A ready-made collection of 37,895 coins related to the history of
Spain is being offered by the Hispanic Society of America in a
single-lot sealed-bid auction ending March 8.
The sale, to be conducted by Sotheby’s, occurs nearly four years
after the American Numismatic Society was forced to relinquish the
collection, which was formed by the benefactor of both organizations,
Archer M. Huntington.
The lot has an estimate of between $25 million and $35 million.
The collection is considered unrivalled in some areas and includes
coins dating to circa 225 B.C., coins from the Roman Empire, coins
from the Visigothic and Umayyad periods, and coins from more modern periods.
The collection encompasses several areas, with some areas and eras
represented by thousands of coins. Much of the collection’s value lies
in its unplumbed breadth and depth and in the potential knowledge it
holds, yet to be discovered, according to several experts.
“It’s a very academic collection, largely unresearched, cataloged
in a very basic way,” said ANS executive director Ute Wartenberg
Kagan. “The early Greek material is heavily unresearched. ... The
medieval material, nobody has ever really looked at it.”
David Redden, vice chairman of Sotheby’s and head of the special
projects department, said in a press release that “there are still
discoveries yet to be made by the purchaser.”
The ANS will not be bidding on the collection, according to
Wartenberg Kagan. “Anyone who is vaguely familiar with the finances of
the ANS knows this is not even an issue,” she said. “Even if we could
raise that much [money], I’m not sure the board would want to spend it
The organization has faced financial challenges the past decade or
so, as it has moved twice, first from its location next to the
Hispanic Society of America at Audubon Terrace, to a new location in
lower Manhattan, before leaving that location, selling the building
and finding a home at its current 75 Varick St. location.
It was the second move that triggered a rift between the two
non-profits, because the move voided a 2007 revised loan agreement
stating that none of the objects could be reloaned or transferred to
any other entity or location without the prior written approval of the
Hispanic Society of America.
After learning the ANS was relocating and did not seek permission
to move the collection, the trustees of the Hispanic Society adopted a
resolution to not renew the 2007 agreement. The ANS fought the action
but a New York judge sided with the Hispanic Society of America.
Huntington donated his entire collection of coins and medals to
the trustees of the Hispanic Society with a portion deposited on loan
with ANS for publication. Huntington, the son of transportation
magnate Collis P. Huntington, founded the Hispanic Society of America;
Mariner’s Museum in Newport News, Va.; and Brookgreen Gardens in
Murrells Inlet, S.C. He joined ANS in 1899 and donated land for the
first headquarters built, as well as finances and land for a major addition.
In 1946, the Hispanic Society first loaned coins to the ANS with a
condition to hire the scholar Dr. George C. Miles for the purpose of
studying the collection. Funds were also provided to ANS to cover 10
years of Miles’ salary.
Huntington’s collection was called “one of the finest and most
comprehensive collections of Spanish coins that has ever been brought
together,” according to author Miles in The Coinage of the Umayyads of
Spain, which was one of three books by Miles based on the collection.
“No phase of the numismatic history of Spain and related countries has
One of the highlights is the unique circa 1500 gold 50-excelente
coin issued under Ferdinand and Isabella. Another is the circa A.D.
409 to 410 gold solidus of Roman usurper Priscus Attalus, one of 12
known examples remaining as a testament to his brief would-be reign.
Though publicity for the sale focuses on the highlights, Sotheby’s
has prepared a catalog providing details about the collection (though
one was not made available to Coin World before press time
Mitchell A. Codding, executive director of the Hispanic Society of
America, said in a press release, “While we are placing no
restrictions or requirements on the buyer, we value Archer
Huntington’s achievement so highly that we have instructed Sotheby’s
to sell this collection as a single lot.”
The Hispanic Society of America is employing the sealed-bid format
after failing to interest unnamed institutions in Spain, Europe and
the United States.
An institution is the best home for the collection, Wartenberg
“We very much hope an institution or the Spanish government might
be a buyer,” she said, adding that a buyer in Spain is more likely
than in the United States.
A spokesperson for Sotheby’s had not answered whether the $25
million figure was a floor, or minimum bid, and whether the sale has a
Proceeds from the sale are anticipated for use for future
acquisitions and collection care, according to the Hispanic Society,
which itself has faced financial woes and dwindling interest in recent
years, so much so that it has pondered leaving its Audubon Terrace
location for someplace lower in Manhattan.
A sale price of $25 million would nearly double the foundation’s
net assets, which were listed as $25.9 million, according to the
latest IRS document, for the year ending Sept. 30, 2009.
Highlights will be on display at Sotheby’s York Avenue galleries
from Jan. 3 to 6 and Jan. 9 (during the 40th annual New York
International Numismatic Convention), with the collection to be
exhibited in its entirety during February.
For more information about the sale, contact Sotheby’s at
212-606-7000 or visit its website, www.sothebys.com. ■