Edouard Frossard

Édouard Frossard, whose name usually appeared in print as Ed. Frossard, with a period after the “d” in Ed., was at one time or another, highly visible as a dealer, very outspoken, extremely knowledgeable, honest in most (but dishonest in other) dealings, and jealous of his competitors. With this diverse and sometimes opposing mixture of talents and attributes, he was well liked or despised by other numismatists, depending upon the person involved. His personality must have been very complex.

However, without a doubt, he was one of the most important dealers on the numismatic scene in from the 1870s until his death in 1899.

Frossard was born in 1837, near Lac Leman (better known as Lake Geneva), Switzerland, and came to America in 1858. He eventually settled in Brooklyn, where he became an instructor at the Boursand Academy, later serving in the Civil War, and still later resuming teaching.

In 1872 he was bitten by the coin bug. Being of a literary bent, Frossard learned quickly. Before long, he set up a small business at Irvington-on-Hudson. His main customer was George W. Merritt, the son of a wealthy man who lived nearby in an impressive mansion overlooking the Hudson River, which was owned by financier Jay Gould.

On September 17, 1875, he issued the one and only issue of The Curiosity Shop and Antiquary, a four-page leaflet that seemed to be shorter than its title. In the same year he became the first editor of J.W. Scott’s Coin Collector’s Journal, commuting to New York City from his Irvington-on-Hudson home. In 1877, thoroughly alienated with J.W. Scott himself, he left the firm and started in business on his own. From then until his passing in 1899, he published many articles, issued his outspoken and highly readable Numisma house organ (January 1877 to December 1891, comprising 59 issues), and created 160 auction catalogs, an impressive output by any measure.

During his career Frossard engaged in numerous feuds with his peers, often rushing into print with some opinion or statement of fact without thoroughly checking it. Had he been a marksman (other than a verbal one), his credo might have been: Ready! Fire! Aim!

His perceived enemies and competitors included the Chapman brothers, Ebenezer Locke Mason, David U. Proskey, J.W. Scott, Charles Steigerwalt, and even W. Elliot Woodward, although he was not annoyed with all of these people all of the time, just on occasion. There were exceptions, as in the case with Scott, for whom his enmity lasted a long time. Frossard was always ready to champion the cause of good vs. evil, although sometimes he bet on the wrong side. He was proud of his accomplishments, sometimes too proud, as in his “discovery” of the rare colonial Novum Belgium copper which he published, not knowing that W.E. Woodward years earlier had described it as a fantasy piece made by young C. Wyllys Betts just years earlier. On such occasions, his verbally battered adversaries such as Scott must have grinned broadly.

A summation of Frossard’s Numisma was given by numismatic book dealer Charles Davis:

“An often acid, often scholarly, always entertaining journal with important, although sometimes axe-grinding observations on the business practices of his competitors, and invaluable for reports on contemporary auctions with notices of overgrading and counterfeits liberally sprinkled in. Arrows were shot at, among others, Doctor Woodward (the apothecary unable to sell the false talisman to the children of Knicker), Charley Steigerwalt (the plagiarist with his big journal), Brother Mason (the only original Moses in the coin trade), J.W. Scott (the Fulton Street octopod), the Chapmans (who produce quarto catalogues with margins sufficiently large for corrections), and David U. Proskey (with a level head and an India rubber conscience).”

Toward the end of his career, Frossard apparently succumbed to financial temptation and became involved in a large fraud to create and sell fake memorabilia, which he attributed to well-known American artist John Trumbull. He passed from the earthly scene in 1899, mourned by some but not by others.