After more than 150 years of residence in the Royal Mint Museum collection, 11 coins from a 24-coin double set of Proof 1859 United States coins donated that year by Baltimore professor John Alexander are crossing the auction block.
The coins will be offered individually.
Alexander was about to become the director of the Philadelphia Mint at the time of his death in 1867.
Alexander’s donation did not include examples of the Proof 1859 Coronet $20 double eagle.
Morton & Eden Ltd. received the Royal Mint Museum consignment. That firm, in association with Sotheby’s, will offer it at auction March 6 at the auction premises of Sotheby’s. The sale will be conducted in the Upper Grosvenor Gallery in The Aeolian Hall, Bloomfield Place, on New Bond Street in London.
The museum’s trustees approved deaccessioning the 11 coins to help finance future acquisitions for the museum’s collection.
The Proof 1859 coins were displayed for many years at the Royal Mint on Tower Hill in London. The collection has been housed at the Mint’s home since 1968 at Llantrisant, Wales.
Alexander’s donation comprised two examples each of the Indian Head cent, silver 3-cent coin, Seated Liberty half dime, Seated Liberty dime, Seated Liberty quarter dollar, Seated Liberty half dollar, Seated Liberty dollar, Indian Head gold dollar, Coronet $2.50 quarter eagle, Coronet $5 half eagle and Coronet $10 eagle.
However, the sale will be conducted sans any Indian Head gold $3 coin, because only one of the two examples remains in the collection and the museum is retaining that piece.
The 11 Proof 1859 coins to be offered at public auction March 6, as well as the 12 coins being retained by the museum, were certified and encapsulated by Professional Coin Grading Service sometime in 2012, according to Morton & Eden.
The 11 Proof 1859 coins being offered at auction include the top graded Proof Coronet half eagle and Proof Coronet eagle from 1859.
The 11 coins, along with their grades assigned by PCGS, are:
??1859 Indian Head cent, PCGS Proof 65.
??1859 3-cent silver coin, PCGS Proof 63.
??1859 Seated Liberty half dime, PCGS Proof 64.
??1859 Seated Liberty dime, PCGS Proof 65.
??1859 Seated Liberty quarter dollar, PCGS Proof 64.
??1859 Seated Liberty half dollar, one of a reported mintage of 800 coins, many of which went unsold and were melted, PCGS Proof 64.
??1859 Seated Liberty dollar, one of a reported mintage of 800 coins, PCGS Proof 64.
??1859 Indian Head gold dollar, recorded mintage of 80 pieces, with 15 to 20 pieces believed extant. PCGS Proof 64 Cameo.
??1859 Coronet quarter eagle, recorded mintage of 80 pieces, with extant estimates ranging from eight to 20 survivors, PCGS Proof 65 Cameo.
??1859 Coronet half eagle, finest known, mintage of 80 from which seven to 10 pieces are believed extant; only three 1859 Proof half eagles are reported to have appeared at auction since 1982, PCGS Proof 65+ Cameo.
??1859 Coronet eagle: Finest known of 80 recorded struck, with most believed by researchers to have been unsold and subsequently melted; estimates suggest eight to 12 pieces survive. PCGS Proof 65 Cameo.
Alexander had become intrigued by the subject of weights and measures while in his early 30s — an interest that would serve him well in his efforts toward a uniform currency, according to Morton & Eden.
His 1845 work, Standards of Weights and Measures for the State of Maryland, included a treatise on the origins of Anglo-Saxon weights and measures, incorporating a digest of all pertinent legislation in England from the earliest times, and subsequently the United States.
While involved with the development of Maryland standards, Alexander amassed extensive data for the 1850 publication of his reference, A Universal Dictionary of Weights and Measures: Ancient and Modern, opening the door for his uniform currency proposals,
Alexander, whose proposals for the “Unification of Coinage” were first considered by Congress in 1855, had been appointed in 1857 as the U.S. delegate to the British Commission on Decimalized Coinage.
At the time, prospects of a decimalized coinage system were under heavy consideration. The florin, or tenth of a pound, had served as the first salvo when it was introduced in 1849.
Alexander promoted, according to the Morton & Eden auction catalog, “a hybrid, decimal-influenced system of coinage parity, where the weights and finenesses of all U.S. and British gold, silver and copper/bronze would be slightly adjusted as might be necessary to produce uniformity.”
Under the proposal, the British gold sovereign and U.S. $5 half eagle would become interchangeable, as would the silver florin and silver half dollar, and would require a refinement making 250 pence (instead of 240 as in use in 1857) equivalent to £1, or $5.
“Even though the Spectator reported Alexander’s contention that ‘all violent changes are here avoided,’ there was tacit acknowledgement that there would be casualties, particularly, perhaps, the gold $3, which the Professor thought ‘an excrescence upon our system,’ ” according to the Morton & Eden auction catalog.
A pamphlet titled International Coinage for Great Britain and the United States, published in 1855, and reprinted in Oxford, England, two years later, examines the analytic consideration Alexander gave to an international uniform currency.
Alexander’s target was to equalize the pound sterling and the half eagle — a measure that would be convenient in the long term for both nations if temporary inconveniences could be overcome.
The closing paragraph of Alexander’s 1857 Oxford version of his Inquiry foreshadowed the United States experimentation with the $4 gold Stella by two decades, according to Morton & Eden.
“If the present suggestions, or some modification of them, be adopted, the two great branches of the Saxon family will realize ... the establishment of one Weight, one Measure, and one Money, first for themselves, and then for all the world,” Alexander wrote.
Treasury Secretary Howell Cobb, in his 374-page State of the Finances Report for the year ending June 30, 1859, presented during the first session of the 36th Congress, submitted the results of efforts toward an international uniform currency by Alexander under appointment from the Treasury Department.
“Whilst the efforts of Mr. Alexander have not been attended with all the success we could have desired, they have opened the way for a future and more extended prosecution of the matter,” Cobb said in the report.
Despite the setbacks, Alexander’s initiatives met with broad approval in the United States.
At the time of his death at age 55 from pneumonia, on March 2, 1867, Alexander was waiting to become director of the U.S. Mint, to succeed William Millward of Pennsylvania.
With Alexander’s death, another Pennsylvanian, Henry R. Linderman, was named to the presidentially appointed post of U.S. Mint director. Linderman served from April 1867 to April 1869, and again from April 1873 to December 1878, with James Pollock serving the period in between.
In a biographical memoir of Alexander read in Washington, D.C., before the National Academy of Sciences on April, 18, 1872, J.E. Hildegard would recall: “He returned without having effected any arrangements, the opposing interest of the bankers being, in his opinion, the principal obstacle to unification, or even assimilation of the coinage of the two countries. His views met with due appreciation at home, and he was about to be appointed Director of the Mint in Philadelphia, in 1867, when death prematurely put an end to his career.”