It’s easy to see how the history and provenance of any one rare coin can become a passion for any coin collector (and especially for this Grand Rapids coin dealer!).
But what makes a coin collection or its collector particularly famous? The reasons vary. Some collectors, like Wayne Gretzsky, are otherwise-famous people who have also become known as coin collectors. In other circumstances, a high-quality collection becomes famous because it is publicly accessible, such as the Smithsonian collection or the U.S. Mint collection, mentioned in “5 Best Places to See Rare Coins.”
Any discussion of the most famous private collections of U.S. coins in history, however, would undoubtedly include these five:
- Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. Collection. The Eliasberg Collection is famous for one main reason: Louis E. Eliasberg, a Baltimore financier, was the only person ever to build a complete set of United States regular issue coins, comprising all then-known dates and Mint marks. He worked toward this goal throughout his lifetime, and achieved it in 1950 when he purchased the last U.S. gold coin and silver dime needed for his collection.
- King Farouk I of Egypt Collection. King Farouk I of Egypt, who ruled Egypt from 1936 until his overthrow in 1952, famously used the Egyptian treasury to acquire rare works of art, gold, and an amazing coin collection, which was auctioned by Sotheby’s after his overthrow. When the collection was completed, it included 8,500 gold coins, including the only known complete set of Saint Gaudens $20 Double Eagle coins. Among these coins was a 1933 Double Eagle that was considered illegal for U.S. citizens to own. That particular coin, which became known as the Farouk-Fenton Specimen, sold for $7.59 million in 2002, the highest price paid for any coin at that point.
- John J. Ford Collection. John J. Ford started his coin career as a delivery boy for coin dealer Harvey Stack, and ended it in 2005 as one of the most famous collectors of U.S. coins, as well as an author of authoritative catalogs that included detailed descriptions of grades, colors, and details of rare coins. Ford’s collection included colonial coins and currency from all 13 colonies, rare confederate pennies, and unique tokens from the earliest days of colonial North America. Indeed, Ford’s meticulously researched catalogs contributed to the value of his collection when it was auctioned in a series of 23 auctions from 2003 to 2013, generating a total of almost $60 million.
- The Newman Collection. Any list of famous coin collections would be incomplete without mentioning living legend 103-year-old Eric Newman, who has been collecting since 1918. Newman, profiled previously in our post “The Extraordinary Eric Newman and His Extraordinary Favorite Coin,” is the only collector known to have owned all five 1913 Liberty Head nickels. He sold his collection in 2013 in a series of auctions that illustrated the breadth and rarity of his interest –early American coins, world coins, coins that had been off the market for at least 50 years, and U.S. pattern pieces. Some of Newman’s collection is still on display through The Newman Money Museum at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis.
- The Garrett Collection. The Garrett family of Baltimore amassed one of the most famous collections of U.S. coins, starting in the 1860s with brothers T. Harrison and John Work Garrett. Later John Garrett became a prominent contributor to the American Numismatic Society, and the family’s coin collection was eventually gifted to Princeton University. By the time Princeton liquidated the collection at auction in the 1970s and 1980s, it had become so famous that three books were produced, including Q. David Bowers’ A History of United States Coinage as Illustrated by the Garrett Collection.
Each of these collections achieved renown during the lifetime of its collector. Each of us can certainly enjoy our hobby as much as these collectors did during their lifetimes!
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