BURTON, Jr., JOHN EDGAR
Copyright 2011-2018 John N. Lupia, III
John Edgar Burton, Jr., c. 1880.
John Edgar Burton (1847-1930), was born son of John Edgar Burton, Sr. (1825-1874), a boot and shoe maker, and Ruth Jeanette Allen (1826-1895).
He was born in New Hartford, Oneida County, New York on October 19, 1847.
He began collecting Large & Half Cents in 1854. He was one of the four youngsters in New Hartford, New York, who were coin collectors by that date. The other three were Charlie Millard, Stevie Childs, and Byron Case. Burton tells us in his autobiographical letter to the A.N. A. between July and August, 1929, and Moritz Wormser suggested it be read at the Third Session, Tuesday, August 27, 1929, at the A, N. A. Convention, and recorded in the minutes :
"I was fortunate in that Jimmie Dobie, a saloonkeeper, where my grandfather, Asa Allen, a soldier of the War of 1812, took his "nip" daily, and Dobie told me I could come in each day after school and look over all the cents and half cents in the till and take out any I wanted and put another in its place. I secured in a few years a considerable collection of these. By 1857 I had the best in town. Soon I learned the address of John W. Haseltine, John W. Scott, Elliot Woodward, W. H. Sampson and Grandpa Coogan. Later I visited all five of these dealers and began to realize that the old coin business was a big affair. On this trip I met Mr. S. H. Chapman, who was then a clerk and associate in the office of John W. Haseltine, in Philadelphia. On my next trip I met Mr. Bangs, of Bangs & Co. , 789 Broadway, N. Y. I was a principal in the public schools of Illinois at this time and had a limited bank account, but got so well acquainted that I found there was such a thing as credit. Having secured a better position in the schools at Lake Geneva, Wis. , I bought from these dealers a large lot, including 1809, 1811, 1814 and a new little white cent of 1856, said to be the rarest thing out. I have since made thirty-nine trips to New York and learned much of the world and of the numismatic line of dealings. I have enjoyed several old-time wine dinners with John W. Scott and others in the business world, but so far as I now know all these old-line dealers have passed on into the land not marked on maps, except only the Chapman brothers, who are still living and with whom I still deal and purchase choice varieties. I am always proud of my old-time friends and can truthfully say that I have never yet met a dishonest man in the old-coin business. It is a cheerful and pleasant pastime, an intelligent and historically valuable field, and its value to the young is all for good and no hidden foe lurks behind an old coin. I am 82 and take as great pleasure and interest in a fine coin as I did when a boy. It is an honorable and a most commendable work and steadily growing, as it deserves, and has in its followers many of the best men now living. Its twin occupation, the stamp collecting branch, is ever growing and the work covers Europe, Asia, South America and Africa and Australia. If any one word represents the character of the men in these twin pleasures, it is the word sincerity. Yours for coins and stamps."
During the Lincoln campaign for presidency in 1859 he traveled by train to Utica, New York, where the twelve-year-old John Edgar Burton first saw him after climbing a telephone pole to catch a glimpse. That encounter developed into a lifetime devotion and passion for Lincoln and collecting Lincolniana.
In 1868, he graduated Cazenovia Seminary. He began his career as a school teacher in New York.
On December 7, 1869, Burton married Lucretia “Dell” Delphine Johnson (1850-1938). They had four children : Howard Erastus Burton (1870-1915), Warren Edgar Burton (1872-1946), Kenneth Eugene Burton (1878-1947), and Bonnie Eloise Burton (1881-1969).
In 1869, he moved to Richmond, Illinois taking a teaching position there.
In 1870, he moved to Lake Geneva, Walworth County, Wisconsin, as the new superintendent of schools.
He came to Lake Geneva in 1870, and after teaching school, in 1874, purchased and ran the newspaper Geneva Herald. In 1879, he began investing in various businesses and industry. Working from his office in Milwaukee, Burton invested heavily in mining.
In August 1880, he sold part of his coins as the John E. Burton collection catalogued by John W. Hazeltine, Sale 47, August 9-10, 1880 (See John Weston Adams, Vol. 1, 51).
His coin cabinet was purchased by Woodward in the Fall of 1881. His collection included a large amount of 1794 large cents, including the discovery S-33, and was sold October 26-28, 1881 by W. Elliot Woodward. One of the two catalog plates depicts large cents. According to Frossard he swindled both John W. Haseltine and W. E. Woodward in several coin transactions.
In 1885, he became manager of Equitable Life Insurance of New York for the entire state of Wisconsin. That same year he started iron and copper mining operations in the Gogebic Range in northern Wisconsin and Michigan. He was also involved in gold and crystal mining in California, silver mining in Colorado and Mexico, and tin mining in Alaska. Burton's businesses made him a millionaire.
In 1887, the copper mines in the Gogebic Range fail. In 1889, panic struck investors in his mining operations and they bail out. Afterwards he went to Mexico to begin silver mining there.
His main hobby besides coin collecting was collecting Abraham Lincoln books, manuscripts, and memorabilia, in which he amassed a huge collection.
In the late 1890s Burton's mining businesses failed. He was also a financial investor with Levi Odell and his invention of the Odell Type-Writer, owning 4/5 interest in the Odell Type Writer Company. He eventually lost his fortune and was forced to sell his collection of 3,000 objects of Lincolniana. Burton also collected books and paintings as well as coins.
Beginning in 1902, he began to sell off his book collection through a series of ten auctions that would continue to 1918. (See McKay numbers in Bibliography below).
