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V13 2010 INDEX       E-SYLUM ARCHIVE

The E-Sylum: Volume 13, Number 43, October 24, 2010, Article 13

A CONTEMPORARY ACCOUNT OF THE 1851 ROPER SALE

Kolbe & Fanning sale #119 Regarding the Kolbe & Fanning numismatic literature sale #119 coming up on November 18th, 2010, Joel Orosz writes:

My hardbound K&F catalog arrived this week, and my eye was immediately caught by the account of the Roper Sale on the cover. How cool is that? You may well be single-handedly responsible for starting a whole new genre in numismatic literature collecting!

My copy of the sale arrived this week, too. I was equally pleased with the sale cover - that lot is from my consignment of newspapers with numismatic content, and K&F chose one of my favorite items in the collection, a contemporary account of the 1851 sale of the coin collection of Dr. Lewis Roper. I have a handpriced copy of the catalog in my library (Mark Collet's copy).

Joel wrote a great article for the January 2001 issue of The Numismatist titled "Dr. Lewis Roper: Argonaut of the Numismatic Realm" The Roper sale was a landmark event in American numismatic history. From Joel's article:

If one were to choose a single date on which everything changed in American numismatics, it surely would be February 20, 1851. Before that, coins appeared at auction in the United States only infrequently, and always as a "tag on" to sales of books, jewelry or artwork. ... American coins- indeed, the whole coin hobby - were strictly small potatoes until 1851.

Then came the Dr. Lewis Roper sale. It was the first U.S. auction in which coins were the main event .. and the first that attracted numismatists from faraway cities. The catalog had to be reprinted to meet the demand of interested bidders. When the dust settled, it was the first U.S. coin auction to clear more than $1,000, then considered a remarkably high sum.

The Roper sale was not merely an auction, it was an event. Not only did home-town Philadelphia coin hounds like Joseph J. Mickley, Jacob Giles Morris and Richard Wistar Davids attend, but the leading numismatic lights of other cities made the trek as well: Charles Ira Bushnell of New York City, Jeremiah Colburn of Boston, and even Dr. Ammi Brown of Salem, Massachusetts.

Cataloguer David Fanning kindly sent me the text for the lot description:

Lot 349 THE BARRE PATRIOT. Vol. VII, No. 36 (Friday, Mar. 21, 1851). Barre, Massachusetts: Published by Charles E. Stevens. Tabloid. 4 pages. Leaves separated neatly at spine. Very good. (250.00)

Page 4 of this issue includes a highly important and interesting account of the auction sale of the Dr. Lewis Roper collection (M. Thomas & Sons, Feb. 20–21, 1851), which Emmanuel J. Attinelli would later describe as “the first coin sale in this country, in which sufficient interest was manifested by numismatists to take note of the prices paid for coins, and who were the purchasers.” The article, about 9 column inches in length, is extensive, and gives many prices for items sold. The article notes that “The actual value in metal, of the lot of American coins, scarcely exceeded $10, and yet they brought about $66.” The article reports only on the portion of the sale containing the American coins and medals, many of the highlights of which are mentioned. Very rare.

Joel Orosz adds:

You were ahead of your time in collecting historical newspapers.

Well, I had competition and didn't get every item I went after. But what I've enjoyed about collecting numismatic ephemera of all types is threefold - the thrill of the hunt, the ultimate discovery of significant items, and their high rarity. Ephemeral items like newspapers were meant to be used and thrown away, and most were. The Roper catalog itself is an extreme rarity in numismatic literature, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that newspaper accounts like this are even more rare. I've never seen nor heard of another.

Last week I discussed a few of my other favorite items from the collection, including contemporary accounts of new Fugio Cents and 1794 Dollars.

To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see: NUMISMATIC GLEANINGS FROM CONTEMPORARY NEWSPAPERS (www.coinbooks.org/esylum_v13n42a11.html)

Wayne Homren, Editor

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