US Coins

Monday Morning Brief for March 9, 2020: Win-win for hobby

The purchase of the bulk of the Baker Collection of George Washington medals and tokens by Dwight Manley is both a personal win and a win for the numismatic community.

Original images courtesy Stack’s Bowers Galleries.

Museums are repositories for knowledge, built around varied collections that chart our world and the broader universe, including mankind’s many contributions to science, art and commerce, including coins and other related numismatic materials.

Good museums use their collections to educate the public through exhibits. Those same collections also serve researchers as they seek to expand our understanding of history and nature. Collections at major museums usually are not static; they are expanded as new acquisitions arrive through research expeditions, purchases, donations and other sources.

Donations to museums often come with provisos that the donated material be kept in the recipient museum’s collection forever. That was what William Spohn Baker demanded when on Nov. 15, 1897, he donated his remarkable collection of George Washington medals and tokens to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

As Paul Gilkes writes here this week, that collection languished in storage at the museum for more than a century. When museum officials decided that the collection no longer fulfilled any real function, it decided to sell the collection at auction and to use the money collected to further other aspects deemed more appropriate to its mission. Court and state approval were required to do so.

When Coin World reported on the sale several months ago, I had mixed feelings about the society’s decision. Breaking up the greatest collection of Washington numismatic material ever assembled was to be regretted. On the other hand, collectors were being given the rare opportunity to acquire medals and tokens that had been unavailable for more than a century — a good thing.

Now, we know that most of the collection remains intact, thanks to collector and professional numismatist Dwight Manley, who spent millions of dollars buying the vast majority of the collection for his personal collection, which he will share with the collecting public through an exhibit at the American Numismatic Association Museum in Colorado.

This is a win-win for the hobby. The collection was removed from a museum that had no use for it and most of it went into the hands of a master numismatic showman (Manley was instrumental in the traveling Ship of Gold exhibit from the SS Central America). We all look forward to seeing what the ANA will do with the collection when it goes on exhibit in a few years.

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