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Coin Collection

The following paragraphs, compiled by Monticello researchers, offer a chronology of Thomas Jefferson's coin-collecting activities:

1784-1789. During the 1780s, Jefferson assembled European coins of silver, copper, and bullion as possible "subjects for consideration" by the American mint. His travels took him to France, Italy, Germany, Holland, and England. Twenty years later, Jefferson recalled his efforts in a letter to Caspar Wistar: "While visiting some parts of Europe, I thought it might be useful to bring home some specimens of the different coins I met with, some of copper, some of silver, & others of a mixture of both called billon. having then a mint to [be] established I supposed they might furnish subjects for consideration, & sometimes imitation."1

1786. In December 1786, Jefferson received some "Moorish coins" from David Salisbury Franks, who had recently returned to Paris from Morocco, where he was secretary to an American mission.2 Probably during that same month, Jefferson saw the coining methods of Jean Pierre Droz at the Paris mint and forwarded two of Droz's sample ecus to John Jay.3 It is possible he might have procured and retained other samples of Droz's coins, which he called as "beautiful as a medal."4

1792. Jefferson had a "set of copper promisory notes, and coins" made at Matthew Boulton's Birmingham works. He submitted them for George Washington's inspection, noting their superiority "... over any thing we can do here."5 In July, Jefferson received from the U.S. mint 1,500 half-dimes "of the new coinage."6

1793. In March, Jefferson received "a Book of medals and Coins (as numberd and markd)" made at Boulton's mint, as well as "some of the trash of half pence" of the English towns. They were sent by Thomas Digges, an American then in Birmingham. Also included were two of "the American Cents" made in 1791 at Obadiah Westwood's, on speculation for W. & A. Walker (images of George Washington and of an eagle, with motto.)7

1797. In June, Jefferson received from the U.S. Mint dimes and half-dimes to the value of $300.00. A half-dime of 1797 was uncovered in archaeological excavations at Monticello.8

1798. Jefferson transmitted to the American Philosophical Society "a large square plate of a Swedish Copper Coin," the gift of Thaddeus Kosciuszko.9

1805. In April, Jefferson received from Nicolai Henrick Weinwich of Copenhagen "a box containing 150. pieces of Roman coin in bronze of different sizes from the reign of Augustus to that of Theodosius." Two weeks later he forwarded them to the American Philosophical Society, where they might be "of more extensive use."10

1806. In June, Jefferson sent the coins and medals he had assembled over the previous twenty years to the American Philosophical Society, which recorded the donation as "a Collection of Coins and Medals." Jefferson's accompanying letter to Wistar described the beginning of the collection, as he traveled through Europe. He had subsequently added "some other coins & some medals which have occasionally come to my hands." He believed his coins would "probably become useful" to the American Philosophical Society, "by being open to examination." Also, they might "form part of a series which future acquisitions may enlarge."11

- Lucia Stanton, 1994


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