George Washington’s gold coin heads to auction
- Published: Jun 15, 2018, 9 AM
What is identified as being a unique 1792 George Washington gold $10 eagle pattern that the nation’s first president is said to have carried around in his pants pocket will be displayed publicly before crossing the auction block in August during the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money in Philadelphia.
The pattern was exhibited in its first public pre-auction showing since 1890 beginning June 14 at the Long Beach Coin and Collectibles Expo in Long Beach, California. The coin is also to be exhibited in New York and Chicago before going to auction in Philadelphia.
The pattern is to be sold by Heritage Auctions, with the net proceeds to benefit numismatic research and the philanthropic initiatives of the Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society. Numismatic Guaranty Corp. graded the pattern Extremely Fine 45 Star, with the NGC Star Designation indicating exceptional eye appeal.
Newman considered the piece his favorite numismatic item. He died in 2017 at the age of 106, having assembled the most extensive numismatic collection during more than seven decades of collecting.
The August sale will be only the third time in the gold pattern’s existence for it to be offered at public auction.
Inside Coin World: Mint’s heritage assets are slowly coming to light Some of the U.S. Mint’s greatest treasures, its “heritage assets,” are slowly coming out of the vaults and into the open for collectors to marvel over.
According to Heritage catalogers, research strongly suggests the 1792 Washington President gold eagle was expressly struck for, presented to, and carried by George Washington.
Further, according to Heritage, a 1792 letter to Washington, located in 2010, provides compelling evidence that the pattern was struck for Washington in Newburyport, Massachusetts, by polymath Jacob Perkins, rather than in England as previously believed.
“The Washington President gold eagle is both unique and monumentally important, being the earliest gold pattern submitted for consideration as a United States coin,” said Jim Halperin, co-founder of Heritage Auctions, which will auction the coin in August for the first time in 128 years. “Numismatic researchers widely agree that it is almost certainly George Washington’s own pocket piece.”
In both 1875 and 1890, its only previous public auction appearances, the gold coin was described as likely struck for Washington and carried by him. When the New York Coin & Stamp Company handled the Lorin G. Parmelee Collection in June 1890, the Washington gold piece served as the cover art and appeared as lot 618. It realized $220.
In 1933, “Col.” E.H.R. Green, son of “Witch of Wall Street” Hetty Green, purchased it privately for more than $2,500, a princely sum in his day.
Newman acquired the coin in 1942 at an undisclosed price from the Green estate, and the gold piece has not changed hands since.
“Since Washington, only eight other collectors have owned this coin,” Halperin said. “One very fortunate individual is destined to be the next guardian of this quintessential prize, George’s Coin.”
After Washington, provenance research by Heritage senior cataloger Mark Borckardt traces ownership of the unique gold pattern to Virginia antiquarian, lawyer and politician Gustavus Adolphus Myers, whose family participated heavily in freemasonry in New York City, as did Washington, and the pattern likely came into the Myers family’s possession through those connections.
Myers’ 1855 letter to the scholarly British journal Notes and Queries indicates that he was in possession of the unique 1792 gold pattern at that time, but he may have acquired it much earlier, according to Borckardt’s research.
The gold piece eventually passed as a gift from Myers to Virginia banker Col. Mendes I. Cohen, although the date of the gift is not disclosed in the auction catalog description.
In October 1875, auctioneer Edward Cogan sold Cohen’s numismatic collection, which included the gold pattern.
The gold pattern realized $500.
The next identified owner was Parmelee, a Vermont businessman and advanced collector who likely acquired the gold pattern from numismatist Ebenezer Locke Mason, who had offered the pattern for sale for $500 in the June 1882 issue of Mason’s Coin Collectors’ Magazine.
In the magazine, the piece was advertised as a “1791 [sic] Washington cent, struck in gold,” since the piece bears no designated denomination.
Dewitt Sheldon Smith, president of the Smith Paper Company, was the next recorded owner of the gold pattern and held it until his death in 1908. Chicago beer baron Virgil M. Brand bought the pattern in 1908 from Smith’s estate along with the remainder of Smith’s extensive numismatic collection.
Armin William Brand of Chicago, Virgil’s youngest brother, was awarded the gold pattern as part of the share of his brother’s estate after Virgil’s death in 1926.
Armin Brand sold the pattern for $2,500 on June 27, 1933, to New York dealer Wayte Raymond, with the help of St. Louis, Missouri, dealer Burdette G. Johnson. Raymond quickly resold the pattern to Col. Green.
Green held the coin for just three years until his passing in 1936.
Newman, in partnership with Johnson, purchased much of Green’s numismatic holdings in 1942, including the gold pattern, after initially negotiating the purchase in 1939 of some Missouri paper money from Chase National Bank, which administered Green’s estate.
In a copyrighted, bylined article by Newman in the Jan. 29, 1975, issue of Coin World, Newman detailed the results of his research and impressions on the Washington gold piece.
