US Coins

Kolbe & Fanning offer Scott Rubin collection of auction catalogs

A virtually complete run of Stack’s and Stack’s Bowers Galleries catalogs from 1935 to 2020 carries the top estimate at Kolbe & Fanning Numismatic Booksellers’ Auction 157, presenting a “Catalogue of Catalogues” from esteemed researcher P. Scott Rubin.

All images courtesy of Kolbe & Fanning Numismatic Booksellers.

An Oct. 24 auction that Kolbe & Fanning Numismatic Booksellers is calling a “Catalogue of Catalogues” will include highlights from an extraordinary library of American coin catalogs published between 1851 and 2020, collected over the course of more than 50 years by researcher P. Scott Rubin.

David Fanning notes that the “Rubin Library is the most extensive and wide-ranging library of American coin catalogues to be offered in many years — and perhaps ever,” dedicating the catalog to Jack Collins, whose July 4, 1987, “Catalogue of Catalogues” provided the inspiration for the current sale.

Fanning explained that the Rubin library is remarkable for several reasons. “For one, it is focused almost exclusively on American auction catalogues. These are not always catalogues of American coins, but the vast majority of the catalogues within were published in the United States. When foreign auction catalogues are included, it is because they include notable American coins.”

He added, “While a library with such strictly defined parameters may seem to be very tightly focused, Scott has long considered anything that fell within these limitations to be fair game.”

Rubin began collecting auction catalogs in the 1960s, and many catalogs were sent directly to him by their publishers. The collector recently found one with his college dorm room’s address.

Fanning said, “The Rubin library of coin catalogues has served as a resource for many people over the years. Individuals, auction houses, grading services and institutions have continued to make regular use of the library even today, when it seems to many that everything is online.”

When asked about the value of physical libraries when so much seems to be online, Fanning said, “In fact, it is doubtful whether half of the catalogues in the Rubin library are online. In addition, keyword searches rely upon accurate recognition of printed characters by the software used. As regular users of older catalogues have come to realize, the accuracy of the character-recognition software in reading older catalogues is inconsistent.”

Many of the Rubin catalogs are annotated by people who attended the sales in person, containing unique information, with Fanning explaining, beyond the research value, “many people collect numismatic literature as a hobby in itself, preserving the history of the hobby in the same way that they preserve the coins of yesterday regardless of their utility as money.”

Complete runs

A comprehensive run of Stack’s and Stack’s Bowers Galleries catalogs from 1935 to 2020 carries the top estimate of $7,500. The set is complete through at least May 2003, and is missing only a few catalogs issued since then, with a high percentage of sales including their original prices realized list.

John W. Adams wrote in his 1990 book United States Numismatic Literature, Volume II, that “the Stack’s enterprise has evolved into perhaps the most successful coin dealership in the country,” calling the catalogs,” a quasi-official record of contemporary American numismatics and trends therein.

Fanning adds, “The significance of the Stack’s sales as a numismatic resource is difficult to overstate. Anyone engaging in serious research in the field of American numismatics, ranging from colonials to United States large cents, from proof gold to rare paper currency, will find the collected Stack’s catalogues to be an indispensable storehouse of numismatic information.”

Another massive lot is a comprehensive run of 720 Heritage Auctions catalogs from 1983 to 2019 that includes about 96 percent of the firm’s sales including the “Bullet” sales that continued through 2015, alongside some non-numismatic catalogs that include numismatic content. For those curious, Fanning reports that the lot weighs approximately 1,000 pounds and will require around 40 boxes to pack, before adding, “This lot, combined with the Stack’s and Bowers sales in the Rubin Library, would go a long way toward providing a history of commercial numismatics in the United States in the modern era.”

Early plated catalogs

Beyond comprehensive, single-firm catalog runs are some noteworthy single catalogs like S.H. and H. Chapman’s Dec. 9 to 14, 1890, 104-page offering of the collection of Thomas Cleneay that includes 12 fine tinted photographic plates with tissue guards and a prices realized list laid in. The Chapmans praised Cleneay — who started collecting around 1840 — as “an ardent lover of the science of Numismatics, and a highly-esteemed citizen.”

The Chapmans added, “His aim was to secure specimens of all the United States series (in) either proof or uncirculated condition.” They called the offering “the most nearly complete collection of United States coins ever offered.”

Notable are the plates, which Fanning describes as “tinted in colors to approximate their metallic content.” separated as follows: “I–ancient Greek, Roman and foreign gold coins; II–American colonial silver and copper coins; III–United States and pioneer gold; IV–United States silver dollars; V–Gobrecht and later dollars and United States half dollars; VI–United States quarter dollars; VII–United States dimes and half dimes; VIII & IX–large cents; X–large cents and half cents; XI–silver historical medals; XII–copper colonials and foreign coins.”

Perhaps most impressive is that examples of this catalog issued before the sale were bound only in paper covers, and subsequently rebound by their owners. The subject offering is in its original gilt-printed white paper covers and carries an estimate of $1,500.

Edward Cogan’s June 23 to 24, 1869, Catalogue of Coins and Medals: The Property of Mortimer Livingston Mackenzie, Esq., is considered the first plated U.S. numismatic auction catalog. Some of the 770 lots are illustrated within five photographic plates It is estimated at $750.

Rubin’s collecting was informed by the bibliographical work of Martin Gengerke, whose American Numismatic Auctions provided “the most comprehensive guide to collecting that one could wish for,” according to Fanning. Gengerke’s compilation aims to include every single auction catalog ever published in the United States that includes even a single numismatic lot, with his latest edition including over 15,000 entries.

Fanning concluded that Rubin’s library includes over 10,000 of that 15,000, writing, “While most of us would consider this to be an astonishing achievement, I imagine Scott regards the remaining 5,000 with a wistful eye, even if most of them are poorly printed and unillustrated listings of commonplace coins by forgettable dealers.”

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