Copyright © 2000-2019 John N. Lupia III

Fig. 1. Ralph Randolph Barker (1856-1913), photograph portrait published in The Numismatist, March, 1914, page 126.

Ralph Randolph Barker (1856-1913), was born on February 12, 1856, at Newport, Rhode Island, son of George Clarke Barker (1833-1903) and Mary Jane Chace Barker (1836-1866). He attended public school at Newport graduating in 1873. He entered his father's firm dealing in paint and home decorating. In 1877, his father made him a partner in the firm and changed the name to George C. Barker & Son.

Ralph Randolph Barker, ANA Member No. 41, is a mysterious figure in American numismatic history counted among the notable numismatists of Newport that included : Windfield Scott Sisson, Dr. Horatio R. Storer, Russell, and Edwin P. Robinson. Most American numismatists do not know who he was and are therefore uneasy when they come across anything bearing his name. Consequently it is not uncommon to find him variously listed in American numismatic literature as Ralph Barker or R. R. Barker; usually separately listing him twice as though they might be two different people.

Fig. 2. W. Elliot Woodward's Bachman and Barker Collections sale held June 3-4, 1889, Bangs & Co., New York, New York. Courtesy the Lupia Numismatic Library. Ex-Frank & Laurese Katen.

It is uncertain, though possible, that the Barker Collection sold June 3-4, 1889, catalogued by Ed Frossard for W. E. Woodward and sold at Davis & Harvey, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was that of the then thirty-three year-old Ralph R. Barker. There are two other equally viable candidates, however : L. C. Barker (ANA Member No. 123) of East Vassalboro, Maine, and Edward Barker (ANA Member No. 528) of Wakefield, Massachusetts. There, of course, may be a few others equally qualified to fit the criteria identifying them as this mysterious and rather ambiguous Barker whose collection Ed Frossard catalogued for Woodward who was too ill at that time. Where is the snarky loquacious Frossard with his commentary scattered throughout the catalogue when you need him most?! It seems as though Ralph Randolph Barker was collecting coins at the time since mail sent by him beginning in 1887 to the Chapman Brothers is in the Lupia Numismatic Library, Special Collection, The Chapman Family Correspondence Archive. On close inspection, however, the handwriting on the early mail in 1887 is very different than that of the subsequent mail from 1889 on. Even then from the 1890's on we consistently find two different hands obviously that of Ralph and his wife Minnie, who also joined the ANA with her husband. But the earlier mail in 1887 is quite distinctive and obviously a different hand seems to suggest that of George C. Barker, Ralph's father, who may have liquidated some antique colonial guns in the Woodward sale. Unfortunately, there are no distinctive Rhode Island pieces that might point to either Barker, father or son, with a sense of urgency mixed among the lots, with the exception of lots 361, the Settlement of Rhode Island medal, and 514, Rhode Island £3 note dated May 1786. There is nothing comparable to the section on Rhode Island Medals and Paper Money, like that found in Henry Chapman's posthumous coin auction sale of the Ralph Barker estate held on November 28-29, 1913, (Lots 625-667) and (Lots 671-675) respectively. However, there are in the Woodward sale the excessively rare 1879 Morgan dollar pattern pieces in lots 456 and 457 that seem to hint to our Ralph Barker famed for his 1879-O Tall O Morgan proof piece. [1] Consequently, who this Barker is specifically in Woodward's 106th sale cannot be determined to any degree of certainty at this time without sufficient clues and supporting evidence.

On June 22, 1880, he married Minerva "Minnie" Stone (1860-1945), daughter of Jason P. Stone and Sarah Wicks Stone, in Providence, Rhode Island. Minerva was a direct descendant of Job Matteson (1758-1809) of Rhode Island, who was at the siege of Boston and was captured at Fort Washington, 1776. They had three children : Ralph Randolph Barker, Jr. (1883-1948), Mabel Chace Barker (1891-1901), and Laura Stone Barker Seabury (1894-1983), who married Raymond M. Seabury (1890-1960).

Fig. 3. The earliest known Ralph Randolph Barker correspondence with the Chapman Brothers in the Lupia Numismatic Library, postmarked Newport, Rhode Island, October 20, 1887, postal stationery Thorp-Bartels No. 1092, with duplex cancel. Courtesy the Lupia Numismatic Library, Special Collection, The Chapman Family Correspondence Archive.

In a report in the Newport Mercury, May 12, 1888, page 1, Ralph R. Barker began new construction for a new home on Bull Street, Newport, Rhode Island.

There are ninety pieces of correspondence with the Chapman Brothers from Ralph Barker currently catalogued in the Lupia Numismatic Library. When the 1909 to 1913 digital cataloguing is completed an updated total shall be published. To see an additional piece of registered mail from Ralph Barker go to the Museum Store on this website and scroll down to the Chapman Family Correspondence Archive.

In the Newport Mercury, Saturday, March 22, 1889, page 1 we read Ralph R. Barker's report as treasurer of the Newport Historical Society.

Fig. 4. This letter was sent seventeen days prior to the June 3-4th Woodward auction and contained bids for the Chapman auction from May 27-29th, and an order for a white metal Washington medal. Courtesy the Lupia Numismatic Library, Special Collection, The Chapman Family Correspondence Archive.

