In his Numismatic Bookie column published in the September 24, 2012 issue of Coin World, Joel Orosz
discusses what is widely accepted to be first auction sale catalog of a collection of U.S. coins. Here's an
Until the mid-19th century, a few coins were occasionally offered in auctions of paintings or books, but never in a
dedicated numismatic catalog. Then came Feb. 20 to 21, 1851, when Dr. Lewis Roper’s collection was sold at public
auction in Philadelphia.
A dentist and pioneering coin collector, Roper was lucky to befriend William DuBois, assistant assayer of the Mint,
who helped him find rarities. However, Roper was unlucky to die of cholera in 1850 while sailing home from the
California gold fields.
His collection merited the first American catalog in which coins were the main event: Catalogue of the Entire
Collection of Rare and Valuable Coins, Medals, Autographs, Mahogany Coin Case, & c., Late of Doctor Lewis Roper,
Deceased, published by Moses Thomas & Sons of Philadelphia.
The Roper catalog is divided into sections offering coins from different eras and nations, and the descriptions are
mostly familiar, although some sound strange to modern ears, such as “Dollar with Flying Eagle.” The overall
organization is unusual, with 52 “lots,” each lot containing a number of individually numbered items; in all, the
auction offered 698 coins and 21 autographs. No illustrations are included; not until 1869 would the first
photographically illustrated American coin catalog appear.
The Roper name drew coin collectors from Philadelphia, Boston and New York City. So many attended that Thomas &
Sons had to reprint the catalogs. These two printings can be distinguished by examining the bottom fourth of page
24. In the first printing, this area is blank; in the second, the following appears: “M. Thomas & Sons,
Philada., February, 1851 Auctioneers, 93 Walnut Street.”
Collectors in attendance competed for delicacies such as a 1792 half disme, a 1794 Flowing Hair dollar, an 1848
Coronet, CAL. quarter eagle, and two original Libertas Americana medals.
Numismatic bibliophiles love the Roper catalog — first or second printing — and bid thousands of dollars when one
comes onto the market. Perhaps 10 to 12 copies survive outside of institutional collections, making this catalog
rarer than an 1804 silver dollar.
That's one of the things I love about numismatic literature - many of these items are quite rare, and when combined
with historical importance they can become quite valuable. I'm very grateful to have a partially named copy of the
Roper sale in my collection.
To read the complete article, see:
The 'granddaddy' of catalogs: First U.S. coin auction catalog
Wayne Homren, Editor
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