The Lord St. Oswald Coins – Where Are They Now?

Posted on October 12, 2015 by

If you weren’t familiar with the Lord St. Oswald name before, you probably heard it multiple times after one of his 1794 Silver Dollars sold in September 2015 for just under five million dollars.

The Lord St. Oswald pedigree is one of the most legendary in all of numismatics. The name is associated with quality, particularly with reference to early American coins. As a young numismatist, I heard of the Lord St. Oswald pedigree over the years as individual coins appeared and re-appeared on the market. For some reason, my recollection of the story of the Lord St. Oswald coins – either from reading it somewhere or conjuring it up in my dreams – was that the good Lord visited the Mint in 1795, purchased a small group of incredibly high-grade Large Cents, Half Dollars, and Silver Dollars, and stashed them away in a cigar box until their discovery and sale in 1964. Only a part of that legend is true (the coins were indeed of superb quality). The rest, as I mentioned, is myth.

Recently, numismatic researcher David Tripp debunked the conventional wisdom that the coins were acquired by the Lord St. Oswald, based on the fact that the title did not exist until 1885. What Mr. Tripp discovered was that the coins were acquired by William Strickland, an ancestor of Lord St. Oswald, on a trip to the United States from 1794 to 1795. The Strickland coins ended up at Nostell Priory, a country home near Wakefield in West Yorkshire, England, where they remained until their sale 170 years later. The coins were not bouncing about, loose and unprotected, in a cigar box. Rather, the coins were housed in a coin cabinet constructed by Thomas Chippendale, whose name is revered among furniture collectors.

In October 1964, the English auction house of Christie, Manson, and Woods offered 30 United States coins from the Lord St. Oswald Collection. Starting at lot 137, the collection included two 1794 Silver Dollars, three 1795 Silver Dollars, three 1795 Half Dollars, and twenty-two 1794 Large Cents. How these coins were selected for sale in 1964 is unknown, but several coins were left behind, including a 1793 Chain Cent, two High-Relief Head 1794 Half Cents, two more 1794 Large Cents, and a group of mixed Colonial coins in various grades.  In 1992, Christie’s sold the extra coins without mentioning the Lord St. Oswald name.

Because the total number of Federal coins in the Strickland/Lord St. Oswald Collection is only thirty-five coins, and because they are – for the most part – so well known, I thought it would be interesting to find out where they are now. What are the “modern” grades and where have they been since 1964 (and 1992)? Some of the answers are unexpected.

In the next installment, we’ll begin looking at the individual coins and revealing some interesting information about them. Stay tuned.

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Comments (2)

 

  1. Bruce Lorich says:

    Ron Guth:

    Interesting comments in your short piece about the Lord St. Oswald coins. My photos of the obverse and reverse of the silver dollar of 1794 appeared as the cover images of a Bowers & Ruddy Galleries “Rare Coin Review” when the firm was offering the coin for sale in the 1970s. I was a staff member at the time. David Bowers allowed me to photograph the dollar and he liked the results so much that he used my pictures on the RCR, much to my delight. At the time, Jack Collins was in the offices a lot doing some cataloguing work on large cents. He was also working on his study of 1794 dollars during this period. He and I discussed the dollar at length, and we both held the coin for periods of time, admiring its qualities without any plastic between its surfaces and our eyes. B&R called the coin Choice Uncirculated, and its toning was much lighter then, as comparisons of pictures of it then and now will clearly show. As a side note, there is a beautifully struck Mint State (but deep gray toned) 1794 dollar in the collection of the British Museum, which was part of the coin collection given to the museum by the sister of King George III’s best (and richest) friend, Joseph Banks. His sister was Sarah Banks, and she purchased early U.S. coins by mail directly from the U.S. Mint. So it, too, should be famed as is the LSO dollar. I look forward to reading the rest of your article!

  2. Ron Guth says:

    Hi Bruce, my old friend. Thanks for your further insights into the Lord St. Oswald story. I’ve always known you as an expert on British coins, so it is interesting to hear of your involvement with the greatest coin in the collection.

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