US Coins

Collector behind collection: David Walsh famous for many reasons

Collector David Walsh, whose silver tetradrachm of Syracuse established a record price when it sold at auction recently, may be better known for other aspects of his life beyond the coin hobby.

Walsh funded and stocked the controversial and cutting-edge Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia. To do so, Walsh used a fortune he established through gambling, by harnessing technology to model bets. 

The coin sold May 26 in Zurich established, barely, a new record price for a Greek silver coin at auction.

The circa 405 to 400 B.C. coin, engraved by famed die artist Kimon, realized 2,737,000 Swiss francs (about $3,052,750 U.S.), including the 19 percent buyer’s fee. The coin was part of the David Walsh Collection, which composed auction No. 77 by Numismatic Ars Classica.

Walsh’s love of coins can be traced back to his youth, when he visited museums in Tasmania regularly. Though Walsh was exposed to Roman coins, he gravitated toward Greek coins, as “each contains a resource I readily exploited: a history lesson, a piece of propaganda ... the birth of the West held in my hand,” Walsh wrote in an introduction to the catalog.

Walsh collected the coins between 1998 and 2006, the endpoint of his collecting being about the time he began planning the Museum of Old and New Art, reportedly a $75 million venture.  

The coins were on display at Museum of Old and New Art, a “big museum back in my little town. We displayed them spectacularly, not in some academic backwater, but in a feature cabinet, befitting their majesty.”

However, he decided to sell the coins because of the “travails of finance” and the fact that he was “no longer visiting them every Sunday.” 

In the auction catalog foreword, NAC's Roberto Russo endorsed Walsh’s decision, saying: “Coins should be touched, studied and loved. When this comes to an end, the coins stop ‘living’ and the moment has rightly come to part with them.”

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