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NNP Blog

Jun 05 2020

Treasures in a 19th Century Antiquarian Sale

Dave Hirt commented this week about his scanned copy of the John Allan (1864) sale catalog on Newman Portal. As a result we more closely examined the catalog, which contains a few items of note. Newman Portal has two copies of this catalog, one from the Hirt library and the other from the ANS. The ANS copy traces to Allan’s daughter, Margaret Stewart, and includes rich annotations as well as a signed letter from John Allan. The handwritten annotations further refer to numismatic luminaries Lyman Low and Isaac F. Wood. Additionally, someone has marked all of the numismatic portions in blue pencil, which, while perhaps disrespecting the artifact, increases its utility. Several lots are noteworthy:

Lot 1426: Hart’s 1851 History of Issues of Paper Money in the American Colonies. This is a legendary rarity of American numismatic literature, with only three plated copies known. The Newman copy (Heritage Auctions, Newman XI, 11/2018, lot 15236) sold for $19,200. This lot description contains the enigmatic clue “The present copy contains a large number of Specimens of Paper Money, issued before and during the Revolutionary war.” So, was it a plated copy, an interleaved copy with mounted examples of currency (similar to the Hamelberg copy of Phillips’ Historical Sketches of Paper Currency of the American Colonies), or simply an unplated copy with a few worn colonial notes laid it? The price realized ($16.00) was strong money for a secondhand book in 1864.

Lot 489: Bushnell’s Historical Account of the First Three Business Tokens issued in the City of New York (1859). Number 22 of 50 plated, large-paper copies, this is a rare if little-known work. The Bass IV copy (Kolbe, June 2010, lot 103) sold for $1,800.

Lot 959: William E. Du Bois’ Pledges of History (1846). One of 140 copies, this is the earliest attempt at a catalog of Mint Cabinet, today the National Numismatic Collection. The Newman copy (Heritage, Newman XI, 11/2018, lot 15205) sold for $600.

Lot 3442: An autograph letter signed by George Washington, cataloged as “General Washington’s Answer to the Address of the Corporation of New York, conferring upon him the Freedom of the City, dated May 2d, 1785.” This sold for an astonishing $2,050, and the City of New York quickly sued the estate. An annotation in the ANS copy of the catalog summarizes “A suit by the corporation of New York to recover possession of this letter, or its value, Feb. 14th 1866. Jury rendered a verdict in favor of plaintiffs for $2050.” An unattributed clip pasted into the ANS copy of this catalog gives further detail on the suit, including that the defendant cited the statute of limitations, as more than six years had elapsed since the cause of action arose, and that Allan had possession of the letter since at least 1834. Complicating matters was the winning bidder of the lot, De Witt C. Lent, who apparently caught wind of the litigation and refused to pay for the lot. Many parallels with situations of our own time could be cited.

Lot 4300: Silver medal, “COLUMBIAN ORDER. Instituted 1789.” This medal, engraved by John Pearson, reappears in the 1925 W.W.C. Wilson sale, lot 819 (realized $300), there catalogued by Wayte Raymond as “White man, holding flag, clasps hands with Indian smoking calumet, WHERE LIBERTY STANDS THERE IS MY COUNTRY….Snake coiled in foreground….silver shell…” A halftone plate is included, which may explain its absence in the 44 photographic plates present in the Hamelberg copy of this sale. This is an important, early American medal that would be far more popular if only a few additional examples had been struck.

Vicken Yegparian notes that ANS acquired the Allan/Bushnell/Wilson piece (illustrated in the Summer 2009 ANS Magazine), also has an electrotype copy, and further notes the Massachusetts Historical Society has the Appleton piece. Finally, Vicken points to a uniface lead die trial of the Columbus (obverse?) side, from Ford XVI (Stack’s 10/2006, lot 189, ex. F.C.C. Boyd). Yegparian’s research revealed that “Columbian Order” was an alternate name for the Tammany Society, and that this medal served as the members badge of this organization (as did other medals).

Link to Dave Hirt copy of the John Allan (1864) sale:
Link to ANS copy of the Allan sale:
Link to Wayte Raymond’s sale of the W.W.C. Wilson collection:
Link to Hamelberg copy of the W.W.C. Wilson catalog (with 44 photographic plates):

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