The E-Sylum:  Volume 5, Number 2, January 13, 2002, Article 6


  The following was a little something your editor posted to
  the USENET rec.coins.collecting newsgroup on July 21,
  1994.  [Yes, there was life before the World Wide Web
  and The E-Sylum came along...]

  This week's Numismatic News announced that John Ford's
  unique 1783 Nova Constellatio pattern set will be on
  display at Stack's table at the ANA Convention next week.
  Wow!  To me, this set is the ultimate U.S. numismatic treasure,
  far more important historically than the King of Siam set
  (of 1804 Dollar fame).

  The coins were struck in April 1783 for Robert Morris,
  and were the first attempt to create a national coinage for
  the new government.  The denominations were based on a
  unit equal to 1/440th of a Spanish Milled Dollar.  The silver
  "mark" was 100 units, the "quint" 500, the "bit" 100.  The
  smallest was a copper "5".

  The following is the story of Ford's acquisition of the set,
  as near as I can remember it.  I have a tape recording of a talk
  he gave one time, and spoke to him in person about it once.
  He had a lot of explaining to do to his wife when he needed to
  liquidate other assets to come up with some cash after the
  Garrett sale.

  Ford bought the copper "five" in 1977.  It was found in a
  Paris collection and was sold to a U.S coin dealer who thought
  it was a pattern for the later Nova Constellatio copper coinage
  - he didn't realize it was the missing link in the Morris set (the
  other three silver pieces resided in the Garrett collection at
  Johns Hopkins University).  The dealer offered it to a wealthy
  collector who in turn asked John Ford for his advice.   The
  collector met Ford in midtown Manhattan while on the way
  to a fishing trip.   As the two shared a cab, the collector
  pulled the piece from his shirt pocket and showed it to Ford.

  "How much should I pay for it" he asked.  "Just buy it," Ford
  said, recognizing the significance of the piece.  "But how much
  is it worth?" "Just BUY it - whatever it takes - BUY it!"   The
  collector put the piece back in the pocket of his fishing shirt,
  and left for the woods.  When he later contacted the dealer,
  the asking price was $20,000, and the collector balked.  He
  sent the coin back to the dealer.

  Before long John Ford got a call himself from the dealer, and
  later bought the  piece for his own collection.  Two years later,
  Ford bought the remaining three pieces at the Garrett sale for
  $425,000.   The set of four coins that passed through the
  hands of Morris and Thomas Jefferson was united again
  after nearly 200 years.

  After holding the set for 15 years, Ford is apparently putting
  it up for sale. "The price is available on request."  Those of
  us who'd have to ask, can't afford it.  But this collector will
  make sure he takes the opportunity to see the coins before
  they disappear for another 15 years or more."

  [At the Detroit ANA , I spent nearly half an hour examining
   the set at Stack's table.  John Ford came by while I was
   there, and we talked more about the set.  It was in the largest
   Capitol Plastic holder I'd ever seen (making it difficult to
   shoplift).  I've seen plenty of rare coins in my time, but it's
   hard to imagine any coins more significant in U.S.
   numismatic history.  There is a photo of the prodigal "five"
   on the U.S. Patterns web site, and the Notre Dame site
   has more information on the patterns than I've ever seen
   gathered in one place.  The page notes that the dealer who
   sold the piece to Ford was Fred Werner.


  Wayne Homren, Editor

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