Were rare coins in the Principal’s safe at Brighton High School, 1935?

Were rare coins in the Principal’s safe at Brighton High School, 1935?

Recently, I have been a guest teacher at the Twelve Corners Middle School and the Brighton High School. Especially as an alum, the history of the schools has piqued my interest.

Historians of the Brighton Central School District know that in 1926 Aubrey D. Donley was the first principal of the K-12 building that is now TCMS and that Donley was a longstanding Superintendent of the District including in 1940 when the new High School on Winton Road opened.

See also Catherine Zukosky’s “Down Memory Lane with Brighton Schools” from Historic Brighton News,Volume 8. Fall 2007, Number 4

Jun 14, 1940

Superintendent Aubrey D. Donley to the right. Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Jun 14, 1940

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Sep 25, 1935

Principal Aubrey D. Donley to the left. Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Sep 25, 1935

Few know that Donley was also a renowned numismatist.  Probably no one knows that on September 24th, 1935 — a still unsolved case that baffled authorities — safe robbers attempted to break into the Brighton High School money box kept in Donley’s office. Despite hours of battering by the burglars, including with a baseball bat, the safe proved impregnable.  The police found no fingerprints nor discovered how the intruders entered the building. Nor was anything actually stolen. (As a sign of the times, the article describes Brighton as “rural Monroe County.”

Delving further into the archives, I found reports of Donley’s impressive coin collection.  In 1937, Two years after the incident, Donley, an “ardent numismatist,” displayed his collection of 47 commemorative half dollar pieces in the school library.

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Dec 19, 1937

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Dec 19, 1937

We also know that Donley was active in the Rochester Numismatic Association.

From Rochester Numismatic Association Minutes, 1942

(first column, row three) Aubrey Donley. From Rochester Numismatic Association Minutes, 1942. (Washington College in St. Louis.)

(More material on the December, 1941 Hobby Show)

I asked local numismatist Dean Tucker, BHS ’81, to assess the value of the half-dollars displayed in the library. Dean says commemorative coins are a niche market with some value but are mainly collected for pleasure rather than profit. Most likely, the coins were a minor part of Donley’s overall collection.

While it is problematic to speculate on a long lost and unsolved case, the detective in me wonders if inside the safe were portions of Donley’s rare coin collection.  The newspaper accounts make the attempted crime sound like an inside job: nothing else was stolen and how the would-be thieves entered the building is unknown.

Donley lived down the street from the school on Monroe Avenue. Perhaps he moved portions of his collection into the office box for safe keeping. Maybe someone knew the coins were in the office.

2209 Monroe Avenue, Brighton. Site of the former home of Aubrey D. Donley.

2209 Monroe Avenue, Brighton. Site of the former home of Aubrey D. Donley. [Photo: David Kramer, 11/29/18]

We’ll never know who tried breaking into the safe or what exactly they were after. Luckily, as the Democrat and Chronicle wrote of the money box:

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Sep 25, 1935

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Sep 25, 1935


Still at Twelve Corners Middle School

Brighton High School Library receives “Imperium in Imperio: Sutton Grigg’s Imagined War of 1898” (Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, V.344)

Local philatelist faults Talker’s Edgerton Park hoopla. Et tu,Tucker?

About The Author


Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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