Joseph J. Mickley

A recollection of visiting Mickley in his home was furnished by Frederick M. Bird and was printed in the Proceedings of the 28th annual meeting of the American Numismatic and Archaeological Society held in 1885. Bird began by telling of his own beginning in the hobby in the 1850s and then this:

“We lived near Mr. Mickley, and I got acquainted with him somehow, and became his frequent visitor. This was easy, for he was very good natured and accessible, and his place was the resort of harmless loafers, whom he used to address as “friends and fellow-pitchers.” Most of us now-a-days could by no means afford to entertain the numismatic small boy, with his garrulous ignorance, his infantile enthusiasm, and his morbid desire to invest a half-dime in cents of 1799 and 1804. But Mr. Mickley was seldom busy; he usually pottered about with some kind of light work, which could be put down at a moment’s notice, and with which conversation never interfered. I have known him (not often) to go out piano-tuning, and he may have sold an instrument now and then, but he seemed to be in comfortable circumstances, and to take life very easily.

“He lived in a large house on the north side of Market Street, below Tenth. The ground floor was a grocery, I think; the second story was occupied by pianos, though I never heard of any one going there to see them. His time was spent in a shop or office in the back building, corresponding to the dining room in most Philadelphia houses, with the kitchen beneath it. Back of this was a smaller room, where he kept old almanacs, directories, local histories, and the like; these were a minor hobby with him. I saw nothing of his family, whom he doubtless met at meal-times. Morning, noon, and evening he had (or was likely to have) a stream of visitors of all ages and conditions, with whom he loved to gossip. He had a quaint humor of his own.

“If I had had years and sense enough, it might have paid to note down some of his queer expressions; e.g., he used to call a humbug a “humguffin.” I never knew his placid amiability to be ruffled but once, and then without rhyme or reason. I had found a poor Vermontensium of then unnoted type, and was very willing to exchange it for two Roman coppers which chanced to be at hand. Having been taught to love my neighbor as myself, and noticing that one of the two was very fine, I suggested that he was giving me too much: that the beautiful Nero might be needed in his collection, while an inferior one would do for a beginner like me. He growled at the delay as if it were caused by grasping selfishness instead of conscientious consideration. The incident made an impression, as such will on boys…”

Frederick Bird went on to say that many of Mickley’s coins were stored in various places out of sight, but in a large cabinet at the back of the second floor he kept “his splendid series of the issues of our Mint in gold and silver, for every year or near it.”