The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 12, Number 42, October 18, 2009, Article 10


Bruce Lorich writes:

That was a delightful read, your various snippets about Ford's most important coins. I chuckled at the comment about the delight of being able to look at the coins in the large plastic holder, the closest most numismatists have gotten to the coins.

I chuckled because I was one of the few who actually touched the coins, held them in my hands, and studied them at length with a loupe, back in 1979. Auction viewers never got to touch them, only see the coins through large plastic flips. A few of us staff numismatists at Bowers & Ruddy Galleries were the luckiest of all -- John Murbach, Bob Korver, Rich Kosta, Jim Jones -- as well as the staff photographer, Jim Clutterbuck, who took the images that appeared in the Garrett sales catalogues.

Dave Bowers probably saw these pieces more than the rest of us, but Jim Ruddy had retired, so even he never handled the coins. My private hour or so with the Novas back in 1979 is one of my best memories of my five years at the firm. Thanks for publishing all those disparate details about the set.

Dave Bowers writes:

In my opinion -- and I have no vested interest of any kind -- the 1783 Nova Constellatio patterns are candidates for the very most important (and I won't even mention value) American coins. They "suffer" from their rarity--most are unique, while, for example, there are fifteen 1804 silver dollars.

As to lighting of exhibits, one does not want to put much light on paper money at all, as it might harm the notes. The National Postal Museum in Washington, DC, keeps many stamps in virtual darkness. Nor would one want to blast spotlights on the Nova patterns as they might change color!

The Whitman Coins & Collectibles Expo in Philadelphia, with its exhibits and the Stack's Americana Sale, was a nice return to what I consider to be traditional numismatics--the very foundation of our wonderful hobby.

Good point about the lighting. I know I was very lucky to have the opportunity to view the coins close up in their holder. -Editor
Dave Bowers adds these thoughts about his time in the television spotlight with the Nova Constellatio set.

At the Whitman Coins & Collectibles Expo in Philadelphia a couple weeks ago I had the pleasure of appearing on Fox 29 TV News at 7:20 on Thursday morning I met the Whitman security contingent in the lobby of the Marriott Courtyard, a very nice hotel that used to be the City Hall Annex. This was just a short walk away from the Convention Center where the show was held. Along to supervise things was Guy McCullough, publicist for Whitman. Security was tight, as you can imagine.

Not long afterward we arrived at the Fox station, a nice ground-floor facility with a pleasant staff. Going through my mind was what to say on the upcoming show, taking care, of course, to be "fair and balanced," per the Fox motto! Not to worry about the subject content, however, as just about anything concerning rare coins and their value is of interest to television viewers.

In the Green Room, as waiting rooms are usually called at stations, I met Glenn Macnow, a local radio sports talk show host, who had with him a rare "Lincoln penny." Glenn said that while he collected coins as a youngster, he no longer did so, but cannot resist looking through pocket change each day to see if any "wheat" cents can be found. This particular item was a little treasure all on its own, as the obverse was 1909-S! Unfortunately, there was no "V.D.B." on the reverse. Glenn said he had checked on the Internet and concluded that it would be worth $150.

Q. Dave Bowers and Nova Constellatio Pattern set

In due course, I, Guy McCullough, and the security contingent were ushered into the filming studio. On the air was Mike Jerrick, anchor and interviewer, who, as might be expected, viewed just about everything on the day's news as being memorable, fascinating, and exciting. In appearance he resembled Regis Philbin, but a generation younger.

In due course, Glenn Macnow went before the cameras with his rare "penny" and discussed it. Jerrick and Macnow knew each other well, one being prominent in television and the other in radio, and they exchanged pleasantries.

In the meantime, on a nearby table, again under security, rare items from the Whitman Show were displayed. On the right was the $1,000 Series of 1890 Coin Note, the famous "Watermelon Note," from the large zeroes on the back, looking like juicy watermelons. This particular piece of paper money was the first in the world to cross the auction block for more than a million dollars.

This was on a little easel all its own, with the front of the note facing forward. Prior to going on camera I lifted the note and turned it around so the all-important (at least from a numismatic viewpoint) back would be visible. The cameraman came back over and changed it the way he had it to begin with, stating that television audiences prefer people, such as the person depicted on the note, much more interesting than the other side. Oh, well!

In the foreground to the left was a set of three Sansom silver medals, struck in Philadelphia early in the 19th century, and depicting events in American history. To specialists these are well-known classics, from dies by John Reich, with interesting motifs, the reverses being particularly memorable (in my opinion).

On another easel was the holder containing the unique 1783 set of Nova Constellatio pattern coins. For good measure, the catalogue of the Stack's Americana Sale plus a couple of my books furnished the background. Quite attractive overall. Soon it was my turn, and Mike Jerrick came over to the display, with some "rarities" in his hand. Showing me pocket change coins one after the other I remarked that they were of no particular value and could be spent.

Then came a brass Chuck-E-Cheese token. "What is that worth?" he asked. I suggested that it might indeed be worth a hamburger. The talk turned to the items on display, and I explained them, lifting the Grand Watermelon Note out of its easel and showing the back side. The cameraman seemed to take it in good stride, and the show went on. Then came a discussion of the other items. In my opinion the Nova Constellatio set, of which have nice memories of cataloguing it way back when auctioning the Garrett Collection for The Johns Hopkins University, is probably the most single historical group in federal coinage, without exception.

