The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 15, Number 6, February 5, 2012, Article 16


While we're on the topic of old-time coin auctions, here's a reprint of a reprint from Cal Wilson's The Repository, Vol. V, No. 4, Mar. - Apr., 1988. Cal introduced it as follows: "Longtime reader, and noted numismatic author David Lange recently submitted the following article first published in the January, 1947 issue of The Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine. I find it a delightful first-hand narrative on the flavor of the numismatic scene in turn-of-the-century America." -Editor

by Thomas L. Elder

Scene. A New York Auction in 1902.

In that year, 1902, the writer was living in Pittsburgh. He had just established himself as a coin dealer, whole-time, although he had for long years been collecting and selling some coins. He used to make trips to New York, visiting Hoboken and other sections hunting up coins.

So he sauntered into Low's auction sales room in 1902. The room was located upstairs, in a small building on 4th Ave. and the auctioneer was one Henry C. Merry.

Here's the picture. The coins were mostly in envelopes, but a few of the gems were carefully boxed and exhibited inside a small case maybe 3 X 5 feet on the side. In sauntered the Chapman brothers, on their return from a coin hunting trip to Europe. They were hardly on speaking terms with Low, due to some disagreement, yet their curiosity led them to look over the room, the visitors and also the rarest pieces. Hudson Chapman walks quietly to the small case and asks to examine a Lord Baltimore six pence and an uncirculated 1796 U. S. Dime.

After careful comparison of notes by the two Chapmans they put the coins back and quietly walked out of the room. They looked but did not bid. Such was their feeling towards Low on that occasion. Presently appears in the room Mr. Low, a pompous looking man with a round face and a shiny bald head. He wore a mustache snow white and puffed at a long cigar. He had on a Prince Albert coat and a white vest. He was dressed to kill as the saying goes and looked fully the part of a prosperous and successful businessman. Well he might be as he was about the only coin cataloguer in the great city of New York. The older Frossard had died and the young Frossard was only beginning to hold a few scattered sales. Low had a sale about every two months.

Low was cheerful and confident. After the coins were put away the small crowd took chairs. I noticed men like H. T. Dawson, Isaac Cary of Brooklyn, Hillyer Ryder, maybe Carl Wurtzbach. Low was deliberate. His sales seldom ran over five hundred lots and sometimes barely four hundred. It was a long session always as he sold very slowly, indulging in a good many comments. He held his entire lot of bid sheets, usually not over 85, in one hand, and there were frequent pauses to look up a doubtful bid or to inquire into the standing of the bidder before he allowed Merry to knock down a lot. At time the progress became tedious, even exasperating to some people in the room who had to wait around for hours to get to a lot they were interested in.

Of course prices were far below today's. The uncirculated 1796 dime sold for $15.00, the Lord Baltimore six pence, really a gem brought only $20.00. Those were indeed low prices. 1877 cents, three and five cent coins were not bringing $2 each, in fact the 1877 proof cent went as low as $1.15 each -- yes the $45 coins of today. Minor proof sets of 1877 were usually sold as a lot.

So Low's sale moved slowly along. There was no rush and everyone had ample time to make up his mind whether to bid before any lot was knocked down. Yet Low sales were on the level and bona fide. He merely wanted to see justice done to the lots. The sales started at two o'clock and it was lucky if they ended at six p.m. Deliveries were slow and painful, in fact Mr. Low frequently invited bidders to go and get their lots the following day at his office which was then a building near 23rd Street on 4th Avenue. Dawson bid on ancient bronzes. Cary collected U. S. silver. Ryder collected early American. Ryder attended my very first sale in New York in 1905; so did Carl Wurtzbach. So did Dawson. Frossard had gone; left town for some unaccountable reason, never to return. What became of him I have never learned.

Low's sales continued for a long time on 4th Avenue, then Merry died and Dan Kennedy took his place. Low held sales at various places, finally at the Park Avenue Hotel. Then he moved to New Rochelle where he died about 1924.

Wayne Homren, Editor

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