America’s first coin auction catalogs, issued from 1851 to 1869,
featured a line or two of description per lot, and no pictures.
This changed June 23, 1869, when Edward Cogan presented the
catalog of the Mortimer Livingston Mackenzie Collection. Cogan, an
Englishman who had immigrated to America in 1853, began as a picture
dealer, adding coins as a sideline in 1855; within two years,
numismatics was his main business and he held his first coin auction
in 1858. It was not illustrated, nor were 18 others that followed
The Mackenzie Collection gave Cogan two good reasons to include
photographs. First, he was playing catch-up with his former
countrymen, for the world’s first photographically illustrated coin
auction catalog was Christie, Manson and Woods’ sale of the Lowenstein
Brothers Collection, held in London in 1860.
Second, although the Mackenzie Collection included a cross-section
of U.S., European and ancient coinage, in 1869, copper was king, and
Mackenzie’s collection of half cents and large cents was princely. It
contained only 86 coppers, but virtually all of them were choice. The
auction offered, for example, three “perfectly uncirculated” 1793
Flowing Hair, Chain, AMERI. cents, and two AMERICA cents graded “very
nearly uncirculated.” Gems such as these demanded photographs.
Although the Mackenzie Collection is the first illustrated
American coin catalog, not all Mackenzie sale catalogs are
illustrated, nor are those with photographic plates all created equal.
Cogan issued Mackenzie catalogs both with and without plates, and for
some unknown reason, some of the illustrated versions have four
plates, while others have five.
Those albumen print plates are works of art, consisting of
soft-hued, yet sharply detailed photos. The first plate features five
Washington pieces; the second, nine British and eight American coins
(including a 1794 Flowing Hair silver dollar); the third, six European
medals; the fourth, 17 Roman pieces; and the fifth, 13 of Mackenzie’s
Exactly how many photographically illustrated Mackenzie catalogs
were printed is unknown, but John W. Adams, in his masterful
United States Numismatic Literature: Nineteenth Century Auction
Catalogs, estimated that between 50 and 100 were printed, with
fewer than 50 surviving today.
Adams noted that although Cogan used photographs to illustrate six
other of his coin sales, “none of these compare in quality of
photography with the Mackenzie masterpiece.” You can own a
photographically illustrated copy of this masterpiece for a fraction
of the cost of a comparably rare coin, but you should resolve to seize
the opportunity to buy whenever one presents itself, for plated
Mackenzie sale catalogs appear only infrequently.
JOEL J. OROSZ is a charter member of the Numismatic Bibliomania
Society and co-author of The Secret History of the First U.S. Mint. He
can be reached at Joeljorosz@gmail.com.