When the American Numismatic Society was forced to relinquish some
38,000 coins that it had maintained for decades, after losing a legal
challenge to one-time neighbor the Hispanic Society of America,
officials decided to keep the boxes that had contained the coins.
The coins those boxes once held were in the Archer M. Huntington
Collection, named for the famous philanthropist who was a benefactor
to both the ANS and the HSA.
ANS Director Ute Wartenberg Kagan said the organization was just
However, the move has proved to be prescient, as the ANS announced
Feb. 5 that another donor has purchased and placed on long-term loan
with the society 7,291 coins and tokens from the Huntington
Collection. Those items join the more than 19,000 pieces bought and
placed on long-term loan in two rounds of generosity by a different
benefactor in the spring of 2012.
Selling the collection
The dismantling of the historically important collection of 37,895
Spanish and Spanish colonial coins unfolded throughout 2012, with the
first stage being a sealed-bid sale closing March 8 and conducted by
Sotheby’s on behalf of the HSA.
Before the March sale, the collection’s worth was estimated to be
between $25 million and $35 million, but neither Sotheby’s nor HSA has
disclosed the price realized. A consortium of European coin firms
bought the collection in that March sale, and the individual companies
have since been selling the coins, in several auctions as well as in
The initial sale occurred nearly four years after the American
Numismatic Society relinquished the collection to the HSA after losing
a legal fight precipitated by the ANS’s move in 2008. Huntington
bequeathed the collection to the Hispanic Society of America, which
had placed it on long-term loan to the ANS when both society’s were
neighbors in the same museum complex in New York City.
Huntington’s collection was called “one of the finest and most
comprehensive collections of Spanish coins that has ever been brought
together,” by George Miles in The Coinage of the Umayyads of Spain.
“No phase of the numismatic history of Spain and related countries has
The intact collection was considered unrivalled in some areas and
included coins dating to circa 225 B.C., coins from the Roman Empire,
coins from the Visigothic and Umayyad periods, and coins from more
The collection encompassed 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,” Wartenberg Kagan said a year ago when the
Sotheby’s sale was first reported. “The early Greek material is
heavily unresearched. ... The medieval material, nobody has ever
really looked at it.”
Thanks to the long-term loans, collectors will have greater access
to the coins (under the HSA loan agreement, access was severely
restricted), possibly leading to much wider understanding of the coins
than when they were held under the old ANS-HSA agreement.
The latest cluster of material from the collection to be loaned to
the ANS was bought by an anonymous benefactor, with the intervention
of Alain Baron of Geneva. The ANS praised Baron for arranging all
three purchases that are now on long-term loan.
Kagan said in a statement, “I am overjoyed that the Society has
two such good friends, who realized the importance of saving as much
as possible of this collection for the public.”
She told Coin World: “It takes guts to buy tens of
thousands of coins because they don’t know in great detail what
they’re getting. They know they’re buying Roman coins, Greek coins,
but you can see why Sotheby’s sold them in one lot.”
The latest loan includes approximately 5,923 bronze and silver
tokens from various European countries (circa 1300 to 1800), and 1,368
ancient bronze coins of Spain of the Pre-Roman period.
In May and June, an anonymous buyer purchased 19,206 of the
collection’s pieces (with an emphasis on the Visigothic coins) from
the consortium and placed them on long-term loan with the ANS.
The 26,500 coins now on loan to the ANS were acquired in private
treaty transactions by the society’s benefactors, according to
Wartenberg Kagan, and did not appear at public auction. So far, the
6,184 lots from the collection that have sold at public auction have
realized hammer prices estimated in U.S. funds at just over $16
million, in eight auctions.
The highlight of the Huntington coins to have sold at public
auction so far is the unique 1652 gold 8-escudo coin of Philip IV
struck at Pamplona, grading Very Fine+. It sold for a hammer price of
525,000 (about $681,539 U.S.).
London auction house Morton & Eden announced that it will
offer 571 lots of coins from Spanish colonies in the Americas in a
March 6 auction.
One highlight of that auction is the 1811 silver 8-real coin
struck in the name of Fernando VII at a provisional mint in the
village of Real de Catorce during the Mexican war of independence.
The coin, composed of .903 fine silver, weighs 30.49 grams and is
39 millimeters in diameter. Rather crude, the coin is nonetheless an
artifact of the struggle for freedom from Spain.
The example in the Morton & Eden auction has been mounted and
has various test marks, and is flat in parts but is otherwise Fine. It
has an estimate of £8,000 to £12,000 ($12,425 to $18,638 U.S.).
1701 silver 8-real coin
A few pieces now in the ANS collection, however, were obtained at auction.
The organization announced that it has acquired two rare 1701
silver 8-real coins of Philip V struck at the Seville Mint and using
the designs of his predecessor, Charles II.
These coins were initially sold in the June 26 Jesus Vico auction,
the first public auction of any Huntington coins, to a buyer who then
sold them to the ANS.
The winning buyer recognized the rarity of the coins, which are a
one-year type with only three currently known examples, according to
the ANS, which called the type “one of the world’s greatest crown
ANS Curator Robert W. Hoge said, “These 1701-dated coins feature
the mintmark and assayer’s mark (ensayo) on their obverse, with the
assayers’ mark either to the left (two known) or the right (one known)
of the crowned Spanish coat of arms.”
Lot 726, the unique coin with the mark to the right, was better
than Extremely Fine and realized a hammer price of 7,000 ($8,757
U.S.). Lot 727, one of two known, was classified as EF/Very Fine
condition and realized a hammer price of 6,000 ($7,506 U.S.).
The ANS’s purchase price remains undisclosed.
The anonymous benefactors who loaned the coins have also funded
work to create a complete online catalog of all available Huntington coins.
So far, ANS staff has placed 19,000 coins in their original boxes
and updated computer records.
Photographing all the Huntington coins is an ongoing program, with
almost 2,000 digital records of the coins added to the ANS’s database
cataloging the Huntington collection.
A few small exhibition projects featuring Huntington coins are
One of the most famous ancient coins, a silver Eid Mar (or Ides of
March) denarius of Caesar’s assassin Brutus, is on display in the
ancient galleries of the Metropolitan Museum.
The French town of Auriol (near Marseille) will mount an
exhibition about the famous Auriol Treasure of more than 2,100 archaic
silver coins, found in 1867, to which the ANS will send a number of
pieces from the Huntington Collection. Among the Huntington coins are
pieces from the Auriol Treasure.
“We will do our best to honor Archer Huntington’s intention of
keeping and publishing his amazing collection of coins,” Kagan said in
a statement. ■