Philadelphia: B. & T. Kite, No. 20, N. Third-Street: For Sale by them and Joseph Delaplaine, 1811. First edition. 12mo, recent textured brown leatherette, red spine label; gilt. Folding frontispiece of Philadelphia, Taken from Kensington, by T. Birch; xii, 376 pages; lacking map of Philadelphia and adjacent country. Occasional spotting. Very good or better in a new binding. Item #4355
A foundational work of local history, generally regarded as including the first useful description of U.S. Mint operations. James Mease, M.D. (1771–1846) was a polymath who published on a number of different subjects, including medicine, geology and history. He was well known as the editor of the Domestic Encyclopedia (1803–04) and the Archives of Useful Knowledge (1811–12) and as the author of A Geological Account of the United States (1807). In addition, he is considered to be the first writer to publish on the subject of U.S. numismatics. In a groundbreaking series of three articles, Mease examined U.S. medals and coins from the perspective of the numismatist, writing as a student in that discipline for others who shared this interest. While a number of American publications of numismatic relevance antedate Mease’s 1821 article “Description of Some of the Medals Struck in Relation to Important Events in North America,” these early publications either focus on foreign or ancient coins (the article by Rev. John Christopher Kunze, for instance) or were written for merchants, bankers, lawyers, politicians and other people who dealt with monetary issues on a daily basis. In his Picture of Philadelphia, he is more concerned with the Mint as a local establishment and public office than in discussing its products. Mease begins his summary of the Mint and coinage on page 154, starting with an overview of the system existing before the establishment of a federal institution, then turning to the coinage itself, and its legal specifications regarding weight, fineness and design. A brief but interesting discussion of technical matters follows, in which Mease admits that “at the first establishment of the mint, great difficulties and embarrassments were experienced from a variety of causes.” He continues by stating that “time has overcome them all, and it is understood, that in some respects the process of striking is more complete than in most other countries, England excepted.” He notes that “the mode of hardening the dies is peculiar to the mint, and is the discovery of the present assistant coiner, Mr. Eckfeldt.” The assay commission, total mintage to date and officers are subsequently discussed. Mease’s work is the earliest to give such a detailed description of the workings of the nascent Mint, and this is the first edition of that work (a second edition was published in 1824, with a supplemented edition published by Thomas Porter in 1831). Joel Orosz discusses the Picture of Philadelphia in the Fall 2001 issue of The Asylum. Scarce. Howes M471. Shaw & Shoemaker 23363.