Dr. Sol Taylor

John Adams Bolen, Medallist

By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
Saturday, October 20, 2007

ohn Adams Bolen was a 19th-century medallist and coin collector. He was born in 1826 and died in 1906. He is best known for his series of small medals or tokens issued in the 1860s and 1870s. He continued to produce various medals and tokens until the 1890s.
    In a Coin World story in 1976, Bolen was described as a "distinguished stamp cutter, diesinker, medalist and antiquarian." He was listed in Mason's February 1869 gallery of "Fifty U.S. Coin Collectors," although little evidence is available of his collection — either being sold or dispersed through donations.
    In 1975, Maurice M. Gould, noted Boston numismatist, passed away. I was selected by his widow, Jean, to sell his personal effects, which were largely numismatic items.
    In his extensive inventory was a collection of items which were boxed and marked as "John A. Bolen workshop medals, dies and tools." Gould had purchased these items intact from the estate of John A. Bolen through a grandson (or great nephew) around 1945.
    In the inventory was a list of 50 known medals produced by Bolen in various metals, along with the number of each type produced. This list was reproduced in my February 1977 catalogue of the Maurice M. Gould Mail Bid Sale. A few of these medals were reproductions of colonial coins matched with different reverse so as not to be confused the original pieces. Others were primarily used by merchants as store cards.
    A few such items are listed here:

Bronze Wht Metal Silver Brass
Pioneer Baseball 75 125
Soldiers Fair 2 350
Bolen Die Sinker 14 1 1
Moore's Bros 5 400 1
Lincoln 14 2 14
Carolina Elephant 10
Somers Is. Shilling 1 (gilt) (?)
NY Cent 40 2 5

    All of the bronzes were small mintages of less tahn 100; white metal versions ranged from one to 400 in number, silver from one to 12 and brass from one to 75. All are scarce to rare and bring high prices when they come up for auction.
    Among the items included in the mail-bid sale were:

•The famous JAB monogram steel punch (probably unique);

•Steel hubs for some 35 different designs. Most were one of a kind. In the earlier July 1976 Gould sale, a Libertas Americana hub for the most popular of the Bolen medals was sold for $100;

•A Daniel Webster medal in bronze (one of only 14 struck);

•A pioneer baseball medal, one of 75 minted for the 1856 baseball club (an early baseball souvenir).

    In "The Standard Catalog of United States Tokens 1700-1900" by Russell Rulau, three pages are devoted to Bolen pieces. A footnote indicates that some of the Bolen estate (which may later have been sold to Gould) was in the possession of another Boston coin dealer, Harold Whiteneck, who used the punches to stamp both early U.S. coins and tokens — which eventually were purchased by fellow Bostonian Maurice M. Gould around 1955. Another footnote indicates some restrikes from the original hubs and dies are known, and that they are undistinguishable from the originals.
    A catalog of all of the Bolen dies was published in 1904 by Bolen and is used as a guide to the originals — since several mulings of various dies are known that are not listed in the 1904 publication. In the Rulau catalog, all pieces are listed with values ranging from $50 to $300. Several are listed as "unique" and when offered for sale surely would exceed $300. Reference is also made in the Rulau book to my 1977 mail-bid sale (p.574). Gould published a monograph on the Bolen collection around 1957.
    Now the various pieces have been widely dispersed. Few show up at any sale, and thus any collector with the intention of a complete (or largely so) collection of Bolen pieces would not only wait a long time to acquire many pieces, but would also fall far short, as many pieces are unique and probably reside in various collections rather than in a single one.

    Dr. Sol Taylor of Sherman Oaks is president of the Society of Lincoln Cent Collectors and author of The Standard Guide to the Lincoln Cent. Click here for ordering information.