Copyright © 2011-2018 John N. Lupia III

Mickley, Joseph J. (1799-1878), A piano manufacturer and musical instrument repairman in Philadelphia. Mickley began a quest in 1817 when he decided to look for a cent from his birth year; perhaps the most difficult large cent year to locate. Mickley is sometimes referred to as “The Father of American Numismatics”. In 1867, Mickley lost $16,000 worth of coins in a burglary. His remaining collection was sold at auction by W. Elliot Woodward on October 28-November 2, 1867. The collection contained 140 choice large cents. Some additional Mickley coins were included in the Haseltine sale of January 31, 1879.

Mickley, Joseph Jacob (1799-November 15, 1878), 927 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA. He was born March 24, 1799, at South Whitehall, a township then in Lehigh County, but originally comprised in Northampton. At the age of seventeen he went to Philadelphia as apprentice to a piano-maker. At that time the method of building a piano-forte was as different from the advanced art of these days as was the instrument itself. The piano-maker had then to work from the legs upward. His necessary duties demanded knowledge which is now distributed among several entirely distinct sets of artificers. That young Mickley satisfactorily completed his apprenticeship may be inferred from two facts: he started in business for himself in August, 1822, and in October, 1831, the Franklin Institute awarded him a prize for skill in the manufacture of pianos. From his original starting-place at No. 67 North Third Street, he removed, four years later, to a store on the site now occupied by a portion of the publishing house of J.B. Lippincott Company. Here he remained until 1842, and then established himself in the building mentioned at the beginning of this article, where he continued to live until the final closing up of his business in 1869.

In the year 1827 the United States dollars from 1794 to 1803, all good specimens, together with some foreign coins, were stolen. In 1848 about twenty half-dollars were taken. In 1854, after showing my collection to three Southern gentlemen (as they called themselves) I missed three very scarce half-eagles.

He was a buyer at the Henry Bogert sale at Bangs, Merwin & Co., New York, held on February 28, 1859.

He appears to have been the owner of the collection sold by W. E. Woodward on October 23-24, 1860 at Leonard & Co., Boston, Massachusetts. Woodward alludes to him in the description "being the duplicate specimens from the cabinet of one of the oldest and most successful collectors in Philadelphia"

The great robbery was in 1867. In Jaffa, Palestine, a small lot, worth about one thousand francs, with a collection of Egyptian curiosities, was stolen at the hotel; and, finally, last winter, at Seville, Spain, some old Spanish coins were missing while I was showing them to some persons."

The "great robbery" above alluded to occurred on the evening of April 13, 1867. It was of such magnitude as to cause a wide sensation at the time, and enlisted the sympathies of his coin-hunting brethren the world over. Mr. Mickley's chief precautions, notwithstanding his previous warnings of danger from another source, had been against fire. In a third-story room was his cabinet. This had been long since filled, chiefly with an unbroken and historic list of American coins. The additional accumulations of years, nearly all foreign, and many of great rarity, had been stored in an old piano-case in his bedroom, where, as he said, in the event of fire they would be close at hand. On the evening in question Mickley was alone in his workshop, engaged in repairing a musical instrument. He had then been living entirely alone for a number of years. A single servant, who provided his meals, had gone home. About nine o'clock the loud barking of his dog in the yard below called him to the window. It was afterward found that a pair of old shoes thrown from an upper room by the burglars had thus called away the attention both of dog and master from what was going on inside. An hour later a caller discovered several pieces of money lying in the hall. An investigation disclosed the startling loss which he had sustained. The entire contents of the piano-box had been carried off. A private desk had also been broken open and despoiled of a few medals, although its chief contents were intact. A gold pencil, the gift of Ole Bull, and other keepsakes, remained undisturbed. But the larger portion of a collection of foreign coins, one of the most complete in the world, and the product of a lifetime's intelligent research, was gone! It was a heavy calamity, and one from which the old collector never fully recovered. Sir Isaac Newton's historic Fido did not do nearly the amount of irremediable damage when he overturned the lamp upon his master's papers. The actual pecuniary loss, reckoning at cost prices, was in the neighborhood of nineteen thousand dollars. The market value of such a collection was of course vastly greater, and increasing all the time at a good deal faster rate than compound interest. It was somewhat of a coincidence that Mr. Mickley had received and refused what he records as a "tempting offer", for the entire collection only a short time before the robbery. "Three silk handkerchiefs have been stolen from me here [Naples],--which is one more than in London." At Jaffa, on his way from Egypt to Palestine, besides the robbery of coins alluded to some time back, he lost a choice autograph manuscript of Mozart which had cost him two hundred and fifty francs at Salzburg. He enjoyed chamber music and played in a quartette, usually the viola and violin. In 1863 on the occasion of the centennial anniversary of a noted Indian massacre in Northampton County, Pennsylvania, where several of his ancestors perished. He mastered the Swedish language, after having passed his seventieth year, chiefly that he might write a correct history of the first settlement of Swedes on the Delaware River below Philadelphia. At the age of seventy-two he spent several months in Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, and while there placed himself in communication with every prominent librarian of the country, besides scholars in Denmark, Holland, and Germany. He personally inspected a great mass of documents and ancient volumes. Yet the result of all this is contained in a manuscript of less than thirty large folio pages, literally crowded with invaluable data. This was read before the Historical Society of the State of Delaware in 1874. It has never been put in type, and is almost wholly made up of material which has no existence elsewhere in the English language. Mason published the story of the robbery of $10,000.00 in rare gold and silver coins of Mickley’s collection on Saturday night, April 13, 1867. Charles K. Warner struck the Mickley Medal in 1867. Mickley claims to have started his coin collection in 1817. He went on a three-year Grand Tour arriving in July 1872. During his trip he was run over by a horse in Constantinople and confined to bed for a few days. He caught small pox at Leipzig, although he had it earlier in life. At Rome, while exploring a dark passageway he fell into Cicero’s well and was badly bruised. He was robbed in Jaffa.

