Fig. 1. Photograph of Léon Philippe Le Métayer-Masselin in 1861. Frontispiece in Collection des dalles tumulaires de la Normandie reproduites par la photographie, d'après les estampages exécutés par M. Le Métayer-Masselin. (Paris: Rollin & Feuardent, 1861)

M. Le Métayer-Masselin was a French, Canadian and later American numismatist who was a noted expert on ancient and medieval coins, who has fallen through the proverbial cracks of history and is now an unknown and rather obscure personality. This biographical sketch was created to reestablish him to the annals of history in the hope of resurrecting him and his son Raoul to the numismatic fame they rightly deserve.

Léon Philippe Le Métayer-Masselin, Pseudo Baron de Guichainville (1831-post 1911), was born in Guichainville, Évreux, Normandy, France. He lived in Bernay in a mansion designed and built by prix de Rome winner, Adolphe Bouveault. He was a French archaeologist, entomologist, and numismatist. In 1861 he was the archaeologist who discovered the so-called Berthouville treasure, which included 3,000 Roman medals and coins in a site he believed was either a city, temple, or cemetery.

Copyright 2011-2018 John N. Lupia, III

Fig. 2. M. Le Métayer-Masselin's archaeological report on the excavations at Berthouville in the environs of Bernay were published in the Bulletin Monumental 3d Series, Vol. 8, 28th Vol. N°3 - Note sur L'etat des Fouilles entreprises a Berthouville pres Bernay en 1861 par M. L. Le Métayer-Masselin.

Fig. 3. Le Métayer-Masselin's book on Norman gravestones was published as Collection des dalles tumulaires de la Normandie reproduites par la photographie, d'après les estampages exécutés par M. Le Métayer-Masselin. (Paris: Rollin & Feuardent, 1861)

His family lost their fortune in the 1870's during the Franco-Prussian War, when his family had borrowed off the estate and the mortgage foreclosed. The Le Métayer-Masselin family fled as refugees packing what portable valuables they could quickly and easily transport in flight. They emigrated to Montreal, Quebec, Canada circa 1874 to establish a ribbon factory, and M. Le Métayer-Masselin became a dear friend and secretary to the parish priest at Chambly about whom he wrote a pamphlet. While living in Canada M. Le Métayer-Masselin became a member of the Numismatic and Antiquarian Society of Montreal. He donated documents and seals to that Society in September 1877. After his attempt at establishing a ribbon industry failed about 1880, he then moved to New York where he became a naturalized citizen in 1898. There he worked as a private French tutor seeking elite New York families as patrons.

M. Le Métayer-Masselin owned the only known specimen of the William III Orange medal commemorating 1690 and struck in the nineteenth century by J. Belling,[1] a jeweler from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and published in a list on "Canadian Numismatics" by Robert Wallace McLachlan in the American Journal of Numismatics in a series of articles, with the citation of this piece No. CCLXIV in the January 1881 issue on pages 59-60. McLachlan tells us that he received a rubbing of the medal from William Elliot Woodward, who apparently got it from either Belling who had moved to America at the time or from M. Le Métayer-Masselin. McLachlan's work later published in 1886 at Montreal as A Descriptive Catalogue of Coins, Tokens and Medals Issued in Or Relating to the Dominion of Canada and Newfoundland. In the 1886 publication the William III medal retained the same 1881 catalogue No. CCLXIV and is found on page 65 with the note that M. Le Métayer-Masselin possessed the only known specimen. McLachlan revised and expanded the entry in, "Medals of the Orange Order Struck in Canada," The Canadian Antiquarian and Numismatic Journal, 3d Series, Vol. 1, (1898) : 138-40.

Fig. 4. William III Orange Medal made by J. Belling of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada published in The Canadian Antiquarian and Numismatic Journal, 3d Series, Vol. 1, (1898) : 138-40. According to Robert W. McLachlan who wrote in 1886, that M. Le Métayer-Masselin owned the only known specimen.

Fig. 5. Newspaper advertisement to sell his coin and antiques collection published in Truth, Monday, June 27, 1881, page 4

He sold his coin collection and antiques in 1881 in New York. By 1898 he was reported in the New Your Journal as being destitute in an article that circulated in newspapers throughout the United States. In September 1911 he was struck by a trolley car and broke his leg. He lived with his son Raoul and daughters Marie, and Elisa, who was blind.

December 12, 1901. Courtesy Lupia Numismatic Library.

February 20, 1902. Courtesy Lupia Numismatic Library.

Group of four December 11, 1901 to January 7, 1903. Courtesy Lupia Numismatic Library.

Group of four March 8, 1902 to March 12, 1903. Courtesy Lupia Numismatic Library.

Both he and his son Raoul Le Métayer-Masselin, [pseudo Baron de Guichainville] (1859-1926?), were noted numismatists of ancient and medieval coins. American numismatists frequently hired either of them to aid translating and reading legends on ancient and medieval coins. According to Thomas L. Elder, Lyman Haynes Low and David Ulysses Proskey were among the coin dealers who solicited their assistance. The Guichainvilles were described by Elder as walking encyclopedias of numismatics. Of course, according to Elder he patronized Guichainville also. Elder also suggests that the Baron stole some of his coin books when he mentions in an article about them that they hocked them at some pawnbroker shop. He also claims the old man was killed when hit by the trolley car on his way to the Elder Coin & Curio shop. Elder's grotesque and fantastic accounts of the Guichainvilles were obviously his imaginative embellishments gleaned from newspaper reports about their poverty and misfortune that were widely published from 1898 until the trolley accident in September 1911. After that information about them is scarce to nonexistent.

