US Coins

Solid values in numismatic literature

The market for numismatic literature is alive and well, as Kolbe & Fanning’s mail-bid and live online auction on April 28 realized over $110,000. 

As co-owner David Fanning said, “This was the most successful mail-bid sale we’ve had in the past few years. We had a very strong 184 registered bidders for a 500-lot sale.” 

He said that although the market for numismatic books has been a bit slow over the past several years as collectors adjust to the many works available online, buyers are coming back and starting to add to their collections once again. Fanning explained, “As people became more used to these online resources, most of them began to feel that there was a need for both printed matter and online content. Most people aren’t going to read an entire book on their screens.” 

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Fanning also said that researchers and hobbyists alike are recognizing the appeal of physical books. “It can be easier to use multiple books or catalogues when writing a coin description, for instance, than it can be to toggle back and forth between multiple screens using various programs or formats,” Fanning said, advising potential collectors looking to add to their libraries, “there is tremendous value in good numismatic books.”

The top lot was a complete set of Spink & Son’s monthly Numismatic Circular publication from 1892 to 2000, including the abbreviated Numismatic Circular List issues published during the war years. The publication is famous as the longest-running numismatic dealer publication. As the catalog description observed, “Much more than a simple fixed price list, the Numismatic Circular published substantive articles throughout its existence, featuring many important works primarily on ancient and British coins, but also on other areas.” 

As typically seen for such a long time span, with journals of various physical sizes, the sets were bound in several different binding supports, with the early issues bound in quarter morocco leather and the later issues in more economical cloth bindings. 

The set sold for a bid of $6,000 ($7,080 with the 18 percent buyer’s fee) against an estimate of $4,000. The cataloger wrote that it was the nicest that he had ever encountered, explaining, “Substantial runs of early volumes are infrequently offered; complete sets with the truncated war year issues are very rare. When encountered, they tend to be poorly preserved, with the larger-sized early volumes in particular being prone to encountering abuse over the years.” 

Like many lots in the sale, it came from the massive library of Chicago coin dealer William A. Burd. 

Capturing the Renaissance

Seymour De Ricci’s 1931 300-page The Gustave Dreyfus Collection II: Reliefs and Plaquettes was the top selling individual book in the sale, moving well-past its $2,000 estimate on its way to realizing $3,835. The key reference depicts 453 reliefs and plaquettes from the famous collection, which now resides in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., as part of the Samuel H. Kress Collection. 

Gustave Dreyfus (1837 to 1914) was an insatiable collector. His executors sold his collection of Renaissance plaques and medals in 1930 to the famed Duveen Brothers Inc., who operated in London, New York, and Paris. Kress would purchase the Dreyfus works over the subsequent decades. 

The Dreyfus Collection catalog was published in three volumes: the subject work, another by De Ricci devoted to the bronzes, and George Hill’s book on the collection’s medals. Kolbe & Fanning stated, “The limited initial printings and concentration of copies in institutional holdings combine to make the appearance at sale of any of the three volumes a noteworthy occasion.” 

Among the illustrations is a bronze plaque cataloged in 1931 as by Florentine Italian Renaissance sculptor Donatello (1386 to 1466). The nearly 9-inch plaque, Madonna and Child with Four Angels, dating to circa 1456, was acquired by Dreyfus in 1872 from the collection of Louis-Charles Timbal. Duveen Brothers sold it to Kress in 1944 as a Donatello and the Samuel H. Kress Foundation donated it to the National Gallery in 1957. Recent scholarship suggests that it was designed by Donatello but executed by another hand.

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Another multi-volume highlight was a set of 24 Stack’s auctions of the John J. Ford collections from 2003 to 2013, in original matching maroon cloth, gilt bindings with embossed covers and decorative endpapers. Within those catalogs are 6,452 pages covering a massive 15,284 lots. 

The description observes, “The production values exhibited by the catalogues themselves are exceeded only by the depth of numismatic scholarship contained therein. They will long remain indispensable to scholars, collectors, and dealers interested in the truly fascinating world of American numismatics that lies beyond dates and mintmarks.” 

The set sold within expectations and realized $2,242. 

Kolbe & Fanning’s summer sale is set for July 14 and will be entirely devoted to American numismatic material. 

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