The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 11, Number 36, September 7, 2008, Article 21


In previous E-Sylum issues we discussed the legal proceedings between the Hispanic Society of America and the American Numismatic Association over control of the Hispanic coin collection which had been lent to the ANS.

This week The Art Newspaper published an article on the collection, reporting speculation that the Spanish government may be interested in bidding. One reader believes that the ANS was "hoodwinked" out of the $30-40 million collection. -Editor
The Hispanic Society of America has recalled 38,000 coins from the American Numismatic Society (ANS) which have been on loan for more than half a centuryand appears to be preparing to sell them.

The valuable collection consists of coins minted in Spain, its dependencies, and the powers that controlled Spain from the 5th century BC until the 20th century. They were deposited at ANS by the organisations president and patron Archer Huntington (1870-1955), who was also founder of the Hispanic Society. Ute Wartenberg Kagan, executive director of ANS, estimates that the collection may be worth $30m-$40m, with the Roman gold and silver and a rare 50 excelentes of Ferdinand V and Isabellathe worlds largest struck-gold coinalone worth perhaps $15m$20m. Sothebys and the London-based coin firm Morton & Eden began creating an inventory and appraising the Roman, Visigoth and Islamic gold coins last month.

A Hispanic Society spokesman says that the trustees have decided to explore a deaccession [but] no decision has been made on going forward. But The Art Newspaper has seen a copy of a letter that the Hispanic Societys director Mitchell Codding sent to Ms Kagan on 25 January 2008 in which he informs her that the board of trustees adopted a resolution to deaccession the loan collection with the assistance of Sothebys International.

Title to the coins became an issue in early 2007 when the Hispanic Society drew up a modern loan agreement. We signed it in April 2007 and in July received a letter cancelling it and saying we want our coins back, says Ms Kagan, calling the revised document a set-up intended to eliminate any questions of ownership related to the original informal deed of loan. In February 2008, two weeks after the loan expired, the Hispanic Society filed a lawsuit in Supreme Court of New York County demanding the return of the coins, and in April won a judgement that the Hispanic Society alone owned the coins and that ANS must return them.

Sothebys vice-chairman David Redden helped convince the judge that ANS should make available not only the photographic record that Huntington provided for most of the coins, but also the computer database that ANS subsequently created. We were told to hand over the entire record and that we had no copyright on this material. We basically gave them a sales catalogue as well as the coins, Ms Kagan says.

We will submit a formal letter to the New York attorney general objecting to the sale, she says, referring to the state official who oversees charities. We want to point out the violation of Huntingtons very clear intent that nothing would be sold, she says. The Hispanic spokesman maintains that any sale would be done with full transparency and in compliance with the rules of the American Association of Museums and applicable laws of the State of New York.

The fear among scholars is that the historic Huntington collection will be broken up. Ms Kagan says ANS donors would not be able raise the funds to buy it, though she would particularly like to acquire the antique items that today cannot be obtained legally because of restrictive patrimony laws.

Some insiders believe the Spanish government may be interested in purchasing the collection en bloc. The Hispanic Society has cultivated close relations with Spain, and sought the governments financial assistance to move the museum and its holdings from upper Manhattan to a more accessible location in the city centre, but that support never materialised and last year the relocation was abandoned. We just want to preserve what can be preserved, she says, but I am pessimistic.

Web site reader Adrian Dunevein commented:
It sounds like the ANS has been hoodwinked in this situation and now has to comply with the letter of the law. The kicker has to be the handover of the catalogue which ought to have been used by ANS lawyers in proof of ownership. Is it not enough that the Hispanic society has the coins ?

To read the complete article, see: Hispanic Society to sell historic coin collection? (

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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