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NNP Blog

Feb 11 2019

The 1991 EAC Midnight Sale

What happens when numismatists and bibliophiles have an informal gathering? Compelled to memorialize minutiae – what the American Numismatic Society (ANS) motto calls “the little things” – we occasionally see works created that seem disproportionate to the import of the actual event. We’ll see why that’s not actually true, case in point being the 1991 EAC “Midnight Sale,” a work recently scanned at the ANS under the sponsorship of Newman Portal. Ostensibly an auction catalog, but in reality a lovingly produced paean to the fellowship of colonial coin collectors, this document well conveys the convivial conclave that occurred in a hotel room in the early hours of April 28, 1991, during the Early American Coppers annual convention. 

Billed as “worth getting out of bed for,” the 24½ lot sale catalog (24 lots of Connecticut cents, the lone Vermont copper meriting only “half” a lot) features at least one page per lot with several full page photographs. Walter Breen was enlisted for the technical descriptions, and, whatever you think of Breen, there is no question that the man knew his Connecticut coppers. These descriptions were presented in Walter’s familiar handwriting on “Howard Johnson” lot tickets, just the first sign of a low-brow affair. The “terms and conditions” of the sale only reinforce the jocular mood, representing what every auction house wishes they could put in their boilerplate, but are prevented from doing so by the attorneys. “Under no condition shall bidding proceed in chronological order,” or “This is a clean auction. No smoking, no drinking, no drugs, no….never mind, the cops are gone. Do what you want.” In contrast to standard practice, the catalog itself was produced only after the sale, and even then distanced by several years. Most of the lots sold for under $100.

This document, though farcical on its face, well relates the spirit of the era. These collectors enjoyed coins, they enjoyed spending time with each other, and they were clever authors who could recreate the repartee in writing. Next to a time machine, this auction catalog is about the closest one can get to what must have been a rip roarin’ good time. Lot commentary, following the technical notes, well conveys the mood. “We don’t know how this Vermont slipped in, and we do apologize for it. However, we note that researcher Gary Trudgen has not written an article on this variety which makes us suspect that it is even less interesting that we originally thought.” All in all the work is a message to present collectors, that scholarship and stoogery (to “coin” a word) need not be mutually exclusive. 

Link to The Midnight Sale: https://archive.org/details/midnightsalepriv00ring/page/2

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