“This coin is unique in that it was owned by George Washington,” Newman writes. “It is unique as the earliest gold pattern prepared for the United States coinage; and it is unique because only one example of the coin was made. What other American coin can command historical and numismatic respect of that magnitude?”
Newman’s research that culminated in the 1975 Coin World article suggested that the gold pattern was struck in Birmingham, England, as an eventual presentation piece, and not as an example of actual circulation production.
However, in 2010, research by numismatist John J. Kraljevich Jr., who writes the monthly Coin World column “Colonial America,” provided different evidence toward a different conclusion.
In the August 2010 issue of the ANA journal, The Numismatist, Kraljevich discusses a letter dated Feb. 18, 1792, from Nicholas Pike to President Washington, reading in part: “I have the honor to request your Acceptance of a Medal struck in my presence by an ingenious & reputable Gentleman, who also made the Die, which branch he can execute with great facility & dispatch, & which he will warrant to stand until defaced by usage.”
Kraljevich opines that the medal referenced in the Pike’s letter was the 1792 George Washington gold eagle pattern, and that the “ingenious & reputable gentleman” was Jacob Perkins of Newburyport, Massachusetts. Pike also resided in Newburyport.
“It would have been logical for Pike to be the intermediary in presenting the coin as he and Washington had previously corresponded: In 1788, upon receipt of Pike’s newly published System of Arithmetic, Washington responded with high praise, stressing his appreciation of it as an American product,” according to the Heritage auction narrative.
“Further supporting his argument is the existence of the obverse die for the Washington Born Virginia coin that was in the possession of descendants of Perkins. The uniformed bust of Washington is identical to the 1792 Washington President coins; the Hancock bust of Washington shows considerable differences,” the Heritage cataloger concluded.
Myers’ 1855 letter to Notes and Queries, reads in part: “I have a gold coin in my possession, a rough sketch of which I inclose [sic]; and which, although much worn, is still of the full value of the American eagle, namely, ten dollars. ... A very intelligent officer of the institution [the Philadelphia Mint] informed me, that he conjectured it was stamped in Birmingham. ... The coin in my possession was evidently intended for circulation.”
The published reply in part reads: “This American piece was struck at Birmingham by Hancock, an engraver of dies of considerable talent. [Several pieces are described]. These are all of copper, and were said to have been patterns for an intended coinage, but not approved.”
According to Heritage, “This reply, based on a ‘rough sketch,’ led to the belief that the coin was produced in England by Hancock, a misconception that has persisted until recently.”
A March 10, 1793, letter that Thomas Digges, an American-born freight operator living in England, penned to Thomas Jefferson refined the improper attribution and stated that Jonathan Gregory Hancock was the die sinker and that Obadiah Westwood’s mint was the manufacturer.
“However,” according to Heritage, “the Digges letter discussed the 1791 Small Eagle and Large Eagle coppers rather than the 1792 Washington President pieces.
“In the past, numismatic scholars compared the uniformed busts of Washington on the aforementioned 1791- and 1792-dated coins, and concluded they were identical and therefore produced by the same firm.
“However, close and careful observation of the busts reveals a great number of dissimilarities; thus a different producer was responsible for the 1792 George Washington President coins.”
The unique gold 1792 Washington President pattern differs decidedly in appearance also from the 1792 Washington President pattern designed by Peter Getz and struck in Philadelphia.
The Getz pattern depicts a portrait left of Washington in military garb with epaulets, with G. WASHINGTON PRESIDENT.I. inscribed around on the obverse, with date below. The reverse depicts a heraldic eagle, with UNITED STATES OF AMERICA around and 13 five-pointed stars scattered in the field above the eagle’s head.
On the unique 1792 Washington President pattern, the obverse features a portrait left of Washington in formal attire, WASHINGTON PRESIDENT inscribed around, without the G.
On the reverse, the eagle appears with wings unfurled pointed down, with an arc of 12 six-pointed stars along the top border and a single star directly above the eagle’s head. The eagle grasps a ribbon in its beak, with the ribbon inscribed incuse UNUM E. PLURIBUS.
The unique gold pattern bears the incuse edge inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
Eric Newman noted in his 1975 Coin World article that the unique 13-stars gold pattern was not in full conformity with the legislation submitted to the U.S. Senate on Dec. 21, 1791, and approved by that body Jan. 12, 1792.
According to Newman, “the bill provided for ‘an impression or representation of the head of the President of the United States for the time being, ***his initial*** his surname at length, the succession of the presidency numerically and the year of the coinage.’ ” The Getz pattern, in contrast, fulfilled all of the proposed legislation’s design requirements.
By April 2, 1792, the act establishing the United States Mint was fully enacted and all design elements relating to the president had been eliminated.
Newman’s son, Andy, summed up his father’s connection to the gold pattern this way.
“To my father, George Washington and Ben Franklin were personal heroes,” Andy Newman said. “He considered Washington’s refusal that our country’s first coinage depict his own image on it to be an emblematic example of Washington’s profound humility and willingness to put country before self.”
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