Auction 36 Opening Thoughts (written at the end of catalog production)

There are some amazing coins in this catalog, the kinds of coins that lovers of this material sell last or only when their entire collection is let go.

Fine Greek art is on display, from the magnificent Lockett Collection Siculo-Punic tetradrachm with its strange reverse die to an exceptional Athenian tetradrachm and a particularly fine style Pixodaros didrachm, some special bronzes and a small group of fascinating overstrikes. A small collection of choice Greek minors formed by a highly knowledgeable collector makes up a short section of this catalog. The litra of Syracuse (Lot 20) is one of those breathtakingly beautiful works of fine numismatic art that reaffirm the superiority of Greek coinage to anything that has come since.

The Roman section includes many choice and rare pieces. The famous reverse, admittedly a bit worn, of the Octavian denarius celebrating the capture of Egypt from Antony and Cleopatra presents an alligator styled with a winsome charm. The crescent moon on the reverse of the Augustus denarius is in high relief; there are two superb folles of Helena and exceptional examples of rare late Roman usurpers.

Coins in the Roman section complete the offering of a collection assembled by a particularly careful collector who sought—and paid for at the time—coins with the best possible combination of condition and style. Compare the portrait of Aelius (Lot 58) with most of the other examples of this piece you see. The Helena piece (Lot 111) is spectacular. And Johannes (Lot 122)—if you don’t know how most base metal pieces from late Rome look, you might just pass this by. This is the best example of this I can ever recall seeing. Twenty-five Roman Britain coins from one collection are interspersed through this section attributed both by Roman references and by the Standard Catalog of British Coins.

The British section begins with a few silver Celtic issues—all carefully selected and better centered than most. A penny of Henry I (Lot 138) looks like it must have looked when it came from the die. The next lot, a Tealby penny, comes as close to looking like a full coin as you are apt to see with this usually slap-dash issue. The English section overall includes coins of interest, importance, beauty, and exceptional condition. You will find exceptional portraits and types of the Tudors—Henry VIII, Mary, Elizabeth I including a rare first issue shilling and a fresh halfcrown. Following on, there is a James I crown, a range of Charles I issues—crowns, a choice halfpound and the last coin issued for Charles I which was also the first coin for Charles II—these symbolize our successes in assembling this section of this sale.

And then a section that comes within a coin or two of filling half (224 of 450 lots) this entire auction, the remarkable collection of English copper, tin, and bronze coins assembled over nearly a half century by Frank Robinson, a professional with all the advantages of travel and exposure. I spent substantial time cataloging this marvelous group and we decided to commit a major portion of this sale to its presentation. A listing this large may strain a bidder’s budget (talk to us if this is an issue and we can probably work something out) but seeing broad sections of these series gives perspective on the evolution of the issues, striking and flan concerns, and comparative values. I became fascinated by issues relating to the preparation of dies, the evolution of designs, their life cycles of various issues, the nature of the flans, the politics behind the coinages. You will see incidental notes in the cataloging.

I am hard pressed to select highlights from this group but a few things merit mention: the high quality silver pattern or proof farthings, the complete choice run of George III halfpennies in the 1770s, the heft and solidity of 19th century copper pennies (and their scarcity in decent condition), the beauty of the portraiture of the young Victoria, the number of die errors after coining became highly mechanized….

After all that there are still choice coins left in the consignment. You will see them offered in our forthcoming 2017 E-Auctions. (If you are an internet-only subscriber and would like a printed record of this collection, let us know and we will send hard copy for the Robinson material.) A note about grading: This collection came with Frank’s grades and his comment that he had been conservative and careful and felt he knew what he was doing, all statements with which I agree. I dropped the “AU” grade (not in the British coin lexicon) for “good EF.” “Uncirculated” means that the surface is undisturbed by wear. The marks that come from the minting and immediate handling process (“bag marks” in American parlance) do not make the coin circulated but the marks do bear mention. He and I agreed on well over 95% of the coins—I raised a few and lowered a few and I believe we have fairly described the material he collected and studied over nearly a half century of effort.

Scotland and Ireland are next. The section is brief but some of the coins are amazing. I spent a lot of time looking for a pedigree for the extremely rare David I penny that begins the section (Lot 393) but I was unsuccessful. This piece is from the collector whose well-formed and broad collection anchored Auction 35. He commented to me that his buying was limited “to those who would send me catalogs” so almost everything in his collection came from American sources. The sources for this coin end in the 1980’s but the coin is die-linkable to issues in Burns and various public collections. That data is included.

The next lot is a delightful little piece, a coin of Alexander II in the name of William, “most neatly executed” as Burns notes and better than any I could find in the major sales I reviewed. Next come a pair of high quality groats of James V, an extremely rare (though well worn) half testoon of Mary with her handsome French-inspired portrait, and the historic and enigmatic (a coin that genuinely deserves that adjective!) 2/3rds ryal of Mary and Henry that is undated. You can read about it in the text (Lot 402). We sold it a few years ago and it has been consigned back.

A shilling of Elizabeth I for Ireland with its bold and harp-filled reverse begins that section, a decent James I Irish shilling—an issue that it seems is hard to find in appealing condition—and an Ormond shilling round out this all too brief offering from a series that is notoriously difficult to represent well. The token section is shorter than I would have liked but there are some rare pieces there in choice condition. And the sale ends with some desirable United States type material from the same consignor who had the exceptional English coins. (It is not at all unusual for collectors to venture out from a particular focus. For most American collectors, myself included, our love of coins began with United States issues.)

And the concluding bit: a few collectable and worthwhile books.

The world has seen some dramatic changes just in the months we have been assembling this sale. Working with these messengers of history reminds me that change, often drastic, is in the nature of humankind. Yet, for 2500 years, coinage of one kind or another has been a constant element.

Best wishes,
Allan Davisson
Tuesday, December 27, 2016

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