Guest Commentary from August 15, 2016, issue of Coin World:
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.
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.
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.”
Connect with Coin World:
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.