their own monies, they often read ‘Redeemable in Spanish Milled Dollars.’ After the American Revolution it was only natural to keep using the same vocabulary.”
Other topics include the depiction of women and African-Americans on money. For example, Serfass points out that between 1881 and 1898 U.S. paper money bore the signature of Blanche K. Bruce (1841-98), Register of the U.S. Treasury and the first African-American to serve a full term in the U.S. Senate.
Also on view will be displays about the creation of money, from conception and initial design sketches through coinage and engraving and final production; as well as an extensive collection of coin counters and changers; rare examples of printing errors; and a selection of “Hard Times tokens,” a form of non-governmental copper coinage popular during money shortages accompanying the 1837-44 recession.
Eric P. Newman is perhaps best known for his pioneering study The Early Paper Money of America (1967), which remains the standard work on the subject and is now entering its fifth edition. Other written works include The 1776 Continental Currency Coinage: Varieties of the Fugio Cent (1952), The Fantastic 1804 Dollar (1962) and U.S. Coin Scales and Counterfeit Coin Detectors (2000). He was inducted into the American Numismatic Association’s Hall of Fame in 1986.
The Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Fumihiko Maki, is the centerpiece of Washington University’s new Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts. The five-building complex also includes a new Maki-designed studio building, Earl E. and Myrtle E. Walker Hall, as well as three renovated structures, Bixby, Givens and Steinberg halls, housing the Sam Fox School’s College of Art, College of Architecture, Graduate School of Art and Graduate School of Architecture & Urban Design.
The Newman Money Museum opens Wednesday, Oct. 25. It is housed within Washington University’s new Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, located near the intersection of Skinker and Forsyth boulevards. A dedication ceremony for the complex will begin at 3 p.m. with an open house following from 4:30 to 8 p.m. All exhibits are free and open to the public. Hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays; and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. The museum is closed Tuesdays and university holidays.
For more information, call (314) 935-9595.