In 1904, Burton travels to Alaska and into Siberia to take up tin mining.
In 1915 his address was 408 Milwaukee Street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Geneva Lake, Walworth County, Wisconsin.
He applied to the ANA in January 1915. See The Numismatist, Vol. XXVIII, No. 1, January (1915) : 21
His remaining coin collection was finally sold as well as his Lincolniana (Parts 1 & 2) in November 1915 by Anderson Galleries, New York.
Fig. Photo published in a magnificent gem of an article by Lisa M. Schmelz, "Losing Lincoln," At The Lake Magazine, Autumn (2011) : 36-44; available online : http://lisaschmelz.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/Losing_Lincoln.260175811.pdf. Photo courtesy of of J. E. Burton's great-grandson Terry Hackett (son of Alice Burton Denison Hackett and Vern Hackett) of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
Lincolniana (Part 2) : The Anderson Auction Company. “The Fine Library of John E. Burton of Milwaukee, Wis. Part VI Lincolniana and Civil War Material.” No. 1206-1916. To be sold Monday Afternoon and Evening and Tuesday Afternoon March 6 and 7, 1916. New York: The Anderson Galleries, Inc.
Anderson Auction Company. “Autograph Letters and Lincolniana.” No.1248-1916. To be sold Monday and Tuesday November 13 and 14, 1916. New York: The Anderson Galleries, Inc.
The final two sales of his coins were sold by B Max Mehl sale 48, April 30, 1918 and sale 65, April 17,1923.
In January 1926, he had reapplied for membership with the A.N.A. with a new membership number.
He died in 1930 and was buried in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
Thanks to Dave Hirt for informing me of Burton's 1926 A.N.A. reapplication and new ANA Member No. Also, the two B. Max Mehl coin sales. Thanks Dave.
John Edgar Burton, A souvenir: Presentation of the Lincoln bronze tablet, the Gettysburg speech
John E. Burton's Lincoln Oration 1903, 2 vols in one.
Autobiographical Letter to A. N. A., The Numismatist, Vol. XLII, No. 12, October (1929) : 647-648
Mason's Numismatic Herald, III, No. 2, September (1881) : 42b
Edouard Frossard, “Coin Sales,” Numisma, Vol. 8, No. 6, November (1884) : 6
John Edgar Burton, Catalogue of the Large and Valuable Library of Mr. John E. Burton, Bangs & Co – 1902. (McKay #5453)
John Edgar Burton, Catalogue of the Large and Valuable Library of Mr. John E. Burton, Part II, Bangs & Co – 1902. (McKay #5474)
John Edgar Burton, Catalogue of the Large and Valuable Library of Mr. John E. Burton, Part III, Bangs & Co – 1902. (McKay #5479)
Edward Sanford Harrison, John Edgar Burton,: A Brief Biographical Sketch (1905).
The Numismatist, Vol. XXVIII, No. 1, January (1915) : 21
Anderson Auction Company. “The Fine Library of John E. Burton of Milwaukee, Wis. Part I Lincolniana.” To be sold on the Afternoons of October 25, 26, 27, 28, and 29, 1915. New York: The Anderson Galleries, Inc. (McKay #7591)
“$115 For Jewish Shekel; Rare Coins Bring $2,428 at Burton Sale,” New York Times, Saturday, November 6, 1915, page 8.
The large and important library of John E. Burton of Milwaukee, Wis. Part III : miscellaneous books, first division : to be sold November 8, 9, and 10, 1915, Monday afternoon, November 8, lots 1-272, Monday evening, November 8, lots 273-549, Tuesday afternoon, November 9, lots 550-817, Tuesday evening, November 9, lots 818-1089, Wednesday afternoon, November 10, lots 1090-1358. (McKay #7598)
John E. Burton of Milwaukee, Wis. Part IV, November 17, 1915, Anderson Galleries (McKay #7606)
John E. Burton of Milwaukee, Wis. Part V, Civil War material, January 12, 1916, Anderson Galleries (McKay #7631)
Anderson Auction Company. “The Fine Library of John E. Burton of Milwaukee, Wis. Part VI Lincolniana and Civil War Material.” No. 1206-1916. To be sold Monday Afternoon and Evening and Tuesday Afternoon March 6 and 7, 1916. New York: The Anderson Galleries, Inc. (McKay #7659)
Anderson Auction Company. March 20, 1916, John E. Burton of Milwaukee, Wis. et a lia, Curios. (Lancour #3354)
Anderson Auction Company. “Autograph Letters and Lincolniana.” No.1248-1916. To be sold Monday and Tuesday November 13 and 14, 1916. New York: The Anderson Galleries, Inc. (McKay #7748)
John Edgar Burton, et alia, Books, Art, &c., April 11, 1918, (McKay #7948)
George L. McKay, American Book Auction Catalogues 1713-1934 (New York: New York Public Library, 1937)
Harold Lancour, American Art Auction Catalogues 1785-1942 (New York: New York Public Library, 1944)
Gillian M. Krezoski, From Boom to Bust: John E. Burton And the Northern Wisconsin Iron Mines, 1885-1887 (McIntyre Library, University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire, May 11, 2006) file:///Users/johnlupia/Downloads/krezoskiS2006.pdf
John Weston Adams, United States Numismatic Literature. (Crestline, 1982) Vol. 1, 31, 51
Lisa M. Schmelz, "Losing Lincoln," At The Lake Magazine, Autumn (2011) : 36-44; available online :