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Sep 08 2019

The Gold St. Patrick Pieces

In processing Eric P. Newman’s Bowers & Merena archive box we ran across some interesting correspondence related to the gold St. Patrick pieces. Two pieces are known, one authentic and one fake. The unquestioned piece was presented in Ford VII (Stack’s 1/2005, lot 2, realized $184,000) and bears a sterling provenance dating back to the UK in the late 18th century. The fake piece appeared in Norweb II (Bowers & Merena, 3/1988, lot 2386) where it was described as “controversial” and sold “as is.” 

John Kleeberg later wrote of the false piece, in Newby’s St. Patrick Coinage (proceedings of the 2006 ANS Coinage of Americas Conference, published in 2009). Kleeberg states that Emery Norweb was upset with John J. Ford, Jr. over his refusal to sell her the genuine piece from the Boyd collection, and speculates that subsequently a gold forgery was manufactured by Paul Franklin and placed in an obscure English auction in an attempt to conceal its true origin. The Norweb’s acquired the piece in 1962 via Spink’s as intermediary, and the matter remained quiet until the time of the Norweb II sale.

The Newman correspondence now reveals the back story leading up to the March 1988 sale. In November 1987, Newman wrote to Hodder in response to a request for Newman’s opinion on the piece. Newman was certain the piece was fake, in part because it matched dies known to produce false pieces in silver (described by Newman in The Numismatist, May 1963). Hodder’s description in the catalog addressed the points Newman made in 1963, but acknowledged that the piece remained “perplexing and controversial.” Hodder was open about its technical problems, freely stating, for example, that the absence of a reeded edge on the gold piece matched no other known St. Patrick pieces. 

Newman’s file goes on to indicate that R. Henry Norweb, Jr. contacted him by phone on March 10, 1988, two weeks prior to the Norweb II sale. The piece was subsequently withdrawn. Newman wrote to Hodder on March 15, “the withdrawal of the piece from sale and the gift by the Norwebs to ANS is in my opinion a good solution.” The Ford VII catalog described the Norweb piece as a “fake from well known fake dies” and today this remains the consensus opinion.

Link to Ford VII sale catalog on Newman Portal: https://nnp.wustl.edu/library/auctionlots?AucCoId=3&AuctionId=515259
Link to Norweb II sale catalog Newman Portal: https://nnp.wustl.edu/library/auctionlots?AucCoId=4&AuctionId=524009
Link to Coinage of Americas Conference proceedings on the St. Patrick pieces (2009): https://nnp.wustl.edu/library/publisherdetail/510766?Year=2009&displayAmt=50
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