IDLER, WILLIAM

Copyright 2011-2018 John N. Lupia, III

Fig. 1. Photograph of William Idler circa 1890 at his curiosity shop published in his obituary, Philadelphia Inquirer, Thursday, July 18, 1901, page 5.

William Idler, Sr. (1808-1901), was born on June 25, 1808, son of Jacob Idler (1773-1856), a wealthy importer and shipping magnate and merchant, and Sophie Idler (1781-1869), at his father's home on Bread Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His father Jacob funded the Venezuelan Government from 1821 to 1825 with $252,814 for ships, arms, ammunition, and supplies. Attempting to demand payment on the loan he was imprisoned at Caracas for six years. Jacob Idler became close friends with Simon Bolivar and five wax busts of the General were kept in the Idler home at Philadelphia.

Idler is best known as a jeweler, and coin and stamp dealer in Philadelphia who issued a variety of 33 store cards struck in a variety of metals by Robert Lovett, Jr., several engraved as replicas of rare colonials.

From about 1828 to 1840, compelled by his father's arrest and jailing in Caracas, Venezuela,  he traveled to Mexico, South America and the West of America collecting a wide variety of curios, minerals and relics of the Pueblo Indians, Aztecs, and South American natives.

Like Isaiah Quimby Lukens (1779-1846), he was a watchmaker by profession, and both a numismatist and philatelist.

In 1848, he married Rosanna Kelly (1821-1897), daughter of Robert and Mary Kelly (1791-1868). They had two sons : William Kelly Idler, Jr. (1849-1916), and Robert Kelly Idler. William continued his father's business after his demise. Robert became the Real Estate Assessor of Philadelphia.

In 1849, news broke out of gold discovered at Gold Hill, Rowan County, North Carolina. Idler and his father had land three counties west of the discovery site in Rutherford County and planned to mine in search of gold by the name of Philadelphia and North Carolina Mining and Smelting Company, but the enterprise failed. The Promissory Notes signed by William P. Small and Reuben Hanse of Rutherford County, North Carolina, were declared fraudulent since the land and its value and condition did not match Idler's claim. William P. Small and Reuben Hanse published a public notice in the Public Ledger, Wednesday, March 13, 1850, page 1, declaring they would not pay on the notes due to the fraud

In 1856, William held his father Jacob's wake at his home located at 3 Catherine Street, Philadelphia.

Beginning about 1856 his shop was located at 111 North Ninth Street, Philadelphia, PA. His shop turned into a Curiosity Shop selling not only watches, and jewelry, but also, tortoiseshell combs, stationery, fans, antiques, engravings, curios and novelties, rare books, fancy articles, minerals, shells, medals, tokens, postage stamps, and United States Coins, paper money, and autographs. 

Idler as well as many collectors and dealers used to buy coins at the U. S. Mint at face and a slight premium over face.

Fig. Idler store card in brass, circa 1856-1860. Rulau Pa 230F. Courtesy Lupia Numismatic Library. For sale.

In 1867 his ad in Mason’s Magazine lists his address at 109 South 11th Street, Philadelphia, PA. 

In 1859 he published : Catalogue of Coins, Medals, Tokens, Continental Money, Autographs, Geological and Mineral Specimens, Antiques, Old Books, etc., Bought and Sold For Sale by William Idler. This catalog is not listed in Attinelli.

He either caused the 1804 Class III Silver Dollars to be re-struck or else obtained several, which he sold for $75 each. From one of these he produced electrotypes as he also had done for several different Colonial pieces.

Fig. William Idler correspondence to William Elliott Woodward at Roxbury, Massachusetts, postmark Clarke 101e, June 15, 1861, Philadelphia. Notation : W. Idler Wants 1/2 Ct 1802. Civil War Patriotic Cover - Weiss F-ST-57a (page 649), Wolcott L-2254. Imprint issuer unknown but possibly A. C. Kline. Courtesy Lupia Numismatic Library. Rare. For Sale. Estimate $350-$700 write john@numismaticmall.com

He ran his first paid ad in Mason’s Magazine in June, 1867.

On January 10, 1868, a woman named Ann Collins stole jewelry from Idler's store and was brought to trial.

His daughter Rose A. Idler married John W. Haseltine on June 9, 1869, at the Clinton Street Presbyterian Church. 

His coin collection was sold by his son-in-law John White Haseltine forming part of his first two coin auction sales on April 12, 1870 at Thomas Birch & Son, Philadelphia, and December 21, 1870, at Leavitt, Strebeigh & Company, New York.

On January 20, 1871, a customer examining watches stole one of gold and another of silver running out of Idler's store while he went to the rear looking for cases of better stock. The thief got away. 

In 1882, Idler attempted to sue the Venezuelan Government for repayment of his father's loan.

Fig. Idler's advertisement in the Delaware County Daily Times, Tuesday, November 18, 1884, page 4.

In 1899 he was doing business with Harry F. Dunkhorst, a stamp dealer in Washington, D.C.

In February 1901 George Heath announced the 93 year-old was still enjoying good health. He died five months later on Tuesday, July 16, 1901, at 9 AM. He is buried at Woodlands Cemetery, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His estate was valued at $32,000.

Bibliography :

Public Ledger, Wednesday, March 13, 1850, page 1

The Historical Magazine , August (1862) : 248 store card struck 1859

Mason's Coin and Stamp Collectors Magazine, No. 3, June (1867) : 21b, 28d; II, No. 6, September (1868) : 56;

Mason, III, No. 3, March (1869) : 33; IV, No. 4,  April (1870) : 61; IV, No. 12, December (1870) : 192; V, No. 1, January (1871) : 13-15, 16; 

Emmanuel Joseph Attinelli. Numisgraphics (1875)

“Sale of the Smith Cabinet,” (Mason), H-II, No. 3, December (1880) : 18c-19a; M-I, No. 12, May (1885) : 121.

The Numismatist, August (1901) : 220  

American Journal of Numismatics, July (1901) : 30

The Numismatist, March (1902) : 87

Gnecchi, Ercole and Francesco, eds., Guida Numismatica 4th edition. (Milano : U. Hoepli, 1903. Edition) : 561, No. 5837.

The Numismatist, April (1909) : 104-105 Haseltine on Idler's 1804 Dollar

Bowers, Q. David, The History of United States Coinage As Illustrated by the Garrett Collection. (Los Angeles, CA : Bowers & Ruddy Galleries, Inc., 1979) : 20

Don Taxay, The U. S. Mint and Coinage,

Gengerke, Martin, American Numismatic Auctions, Vol. 3 (1987)

Lorraine S. Durst, United States Numismatic Auction Catalogs, 45

John Weston Adams, United States Numismatic Literature, Vol. 1, 49.

Pete Smith, American Numismatic Biographies (Rocky River, Ohio: Gold Leaf Press, 1992) : 125-126

Rulau, Russell, Standard Catalog of United States Tokens 1700-190-0 (Iola, 1994)

Pete Smith, "William Idler's Fantastic Coins," The Numismatist, September (1995) : 1125-1126

Q. David Bowers, American Numismatics before the Civil War 1760-1780 (Wolfeboro, 1998)

Pete Smith, “American Numismatic Pioneers : An Index to Sources,” Asylum Vol. XXII, No. 3, Consecutive Issue No. 87, Summer (2004) : 304;

George Frederick Kolbe, Auction Sale Catalog, Part III, June 3, 2006, Lot 445 on page 47;


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