US Coins

Bass Foundation moving collection from ANA Money Museum

The magnificent coin collection of Harry W. Bass Jr. that has been a leading attraction at the American Numismatic Association’s Edward C. Rochette Money Museum at its Colorado Springs, Colorado, headquarters since October 2000 will be leaving this summer.

The U.S. gold coins and patterns — valued in excess of $50 million — will be returning to the Harry W. Bass Jr. Foundation and are set to be sold at a future auction. Perhaps the highlight is the only complete collection of Indian Head gold $3 coins, including a unique 1870-S example, alongside a set of virtually all known die varieties of early (1795 to 1894) U.S. gold coin dominations and a spectacular group of U.S. pattern coins.

F. David Calhoun, executive director and a trustee of the Harry W. Bass Jr. Foundation, said the foundation’s board of directors recently made the decision to deaccession the Harry Bass Core Collection to allow it to focus on funding Dallas-area nonprofit organizations, with specific emphasis on early childhood education and literacy programs.

Researcher and Professional Coin Grading Service co-founder John Dannreuther will represent the foundation in managing the sale of the collection, with the ANA stating, “Dannreuther will handle review and selection of an auction house and third-party grading service, along with other ancillary issues.”

Calhoun told Coin World that Dannreuther was selected because of his familiarity with the collection. Dannreuther published Early U.S. Gold Coin Varieties: A Study of Die States, 1795–1834, in 2006, built on the original notes made by Bass. Calhoun added that Dannreuther was “eminently qualified and independent,” but Calhoun could not provide a sense of the timeline beyond the removal of the collection from the ANA galleries in June.

He said in the ANA’s press release, “The decision was bittersweet. I’ve been associated with Harry’s collection since the 1970s. But this move will allow us to more than double our annual philanthropy budget. For a lot of nonprofits we’ve had to say ‘no’ to previously, we’ll now be able to say ‘yes’. Every cent that the core collection brings at auction will go to philanthropy.”

ANA beyond thankful

ANA executive director Kim Kiick added, “We are beyond thankful to the Foundation for allowing the ANA and the Money Museum to showcase this outstanding assemblage in a magnificent gallery these many years.”

The foundation worked with the ANA to design a space with vault-doors, and paid for the cases, floor and gold leaf ceiling, design choices dedicated to ensure that the Bass Collection was presented in the best light. Kiick noted in the ANA’s press release that the Bass Foundation has expressed interest in assisting the museum’s efforts to retrofit and redesign the current Bass Gallery for a new exhibit by way of a grant. In 2019 the foundation awarded the ANA two separate grants: $2,050 for an audit and $25,685.27 for insurance for the collection and Calhoun expected the tradition of grants to the ANA from the foundation to continue.

Calhoun praised the ANA as a wonderful partner and said that he had the utmost confidence that ANA curator Doug Mudd could use the ANA’s permanent collection with great rarities like the 1804 Draped Bust dollar and 1913 Liberty Head 5-cent coin to create a wonderful exhibit.

Led by Harry Bass Sr., the Bass family has created and developed numerous oil and gas interests spread across five states, and the Harry Bass foundation was established in 1945 to financially support Dallas institutions. Harry W. Bass Jr. created a second foundation in 1991 to extend his interest in numismatics. Following his death in 1998, the two foundations were merged, and the Bass Foundation chose the best of the best coins to form a “Core Collection” representing “premier examples of coins and patterns, including some unique items that are not to be found anywhere else for this permanent collection.”

The rest were put up for sale in a series of auctions by Bowers and Merena from 1999 to 2000 that realized more than $33 million.

Increasing its reach

The foundation’s publicly filed documents show a total fair market value of all assets at the end of year 2019 at $80,365,686, of which more than half was the value of the coin collection. It has historically distributed nearly $2 million per year to qualified organizations.

Calhoun said that it was a very difficult decision for the foundation’s board, but that the pandemic opened its eyes to how much need exists in their community and forced the board members to think about how best to use its resources to support its education-based mission. The monetization of the collection will at least double the amount that the foundation can distribute, at the bare minimum.

The most famous coin in the Bass Core Collection is the unique 1870-S Indian Head gold $3 piece, which last sold in 1982 at Bowers & Ruddy’s sale of the Louis E. Eliasberg Sr. Collection — called the U.S. Gold Coin Collection Sale — for $687,500, establishing a then-record price of a U.S. gold coin at auction. It has not been certified by a third-party grading service, and David Akers wrote in 1988 that it has the “pebbled” appearance of a coin that has been used as jewelry, observing “minor damage at the obverse rim below the bust, indicating that the coin probably was worn on a key chain or watch fob.” The numerals “893” are also scratched upside down into the reverse field above the wreath.

Its origins are mysterious, and it has an unusual S Mint mark, suggesting that the Mint mark was cut by hand into the die once it reached the San Francisco Mint from the Philadelphia Mint. It is assumed the issue is unique, and Akers explains, “The Superintendent of the San Francisco Mint indicated that only a single piece had been struck to be put into the cornerstone of the new mint building. However, a specimen appeared in the William H. Woodin Sale in 1911 and was claimed to be a duplicate of the coin in the cornerstone,” concluding that the coins are likely the same. PCGS currently estimates its grade at Extremely Fine 40 and places a value of $4 million on it in PCGS CoinFacts.

Another purchase from that 1982 Eliasberg auction is the Bass collection’s 1907 Saint-Gaudens, Ultra High Relief gold $20 double eagle that is one of around 15 known today and considered one of the most beautiful coins ever struck. A different example sold for $3.6 million last year. Among the top patterns is an 1879 Metric double eagle pattern — a “Quintuple Stella” — that was part of an international coin proposal that was not adapted. This one is struck in bronze and then gilt to look like it was struck on a gold planchet. It is listed as Judd 1644 in the pattern reference.

Heritage noted in its sale of a different example more than a decade ago, for $207,000, “No design of the era more clearly reflects the desire on the part of certain individuals and groups to modify U.S. coinage to an internationally agreeable, convenient format based on metric measures.”

A collection’s legacy

2015 ANA Young Numismatist of the Year Steven Roach (no relation to the author) served as an intern at the ANA museum from 2015 to 2017 and was largely focused on the Bass Collection in his work. He shared, “I loved giving tours of the exhibit and highlighting select coins that you truly couldn’t see elsewhere. Part of my morning routine was to clean the Bass gallery, and I remember cleaning the gold $3 coin’s case and thinking to myself as to why someone would carve ‘893’ on the unique 1870-S. Wondering if perhaps one day I’ll figure that out. My favorite memory with the Bass collection was when I held the 1907 Saint-Gaudens Ultra High Relief. The Bass Gallery had a great run and educated many; now with the sale of these coins, more people will benefit from the good fortune brought by Harry W. Bass Jr.”

A group of 30 patterns from the Bass Foundation were also offered by Heritage at the 2014 ANA World’s Fair of Money auction.

The collection will live on online and in the resulting auction catalog. ANA past president Jeff Garrett leads a 42-minute tour of the gallery at the ANA’s YouTube channel, and the Bass Foundation’s website has high-quality images and historical notes on the coins in the Core Collection.

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