Huntington Collection takes long way back

‘Good friends’ loan bulk of Spanish coins back to ANS
Published : 02/18/13
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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 being practical.

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 private transactions.

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 been neglected.”

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 modern periods.  

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.”

Latest loan

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 series rarities.”

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.

Project updates

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 under way.

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. ■

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