William Dunham Coin Collector
Dunham was born in Barnard, Vermont, on October 3, 1857. He followed several lines of work and was a school teacher, wholesale grocer, and retail grocer, later studying pharmacy and becoming a druggist, a profession he followed in Chicago until his retirement circa 1916, after which he lived for a time in California.
In the 1890s, Dunham, a druggist, gave his address as 67 West Van Buren Street, Chicago. In 1904 he bought an 1804 dollar, which became the focal point of his collection and thereafter was occasionally mentioned in print. During the period 1900-1910 he was very interested in Hard Times tokens of the 1832-1844 period, studied Lyman H. Low’s aptly named 1899 book, Hard Times Tokens, and published an easy-finding list or index of the varieties.
In 1910 his address was 530 West Van Buren Street, Chicago. About this time he gave to The Numismatist two prizes to be awarded for original articles appearing in the publication in the year 1910. The first prize was a silver medal issued by the Chicago Numismatic Society, while the second prize was a 1907 $10 gold piece. The donor requested that Dr. T. Louis Comparette (curator of the Mint Cabinet), Virgil M. Brand (owner of America’s largest coin collection), and ANA President Dr. J.M. Henderson act as judges.
An account of a coin exhibit in 1911 drew this notice: “William F. Dunham showed many interesting and rare United States coins, including the remarkable half eagle of 1822, a number of rare Hard Times tokens, and British war medals. However, “a little silver half dime of 1802, an especially fine specimen, probably attracted as much attention from the coin collectors as any other of the fine pieces exhibited by Mr. Dunham.” The 1822 half eagle is now the D. Brent Pogue Collection coin.
Dunham died on October 12, 1936, in Chicago. In 1939, B. Max Mehl bought his collection intact. Many coins were sold privately from the collection from that time through early 1941. A mail bid sale, ostensibly featuring the intact collection, was delineated in a very impressive catalog and bore the closing date of June 3, 1941. However, the collection had been “cherrypicked” by important clients beforehand, but the coins were not removed from the listings, and the “prices realized” list fooled its recipients into thinking all had been sold on June 3. That said, today the Dunham catalog stands today as the catalog produced by B. Max Mehl, a window on one of the greatest collections ever formed.