Move over, Charles Dickens. The tale of counterfeiter turned mint master, Abel Buell, is laden with the stuff of a master storyteller: forgery; industrial espionage; bribery of the secretary of the Treasury; an ear sliced off, and sewn back on; and the branding of a convicted felon. And though history buffs may be familiar with Abel Buell, author and numismatist Christopher R. McDowell will shed new light on the already remarkable tale in a free presentation, "Abel Buell and the Connecticut Mint."
Buell was born in Killingworth, Connecticut in 1742. Trained at a young age to be an engraver, he was arrested in 1763 for counterfeiting--changing the engraving plates for five-shilling notes to the considerably larger amount of five pounds. His sentence included the branding of the letter "C" on the forehead, the cutting off of the right ear, forfeiture of all property, and lifelong imprisonment. Through an odd combination of luck, acknowledgement of Buell's youthful status, and recognition of his obvious genius and potential, only the top portion of his ear was removed, then reattached, and he served little time in prison.
Ironically, Buell is best known today for his work with the Connecticut mint. In 1785, Connecticut opened the first state mint and, in 1787, as a result of a $10,000 bribe to the Secretary of the Treasury, procured the contract to produce America's first official coins - the fugio cents.
But, according to McDowell, the scandals and pendulating boom and bust that characterized Buell's life are just the first chapter in an increasingly complex tale. Several years ago, ledgers from the Connecticut and federal mint once located on Chapel Street in New Haven were "discovered" in the New Haven Museum archives.