Coin Rarities & Related Topics: The Fabulous Eric Newman Collection, part 1
A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds
News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #156 …..
One of the all-time great collections was formed by Eric Newman, who is 101 years old and. Beyond a consignment of one hundred and sixty or so items from Newman’s “foundation” to the Heritage auction in April at the CSNS Convention in Illinois, it has not been revealed just how much of the Newman Collection will be auctioned and future consignments have not been finalized. My present purpose, here in part 1, is to discuss an 1845 Proof set, an 1852 territorial gold piece, and U.S. Mint errors that will be sold by Heritage in April, and to provide some general background regarding Newman and his collection.
In part 2, I will discuss U.S. patterns that will also be sold by Heritage in April. This group of patterns from the Newman Collection is excellent, especially in terms of quality.
Overall, Eric Newman’s collection contains many rarities and some stunning type coins. Moreover, a vast number of Newman’s coins have been properly stored since being issued. My sources indicate that Newman’s coins and patterns tend to have pleasing, natural toning and have never been doctored.
It seems likely that a substantial proportion of Newman’s silver coins have never been dipped (in acidic solutions). In general, a substantial percentage of high grade, classic U.S. silver coins have been dipped, often more than once.
Of the one hundred and sixty items from the Newman Collection that I know have been consigned to this auction in April, all are NGC certified and encapsulated, except the case that housed the 1845 Proof set. One hundred and thirty-eight of these items are U.S. patterns. Seven are U.S. Mint Errors, including a representative of the very popular 1955/55 ‘Doubled Die’ variety of Lincoln Cents.
Of these one hundred and sixty pieces, it seems that the most spectacular item is an 1852 territorial $10 gold piece that was struck in San Francisco during the era of the California Gold Rush. I address it after some brief remarks about Newman himself.
I. Benefactor and Author
In Dec. 2003, it was announced that Eric P. Newman and his wife had donated two million dollars to Washington University in St. Louis for the establishment of the Newman Money Museum. On Oct. 25, 2006, the new Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum opened at this university with the Newman Money Museum being in the basement. At any one time, only a small portion of the items in the Newman Collection are on display.
So far, I have been unable to determine how sales of items from Eric Newman’s collection will impact the Newman Money Museum. Beyond the upcoming Heritage auction in April, not much has been revealed regarding plans for releases of items from Newman’s collection.
Eric Newman has long been recognized as an extremely accomplished numismatist. He is best known for his knowledge of American numismatic items dating from the 1700s. (Numismatics involves the study of coins, medals, paper money, and tokens.)
Newman’s book on The Early Paper Money of America, which was first published in 1967, remains the leading reference in the field. The fifth edition was released by Krause in 2008. In earlier works, he wrote, in depth, about Continental Currency Dollar patterns and Fugio Cents, among other pre-federal items.
Newman’s book on the “Coinage For Colonial Virginia” was published by the American Numismatic Society in 1956. Through “House Joint Resolution No. 271,” the Virginia General Assembly passed a measure commending “Numismatist Eric P. Newman.” According to the public records of the Virginia legislature, this resolution was “Agreed to by the House of Delegates, January 24, 1992” and “Agreed to by the Senate [on] January 30, 1992.” This is the only instance, of which I am aware, of a coin collector and researcher being recognized by a State legislature for his contributions to numismatic research.
Generally, coin collectors are most likely to have heard of Newman because he is the primary author of The Fantastic 1804 Dollar, which was first published in 1962. Kenneth Bressett was his co-author. In 2009, a widely distributed “tribute edition” was published with some new material. It was frequently on the shelves at Borders and Barnes & Noble bookstores around the nation.
The most famous U.S. coins are 1804 silver dollars, 1894-S Barber Dimes, and 1913 Liberty Nickels. I will note Newman’s connection to 1913 Liberty Nickels. (Clickable links are in blue.)
Newman’s last original book was published in 1999 or so, U.S. Coin Scales and Counterfeit Detectors. The late A. George Mallis is listed as co-author. There are (or were) antique coin scales and counterfeit detectors, including elaborate and unusual devices, on display at the Newman Money Museum.
Newman has been a force within the American Numismatic Society (ANS) in New York for more than half a century. Indeed, his contribution to the ANS in various forms could itself be a topic for an interesting book. A central point is that the annual seminar for graduate students at the ANS is named after Newman. He was often a lecturer at such seminars and he was very much involved in other ways.
II. Superb 1852 California Gold coin
Gold $10 coins, and similar $20 coins, were issued by the U.S. Assay office in San Francisco before a U.S. Mint began operating in that city in 1854. Fifty dollar pieces were minted as well, though these constitute a separate topic. Essentially, the U.S. Treasury Department appointed Augustus Humbert as U.S. Assayer in San Francisco and contracted with a local private firm to manufacture coins during the period from 1851 to 1853.
