The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 16, Number 1, January 6, 2013, Article 19


Ralf W. Böpple of Stuttgart / Germany forwarded his English translation of the obituary for numismatist Jules Fonrobert. -Editor

Ralf writes:

Numismatische Zeitschrift Attached is the obituary for Jules Fonrobert, the German original as well as my translation. It was my opinion that little was known about Fonrobert and I heard even of the assumption that he did not exist and that 'Fonrobert' was only an alias for the real owner of the collection.

However, in the E-Sylum archive I found a contribution by Bob Leonard in which he mentions that he wrote a biography of Fonrobert in Breen and Gillio’s 2003 edition of "Califonia Pioneer Fractional Gold" (Vol. X, No. 9, Article 13). Since I was unable to get hold of a copy, I don’t know whether Mr. Leonard had access to this obituary (but would guess so).

In any case, it is definitely interesting for numismatic circles outside the California gold specialists to hear about the background of Jules Fonrobert (I am thinking about my peers from the Mexican / South American collecting community, from where I have received questions about Fonrobert in the past). Before I make this translation available to them, I would like to know what Mr. Leonard had written about Fonrobert – maybe somebody could provide me with a scan of the relevant pages of this book.

Thanks! Here is Ralf's translation. -Editor

Foerster, Feodor: „Jules Fonrobert †“, in: Numismatische Zeitschrift, Volume 11, 1879, Wien: Numismatische Gesellschaft in Wien, pp. 446-448.

Jules Fonrobert obituary

Jules Fonrobert †. May 22 of last year was the day Mr. Jules Fonrobert passed away in Freienwalde / Oder after a long period of suffering following a stroke. He was a former member of our numismatic society and known as an avid coin collector far beyond this circle.

Born on September 4th, 1831, as the first son of a man of private means, Louis Fonrobert - founder of the German rubber and gutta percha industry -, who passed away a few years ago, Jules Fonrobert was of very tender physical constitution. The protection he needed from a very early age on was the reason why he spent a large part of his childhood with relatives in a little town near to Berlin. Later he attended to the business school in Berlin, where he was prepared for a career in commerce, and completed an apprenticeship with one of the important banks in the city. Following this, he went to New York, where he spent several years working diligently with the local representative of the House of Rothschild.

His commercial abilities increased such that he, after his return to Berlin, together with an uncle, took over his father’s company and led it to unprecedented success, which established the basis for his not inconsiderable wealth.

Interest in numismatics had already been sparked in Fonrobert during his stay in America. There he laid the foundation to a general collection of medieval and modern coins, starting out just like any collector. It was only later, after having studied my specialized collection of coins and medals from overseas, that he developed deeper interest in this field, and decided to concentrate on overseas coinage from now on.

Equipped with a rarely encountered vigorous mind and, as mentioned, considerable financial means, he not only set in motion all coin dealers and collectors known to him, but he was also able, through his extensive commercial connections, to buy whole collections, thus achieving unprecedented results in his collecting strive.

Since his business and social responsibilities consumed the majority of his time, he could not bring order into the massive amount of numismatic material that he assembled, so he was forced to look for outside assistance. Due to his distinctive knowledge of human nature, he was able, in 1878 (1), to win one young numismatist, Mr. Adolph Weyl, to devote himself completely to select, sort and describe those items from the holdings useful for the collection. Within a short time, the collection grew so rapidly that the decedent came to the decision to give up the European coins and medals, with the exception of Brandenburg- Prussia, and to instruct a numismatic auction house with their sale.

After the company chaired by him for many years, had been transformed into a public corporation in 1871, Fonrobert did have some more time at his disposal and he came to the decision to edit a work on the numismatic history of the overseas countries, based on the specialized collection that he still augmented with all his forces, as well as on items published or present in other coin cabinets. For this purpose, he had drawings and woodcuts made of many coins.

However, while he was indulging in his hopes of seeing his favourite idea being completed on a magnificent scale, he was struck by a nervous condition. This forced him in 1877 to have his collection of Brandenburg-Prussia catalogued and brought to auction by the long-time curator of his collections.

