STERLING, EDWARD BOKER

Copyright 2011-2017 John N. Lupia, III
Fig. 1. Dr. Edward Boker Sterling, Mycologist, Stamp and Coin Dealer, and Inheritance Tax auditor for the State of New Jersey.

Edward Boker Sterling (1851-1925), was born on September 9, 1851, son of William Hamilton Sterling (1820-1860), a bookkeeper, and Maria Yard Ferrell (1821-1854), at Trenton, Mercer County, New Jersey. He was the great-grandson of Major James Sterling, Captain of the New Jersey Militia of whom he wrote a genealogy in 1893. He was orphaned at age nine. As a young boy he began collecting shells, rocks and plants as a naturalist, and also stamps and coins. At age thirteen he was obliged to quit school and earn a living. He first worked as a clerk in a dry goods store. Afterwards he worked for the Lehigh Valley Railroad. Later he worked for Samuel B. Packer (1831-1904), in the coal business as a bookkeeper for his coal shippers of New York. After work he attended the evening classes at a commercial college. In 1879 he became a bank clerk at the Trenton Banking Company (1804-1929).

            Edward Boker Sterling was a mycologist, i.e., a mushroom expert as well as a very popular stamp and coin dealer who became more well-known among the philatelists due to his short-lived business connection with Hiram Edmund Deats when they purchased 213 tons of printed engraved paper materiel from the United States Treasury Department that was earmarked as worthless. The details of that fascinating story were reported by Sterling in an article "Sterling's Speculations," Philatelic Journal of America, Vol. VI, No. 70, October (1890) : 254. Wagon load after wagon load of revenue stamp stub books from the 4th floor of the United States Treasury Department were hauled into the basement of the Board of Trade building, East State Street, Trenton, New Jersey by Sterling and at least eight boys after Deats and Sterling bought them.
            
            On January 14, 1874, he was married to Belle Isabella Hooper Aitken (1848-19), daughter of Robert Aitken (1811-1893), and Lydia Elizabeth Green Aitken (1812-1892). They had five children, three sons and two daughters : William Welling Sterling (1874-), Sarah Elizabeth Sterling (1876-), Joseph Sterling Sterling (1878-), May Belle Sterling (1885-), and Edward Oliver Bowman Sterling (1888-). His son William became a mail agent.

            In 1877, he published, Descriptive Price Catalogue of the Stamps of the United States, attempted by E.B. Sterling (Trenton, New Jersey)


            On June 27, 1878, he sold his collection of stamps at Bangs & Co., auction with the catalogue made by William P.Brown. Nicholas Frederick Seebeck (1857-1899), the distinguished philatelist who was twenty-one at the time, purchased a used set of 5c and 10c U. S. 1847 issues for a mere 10 cents. In all, the prices realized were low.



             In the 1880 U. S. Census he is reported working as a bank clerk and living with his wife and four children at that time at 148 Stockton Street, Trenton, New Jersey.

            In 1882, he published, Reference List of the Old Stamped Paper of the United States, 1755 to 1845, compiled and published by E.B. Sterling.

            Also in 1882, he began publishing is annual fixed price list, Wholesale price list of United States stamps for sale by E.B. Sterling.

            His 1882 business envelopes contained an engraving of a postage stamp which was illegal by Federal law and so the images were blacked out with a large heel-of-a-shoe shaped stamp. These are quite rare and fetch prices over $200 plus depending on provenance, franking, and other postal markings.

Fig. 2. Sterling corresponding wit the Chapman Brothers postmarked September 19, 1884, Trenton, New Jersey. Courtesy Lupia Numismatic Library, Special Collection, The Chapman Family Correspondence Archive.

            In 1885, he published Sterling's Reference and Price List of ... dies of the 2-cent series of U.S. stamped envelopes, etc.
            Sterling was a correspondent with the Chapman Brothers stamp and coin dealers at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. There are thirteen pieces of correspondence catalogued so far from 1882 to 1908 in the Lupia Numismatic Library, Special Collection, The Chapman Family Correspondence Archive. When the digital catalogue from 1909 to 1925 is complete an update will be given of the total number. 
            Sterling owned thirty-four varieties of U. S. Silver Dollars from 1794 to 1803, which were sold together with many other coins and paper money in February 1887 by Ed Frossard.

Figs. 3 & 4. Sterling’s Standard Descriptive and Price Catalogue of the Revenue Stamps of the United States , 5th ed., 1888. Portrait engraving of Edward B. Sterling, inside front coverCourtesy Lupia Numismatic Library.

            In 1886, he was among the founding members of the American Philatelic Association.

Fig. 5.  On February 9, 1887, Ed Frossard's coin auction catalogue of the Edward B. Sterling Collection was sold at Leavitt's Auction Rooms, New York. This was the first in a series of seven auctions Frossard catalogued for Edward B. Sterling the last selling at auction on September 27, 1888. This advertisement published in The Bookmart, Vol. 4, February (1887) : 379

            In January 1887, he published his fixed price list as Sterling's United States Stamp Circular for 1887

            On January 18, 1887, he became a member of the ANS.

