The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 14, Number 21, May 22, 2011, Article 3


On May 25, 1911, Eric P. Newman came into this world. This week the elder statesman of American numismatics celebrates his 100th birthday. Happy Birthday, Eric! I fondly recall several occasions when I had the opportunity and privilege to spend time with Eric. I believe we first met at an American Numismatic Association convention.

One time on my way to an ANA convention on the West Coast my plane had a layover in St. Louis, and who walked on board but Eric himself! He recognized and greeted me, and we sat together and talked the remaining length of the flight. Such a gentleman! On an earlier occasion I attended an Early American Coppers convention in St Louis, and Eric graciously agreed to my bold request to visit his numismatic library. I had the time of my numismatic life getting a private tour of his wonderful numismatic museum and library.

I spoke to Eric Thursday afternoon and he's doing quite well. He's a regular E-Sylum reader and makes good use of the internet to help with his research. He told me how much easier research is today - before he had to write letters and sometimes go in person to poke around libraries and museums to locate information. He's hard at work on this latest numismatic research project.

Eric, I can't thank you enough for your friendship and your unmatched contributions to American numismatic history and literature. Congratulations on yet another milestone - Happy Birthday! -Editor

Tom DeLorey published an article about Eric in the May 2011 issue of COINage magazine. Here's the introduction:

In my numismatic life, I have been privileged to see and hold a great many numismatic wonders, including at various times five different examples of the famous (and infamous) 1804 silver dollar. An even greater thrill was being able to hold all five of the 1913 Liberty Nickels in my hand at the same time, at the 2003 convention of the American Numismatic Association in Baltimore.

Eric Pfeiffer Newman, the greatest living American numismatist, used to own all five - at the same time. What's more amazing is that he bought them in 1942, when he was just 30, nd he is still with us today as a national treasure - at the glorious age of 100.

I first met Eric Newman at the offices of Coin World in the mid-1970s. I was about 25, with oh, so much to learn about numismatics, but he was ever the gentleman, despite being 40 years my senior. I think we discussed the groundbreaking work The Fantastic 1804 Dollar, which he co-authored with Ken Bressett in 1962.

It was a book that made handling those 1804 dollars over the years so special to me. I knew I could never afford to own one, but Eric's writing made me want to own one.

Over the years, especially when I was an authenticator for the ANA Certification Service, I had occasion to speak with him about other things, such as the questionable United States Assay Office of Gold 1853 $20 coins associated with his long-time adversary, John J. Ford. Newman was always willing to support the ANA in attempting to resolve the decades-old controversy surrounding these pieces, about which he was ultimately proven right, and a delight to speak with about other topics as well.

Eric and Evelyn Newman
Eric and Evelyn Newman

Joel Orosz writes:

The following words were spoken in 1964 by Harold Macmillan about Sir Winston Churchill, but I think they apply perfectly to my good friend and mentor, Eric P. Newman, on the happy occasion of his centenary birthday:

"The life of the man whom we are honouring is unique. The oldest among us can recall nothing to compare with him, and the younger ones among us, however long we live, will never see the like again."

George Kolbe writes:

"If you want to live a long life, focus on making contributions." If these words by scientist Hans Selye are true, you will surely enjoy many more birthdays. Congratulations on a most memorable one.

Dennis Tucker of Whitman Publishing writes:

"The opportunity to collaborate with Mr. Newman has been an honor and a privilege. Best wishes for a wonderful 100th birthday, and many more!"

Keith Zaner of Whitman Publishing adds:

"I'd like to extend my best wishes to Eric Newman for a very happy birthday."

David F. Fanning writes:

Eric P. Newman established himself as a numismatic scholar in the 1940s, though he had been active in the hobby in other ways for quite some time. More than sixty years later, he remains an active contributor to numismatic scholarship in the United States and it is difficult to think of anyone else who has created a similar body of work in the field of early American numismatics. While other important scholars have published as widely as Mr. Newman has, rarely do we encounter the sheer depth of scholarship seen in Newman's work.

Numismatics is a science and, as with all scientific endeavors, obsolescence comes with the territory: science builds upon itself and is constantly revising. What is remarkable in the case of Eric Newman is that his work has stood the test of time so well. In most cases where revisions and emendations of his previously published works became necessary, Mr. Newman took on the task himself. He recognized early on that new data need constantly to be integrated into the published record, and that this continual process of revision keeps scholarship alive. If one can point to one of his older publications and say that it is out of date and has been surpassed by more recent scholarship, odds are that the more recent scholarship was also penned by Mr. Newman. This tendency to revise has kept his work fresh and vibrant and is a model for others to follow.

It is one thing to become an expert in a field and to acquire, through hard and often tedious work, truly specialize knowledge of a particular subject. It is another thing to make the decision to share that knowledge. The temptation to keep one's hard-won knowledge to oneself is real. Arrogance and greed are, regrettably, motivators that have done much to check the progress of numismatic science. Eric Newman made the decision early on to share the fruits of his labor with the wider numismatic community, and we are all richer for it. Because of this, he and his work will be remembered long after those of his peers who chose to hoard knowledge for themselves have been forgotten.

I wish Mr. Newman a very happy 100th birthday. He is a remarkable man and has led a remarkable life. I look forward to reading more of his works and I dearly value my friendship with him.

On Facebook BK's Chasing History wrote

"I don't know Mr. Newman but I know of him and I think I can say that most all of us would be thrilled to live a life as spectacularly as he has! Happy Birthday sir!"

Also chiming in on Facebook, Julian Leidman writes:

"Happy 100th to one of the greatest numismatists of all time. So happy that you are well and can celebrate properly. Wishing you many more years of enjoyment!"

Dan Hamelberg writes:

A life full of challenges and adventure. Eric has done it all. He has certainly engaged and excelled in the world of numismatics. During one of my visits to St. Louis, Eric shared with me one of his great adventures.

After marrying the girl of his dreams, they traveled for their honeymoon to a coastal town in S. America. The world was on the brink of war, and it was reported that the Germans intended to dock a warship in the harbor of the town where Eric and his new bride were celebrating their marriage. The town's people did not like this idea, so they decided to react. They floated a barge to the entry canal of the harbor, and sank it to block the German warship from entering. Eric was right there to witness this. When the news of this hit the wire services, his new in-laws back home were frantic. Eric composed a poem to explain the "adventure", and sent it as a telegram to ease the worry back home. No problem. Eric and his best partner had started their great adventure. Happy birthday, Eric. May the adventure continue.

Happy Birthday, Eric!

Speaking to literature dealer John Burns this week we discussed Eric's upcoming birthday, and John noted that at least two other American numismatists reached their 100th year. Who can name them? Are there more? -Editor

Wayne Homren, Editor

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