US Coins

Heritage to auction Harry W. Bass Jr. Core Collection

Heritage Auctions will offer the Harry Bass Jr. Core Collection, a massive collection valued at more than $60 million that includes many rare U.S. gold coins and notable patterns, in a series of auctions “beginning in the fall,” according to a July 13 press release from Heritage.

The collection has been on display at the Edward C. Rochette Money Museum at the American Numismatic Association’s headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for more than 20 years.

Harry W. Bass Jr. was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, in 1927, the son of an oil and gas producer with interests across five states. He moved to Dallas with his family in 1932.

His “principal interest,” as journalists in the late 1950s described them, were “oil, politics, and skiing.” Bass managed multiple family firms and was involved in Republican politics..

In 1955, one of Bass’ friends introduced him to numismatics, asking him to acquire rolls of 1955-D Washington quarter dollars, thinking they would appreciate in value. One of his first personal acquisitions was an 1803 Capped Bust gold $10 eagle, purchased in New Orleans in 1965. Over the following decades, he assembled an impressive library and a complete set of gold $3 coins, including the unique 1870-S Indian Head $3 coin; a complete collection of U.S. gold type coins from 1795 to 1933; and a set of what a page at the ANA’s site describes as “virtually all known die varieties of early U.S. gold coin denominations in the finest condition.”

According to Heritage, many of the coins in the Bass Core Collection “trace their lineage to the heralded auction of Louis E. Eliasberg Sr.’s gold coin collection in 1982. All are uncertified or ungraded.”

Bass coins not from the core collection have previously been offered at auction.

In a 1997 statement, Bass described his collecting: “Having accumulated since 1966, some 10,000+ numismatic items have passed through my hands.”

Bass joined the ANA in 1966 and was elected as an associate member of the American Numismatic Society the same year. His presentation on U.S. federal gold coins to the ANS’s Coinage of the Americas Conference in 1989 was accompanied by an exhibit of more than 1,500 coins, which Bass described as a “realization of my lifelong dream, the culmination of my efforts to build a collection that merits being shown at the American Numismatic Society to a gathering of preeminent colleagues.”

From 1978 to 1984, he served as president of the ANS.

He won the ANA Medal of Merit in 1989, and was inducted into its Numismatic Hall of Fame in 1998, the year he passed away.

In 2000, the ANA was selected to exhibit the Bass collection. It was the “centerpiece” of the Rochette  Museum for more than 20 years, according to a page on the ANA website.

Many of the coins have been off the market for decades, with the upcoming auctions offering many interested collectors their first opportunity to acquire the pieces.

The Harry W. Bass Jr. Foundation was established after his death with the 1991 merger of the Harry Bass Foundation by Harry Bass Sr., established in 1945, and the Harry W. Bass Jr. Research Foundation, established “as an extension of the younger Mr. Bass’s great interest in the study of numismatics and his desire to engage in significant philanthropic endeavors in several different areas.” Per the Heritage press release, the foundation supports more than four dozen “qualified 501(c)(3) organizations” in the Dallas area, focused mainly on “youth and education.”

Depending on results of the sales, the foundation hopes to increase its annual giving from $2 million to “at least” $5 million.

The foundation’s board of trustees voted to sell the collection earlier this year. Competition to handle the collection among what the press release describes as “several internationally renowned auction houses” resulted in the choice of Heritage to handle the collection.

Heritage, like the foundation, is headquartered in Dallas.

F. John Calhoun, the foundation’s executive director, reflected on the potential impact of money generated by the sales: “We’ve had to say no to so many deserving groups, and with the sale of this collection, we can now expand our funding and reach a lot more people. The pandemic has exposed how much need there is. It has been a very trying and challenging time for the nonprofit sector, especially in education, and it has magnified many times the needs of the underserved populations of Dallas.”

U.S. gold coin expert John Dannreuther is managing the deaccession, hired by the foundation’s board of trustees to, among other things, select the auction house and choose third-party graders. Heritage is soliciting proposals from Professional Coin Grading Service, Numismatic Guaranty Co., and Certified Acceptance Corp. for the grading and marketing of the Bass Jr. Core Collection.

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