These U.S. Assay Office issues fulfilled some of the intense demand for gold coins for use in transactions in Northern California. The Philadelphia and New Orleans Mints were far away and there was a shortage of coins in the San Francisco area, which had grown rapidly, since 1849, in terms of population and business activity. In the 19th century, few people in California used paper money and personal checks were rarely accepted.
U.S. Assay Office $10 gold pieces were struck in 1852 and 1853. There are four major issues: 1852/1 overdate – with Humbert’s name spelled out as part of the design, 1852 Humbert, 1852 U.S. Assay Office with no explicit mention of Humbert, 1853 U.S. Assay Office. There are also many die varieties of these, which very few people collect.
All U.S. Assay Office $10 gold pieces are condition rarities in grades above MS-62 (on a grading scale from 01 to 70). Indeed, for the 1852/1 and 1852 Humbert issues, the Newman coin is the only privately owned one that grades above MS-64, of which I am aware. For the 1852 and 1852 U.S. Assay Office $10 issues, without mention of Humbert’s name, there are a handful that the PCGS or the NGC has graded MS-63 or MS-64, though none have been certified as grading higher than MS-64.
Amazingly, Eric Newman’s 1852 Augustus Humbert, territorial $10 gold piece has been graded “MS-68”! According to the Heritage online catalog, as of March 5th, this coin was the personal property of Augustus Humbert and later appeared in the auction of the Andrew Zabriskie Collection, by the firm of Henry Chapman in 1909. Before it was owned by Col. E. H. R. Green, it was in the famous collection of Waldo Newcomer.
Regarding this Newcomer-Green-Newman 1852 Humbert $10 gold piece, the NGC assigned grade of MS-68 has been CAC approved. Experts at the CAC have judged the grade of this coin to be in the middle or high end of the MS-68 range.
John Albanese is the founder and president of the CAC. He exclaims that this Newman 1852 gold piece is “unbelievable, almost unreal. We did not think that it could exist. It is, by far, the finest known U.S. Assay Office ten,” Albanese declares.
III. Green, Johnson & Newman
Many of Eric Newman’s rarer items were acquired from the estate of Col. E. H. R. Green, who had one of the all-time best collections of U.S. coins. Actually, Newman had met Green while Newman was a student at MIT in the 1930s, then and now, one of the best educational institutions in the world for the study of science. Newman and other MIT students were permitted to use Green’s radio station at Green’s facility in South Dartmouth, Massachusetts. I am not aware of any evidence that Green and Newman ever discussed coins or that Green knew of Newman’s interest in numismatics.
After Col. E. H. R. Green died in 1936, Newman contacted someone associated with Green’s properties in an effort to acquire paper money relating to the State of Missouri that was in Green’s collection. There is much information regarding Newman’s efforts in a book that was published in 2003, Million Dollar Nickels, by Paul Montgomery, Mark Borckardt and Ray Knight.
While Newman’s inquiries were rebuffed at first, he was persistent. Not long afterwards, he was able to purchase important pieces of paper money from the Green Estate. Regarding his efforts to obtain items from the Green estate, Newman confided in Burdette Johnson.
Newman began collecting coins as a young boy. Over time, he developed a close business relationship and personal friendship with Burdette Johnson, a prominent coin dealer, who was located in St. Louis. My impression is that Newman met Johnson in the early or mid 1920s.
When Johnson was told by Newman that Eric had successfully obtained numismatic items from the Col. Green Collection, Johnson offered to invest funds and proposed that he and Eric become partners in a project to acquire numismatic items from the Green estate. By the early 1940s, Newman and Johnson had succeeded in obtaining a large part of Col. Green’s numismatic collection, including all five 1913 Liberty Nickels!
My sources suggest that many (or all?) of the especially important, bust quarters, bust half dollars and bust dollars in the Newman Collection came from the Col. Green Collection. From the 1950s to the present, Newman has been primarily interested in pre-1793 American numismatic items. In the current consignment to Heritage’s CSNS auction, however, two modern, ‘Doubled Die’ Lincoln Cent errors are included, 1955/55 and a 1972/72 issues. The 1955/55 is NGC certified ‘MS-62 Brown’ and the 1972/72 is certified ‘MS-65 [full] Red.’
If Newman acquired many numismatic items from the 1970s to the present, he certainly did so quietly. I am not aware of him buying U.S. coins or patterns during the last twenty years.
IV. 1845 Proof Set
The contents of Newman’s 1845 Proof set, with NGC grades in parentheses, are as follows: half cent (64), large cent (64), half dime (65), dime (65), quarter (64), half dollar (65), silver dollar (65). These were housed in a presentation case, dating from the time period, presumably of the kind that is known to have been used to house quite a few U.S. Proof sets from the mid 19th century.
