New Book on Numismatics of the American West

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August 15, 2013 – Whitman Publishing releases ‘The Great American West: Pursuing the American Dream’, a 224-page hardcover coffee-table book by award-winning historian Kenneth W. Rendell.

Kenneth W. Rendell, The Great American West: Pursuing the American Dream, Whitman, 2013, Atlanta (GE). 224 p. Hardcover, 11 x 9.5 inches, full color. ISBN: 0794833594. Price: $29.95.

Rendell, a founding member of the Rittenhouse Society, has a long-standing connection to numismatics. ‘In the 1950s I traded my collection of English medieval coins to my friend Dave Bowers, for his collection of presidential letters,’ Rendell said. ‘I immediately became enthralled by the feeling of intimacy with history that these letters gave me.’ At the time Rendell was a specialist dealer in American colonial coinage, but this collection took him on a new path. His career since has focused on historical autographs, presidential memorabilia, royalty, militaria, politics, literature, and other collectible areas – including Western Americana.

‘The American Dream is fundamentally about hope, and historically it was always connected to the West,’ says Rendell. ‘The hope was that a better life awaits your initiative, your perseverance, your cleverness, your hard work. It’s about making your own future.’

The Great American West approaches the question, ‘Is the American Dream still alive?’ In its collected narratives a reader can see the dream as it used to be – in early hand-drawn maps and adventure-promising posters, in letters sent home by lonesome gold miners, in newspaper clippings about famous explorers and frontier lawmen, in drawings and photographs from the Wild West. ‘Marveling at this rich and colorful past,’ said Whitman publisher Dennis Tucker, ‘we can see where the American Dream is today.’

Rendell’s numismatic background is well represented in the richly illustrated book. Among the treasures pictured and discussed inside:

  • A bar of silver cast from artifacts taken from natives during the conquest of Mexico, page 1. Recovered from a Spanish shipwreck off Grand Bahama Island, it contains two partial tax stamps of King Charles I of Spain.
  • A receipt and payment order for 100 gold pesos signed by Hernando Cortéz (conqueror of the Aztecs and Mexico), August 18, 1534, in Mexico City, page 1.
  • The 1652 New England shilling of Massachusetts – one of only 10 to 15 known to have survived, page 9.
  • The 1652 Massachusetts Pine Tree shilling, minted sometime between 1667 and 1674 but dated 1652 to circumvent British royal laws, page 9.
  • A Lord Baltimore silver sixpence, minted 1658/1659 for use in colonial Maryland, page 10.
  • A London Elephant token from the late 1600s, believed to have been brought to Pennsylvania by the Quakers, page 10.
  • An Indian Peace medal of King George II, dated 1757, showing an Indian and a Quaker sharing a peace pipe, page 11. (Other Indian Peace medals are shown dating from the presidencies of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Van Buren, Franklin Pierce, James Monroe, and Abraham Lincoln; and from the reigns of kings George I, George III, and Louis XVI.)
  • A Treaty of Greenville medal, 1795, given to the chiefs of 12 Indian tribes in an agreement negotiated by General Anthony Wayne, page 21.
  • The Season medals given to the Indians by the Lewis and Clark expedition, page 36.
  • Hudson’s Bay Company medals, made in the late 1700s and early 1800s, given as gifts to friendly Indians, page 42.
  • Hudson’s Bay Company scrip, good for one pound sterling, issued at York Factory on Hudson Bay, 1821, page 43.
  • An 1825 American Fur Company scrip note ‘Good to W. McGulpin for baking fifty loaves of bread,’ page 46.
  • John Jacob Astor’s early-1800s American Fur Company silver medal, page 46.
  • The North West Company’s 1820 Beaver token – the only circulating currency in the Pacific Northwest, believed to represent one beaver skin; page 47.
  • An 1858 Kentucky-issued stock certificate, ‘for colonizing certain land in Texas,’ page 93.
  • Receipts signed by ill-fated members of the Donner Party, page 107.
  • A Fort Laramie sutler token, issued by a trading post on the Overland Trail, page 111.
  • Mormon gold coins struck in Utah and Colorado, page 129.
  • Currency and notes signed by Brigham Young and other early Mormon leaders, page 130.
  • Gold bars, nuggets, and other treasure from the SS Central America, lost at sea in 1857, page 143.
  • One of the 1,389 gold $2.50 coins of 1848, specially stamped CAL. by order of the military governor of California, marking the start of the nation’s greatest Gold Rush, page 143.
  • Private and territorial gold coins, tokens, and bars struck by enterprising Americans for use in the West, page 144 and elsewhere.
  • An 1860s receipt form for Ben Holladay’s Overland Stage Line, page 152.
  • An 1855 stock certificate of the American Express Company, signed by its two founders, Henry Wells and William Fargo, page 155.

All of these numismatic items (and more) are joined by hundreds of other artifacts including rifles and six-shooters, gunpowder horns and beaver hats, voyageur contracts, tomahawks, Indian headdresses, gold-mining claims, maps, drawings, railroad posters, and other iconic memorabilia that help us define the American West. ‘This book illustrates the daily life of those who have defined America,’ wrote Senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming in the foreword. ‘It puts their letters in the reader’s hands, their lives in the reader’s mind, and their dreams in the reader’s heart.’

Throughout the book, Rendell comments on the market for collectors and historians. For example, in chapter 2 (‘The First Eastern Settlements’), he observes that ‘Collecting artifacts, manuscripts, and books from the period of the first Eastern settlements is less difficult than acquiring material from America’s early exploration, but the availability of such items is still very limited. Some early colonizers, such as William Penn, signed many land grants, but the material of others (for example, Roger Williams, the religious freedom leader who founded Rhode Island) is virtually unique in private ownership. John Smith’s books on Virginia and New England are very rare and expensive. Perhaps the least expensive artifacts are the coins of the British and French colonies; they offer a window into these early times for relatively modest sums.’

Foreword by Alan K. Simpson
Early Exploration
The First Eastern Settlements
Crossing the Appalachians and Settling the Mississippi River Valley
The Lewis and Clark Expedition
The Fur Trade
The Indians
Santa Fe
Exploration and Scientific Expeditions
Overland Trails
Northwestern Settlements
The Mormons
The California Gold Rush
Crossing the Continent
Prospecting, Settling, and Wonderment
Outlaws and Lawmen
The Indian Wars
The Klondike and Alaska: The Last Frontiers
The West of the 20th Century
Afterword: Western History and My Pursuit of the American Dream
About the Author
With Sidebar essays ‘For the Collector and Historian’

For more information on this book or to order it, please visit the publisher’s website.