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

Posted on October 23, 2015 by

Before surveying the coins in the Lord St. Oswald collection, an examination of the two auction catalogs in which they appeared will help add some context for American collectors.  The Lord St. Oswald coins appeared in British sales and most collectors have never seen either catalog, particularly the rare, earliest sale.

The first appearance of the Lord St. Oswald coins was in a Christie’s auction held on October 13, 1964 in London, England. At the time, Christie’s styled itself as Christie’s, Manson & Woods, Ltd. Today, the company is known simply as Christie’s. The 1964 sale took place at Christie’s headquarters at 8 King Street, St. James’s, London, the same location that had served as their headquarters since 1823 and which is still their flagship location.

The catalog for the 1964 sale is rather rare today. In May 2014, the American bookseller, Kolbe and Fanning, offered a priced catalog at auction, where it realized $1,762.50. The catalog was in a small-format size of roughly 7” x 9.5” with green card covers and only 177 lots. The title page of the catalog read: “Catalogue of English, Foreign, and Important American Coins: The Property of Major The Lord St. Oswald, M.C. removed from Nostell Priory, Wakefield, Yorkshire.” The catalog contained no history of Lord St. Oswald or a background of the collection, or any explanation of the origin of the coins or why they were being sold. The sale started at eleven o’clock “precisely” with Lot 1, a gold Noble of Edward III, followed by one hundred and thirty-six lots of English, Scottish, French, Italian, Swiss, and ancient coins. The highlights of the auction were a small group of thirty lots of high-grade, early American coins that began with lot 137 – a Mint State 1794 Silver Dollar. Included in the thirty lots were two 1794 Silver Dollars, three 1795 Silver Dollars, three 1795 Half Dollars, and twenty-two 1794 Large Cents (the particulars of these coins will be revealed in future installments, but the descriptions in the 1964 catalog are terse and curt, certainly not in keeping with the importance of the coins as we know them today). The final lots of the sale included eight American Colonial lots and miscellaneous lots of British and world coins.

The back of the 1964 catalog contained four collotype plates. Five of the American coins appeared on Plate IV. In keeping with the state of catalog production at the time, the coins are poorly trimmed, with irregular edges, but they are wholly adequate for identifying the coins for pedigree purposes.

Buyers of the American coins in the 1964 sale included the London firms of Baldwin and Spinks, the American firm of Stack’s, the American coin dealer, Lester Merkin, and American collectors, Al Ostheimer, H. Van Colle, and Edwin Shapiro. It is unclear who actually attended the sale, or if the buyers were purchasing coins for themselves or as agents for others. Baldwin’s name appears as the buyer on the largest number of lots (ten). Baldwin and Ostheimer each came away with one of the 1794 Silver Dollars.

The catalog for the 1992 sale is a much different publication. Now, large, over-sized, full color images of a 1662 gold pattern Crown of Charles II grace the front and back covers of the catalog. Now, the firm is known as Christie’s, but the sale was held again at the old King Street location. Now, the title page of the catalog reads: “Ancient, English, and Foreign Coins, Commemorative Medals, and Banknotes: From Various Sources.” This catalog contained 528 lots of British, world, and American coins. The only clue that the sale contained coins from the Lord St. Oswald collection was a small note introducing Lot 251:

“THE PROPERTY OF A GENTLEMAN”
“The following ten lots were among a parcel of coins removed from Nostell Priory, Wakefield, Yorkshire. An important group of coins from the same property was sold in these Rooms, October 13, 1964. All the coins are in better than average condition, having been collected during the early part of the 19th century by a member of the Winn Family. See also lots 281-285”.

Lots 251 to 260 included American colonial coins; lots 281-285 contained a 1793 Chain Cent, two 1794 Large Cents, and two 1794 Half Cents, all of which will be revealed later. Again, the descriptions are terse but, this time, all five of the U.S. coins are plated (in black-and-white). One wonders why these coins were left out of the 1964 sale, as they are all of similarly high quality.

Next installment – a look at the two 1794 Silver Dollars from the Lord St. Oswald Collection

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