Colonial America column from Jan. 23, 2017, issue of
There are all sorts of discoveries that inhabit numismatic dreams.
Instead of being strictly the realm of fantasy, these sorts of finds
really do happen.
The Garrett Collection, largely built before the 1888 passing of T.
Harrison Garrett, had been out of public sight and the general
numismatic consciousness for decades before its sale from 1979 to
1981. It had been the property of Johns Hopkins University since 1942,
stored in cabinets at the Evergreen House on the college’s campus in Baltimore.
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Many of the coins had been off the market for nearly a century,
including the New Jersey copper collection built by Dr. Edward Maris
himself. The Garrett provenance continues to be avidly sought out by
advanced collectors today.
The Stickney Collection was the Garrett Collection of its day, sold
in 1907, but mostly assembled before 1854, when Matthew A. Stickney
was one of the few advanced collectors in the United States. Stickney
started collecting about 1823, when things like Fugio coppers and
state coinage could still be found in circulation.
Stickney’s daughters kept his collection intact after his death in
1894, including rarities like his 1787 Brasher doubloon, which sold
for $6,200 when Henry Chapman auctioned his collection.
One of Stickney’s contemporaries, Jacob Giles Morris, died in 1854.
His descendants transferred his coins to the University of
Pennsylvania, which sold portions off in the 1950s and 1960s. Eric
Newman bought Morris’ Sommer Islands coins privately in 1958; when
they sold at auction in 2014, they had been in only two collections
for more than 160 years!
From 1983 to 1985, the last of the famous Virgil M. Brand Collection
of United States and world coins was finally dispersed, nearly 60
years after Brand died.
The U.S. coins, sold by Bowers and Merena, included many incredible
early American pieces, including a gem 1787 New York copper of the
Standing Indian type and a Continental brass dollar.
In 2006, I was lucky enough to be there when the last trunk of the
Norweb Collection arrived to be sold. Among the contents was a superb
collection of early American coins and medals depicting George
Washington, an assemblage that was first undertaken by Mrs. Emery May
Norweb’s grandfather Liberty Holden in the 19th century. Never has
dust smelled better.
More collections like these undoubtedly remain in family holdings,
museums, and bank vaults, just waiting to be discovered.