Fig. 6. Newspaper report about the trolley car accident and discovery of the poverty of the Guichainvilles. Springfield Republican, Sunday, October 1, 1911, page 30

Thomas L. Elder had written about the Guichainville family early in 1914 and read from his text as a letter before the New York Numismatic Club on Friday evening, March 13, 1914. Later in 1936, Elder wrote a series of three short essays on the Guichainville family published in Hobbies : The Magazine For Collectors in his monthly column "Recollections of An Old Collector". Elder's stories are incredible in the literal sense and were apparently only journalistic inventions that reveal his sinister, merciless, sick, and warped mind.


Sépultures antiques découvertes dans les ruines de bains romains à Plasnes (Eure), avec quelques notes historiques sur la chapelle Saint-Agapit et sur la commune, par M. Léon

Le Métayer-Masselin, inspecteur de l'Association normande.

Collection des dalles tumulaires de la Normandie reproduites par la photographie, d'après les estampages exécutés par M. Le Métayer-Masselin. (Paris: Rollin & Feuardent, 1861) Frontispiece photograph of Le Metayer-Masselin.

L'Egypte et l'industrie rubanière (Alcan-Lévy, 1870)

Une Révélation ou les petites malices du curé de Chambly. (c. 1876)

Collection of papers, New York Public Library, Archives & Manuscripts (1807-1895) Gift of Wormser.


[1] Belling is not listed in L. Forrer

Acknowledgements :

Dear M. Lupia,

As I am working on cataloging a collection of autographs belonging to my library's archives collections, I am thankful to you for your online Encyclopedic Dictionary of Numismatic Biographies, where I find the information on the author of one of the letters I have in hand. In this letter, dated 1879 from Prince Arthur's Landing, Thunder Bay, Canada, Léon Philippe Le Métayer - Masselin proposes to send botanical collects to the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle in Paris, though he confesses to be a neophyte in botany and cryptogamy. Without your Dictionary, I would have been unable to make the connection between this letter signed "Le Metayer de Guichainville" and the numismate.

I would like to offer a observation, as to the title of Baron de Guichainville you give to him. I have no doubt you found him styled so in the american sources you had access to ; but I looked his birth record (again thanks to the date you provided) and found that his father was mentioned as "Jacques Metayer, marchand revendeur" that is "merchant reseller", and the witnesses were respectively a farmer and a weaver, both from lower classes (though able to sign). You know that the activity of merchant was always considered as uncompatible with nobility ; and I think even an empoverished noble, in monarchic 1831 would not omiss to use his title.

The few sources about his years in France I found in a rapid internet search never mention a title of "Baron" : he presents himself as M. Le Metayer - Masselin on the title page of his publications, and is called the same in papers about his archeological activities. He is mentioned as "an industrial from Bernay".

The detail about his mansion in Bernay by architect Bouveault led me to this article ( the only source to mention the Prix de Rome award for Bouveault by the way) where the mansion is said to be meant for Mrs. Masselin and Le Métayer, which led me to the Bernay civil register records.

It seems he took the name Masselin from his father in law, Jean-Baptiste Masselin, a ribbons manufacturer in Bernay. In the record of his wedding to Léontine Masselin (November 22nd, 1852) he is mentioned as "Léon Philippe Métayer, sans profession" (without employment). Again no mention of a title when it would have been advantageous to mention one, on entering into a new family, and apparently his step-father's business.

Therefore it seems the title of baron is a pure invention, either of himself in his later, american years, or of journalists (I notice the article you use as illustration calls him a Marquis) ; and that he should not be listed under the name Guichainville at all, though we are left to choose from his official name of Metayer, and the one he used more widely of "Le Métayer - Masselin".

Thanking you again for your work, which proves to be of use to a wider audience than the numismatic specialist, with my best regards,

Florence Tessier

Bibliography :

Édouard Frère, Manuel du bibliographe normand: ou, Dictionnaire bibliographique et historique. (Rouen: 1860) Vol. 2 [G-Z]: 306

The Canadian Antiquarian and Numismatic Journal, Vol. 6, No. 2, October (1877) : 107

American Journal of Numismatics January (1881) : 59-60

Truth, Monday, June 27, 1881, page 4

The Canadian Antiquarian and Numismatic Journal, 3d Series, Vol. 1, (1898) : 139-40

1910 U. S. Census

New York Sun, September 21, 1911

Washington Post, Friday, September 22, 1911, page 6

Springfield Republican, Sunday, October 1, 1911, page 30

Thomas L. Elder, "Recollections of An Old Collector: In 3 Parts" Hobbies Vols. 40-41, January - March (1936)

Kenneth Lapatin, ed., The Berthouville Silver Treasure and Roman Luxury. (Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2014)