It’s now been a full decade since the first episode of a show that
kept the rapt attention of its viewers, none of whom knew what plot
twists would follow, nor how long the series would run.
Fewer than 60 people gathered for the very first John J. Ford Jr.
Collection auction, held on Oct. 14, 2003, at Le Parker Meridien Hotel
on 57th Street in New York City. The sale was conducted by Stack’s,
who in 1938 became the first firm to employ young Mr. Ford, long
before he developed a reputation as one of the most well-read, clever
and exacting numismatists of his generation.
Never before had such a narrow sampling appeared in a single
300-lot catalog: Continental dollars (and a single Betts medal whose
designs were based on it), coppers struck by New Jersey and Vermont in
the 1780s, Fugio coppers, and various numismatic mementos of the
Confederate States of America, including two of the 12 known original
Confederate cents and one of four known original Confederate half dollars.
Since then, 23 more Ford auctions have been held, with entire
catalogs devoted to Colonial paper currency, Massachusetts silver
coins, Betts medals, Indian Peace medals and other once-esoteric
fields of numismatic Americana.
Through the most recent Ford sale — said to be the final one — the
collection has realized more than $61 million, making it the most
valuable numismatic collection ever auctioned.
Not too shabby for a cabinet without a single Federal coin in it!
Prices in the first Ford auction tend to look cheap after a
decade, though they were gasp-inducing at the time. Of course, for
most of the items therein, nothing has sold since that time that
offers any apt comparison.
Several Fugio copper collections have sold in the interim, as
Fugio collecting has become much more mainstream since 2003 and prices
have generally increased, but nothing of Ford’s quality or scope has
been offered within the New Jersey or Vermont copper specialties in
the intervening decade. Given that most of Ford’s state coppers had
been off the market for nearly a century, this is no great surprise.
If the Ford auctions really have come to an end, this marks a
watershed moment in American numismatic history. Though there are
always long-term collections hiding out, mostly forgotten except by a
handful of old-timers, simply nothing like the Ford Collection is
waiting in the wings. It took several lifetimes to build, mostly
assembled by F.C.C. Boyd, but dutifully preserved by Ford.
Now that this amazing concentration has been dispersed, perhaps
the pieces that were once deemed rare, then became momentarily common,
will go back to being rare again.
John Kraljevich Jr. is an independent professional numismatist and
researcher specializing in early American coinage.