Howard Newcomb

Born in 1877, Howard Rounds Newcomb today is remembered as one of the great figures in American numismatics. At one time he had one of the finest collections of half cents and, in particular, large cents in existence. Justifiably, he was elected to the ANA Hall of Fame in 1982. Mention his name now, and he is usually named as the author of the definitive reference published by us (Stack’s) in 1944, United States Copper Cents 1816-1857. Although members of Early American Coppers club and others have added some new varieties since that long-ago year, the basic text remains the standard.

Like many of the brightest and best in the annals of numismatics, Newcomb became enamored with the hobby as a teenager. In August 1894 he attended the convention of the ANA held that year in his hometown of Detroit. He forthwith joined the ANA and was listed as member #227 in The Numismatist published the following October. From then onward he was a foundation stone in the ANA, contributing many articles over the years and attending conventions. Newcomb was a Renaissance Man in that no area in the American series escaped his attention, and to many he made important contributions. Some of them were arcane, such as reflected by this item in The Numismatist in March 1911: “The extent of the field of mintmarks can be partly realized when one considers the statement of Mr. Howard R. Newcomb, the well-known Detroit mintmark collector, that of the 1878, 1879, and 1880 dollars alone he has no less than 22 die and mint letter varieties.” In a June 1912 article, “Unappreciated Silver Mint Rarities Dimes,” he related that everyone knew about the famous 1894-S dime as being the rarest in the series, but that other dimes were also deserving of attention, including the 1874-CC, of which Newcomb knew of fewer than a half dozen specimens. Of the 1871-CC, 1872-CC, and 1873-CC With Arrows, only the 1871-CC was known in Uncirculated condition to Newcomb. Further, the 1885-S dime was identified as a sleeper.

In July 1925 he observed, “There seems to be something peculiar about the standard silver dollar of 1903 issued from the New Orleans Mint. Although the government records a coinage of 4,450,000 pieces, I have failed to locate, in the last half dozen years, any specimens either in the hands of dealers or collectors, save one in my own collection and one in a prominent collection in Washington, D.C. They seem to be equally scarce even in circulation.… It would interest me, and possibly other ANA members, if other examples can be found. Can anyone else throw any light on this piece, which apparently, is an extremely rare coin?” Indeed it was so rare that most collectors and dealers had never seen a Mint State example. That would change, of course, in November 1962, as many readers know.

Much more could be related about Newcomb—famous for his knowledge of copper, but pioneering in other areas as well.