Joel Orosz has a great article in the July 2013 issue of The Numismatist
Below is the introduction to his amazing numismatic sleuthing story.
“How many coins are known with a pedigree to Lewis Roper?” That was the e-mailed question I received on the evening of May 13, 2012. I immediately thought, “I wish there was even one.”
Dr. Lewis Roper (ca.1805-1850) was a pioneering numismatist whose coin collection—back in 1851—was the first in the United States to be sold at public auction. A total of 2,383 coins and medals crossed the block during that two-day sale, but those were early days in the U.S. coin hobby. Few of the collectors who so eagerly purchased Dr. Roper’s coins recorded the source, and mid-19th century coin dealers tended to omit provenance information from their catalog descriptions, so the Roper pedigrees were soon lost. Therefore, my response was succinct: “None.” However, It was a safe bet that my correspondent, John J. Kraljevich Jr.
had some additional knowledge up his sleeve, so I invited him to tell me more!”
John has a remarkable knack for locating distinctive and significant coins, medals and notes from the colonial and early national periods of our nation’s history. But to think that he had found a coin actually pedigreed to Dr. Lewis Roper! Even for John, that would be a very tall order, akin to an astronomer finding cosmic material that could be traced directly back to the “Big Bang.”
Amazingly enough, John had done just that. He shot back a message with the subject line: “Sometimes a piece has a collector’s name written all over it…” The photo attached depicted the obverse of a 1791 Washington large eagle cent. Sure enough, between the data and the truncation of Washington’s bust, there was a neat countermark reading “Dr L. Roper.” As I stared at the screen, it occurred to me that, after 161 years, one of Lewis Roper’s coins had finally been found!
John then brought me back to earth with a few thoughtful observations. “The host coin,” he wrote, “is certainly genuine, and the countermark looks as if it was made in the first half of the 19th century. There is every indication that this was one of Dr. Roper’s coins.” But then, John threw down the “coin geek” gauntlet: “Of course,” he said, “’highly probable’ is not the same thing as ‘proof.’ After all, I bought the coin, via e-Bay, from a person in Traverse City, Michigan. Can someone prove that this was Dr. Roper’s coin?”
It was a challenge that I had to accept, and the quest for evidence took me down research pathways that led to surprising numismatic discoveries, but—did I find the “smoking gun”—did I prove that this countermarked Washington cent had once belonged to the celebrated Dr. Lewis Roper?
"Very, very close, but not quite" is probably the best description of the results of Joel's research. But it's a fascinating journey that touches on a panorama of 19th century numismatic personalities, including Adam Eckfeldt, William E. DuBois, George Escol Sellers, Jacob Giles Morris, Joseph Mickley and John McAllister Jr.
I highly recommend reading the complete article and expect it to be an award-winner.
I wondered how John managed to find the coin, and where it currently resided.
I've been getting a lot of nice feedback from various folks. It would have been even cooler if I had been able to prove that the coin was Dr. Roper's, but getting close to proving it was a lot of fun!
I can confirm its current whereabouts--I left it deliberately vague in the article, but it currently resides in my safety deposit box.
I wish I knew how John does it. He finds more rare, historical, and significant pieces in a month than most dealers find in a lifetime. My only viable theory is that a side deal with Lucifer may be involved!
My money is on a Time Machine. I got out my magnifier and looked over some old Chapman auction room photos. There’s a thin guy with dark hair and a handlebar mustache that looks awfully familiar…
The other possibility is that John is one of the Chapman Brothers--I'd favor Henry due to the luxuriant beard-growing capacity--who has found a way to Methuselah-ize himself. This would explain John's knowledge of esoterica--when you've had 135 years of experience, you tend to learn a lot!
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