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The E-Sylum: Volume 13, Number 49, December 5, 2010, Article 7

BOOK REVIEW: ANNUAL ASSAY COMMISSION – UNITED STATES MINT 1800-1943

Burdette Assay Commission No, I haven't READ all of the great information on this four DVD set, but that's a tall order. Roger has assembled on these discs all known records and proceedings of the United States Mint Assay Commission from 1800 through its final year of 1980. Over 2,000 pages of archival records are included in convenient .pdf form.

What a treasure trove for U.S. numismatic researchers! We are all in Roger's debt for making this information so readily available. Few of us, even the most dedicated numismatic researchers have the time, access and patience to locate and utilize these key primary records at the National Archives.

In his Introduction, Roger provides these notes on the sources:

Assay Commission records exist in multiple versions of each years’ meeting. The first official assay of gold and silver coins apparently took place in 1797, and annually thereafter. For commission meetings between 1840 and 1873 there are original meeting notes, a set of official minutes and usually a printed version of the minutes. Printed versions were intended for Congressional and administration officials, but were often limited to one hundred copies before the 1870s.

From about 1840 to 1911, minutes of the meetings were recorded by clerks in large journals. These manuscript minutes were the source of printed editions of each year’s proceedings. The manuscripts are unique, and include material not in the printed editions. Printed copies were commonly limited to between three hundred and four hundred, and are difficult to locate.

Most were printed in 8vo editions of approximately 40 pages. Printed editions sufficed for the official transcript of each Assay Commission meeting. The Annual Report of the Director of the Mint also includes a summary of the complete minutes. Additionally, the Secretary of the Treasury’s Annual Report com-monly included a very brief version. For the researcher, these derivative versions offer little of value and occasionally lead to misunderstanding due to omitted material.

In preparing this edition, the author has used the version prepared closest to the actual event and which promises to have the greatest fidelity to participant’s comments.

Also included is an essay by Robert W. Julian on The United States Annual Assay Commission 1797 to 1817, which previously appeared in Coin World.

The quality of the .pdf files I sampled was excellent. For example, I was able to easily extract the following paragraphs from the beginning of the section of Roger's transcriptions of the Monday, April 27, 1801 meeting at the Philadelphia Mint:

At a meeting of the Commissioners appointed by an act of Congress of 3rd March, 1801, for the purpose of inspecting the coins of the United States at the Mint of the United States on Monday the 27th day of April, 1801:

Present [were] Richard Peters, Esq., Judge [District Court of the United States for Pennsylvania]; Jared Ingersoll, [District] Attorney of the United States [for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania]; Stephen Moylan, Commissioner of Laws (sic – Loans) for the District of Pennsylvania;1 also the Director, Treasurer, Chief Coiner, Assayer, and Melter and Refiner of the Mint.

The Commissioners proceeded to count and examine the reserves of silver coins found in the chest under two locks, the keys of which has been kept by the Assayer and Treasurer [of the Mint], and compared them with the book in which they had been entered, and on finding them agreeably (sic) thereto; it was ordered that the whole of the reserved pieces should be melted into one mass, and assayed in two separate parcels.

Most other .pdf files consist of images of the original documents. Here's just one item relating to the 1817 assay.

Assay Commission 1817

While the early records are handwritten, many later ones are typewritten. Even a short pass through the files on this collection leaves the reader in awe of the effort put into creating them and making the collection available in DVD format. Roger is a careful and meticulous researcher, and that clearly shows in the results of his compilation. In my opinion, the set is well worth a multiple of the list price and is an absolute bargain at the E-Sylum offer listed below.

The set of professionally packaged - the DVDs are housed in a nice protective case with catchy artwork and titles. My review copy was the library version, a larger plastic case preferred by librarians and well-suited for placement on a bookshelf. Inside, each of the four disks are professionally illustrated with different images and are clearly numbered for easy reference.

If you haven't already taken advantage of Roger's great offer for E-Sylum subscribers, time is running out. Annual Assay Commission – United States Mint 1800-1943 is available in a special first edition to readers of The E-Sylum for $25 postpaid until December 10, 2010. The regular retail price is $75. To order, send check or money order for $25 to: Seneca Mill Press LLC, PO Box 1423, Great Falls, VA 22066.

To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see: NEW BOOK: ANNUAL ASSAY COMMISSION – UNITED STATES MINT 1800-1943 (www.coinbooks.org/esylum_v13n45a03.html)

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Wayne Homren, Editor

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