US Coins

Latest Sydney F. Martin Collection sale brings $3.8 million

The Sydney F. Martin Collection’s offerings at Stack’s Bowers Galleries continue to impress, with the latest installment on Aug. 19 as part of the firm’s Global Showcase Auction, as an Auctioneer Partner of the ANA World’s Fair of Money, bringing $3,817,668. The total for the four Syd Martin installments now approaches $15 million, reflecting the exceptional collecting acumen of that enthusiastic Colonial Coin Collectors Club (C4) member and former American Numismatic Society president.

Leading the offering was the $180,000 achieved for a 1758 Louisbourg Taken gold medal, classified as Betts-410 in C. Wyllys Betts’s book American Colonial History Illustrated by Contemporary Medals. The price was an improvement on the $74,750 it realized at Stack’s in 2009. Graded Mint State 63 by Professional Coin Grading Service, the rare medal commemorated the beginning of the end of French Canada. Struck with nearly sculptural relief and high rims that frame the design, it is considered one of the most historically significant of the French and Indian War medals struck in England. Many of the copper and silver examples are found with hangers or are holed for suspension, suggesting that rather than being a commemorative medal, they may have served as a military decoration.

The design by Thomas Pingo features complex narrative elements. The obverse legend “Partier in Bella” translates to “together in war,” celebrating the cooperation between the army and navy, here represented by a standing grenadier and hatted sailor. A globe crushes a defeated female depiction of France, “her fleur-de-lis upside down and cast out of reach to the ground, barely hanging on to the edge of the continent,” while Fame blows a trumpet, celebrating victory. The reverse shows the harbor of the fortified French city of Louisbourg (in present day Nova Scotia) and the British navy’s burning of the French 74-gun ship the Prudent in the early hours of July 26, 1758. It was one of five Betts medals struck in gold that Martin acquired during his collecting journey.

Connecticut coppers

A tribute by C4 president Christopher R. McDowell in the catalog called Martin’s collection of Connecticut coppers “the greatest ever formed,” and said that it was the collector’s favorite area. The most expensive of the Connecticut coppers on offer was certainly not the most attractive, but the landmark 1787 Miller 1.4-WW piece, as cataloged in Henry Clay Miller’s book The State Coinage of Connecticut, is one of only two known, with the seated figure facing to the right.

It was graded Fine 12 by PCGS and featured dark olive brown surfaces, with some granularity on hard and glossy surfaces. “Clearly struck from faulty dies that were probably poorly made and failed right away, contributing to the great rarity of this variety,” it was the discovery coin for the variety by Lyman Low in 1884, published two years later by Betts, and has been featured in many other important references. It sold for $99,000 on Aug. 19, less than the $164,500 it achieved at Heritage’s May 16, 2014, offering of the Eric P. Newman collection, where it was similarly graded but in a Numismatic Guaranty Corp. holder.

Rare (1652) NE shilling

Another piece in the recent Martin offering with a long provenance was the “Cleneay Specimen” of the undated (1652) NE shilling that was offered in S.H. and H. Chapman’s December 1890 sale of the Thomas Cleneay Collection. Graded Very Fine 35 by PCGS and listed as Noe 2-A and Salmon 2-B in the reference books to early Massachusetts coins, it is one of a dozen known of this variety of the early New England issue. Around 65 examples are known in total of the six distinct NE shilling varieties, made using three different states of the same NE punch and four different XII denomination punches. Stack’s Bowers reports that 22 of the 65 known examples are in museum collections, and with five of the Noe 2-A examples in museums including two in the ANS, only seven are available for collectors today.

The cataloger here observes, “The surfaces roll, perfectly uneven as made, and are wonderfully original in preservation with a soft mottling of pearl and pewter-gray toning that reveals undertones of pale powder blue and champagne-gold as the coin dips into a light,” adding, “Blushes of deeper olive-russet engage the letters, Roman numerals and inner edges of the punches, as well as the raised vertical element along the lower obverse border.” The reverse has some light scratches, called “ancient marks, well-blended with the toning,” that “fade to nearly invisible as the reverse turns away from direct lighting.” It realized $78,000, providing a lucky collector with an opportunity to get an example of this coveted type — considered the first metallic currency struck in the Thirteen American Colonies — for under six figures.

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