Archive for October, 2015

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

Posted on October 23, 2015 by No Comments

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

Posted on October 12, 2015 by 2 Comments

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.

Filed Under: News