            On January 23, 1888, he sold the Carpenter and Goodall stamp collection together with Sterling's own collection of U. S. proof revenue and postage stamps, 4,000 varieties of paper currency and coins, Indian relics, and other curiosities, in all amounting to $7,000. His knowledge of paper currency was extensive and he aided David Cassel Wismer when he was writing his Descriptive Catalogue.

After this sale to Deats he became a strong buyer of important materials related to revenue stamps including the archives of Butler and Carpenter the engravers and security printers contract workers for the US Treasury Department, who ran their presses out of Philadelphia. Again, Deats became the owner of some of the important materials such as proofs, etc.

            In 1888, he published a 117 page book, Testimonials from leading American philatelists 1883 to 1888. Complimentary notices from the press, biographical sketches, &c. in regard to ... the great benefit derived from the use of Sterling's standard stamp catalogues.

Fig. 6. Correspondence to the firm of Deats and Sterling postmarked St. John, New Brunswick, Canada, May 25, 1891. Courtesy Lupia Numismatic Library, Special Collection, Hiram Edmund Deats Correspondence Archive.
            On November 24, 1891, he applied to be a member of the Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, as a descendant of Major James Sterling of Burlington, New Jersey.
            In May 1892, as reported in the June 1, 1892 issue of The Collector,  he attended the art sale of the collection of Mrs. Wilstach at Memorial Hall, Philadelphia.

Fig. 7. Sterling's advertisement selling Historical Portraits, Autographs, Views, Books, Medals, Stamps, Etc. The American Athenaeum, Vol. 1, No. 2, January 20, 1893, page 58
            In 1893, he published his family genealogical history as Historical and Genealogical Sketch of James Sterling. Hunterdon Historical Series, No. 3 (Flemington, New Jersey : H. E. Deats, 1893)

            In 1893, he published Catalogue of rare historical engravings and lithographs. Portraits of Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Clay, Webster, Van Burne, Harrison ... Grant, McClellan, Scott, &c., &c. Scenes, views, battle scenes, &c., &c. The following year he advertised giving them away free.


Figs. 8 & 9. In the January 1895 issue of The Numismatist, page 27, acknowledgement was given to E. B. Sterling for sending in a cut of the  Trenton Battle Monument Association Souvenir Ribbon with Silver or Bronze Medals suspended; Fig. 8. REVERSE : BUST PORTRAIT OF WASHINGTON FACING LEFT (from Houdon's bust) with the legend  TO COMMEMORATE THE BATTLE OF TRENTON, N. J/DECEMBER 28, 1776/   Fig. 9.  OBVERSE : MONUMENT center field surrounded by legend : TRENTON BATTLE MONUMENT CORNER STONE LAID DEC. 26, 1891/ DEDICATED OCT. 19, 1893. Engraved by Bechtel.

Figs. 10 & 11. Sterling's business envelope Historical Engravings & Portraits, Autographs, Views, Books, Medals, Stamps, Etc.mail sent to stamp dealer Herbert P. Atherton, 
Holyoke, Massachusetts postmarked February 3, 1895, Trenton, New Jersey. Note it was missent to Bangor, Maine. Ex-Belasco. Courtesy Lupia Numismatic Library.

Figs. 12 & 13. Sterling's Standard Publications 1895. Ex-Belasco. Courtesy Lupia Numismatic Library.


Fig. 14. Sterling's advertisement giving free his Catalogue of Rare Historical Portraits and Prints and selling Autograph Letters Postage and Revenue Stamps, Coins, Medals, Books, Views, Albums, Catalogues, Etc.  in The American Heritage Register, April (1895) : 831

Fig. 15. "E. B. Sterling, the stamp and coin collector of Bellevue Avenue, lost a valuable setter dog last night. The animal was downtown with Mr. Sterling and was run over by a trolley car at State and Broad Streets. The dog was an unusually affectionate creature highly prized. He was full blooded and well trained." He lived at 344 Bellevue Avenue, northeast corner of Prospect Street, Trenton, New Jersey, at that time. Trenton Evening News, Tuesday, June 27, 1899, page 2.

        In the January 1902 issue of The Numismatist, page 27, Abraham A. Leve, Syracuse, New York, who published Leve's New Perforator  ran an advertisement selling his magazine reporting it contained a new paper written by Sterling on 1898-1901 Proprietary Stamps.

            He worked as the Custodian of Documents and then as director of the Inheritance Tax Department,  for the State Comptroller, New Jersey.

          
Fig. 16. Advertisement of E. B. Sterling selling engravings, autographs, books, medals, stamps, coins, currency, etc., published in Spirit of '76, No. 4, December (1894) : 79.
            In the 1900 U. S. Census he is reported renting a farm house at 313 Spring Street, Trenton, New Jersey.

