Recently, I spent an enjoyable several days in Baltimore attending
the Whitman Coins & Collectibles Expo and checking in now and
again on the auction sessions conducted by Stack’s Bowers Galleries.
As the home of the Eliasberg, Garrett, Newcomer, Cohen and other
“name” collections, Baltimore has a deep tradition in numismatics. I
illustrate Evergreen House, where T. Harrison Garrett and John Work
Garrett formed one of the finest collections of coins ever. In 1979 I
spent much time there in connection with cataloging the coins for
auction by Bowers and Ruddy Galleries.
At the expo I gave a talk about the just-released The Encyclopedia
of United States Silver Dollars 1794-1804. I mused that it is
interesting that a die variety of copper cent of the 1790s of which
there are, say, only a dozen known, will sell for tens of thousands of
dollars in Extremely Fine grade, while a dollar of the same rarity
will sell for just a fraction of that amount.
A question-and-answer session followed, in which the subject of
“environmentally damaged” coins came up. As is well known, a
nice-appearing coin of any denomination, if it is in a holder so
marked, will sell for only a tiny fraction of the price of one that
has no such adjectives.
I said that this was a huge problem needing to be fixed. As I have
noted in this column earlier, “conservation,” standard in most other
collectible fields, is a naughty word in numismatics. And yet,
conservation occurs constantly.
I told of the copper pattern coins once owned by King Farouk of
Egypt, who brightened all of his copper and silver coins by polishing
them. The late Harry W. Bass Jr. had a number of these bright orange
copper coins in his collection — acquired as such, for no others were
available of these rarities. Today, most of the Bass coins have been
recolored rich brown and are in certified holders with no mention of
Some time ago a Coin World reader told me that he was having a
field day buying at cheap prices certified Morgan dollars in holders
marked “artificially toned,” taking them out of the holders, then
sending them in for certification, after which many were returned
without such designations. This is one way to cherrypick in the
marketplace today. It is called “gaming the system.” Of course, some
coins cannot be conserved, so some expertise is required.
The expo was active from beginning to end. Richard Eliasberg,
consignor of his father’s (Louis E. Eliasberg Sr.) unique collection
to one of my earlier firms, stopped by at dinner one evening —
reminding me that good friends in numismatics are likely to remain
Q. David Bowers is chairman emeritus of Stack’s Bowers Galleries
and numismatic director of Whitman Publishing LLC. He can be reached
at his private email, firstname.lastname@example.org,
or at Q. David Bowers LLC, Box 1804, Wolfeboro, NH 03894.