It was only afterwards, facing the fact that his daily declining health would make the completion of his favourite plan impossible, that the deceased decided with heavy heart to have a catalogue made of his overseas collection, to save his objective from oblivion, now that it was impossible to realize it to the planned extent.

Adolph Weyl, knowledgeable long-time caretaker of this magnificent collection, completed this difficult task within the short period of 1 ½ years, and by this provided an immense and not to be underestimated service and guide to the coin collectors seeking to identify coins from overseas.

Let us honour the deceased, who pursued the preparation of his catalogues with an eagerness seldom encountered, as well as his intentions that did not come to fruition, with the wish:

“Honor to his memory and his strive, Peace to his soul!°

Berlin, October 1879
Dr. Feodor Foerster Translated by Ralf W. Böpple, November 2012
(1) Translator’s note: this date is clearly too late and should most likely read 1868

I passed this along to Bob Leonard to confirm his source. Here's his reply. Thanks! -Editor

First, pull your copy of E.E. Clain-Stefanelli's Numismatic Bibliography (Battenberg, 1984) off the shelf and turn to p. 1564. Here you will find listed Jules Fonrobert's obituary in the Numismatische Zeitschrift (1879), vol. 11, pp. 446-448. I obtained a copy of this (in German, of course) and translated it myself; this is the same source Mr. Böpple used. (Fonrobert's first name is incorrectly given by Elvira here as Julius.)

An additional short notice is found in Adolf Weyl, Die Jules Fonrobert'sche Samlung ueberseeischer Muenzen und Medaillen. Amerika. I. Abthilung: Nord-Amerika. Berlin, Adolf Weyl, December 1877, Vorwort (pp. v-vi).

Also, though not mentioned in my book, "Fonrobert, Jules 1831-1879 (Germany)" was an Overseas Member of the Royal Numismatic Society from 21 Nov. 1872 until his death 22 May 1879" (R.A.G. Carson and H. Pagan, A History of the Royal Numismatic Society, London 1986, p. 77). He was also a member of the Societe Royale de Numismatique de Belgique 1872-1879 (150th Anniversaire de la Foundation de la Societe...1841-1991, 1991, p. LXX).

Mr. Böpple questions the date of 1878 given in the obituary. He is probably right that 1878 should be corrected to 1868 or maybe 1870. (I omitted this in my account.)

This is not the first time Fonrobert's existence has been challenged. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that "Fonrobert" was a pseudonym for the true owner (see Mr. Battle Born, Mr. Fairbanks, H.R. Lee, etc., etc., and for that matter, Jay Roe himself), though he seems to have been able to join the national numismatic societies of at least three countries under this name if so. In any case, with an exhaustive collection like this, there had to be a wealthy collector behind it. So I think that the biographical details are essentially correct.

The bigger mystery is, how did Fonrobert get all his U.S. coins? So far as I know, he is not listed as a buyer in any U.S. auction of the period, including the time he spent in New York as a representative of the House of Rothschild. No doubt he used agents, but perhaps he ignored the auctions and bought entire collections en bloc as his obituary states.

Finally, here is the text of the Fonrobert material which appeared on p. 81 of the 2nd ed. of California Pioneer Fractional Gold, Wolfeboro, 2003 (not a scan--the book is way too valuable to do this now):

Jules Fonrobert, a wealthy German industrialist, owned one in 1877. When he acquired it is not known; possibly as early as the 1850s, when he was a representative of the House of Rothschild in New York, as he was already collecting coins during his residence there. After his return to Berlin in the late 1850s, Fonrobert decided to concentrate on “overseas” coins, especially including North and South America. The bulk of his holdings were purchased after 1871, however, when he incorporated his factories and withdrew from active management to devote all his time to his coin collection. He corresponded with all dealers and European numismatic societies seeking material, and also used his international mercantile connections, buying entire collections as well as individual rarities. But in 1877 he was seized with a fatal illness and consigned his collection to Adolph Weyl of Berlin, with the proviso that each piece be described in a catalog that would serve as a lasting reference. This Weyl did, listing and illustrating the Arms of California piece as lot no. 1382—the only one of Fonrobert’s 78 pieces of small California gold to be pictured. It was sold February 18, 1878. [1]

Wayne Homren, Editor

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