Gene Gardner — a world-class gentleman, a world-class friend

Studied all 3,000 of his coins, shared descriptions in scholarly, hardbound photographic books
By , Special to Coin World
Published : 07/30/16
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Guest Commentary from August 15, 2016, issue of Coin World:

I met Gene Gardner about 20 years ago. It was not through bridge, his investment business, opera, golf, or any of his many charitable endeavors. It was through a hobby Gene pursued privately, out of the public eye. Gene was a numismatist … a collector of rare coins.

Gene developed an interest in collecting coins of the United States at a very young age, forming an exceptional collection when he was not yet 30 years old. He told me his father thought his collecting was a folly, a waste of money that would be gone forever, but his father reasoned that it would be a good life lesson for young Gene. Gene’s collection was of such importance that when he sold it in 1965 it was a highlight of the auction season in New York — quite an accomplishment for such a young man. He sold that numismatic collection to begin his investment business. His father took notice. The assembly and then sale of the collection established Gene as not only a dedicated and astute collector, but a brilliant investor.

Decades later, Gene returned to coin collecting. A prominent, and colorful, New York City dealer brought him to participate in an auction our firm was conducting. It was during this auction that we first met. The dealer whispered in my ear “Gene Gardner is the finest gentleman in numismatics. He’s royalty.”

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Gene was collecting copper, nickel and silver coins dating from the late 18th through early 20th century. He collected an example of every – single – coin – minted! in the highest, finest quality available. A collection so extraordinary for both its completeness and its quality, duplicating it today would be impossible.

Gene pursued and appreciated numismatics. He was not “just” a coin collector. He was a numismatist. He was also keenly interested in, and supportive of, the work of others in the field of numismatics. In October 2013, his health not at its best, with Anne by his side, he traveled to a coin show in Manchester, N.H., with his complete collection of 19th century Seated Liberty dimes. His purpose, to meet another collector. Gene did not make that trip to show off his collection; rather, the trip allowed the other man to photograph and study the collection for a numismatic website. A collector would not have incurred such inconvenience and expense. A numismatist would.

Gene personally studied and described every single one of the 3,000 coins in his collection, producing impressive, scholarly, hardbound photographic books for each series he collected. One example of the commentary Gene wrote for each coin in his collection is for a dime made in 1845 at the New Orleans mint. He wrote:

1845-O, formerly in the collection of Baltimore banker Louis Eliasberg, Jr. I don’t know what qualifies a coin to be given a grade of essentially perfect [MS69], after all, a slightly lesser quality coin [MS68] has to be picture perfect. But I do know there is a serenity about this coin, a completeness, a wholeness which is mesmerizing to look at. It has to stem from the incredibly smooth unmarked fields undifferentiated in any way over the whole surface of the coin. An all-time all-star with a pedigree stretching back to the Stickney collection in the 1880’s. What a wonder. What a work of art.”

Three years ago this month, Gene decided that, however much he enjoyed collecting, due to his health, it would be best to put the collection up for auction. Heritage Auctions was given the honor of selling the collection, and I took charge of the project, working closely with Gene and Anne. Four auction sales over 16 months were planned, with the first taking place in New York June of 2014. Anne confided in me that she hoped he would still be here for at least the first auction. He was here for every auction, with the last taking place October of 2015. Gene, Anne, Eugene and Bernadette attended every auction, and at each event he received from those in attendance an outpouring of love, admiration, and support. He was part of every auction, and though his health was taking a toll on him, he seemed to relish and enjoy every minute of it.

Gene Gardner was a member of the Liberty Seated Collectors Club Numismatic Hall of Fame. He received that formal honor at a ceremony in Chicago in 2014 that I attended with him.

Yes, Gene was a world-class numismatist, but he was also a world-class gentleman and a world-class friend.

Greg Rohan is president of Heritage Auctions.

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