In 1859 (not in 1858 as I mistakenly stated last week) teenaged
Augustus B. Sage broke precedent and cataloged three auctions
featuring rare coins. Before then, coin sales were sporadic, sometimes
with one in a given year, most often with none. Sage’s first was of
the Bogert Collection held from Feb. 28 to March 5, 1859.
The catalog, 93 pages plus covers, told nothing about Bogert, but
today we know that he was a friend and business associate of Sage. In
all, the auction offered 1,653 numbered lots, some of which included
“Catalogued by AUG. B. SAGE” noted the cover of the Catalogue of the
Valuable and Extensive Collection [of] Coins, Medals & Numismatic
Works, the Property of Henry Bogert, Esq. Which will be sold at public
auction, by Messrs. Bangs, Merwin & Co. at their rooms, No. 13
Park Row, on February 28th, 1859, and the five following days.
Sage in his wildest dreams could not have predicted that his
catalogs and, indeed, any and all other information about him (he was
the prime founder of the American Numismatic Society, a prolific
issuer of tokens, and conducted a retail coin business in New York),
would be eagerly sought by historians, including members of the
Numismatic Bibliomania Society.
The catalog had no terms of sale, no guarantees, and no information
for mail bidders. No introductory sentence, let alone a paragraph or
page, described the desirability of the offering about to take place.
In 1859 no published grading standards or price guides were available.
Careful study was required to bid at auction and build a fine
collection. Of course, this was part of the appeal of the hobby — the
thrill of the chase.
Each day during the sale week bidders inspected the coins to be
offered — no doubt arranged on wooden tables or perhaps along the long
wooden bar or counter at the front of the room. Late each afternoon
and continuing into the evening, under the illumination of gas lamps,
the sale took place. At the front of the room, behind the wooden bar,
the auctioneer stood, catalog in hand, as he called the sale. Behind
him were one or two recording clerks at a desk or podium, and flanking
him were several clerks and attendants. The latter kept track of the
coins, books, and other items as they were sold and, upon request,
would show a lot to a bidder who wanted a second look.
By six days later the attendees had experienced much camaraderie,
had talked of many things, and had captured many treasures. When all
was said and done, the sale brought $2,198.47, of which books
comprised $284.86 of the total. The sale if held today would cross the
$1 million mark!