You know the story of the poor newsboy who learns the value of money, and thriftily and shrewdly turns his pittance into a fortune.
Well, the Smithsonian Institution presented a variation on this yesterday, to announce a new acquisition.
In this story, the newsboy thriftily takes his pittance to the bank, and the bank rejects it. The newsboy is informed that he wasn't shrewd enough to notice that the coin he had there was no good -- it's a French 50 centime piece. The newsboy takes back the coin, thinks it over and, next thing you know (the years flash by quickly in this sort of success story), he's working for the bank.
The ex-newsboy was Farran Zerbe, and the idea he got from his rejected 50 centimes was to collect strange coins. Zerbe went on to become one of America's earliest and leading numismatists -- he died in 1949 after 67 years of collecting, lecturing and exhibiting --quired by the Chase Manhattan Bank, he served as its curator.
Yesterday, the bank's chairman, David Rockefeller, turned over the bulk of Zerbe's collection, along with some other items it had collected, to Secretary of the Smithsonian S. Dillon Ripley, for the Museum of History and Technology's Division of Numismatics.
The museum already is one of the world's major collectors, Ripley noted, and this important addition of more than 24,000 items will "fill in the gaps" and add "many very rare examples of currency from primitive times to the present which would probably never be assembled again."
These range from a Babylonian clay bill of about 2500 B.C. to the $25-million check that General Teleradio, Inc., made out to Howard Hughes in 1955 as payment for the RKO Company.
There are 18th-century West African Elephant Tail Bristles, Egyptian gold ring money, and a bag of gold dust kept in a watch fob from the California Gold Rush period.
Two items which filled gaps in the museum's Hall of the History of Money and Medals will go on exhibit today -- a 1709 five-shilling note from New York, and a three-cent note issued by the Bank of North America in the 18th century. The rest will be reinventoried and probably not displayed until next winter, when museum curator Elvira Clain-Stefanelli will organize an exhibit of the collection's highlights.
Her husband and colleague, Vladimir Clain-Stefanelli, chairman of the museum's Division of Numismatics, said that the Zerbe collection of Colonial paper currencies will be a particularly valuable addition to the museum.
There are also checks from nearly all the American Presidents -- George Washington's was written, shortly before his death, to architect William Thornton to pay for two buildings on North Capitol Street between B AND C Streets -- and assorted other celebrities. Check-collecting is a separate speciality from that of coins or money, Clain-Stefanelli noted, but the Smithsonian is interested in all forms of payment as part of the history of money.
The Zerbe collection had been on exhibit in various branches of the Chase Manhattan Bank since 1926 and from 1956 to 1973 had its own Money Museum at Rockefeller Center.Since then it has been closed to the public.