Fig. 5. Ralph Randolph Barker correspondence with the Chapman Brothers postmarked Registered, Newport, Rhode Island, January 15, 1891, franked by Scott #220 and #226. Courtesy the Lupia Numismatic Library, Special Collection, The Chapman Family Correspondence Archive.

In the August 1892 issue of The Numismatist Ralph R. Barker is listed as ANA Member No. 111.

Fig. 6. Ralph Randolph Barker correspondence with the Chapman Brothers postmarked Newport, Rhode Island, July 28, 1897, flag cancel. In the beginning of 1897 the Barkers designed a new business collateral stationery with Art Nouveau fronds or sprays and volutes of unfurled ribbons with a medallion containing a full head portrait of a dog with its tongue hanging. The dog looks like he is wearing a lion's mane. Perhaps the dog as a corporate logo was intended as a pun on the surname Barker. The address 99 Spring Street must have been that of his father George since his address was 16 Bull Street until the change to 99 Spring Street was published in the June 1902 issue of The Numismatist. For some inexplicable reason this same change of address is repeated in the January 1906 issue. Nevertheless, in the Newport Mercury, January 27, 1883, Ralph R. Barker's newly constructed two-story cottage on Spring Street was one of the notable homes built by Anderson & Mclean builders and designed by architect Dudley Newton (1845-1907). Courtesy the Lupia Numismatic Library, Special Collection, The Chapman Family Correspondence Archive.

Barker was a member of the Newport Coin and Medal Club. In the June/July 1897 issue of The Numismatist it was reported that Barker owned all three varieties of the Rhode Island Medal.

According to the 1900 U. S. Census Ralph lived in his parents home with his wife and children and their two housemaids at 16 Bull Street, Newport, Rhode Island.

In the April 1902 issue of The Numismatist he is reported owning a near complete set of all the $3 gold pieces except that of 1875.

In 1903, after the death of his father he began to publish his business as George C. Barker & Son, Ralph R. Barker, successor.

He consigned to the Chapman Brothers for their coin auction sale held July 7-8, 1904 at Davis & Harvey, Philadelphia, containing a Chalmers shilling and sixpence, Washington pieces, Betts medals Nos. 603 & 604, and many U. S. and foreign coins with an emphasis on English coinage.

Fig. 7. Ralph R. Barker's advertisement in the Newport Daily News, Tuesday, 12 February, 1907, page 1

In July 1909, Mrs. Minnie Barker applied for membership in the ANA, whose address is cited as the old address 16 Bull Street.

He was the treasurer of the Newport Historical Society, and a Trustee of the United Congregational Church. His interest in native Rhode Island Indians led him to become a director of the Miantinomi Club. He was the director of the National Exchange Bank, Newport, Rhode Island, and also of the Island Savings Bank. He served as president of the Builders' and Merchants' Exchange. He was a director of the YMCA.

Fig. 8. Ralph R. Barker's final letter to Henry Chapman was his returned receipt for $25.14 paying his bill for rare coins postmarked Newport, Rhode Island, December 31, 1912, New Year's Eve, fifty-six days prior to his demise.

He died by committing suicide inhaling illuminating gas on February 26, 1913, at Newport, Rhode Island. Nineteenth century houses were plumbed, i.e., fitted with pipes for the conveyance and distribution of illuminating gas into rooms and halls. Apparently, Barker extinguished the flame and kept the gas valve opened gassing himself in an enclosed room. His wife, who just returned from visiting relatives in Providence, Rhode Island, found him dead in her sewing room. He was 57 years old. The medical examiner, Charles W. Steward, expressed the opinion that a recent illness affected his mind. He is buried at the Island Cemetery, Newport, Rhode Island. He was a member of the Ocean Lodge, Ancient Order of United Workmen. Minnie Barker received a check from the Ocean Lodge on April 1, 1913 following the death of her husband.

His estate consigned the remainder of his coin collection to Henry Chapman which was sold on November 28-29, 1913, with the combined collections of J. L. Heffner, H. C. Bowman, and a Chicago Amateur.


[1] See Walter Breen's Encyclopedia of U. S. and Colonial Coins No. 5529.

Acknowledgement :

Thanks to Dave Hirt for catching the misattribution and assignment of the Bachman and Barker sale to Davis & Harvey, rather than Bangs & Co.

Bibliography :

Newport Mercury, Saturday, January 27, 1883, page 1

The Numismatist, August (1892) : 26

The Numismatist, June/July (1897) : 114-115

Daughters of the American Revolution (1898) Vol. 24 : 4

1900 U. S. Census

The Numismatist, April (1902) : 111

Newport Daily News, Tuesday, 12 February, 1907, page 1

Representative Men and Old Families of Rhode Island (Chicago : J. H. Beers & Co., 1908) Vol. 1 : 669-670

The Numismatist, July (1909) : 214

Asbury Park Press, Thursday, February 27, 1913, page 1

Springfield Republican, Friday, February 28, 1913, page 2 obit

The Numismatist, March (1913) : 140 obit

The Numismatist, March, 1914, page 126 Photo

Lorraine S. Durst, United States Numismatic Auction Catalogs : A Bibliography (1981) , Nos. 667, and 700

John Weston Adams, United States Numismatic Literature, Vol. 1 (1982) : 90, 95

Walter Breen's Encyclopedia of U. S. and Colonial Coins (1988) : No. 5529.