Legendary collector Gene Gardner dies at age 80

Pennsylvania native's collection heavy in Seated Liberty, Bust coinage brought $52.8 million at auction
By , Coin World
Published : 07/20/16
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Collector Eugene Herr Gardner, whose collection of United States coins realized more than $52 million at auction, died July 16 in Lancaster, Pa., at age 80 from complications of multiple myeloma.

Heritage Auctions President Greg Rohan, who developed a strong friendship with Mr. Gardner, made the announcement online soon after Mr. Gardner’s passing:

“Six years ago, Gene was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, and told his time was short. His family and his friends were blessed to have him in our lives longer than anyone expected. Gene was doing well until about a week ago. He was making plans to attend the Santa Fe Opera with [wife] Anne at the end of this month, and then a terrible lung infection took hold of him. He’s been home the last few days surrounded by his loving family, all of whom were with him this afternoon.”

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Those extra years permitted Mr. Gardner to keep up his numismatic collection and witness the public sale of his more than 3,000 coins in four auctions by Heritage Auctions between 2014 and 2015.

Rohan noted that Mr. Gardner had hoped that the auctions offering his coins collected over a span of more than two decades would generate $40 million, but was flabbergasted when the total reached $52.8 million.

Among the highlights from those sales were a Professional Coin Grading Service Mint State 66 1796 Draped Bust dime that realized $881,250 on June 23, 2014; a PCGS Proof 64 1827/3/2 Capped Bust quarter dollar stickered by Certified Acceptance Corp., which realized $396,562.50 in the same sale; and a PCGS Extremely Fine 40 1870-S Seated Liberty dollar that brought $505,250 in the May 12, 2015 Gardner III sale.

Heritage has established a Scholarship Fund at The American Numismatic Association in honor of Mr. Gardner. Tax deductible contributions may be sent to ANA-Eugene Gardner Fund, 818 N. Cascade Avenue, Colorado Springs, CO 80903

Numismatic legacy

Mr. Gardner’s numismatic interests were heavy in Seated Liberty and Bust coinage, although many series were represented in his collection. The Liberty Seated Collectors Club named him to the LSCC Hall of Fame in 2014.

Mr. Gardner had a preference for silver coins, both Proofs and circulation strikes, exhibiting aesthetically pleasing toning.

A focus of Mr. Gardner’s collection was Seated Liberty coinage, with an emphasis on quality and completeness. His collection of circulation-strike Seated Liberty half dollars, for example, is considered the “all-time greatest,” notes Heritage. 

The scope of Mr. Gardner’s collection is exemplified by such pieces as the 1842 Seated Liberty, Small Date, Small Letters half dollar, a pairing of design obverse and reverse subtypes known by just four examples. 

The subtype was unknown until 18 years after the 1993 publication of Complete Guide to Liberty Seated Half Dollars by Randy Wiley and Bill Bugert. Heritage reported the identification of the type on April 4, 2001, with three more examples discovered since.

Mr. Gardner’s 1842 Seated Liberty, Small Date, Small Letters half dollar, graded PCGS MS-64, brought $99,875 at the June 23, 2014, Heritage sale.

Many of the top coins in his collection are pedigreed to some of the greatest collections of U.S. coins ever assembled, including those of Eric P. Newman, Jimmy Hayes and Louis E. Eliasberg Sr.

Mr. Gardner’s many interests included golf, opera, languages, wine and travel, and he was a tournament bridge player.

A native of Lancaster, Pa., Mr. Gardner in 2014 became member emeritus of the investment adviser firm Gardner Russo & Gardner LLC. Mr. Gardner originally founded the firm in 1968 as Gardner Investments.

Before branching out on his own, Mr. Gardner worked for legendary investor William Ruane at Kidder Peabody in New York and remained associated with Ruane Cunniff and Goldfarb LLC for the majority of his professional career.

Family and memorial service information

Mr. Gardner is survived by his wife of 53 years, Anne; a son, Eugene H. Gardner Jr., and wife, Bernadette, of Lancaster; a daughter, Dr. Victoria Curtin Gardner Coates, and her husband, George G.H. Coates Jr., of Philadelphia; a brother, Paul Gardner Jr. from Hartford, Conn.; and six grandchildren.

A memorial service was scheduled to be held July 22 at Highland Presbyterian Church in Lancaster. 

The family will greet guests beginning at 9:30 a.m. and the service will begin at 11:00 a.m.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made on Mr. Gardner’s behalf to the Bright Side Baptist Church (c/o Dr. Louis Butcher, 515 Hershey Ave., Lancaster, PA 17603); the Ann B. Barshinger Cancer Institute Fund (2102 Harrisburg Ave., Lancaster, PA 17601); and The Fulton Opera House (12 N. Prince St., Lancaster, PA 17602).

Communication to the family may be directed to Box 328, Bausman, PA 17504. Online condolences may be posted online at The Groffs Family Funeral Home & Cremation Services Inc website.

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