In his recent blog posts, Harvey Stack discussed
the value of numismatic pedigrees. Here are some excerpts.
One of the many questions I am asked is: "Why is having
the pedigree of rare coins and currency you sell important?"
The pedigrees of numismatic items, works of art, jewelry, or
other collectibles are valuable assets. They can record ownership
from the day an item was issued or first sold and contain a
history of subsequent owners. Most old-time collectors retained
pedigrees, as they have been important to buyers through the
decades. They are still important, right up to the present day,
and the retention of pedigrees into the future will continue to
add value to a numismatic item.
Collections in America, as well as the rest of the world, were
mostly assembled by those who could afford to put items away and
save them for the future. When we examine the early days of
America and into the Industrial Revolution, collectors had many
handicaps that do not exist today.
There was little if anything published that collectors could
refer to, and they were lucky to have access to any information
on coinage and coinage history.
Dealers of course experienced the same restrictions.
Dealerships were located only in a few major cities or near them,
auctions were few, and price lists were originally handwritten to
the client, or in rare cases distributed to only a few. After the
Civil War, some things changed. People earned a bit more, more
wealth was accumulated, and important dealers in numismatics
opened shops in Philadelphia, New York and Boston. These shops
attracted mostly local collectors.
Auction sales became more prevalent and a few lists of coins
were distributed. Many of these publications listed the famous
collectors who had these coins for sale, and often previous
owners were listed in the catalogs. The dealers felt that showing
a pedigree established the worthiness of the coin, especially if
the previous collector was known to be well educated in the
fields he collected. A pedigree to an astute collector could show
how a coin rated.
Before the late 20th century there were no grading services or
encasement in sealed plastic holders. Today when a coin is graded
it often has, if available, the latest pedigree of the coin
printed on the holder. Years back when we did not have
encapsulation of coins in "slabs" (the common word to
describe the encased coins today), the owner of a coin often
relied on the pedigree printed or written on a coin envelope
(usually 2 x 2 inches), and that envelope was kept with the coin
as it traveled from one collection to another. Earlier or when
envelopes were not available, the owner or cataloger might try to
match the coin to one in an earlier catalog, if it had a
photograph or a distinct mark or impairment that could be
described and readily identified.
Though these methods were not foolproof, for many coins they
helped answer important questions: Who owed this coin before? Was
he or she a famous person? Was this from some earlier, almost
complete collection? Collectors became excited about a coin’s
pedigree as well as its rarity, price and other features. The
coin’s history became important and dealers, when describing a
coin for auction or a price list, would research earlier
Dealers like Stack's Bowers research all coins they can
for earlier pedigrees. The lots sold by auction usually have an
envelope or tag identifying the sale they are being sold in,
along with their lot number, so the pedigree is sustained for the
future. In this way the value of a coin’s past can be maintained,
as long as the information is kept intact.
To read the complete articles, see:
The Value of a Pedigree, Part 1
The Value of a Pedigree, Part 2
Wayne Homren, Editor
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