In 1907 Philatelic West he advertised to buy all New Jersey State bank notes, willing to trade various items including stamps, autographs, engravings, books, old newspapers, foils etc. 


Fig. 17. Edward Boker Sterling expert mycologist reports about few mushrooms being poisonous.  Trenton Evening News, Friday, July 31, 1908, page 6.

Fig. 18. Report of E. B. Sterling's discovery in 1904 of the largest mushroom in the world the Polyporus Berkleyi. Courier News, Tuesday, August 24, 1909, page 3.
 The mushroom weighed 43 pounds and was 13 inches in height and 105 inches in circumference. His mycological collections are found in the Lloyd Museum, Chicago, Illinois and New Jersey State Museum.

            In the January 1924 issue of the American Philatelist, pages 189-191, a tribute to E. B. Sterling was published recalling his pioneering research and work creating the wealth of knowledge now available through him the U. S. Treasury Department's Revenue Stamp series. The American Revenue Association established in his honor the E. B. Sterling Memorial Roll to acknowledge those in this field of research an award of distinguished merit. 

            He was a member of the National Geographic Society.
            He was a member of the Prospect Street Presbyterian Church.

            On November 29, 1925, after a protracted long suffering he passed away at his home at 941 Edgewood Avenue, Trenton, New Jersey. He was buried at the Ewing Church Cemetery.
            In 1997 Sterling was placed in rolls of the American Philatelic Society Hall of Fame.

Auctions :

[01] June 25, 1878, 494 lots, stamps, Catalogue of a Fine and Rare Collection of United States Stamps, the collection of E.B. Sterling, to be sold at auction ... by Bangs & Co. ... June 25th, 1878 ... Catalogued by Wm. P. Brown. [McKay 2394]

[02] February 9, 1887, 551 lots, coins, Catalogue of U. S. and Canadian Coinage, Fractional Notes, Colonial and Continental Currency Ed Frossard [Adams 73, Sale 64 rated B] [Durst 890]
[03] December 20, 1887, 589 lots, stamps, E. B. Sterling Part II Ed Frossard [Adams 74, Sale 76 rated C-] AJN Jan 1888 refers to this as Part II
[04] January 26, 1888, 1,107 lots, stamps, E. B. Sterling Part III Ed Frossard [Adams 74, Sale 77 rated C-]
[05] February 16, 1888, 595 lots, stamps, E. B. Sterling Part IV Ed Frossard [Adams 74, Sale 79 rated C-]
[06] March 29, 1888, 626 lots, stamps, E. B. Sterling Part V Ed Frossard [Adams 74, Sale 80 rated C-]
[07] June 28, 1888, 623 lots, stamps, E. B. Sterling Part VI Ed Frossard [Adams 75, Sale 84 rated C-]
[08] September 27, 1888, 867 lots, stamps, E. B. Sterling Part VII Ed Frossard [Adams 75, Sale 86 rated C-]

[09] December 12, 1917, 1,276 lots, books, tracts, newspapers, broadsides, art, William Bunker, Edward Boker Sterling, Gertrude H. Rogers, Louis E. Laurin, et alia [McKay 7892]

[10] April 30, 1918, 558 lots, Manuscripts, books, letters, art, Mornay Williams, J. Dunbar Wright, Eugene Field, Edward Boker Sterling, et alia [McKay 7957]

Bibliography :

Philatelic Journal of America, Vol. , No. 11, January (1886) : 188 engraving of E. B. Sterling with brief biography.

"Coin Sales," American Journal of Numismatics, January (1888) : 79

The Collector (1892) : 237

The Numismatist, Vol. 8, No. 1, January (1895) : 27, 28

Edward B. Sterling, "Mushrooms or Toadstools; Rules," Mycological Bulletin, Vol. IV, No. 54 (1906) : 214, reprint from newspaper

Curtis Gates Lloyd, Mycological Notes, July (1922) : 113

The Philatelic West, September (1924) 

Trenton Evening Times, Monday, November 30, 1925, pages 1- 2 - Obit

Trenton Evening Times, Wednesday, December 2, 1925, page 24 - Death notice

American Philatelist, January (1926) : 220

George L. McKay, American Book Auction Catalogues 1713-1934 : A Union List (New York : NYPL, 1937)

Lorraine S. Durst, American Numismatic Auction Catalogs A Bibliography 

John Weston Adams, United States Numismatic Literature, Vol. 1, 73, 74, 75

Stanley M. Bierman, M.D., "E. B. Sterling : The Pioneer Fiscalist," The Chronicle of the U. S. Classic Issues, Vol. 37, No. 3, August (1985) : 152-157

Stanley M. Bierman, M.D., More of the World's Greatest Stamp Collectors (New York, no date) : 26-35 reprint of "E. B. Sterling : The Pioneer Fiscalist," The Chronicle of the U. S. Classic Issues, Vol. 37, No. 3, August (1985) : 152-157



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