At the Garrett Sale John Ford was set on buying these. He had a complex plan, which involved his sitting in the front row and bidding, but after he stopped, his friend, Herbert I. Melnick was to continue, following some prearranged signal. Melnick bid on a particular lot, then stopped, much to the consternation of Ford, who didn't want to lose it, and had to speak out, revealing the little deception.

Bidding continued by Ford, and he wound up capturing the pieces he desired, except for a variety of one denomination that went to Walter Perschke, a Chicago dealer. These then became the pride and joy of the Ford Collection. He wrote about them extensively, did further research, and added a copper piece to the group. Years later the set was sold in a private transaction by Stack's, to the present owner, who shared it with visitors to the Philadelphia Expo.

Chatting continued, drawing to a close as Mike Jerrick picked up the Watermelon Note and showed it to me, then quickly said, glancing in the distance, "Look! There's Halley's Comet!" I turned to see what he was talking about, and he ran off the set holding the note and laughing. The show ended, after which, of course, the Watermelon Note went back where it belonged.

The television show seems to have been quite widely watched, as many people came to the Whitman Expo that day and later. One of them was a man with his young son, Andrew, with an old $100 bill and dozens of old coins that belonged to the family. We chatted about coins for a time, and he seemed to want to know more. With Andrew watching the items spread out on Stack's table, I took the father over to the nearby Whitman booth and encouraged him to buy a Guide Book of United States Coins, which he did. Who knows? Perhaps we now have a new collecting family.

The Whitman show itself was really great. The attendance was good, there was general enthusiasm, and most dealers with whom I talked felt that I was a very welcome change to what were viewed as a couple of fairly dead conventions in late summer and September. To be sure, the Whitman Expo wasn't bursting in the seams, and fireworks weren't exploding, but there was a general level of basic enthusiasm of the old-fashioned kind. It was a good way for the numismatic community to enter the autumn season.

At the Stack's Americana Sale there was lots of excitement when several specialties crossed the block, most notably the Chet Krause Collection of Wisconsin Obsolete Paper, which broke just about every auction record in the book, and the section on American tokens and medals, including items that once belonged to famous sculptor Chester Beach.

At show's end the general comment was that collectors and dealers could hardly wait until the encore show, which Whitman has scheduled for September 2010. See you there!

Dennis Tucker of Whitman Publishing forwarded this link to a video of the newscast. Check it out! Get Your Rare Coins Checked By Dealers (

Bob Neale writes:

Regarding the following excerpt from your earlier writing as presented in the latest E-Sylum about the Nova Constellatios:

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".

My understanding, as I published in my article on Mr. Jefferson's Money in the Nov 05 Numismatist (specifically on p 43), is that Morris' reached a common denominator to account for all the different monies for a new unit of account that had to equal 1/1440 of an average Spanish dollar (not 1/440), with a silver mark at 1000 units, but the rest (quint and bit) as you wrote. That would have made the new mark equal to 25/36 of a Spanish dollar, hardly a convenient conversion aid.

Sorry for the typo! Thanks for keeping us on the straight and narrow! -Editor

Another E-Sylum reader writes:

"Nova Constellatio's" that were on recent display along with the other rarities was meant to entice attendance to the new Philadelphia Whitman show. This was a deliberate decision to help make the show a regular "must" attend show and of course profitable.

David Crenshaw does a great job hosting and creating a show. The pressure on him must be tremendous and he deserves our respect and gratitude when we attend for what he goes through so that we can conduct our hobby and business pleasurably. His support staff and co-workers also have stress and pressure and they too are underappreciated. From Mary Counts on down all the employees at Whitman work hard for our benefit. They don't have easy jobs and they at least deserve our recognition.

The "Nova Constellatio" set of four coins is indeed impressive AND they were in fact the original four coins that were presented to the committee of the Congress of the Confederation in April 1783. John J. Ford was a brilliant man who knew what he was doing when he reassembled the set at all costs. This set of coins is not and was not the first pattern coins for the United States, however.

It is the second issuance of patterns and it was for the Congress of the Confederation struck under and for Robert Morris in Philadelphia. In late 2008, I offered for sale through private treaty the very first pattern, which preceded the "Nova Constellatio" set to a "Southern Gentleman". It was one coin that John J. Ford tried to buy and failed to purchase during his life, but he knew what it was and what it meant.

Walter Breen (who was employed by Mr. Ford) published disinformation in his "Complete Encyclopedia" in 1986 in an attempt to assist Mr. Ford in his acquisition of the coin. Disinformation is still printed to mask the value and nature of this coin. In the future I will publish all of my research on the topic, but needless to say it is the Most Valuable Coin in American Numismatics and it is wholly Unique.

The current owner of the "Nova Constellatio" set has a prize to be proud of and displaying them for the world is beneficial. Please donate them to the National Numismatic Cabinet in the Smithsonian for all the people to appreciate. That is where they truly belong.



DAVID SKLOW - FINE NUMISMATIC BOOKS Sale #8, Closed Saturday October 3, 2009, prices realized are posted on my web site PH: (719) 302-5686, FAX: (719) 302-4933. EMAIL: USPS: Box 6321, Colorado Springs, CO. 80934. Contact me for your numismatic literature needs! Coming soon highlights from the Q. David Bowers Research Library Sale Part I February 13, 2010.

Wayne Homren, Editor

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