I closely examined the cases that accompanied John Pittman’s Proof sets from the 1840s, which the firm of David Akers auctioned. Pittman’s Proof sets from the 1840s, however, included gold coins as well. Pittman’s 1843 and 1844 sets were auctioned on Oct. 23, 1997. His 1845 and 1846 sets were sold on May 21, 1998. Each of these four sets came with a similar case.
I hope the Newman 1845 Proof set will be auctioned as a unit. The four Pittman sets that I just mentioned were each sold as single lots, though at least two of them have since been dismantled.
As individuals, 1845 Proof silver or copper coins are rare, though not prohibitively so. A true set, which has been together for many decades, with an ‘original’ case is an amazing entity.
John Albanese carefully examined the coins in this set, most of which received green stickers from the CAC. I asked John if he thought that these seven coins had been together since they left the Philadelphia Mint in 1845. “Yes,” Albanese affirmed. Of course, John and I acknowledge that there is no way to know for sure. By examining the toning and fabric of the surfaces, Albanese is putting forth a hypothesis that “it is an original set.” During the course of his career, John has examined a large percentage of surviving Proof coins from the 1840s.
I posed the same question to Scott Schecter, vice president of the NGC. “Yes, I do believe the 1845 Proof Set has always been intact, based on its the matched appearance and condition of the coins,” Schecter says. The silver coins especially are all remarkably similar.
V. Buffalo Nickel on Copper Cent blank
Saul Teichman is a long-time collector of Buffalo Nickel errors and an avid researcher. Though best known for researching pedigrees of patterns, Saul tracks Buffalo Nickel errors as well. He says that that there are “probably fifty to sixty” known Buffalo Nickel errors that were struck on one cent planchets (prepared blanks). Teichman compiled a detailed list of many of them, which I will cite in the future.
Newman’s Buffalo on a cent planchet, thus in copper, is dated 1924 and is NGC certified ‘MS-67 Red & Brown.’ The “RB” designation indicates that experts at the NGC determined that this piece exhibits a substantial amount of original mint red color. I use the term ‘copper’ to refer to all numismatic items that are at least 90% copper.
Documents indicate that Lincoln Cents of the 1920s are “bronze,” an ambiguous term that often refers to alloys that are 95% copper and contain some zinc. It makes logical sense to refer to pre-1982 cents as being copper, even though U.S. Mint documents use the term “bronze” and suggest that some are brass. Except small cents minted from 1856 to the middle of 1864, the steel cents of 1943, and some U.S. Mint Errors, all pre-1982 U.S. one cent coins are at least 90% copper and should be simply called “copper” coins.
U.S. five cent nickels have always been 25% nickel and Buffalo Nickels tend to look similar in color to Jefferson Nickels in the present. So, a “Buffalo Nickel” struck in a 95% copper alloy is startling to someone who has not seen such an error before. These are cool.
Regarding, 1924 Buffaloes struck on cent planchets, Teichman remarks that it is “funny that all three known are being offered” in March or April 2013. According to Saul, one that Heritage sold in Sept. 2008 was PCGS certified ‘MS-64 Brown’ and is now NGC certified ‘MS-65 Red & Brown.’ It will be offered by Stack’s-Bowers in Baltimore. I verified that these are the same piece. Teichman adds that a 1924 copper Buffalo that was formerly owned by a recognized error enthusiast, Bob E., was PCGS certified ‘AU-58 Brown’ and is now NGC certified ‘MS-62 Brown.’ Heritage will offer this one later in March. “The Newman  may be the finest Buffalo nickel on cent known of any date,” Teichman suggests.
Other U.S. Mint Errors in this consignment of items from the Newman Collection are curious. A non-gradable 1794 cent with irregular edge lettering is included. Two circulated, Morgan Silver Dollars, 1879 and 1883, are missing a large portion of their respective edge reeds. A third Morgan, an 1879-S, is said to have been sent through an upsetting machine after it was minted. It has peculiar rims. This 1879-S is graded “MS-61.”
Apparently, there are a couple of Proof Two Cent pieces in this consignment. An 1864 ‘Large Motto’ is certified ‘Proof-65 Red & Brown.’ An 1866 is certified ‘Proof-66 [full] Red’! These coins do not seem to be consistent with the remainder of this Newman consignment, which is characterized by unusual American numismatic items. These Proof Two Cent pieces are not unusual and are not particularly rare. The Newman pedigree adds value to them.
I look forward to writing about Newman’s patterns, some of which are truly exceptional. Please read part 2.
I hope that many of the gem quality Green-Newman early U.S. silver coins will be consigned to auctions in the near future. It would be exciting to examine them and to gauge the excitement of those who are extremely interested in such popular classic U.S. coins.
©2013 Greg Reynolds