Founding member of the Numismatic Society of Philadelphia.

A donor, in 1878, to the ANS library.

Bibliography :

Proceedings of the American Numismatic and Archaeological Society, of New York At the Annual Meeting, March 18, 1879: page 13


Joseph J. Mickley, 1858 Dates Of US Coins & Their Degree Of Rarity (Philadelphia, 1858)

Mickley, Joseph J. BRIEF ACCOUNT OF MURDERS BY THE INDIANS, AND THE CAUSE THEREOF, IN NORTHAMPTON COUNTY, PENN'A, OCTOBER 8TH, 1763. Phila.,, Stuckey, 1875. 37pp. Illus., folding map at rear. Original printed small 8vo wrappers, label removed from lower front cover, spine rebacked, in cloth tape. First edition. The folding map shows the White Hall and Allen Turnpikes "To my friend and relative Rev. W. W. Deatrick, D. D., Kutztown, Pa., compliments of Minnie F. Mickley." on title page. Please return to Miss Minnie F. Mickley , Mickley Pa Nov. 22, 1922, on p.[3]. Not in Howes, Eberstadt, Decker, Soliday or Graff. $375.00

Bibliography :

Constitution and By-Laws of The Numismatic Society of Philadelphia (Philadelphia, 1858)

Smith-I 163

Mason, I, No. 2, May (1867) : 10c-d, 12b, 14c; No. 3, June (1867) : 21b, 22b-c, 27b; No. 4, July (1867) : 29b-c, 37a, 38a; No. 5, August (1867) : 46d; No. 7, November (1867) : 61c-d, 62b-63a, 63d, 66a-c; No. 8, November (1867) : 69d, 71b, 76c; No. 9, December (1867) : 80b-82b, 85a-b, 88a-d; No. 10, January (1868) : 94a, 97b-d; No. 11, February (1868) : 108a-d; No. 12, March (1868) : 118b-d; II, No. 1, April (1868) : 5a, 9c, 10c-d; No. 3, June (1868) : 27a; No. 4, July (1868) : 34d, 35a, 35d, 36a, 36c, 37a; No. 5, August (1868) : 52; No. 6, September (1868) : 55-6; No. 7, October (1868) : 68; No. 8, November (1868) : 75b-76d, 81a; No. 9-12, December (1868) : 96d-98d, 103c, 114c; III, No. 1, January (1869) : 3a; No. 2, February (1869) : 14, 16c, 16d-17d, 23 (PHOTO No. 1); No. 3, March (1869) : 32a, 32c; No. 4, April (1869) : 37, 41b; No. 5, May (1869) : 50c, 53c-d; III, No. 6, June (1869) : 59d-60b; III, No. 7, July (1869) : 71d-72a, 72d; (Mickley Specimens) III, No. 8, August (1869) : 83d-84c; IV, No. 1, January (1870) : 11; IV, No. 3, March (1870) : 45; IV, No. 6, June (1870) : 82; IV, No. 8, August (1870) : 125; Vol. IV, No. 11, November (1870) : 171; IV, No. 12, December (1870) : 191; V, No. 1, January (1871) : 14, 18; V, No. 2, February (1871) : 34; V, No. 12, December (1871) : 191; VI, No. 2, February (1872) : 31; (Mason), VI, No. 3, March/April (1872) : 53; “Brother Mickley Interviewed,” (Mason), VI, No. 5, July (1872) : 58-61; H-I, No. 1, June (1879) : 3b; H-II, No. 2, September (1880) : 14b; Sale of the Smith Cabinet,” (Mason), H-II, No. 3, December (1880) : 18c-19a; H-III, No. 2, September (1881) : 43b-d; C-IV, No. 1, June (1882) : 11; M-I, No. 1, June (1884) : 11; “Eminent Numismatists, Past and Present,” (Mason), (No. 1) M-I, No. 2, July (1884) : 15-16; M-I, No. 6, November (1884) : 62; M-I, No. 7, December (1884) : 78; M-XIII, No. 1, June (1890) : 9, 12, 13; M-XIII, No. 2, September (1890) : 4-5; Adams, Vol. 1, 26, 29, 32, 44, 50.

American Numismatic and Archaeological Society, of New York At its Twentieth Annual Meeting, March 19, 1878: page 3-4 (mentions his death)

Pete Smith, “American Numismatic Pioneers : An Index to Sources,” Asylum Vol. XXII, No. 3, Consecutive Issue No. 87, Summer (2004) : 282;

Bowers, Q. David, The History of United States Coinage As Illustrated by the Garrett Collection. (Los Angeles, CA : Bowers & Ruddy Galleries, Inc., 1979) :13-14,

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

Q. David Bowers, The Rare Silver Dollars Dated 1804 and the Exciting Adventure of Edmund Roberts. (Wolfeboro, 1999);

Adelson, Howard L., The American Numismatic Society, 1858-1959. (New York, ANS, 1958);

Sylvester Sage Crosby, The Early Coins of America; and the laws governing their issue. Comprising also descriptions of the Washington pieces, the Anglo-American tokens, many pieces of unknown origin, of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and the first patterns of the United States mint. By Sylvester S. Crosby. (Boston, 1875);

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

Mason, Ebenezer Locke, Mason’s Photographic Gallery of the Coin Collectors of the United States, Mason’s Coin & Stamp Collector’s Magazine, February (1869);

Pete Smith, American Numismatic Biographies, (Rock River, 1992);

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