Richard G. Doty, a scholar of money who helped humanize coins and currency by showing how the objects might reflect the culture, values and history of a society, died June 2 at the Powhatan Nursing Home in Falls Church. He was 71.
The cause was complications from lymphoma, said his wife, Cindi Roden.
At the time of his death, Dr. Doty was the senior numismatic curator at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. “He was really a historian, more than a numismatic,” said Ute Wartenberg Kagan, executive director of the American Numismatic Society. “He interpreted the coins, and that made him very special.”
William E. Metcalf, curator of coins and medals at the Yale University Art Gallery, called Dr. Doty “a great popularizer of the discipline” through his nine books and several hundred scholarly articles.
Dr. Doty was considered one of the top numismatists in the world because he was both a specialist in the field of minting and printing technologies and a general expert on all things coin- and currency-related, particularly the objects’ places in history.
Most numismatists specialize in a geographical area or a certain time period, but Dr. Doty’s “Renaissance personality” drove him to learn everything he could about coins and paper money and what stories they told about their time periods, said Karen Lee, a curator with the Smithsonian’s National Numismatic Collection and a colleague of Dr. Doty’s for 10 years.
“I have never seen anybody do that before,” Lee said. “You could ask him a question about anything, literally anything.”
His 1998 book, “The Soho Mint & the Industrialization of Money,” explored important links between an 18th-century British inventor’s use of steam power rather than manual labor to make coins and the influence of that breakthrough on minting worldwide. No one had connected those dots before, Lee said.
Dr. Doty also studied paper money circulated in Southern states during the years before the Civil War. Illustrations on the currency often depicted slavery in a positive way.
“Southern bank notes featuring vignettes sympathetic to slavery would be good for Southern morale. But they might do some good up North as well” if they were circulated there, Dr. Doty noted in an introduction to a book about the money by artist John Jones.
The currency showed slaves enjoying their work, including a $50 bill from a Montgomery, Ala., bank depicted a smiling slave. “Surely he was enjoying his work and that work (and his participation) must be beneficial to America and to him,” Dr. Doty wrote, explaining the reasoning behind the design.
Richard George Doty was born in Portland, Ore., on Jan. 11, 1942. His interest in coins began at 8, when he got hold of Japanese and Chinese coins brought back from World War II.
His collection grew from there. He added Indian rupees and some private Chinese bank notes from the early 20th century that he obtained from a childhood friend, but he said that he preferred coins.
His career took him in a different direction. He was a 1964 graduate of Portland State University and received a doctorate in Latin American studies from the University of Southern California in 1968. He went into that field, he told an interviewer, because “the Cold War was on and America was worried about Castro.”
He spent the next five years teaching Latin American studies at Central College in Pella, Iowa, and the University of Guam, among other schools, before tiring of what he considered the repetition of academic life.
On a lark, he applied for a job with the American Numismatic Society, and his knowledge of the subject and photographic memory got him the position. He worked in New York as curator of the society’s modern coins and currency department until joining the Smithsonian in 1986.
Dr. Doty’s books included “Coins of the World” and “Paper Money of the World,” which Russ Mackendrick, writing in the New York Times in 1978, called “about the best value in numismatic literature that we have seen for some time.”
Dr. Doty, a McLean resident, was the founding president of the International Committee for Money and Banking Museums and received high honors from U.S. and British numismatic associations.
His marriages to Joyce Doty, Margaret D’Ambrosio and Carolyn Waite ended in divorce. He and Roden had been companions since 2006 and married in May. She is his only immediate survivor.
“Old coins are as much antiques, works of art, as Chippendale chairs or paintings by Rubens,” Dr. Doty told the Times in 1978. “They afford us fascination and great pleasure, and they are within the reach of everyone.” He added that coins are “perhaps the easiest and best way of getting into the past, of learning about other peoples, places, and times.”