The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 18, Number 50, December 13, 2015, Article 20


Dick Johnson submitted this request for assistance in transcribing an important document relating to American numismatic history. Can anyone help? -Editor

Franklin_Peale It’s heartening to learn the Newman Numismatic Portal has digitized 77,000 pages. This is gist for the numismatic mill for researchers at present and far into the future. I would like to propose for digitation the most important document in 19th century American minting technology – the 1835 Peale Report – by Franklin Peale.

This document, in Peale’s own handwriting (or some secretary’s), is beautiful uniform script. Even so it is difficult to read, as it takes undue time to discern every word. It needs to be transcribed before digitation, This is necessary for 21st century eyes to read instead of 19th century script.

In 1833 U.S. Mint Director Samuel Moore hired away from the Peale family museum, their museum director Benjamin Franklin Peale (1795-1870). [He hated the name Benjamin and preferred Franklin his entire life.] Franklin was one of seventeen children of Charles Wilson Peale (1741- 1827) the famous and most successful painter of early America. All other second generation Peales were artists as well. Franklin was somewhat of a black sheep of the family who was more mechanically inclined so they stuck him in the family museum their father had established.

Director Moore first named Franklin Melter and Refiner at the Mint. Then Moore recognized Franklin’s mechanical acumen, decided to order him to travel to Europe, visit all the mints, learn all their equipment and technology and bring this back to aid the struggling 42-year-old Philadelphia Mint.

Peale did just that, spending two years abroad 1833-34. He learned the technology and ordered the equipment to modernize the Philadelphia Mint, a steam engine, and an upsetting machine – both from England – plus the Contamin die engraving pantograph and the Thonnelier coining press, both from France.

When the equipment arrived he not only set each to operate but began to add improvements, completely rebuilding the Thonnelier press in 1840. Previously all dies were cut by hand each one separately. He leaned in France to obtained an oversize metal pattern of a portrait, mount this in the Contamin to cut – not a die – but a device hub. This would then be sunk in a blank die with lettering and numbers punched in by hand afterwards, one letter or figure at a time.

The advantage of the Contamin was that it could create device portraits of different sizes from the same pattern. This is why he created three sizes of the Polk Indian Peace Medal (Julian IP-24, 25, 26). The large size medal for the most important Indian Chief, smaller medals for Indians of lesser rank. All this technology is described in the Peale Report.

After his return in 1834 it took Peale a year to write his 276-page report The original document still exists in the Philadelphia National Archives, available to researchers. Unfortunately there are only 272 pages extant. All the drawings are missing, and perhaps some charts. Someone purloined these in the past, it is hoped they still exist and may surface someday.

I was introduced to this document by fellow Rittenhouse Society member and numismatic researcher Craig Sholley, who gave me a photocopy he had. Since it is handwritten, I attempted to transcribe the 272 pages from this indistinct photocopy.

With aid of a helpful wife who could identify some of those words from the context of the sentence, we started a daunting task. About a third of the way through I had to see the original document to identify some words. We traveled to Philadelphia after requesting in advance to have the Report brought out from storage. To handle the very document itself was a thrill. But we were there to clarify some indistinct words on the photocopy.

We transcribed the first 95 pages (on 44 typed pages) before I moved on to other, more pressing projects. However I would like to work with someone, perhaps with experience transcribing such handwriting. If so, I would share what work I have done to complete this chore before it is digitized.

I know there is software which by OCR can transcribe handwritten scrip. I am not a fan of this for technical information. An example: Gilroy Roberts gave a speech at the American Numismatic Society once, spoking extemporaneously, ANS wisely recorded this. They turned over the tape to a professional transcription service to type a hard copy.

I encountered this once searching their vertical files for coinage technology data. In several places I noticed the word “colors” in the text. This made no sense at all. What Gilroy said was “collars” referring to dies in a coining press. That so infuriated me I whipped out a ball-point pen and scratched out “colors” and wrote the word “collars” above it.

Transcribing a technical document requires a person with some knowledge of the subject. Any takers among E-Sylum readers?

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Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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