An article by Nancy Oliver and Richard Kelly in the November 2015 issue of The Numismatist (the official publication of the American Numismatic Association) discusses the amazing collection of Dewitt S. Smith. Here's a lengthy excerpt.
A man by the name of
DeWitt S. Smith once owned
one of the most interesting
and complete collections of
pioneer gold coins ever issued in
California, Oregon, Utah and Colorado.
In addition, his assemblage
of American colonial pieces was
considered by many to be the finest
known, and he also acquired a
number of rare silver pieces and one
or two very rare early copper cents.
From the 1860s until his death in
1908, Smith made a fortune in the
paper manufacturing industry and,
to a degree, the banking business.
Both of these endeavors gave him
the financial means to purchase
many of the most sought-after
coins available at the time. Well-known
numismatist Thomas L.
Elder once called Smith “one of the
world’s greatest numismatists.”
Upon the latter’s death, Elder
stated, “No American numismatist
was more highly respected, [and]
no other will be more sorely missed
from the collectors’ ranks.”
DeWitt S. Smith entered the
world on April 4, 1840, and was
one of four children born to Jared
and Caroline Sheldon Smith of
Sandisfield, Berkshire County,
Massachusetts. His family moved
to Lee, also in Berkshire County,
where Smith attended Alexander
Hyde School. After the Civil War
began, he enlisted in the Union
Army and was a second lieutenant
in the 49th Massachusetts Infantry.
He served from September
1862 to September 1863, and was
a captain of Company 8 during the
Battle of Port Hudson.
As mentioned, Smith was involved
in the banking business and
served as vice president of the Lee
Savings Bank and as a director of
the Lee National Bank. He also
was an active Mason until his
health declined in the early 1900s.
In the late 1880s, Lee’s postmaster,
Carl Wurtzbach, showed
Smith his collection of Andrew
Jackson tokens, sparking his numismatic
interest and serving
as the catalyst for what would become
the amazing DeWitt S.
Smith Coin Collection.
had amassed an amazing collection
of coins, china and antique
furniture. However, it was his
coins that turned Smith’s head.
Smith immediately gave Wurtzbach
$500 to purchase coins for him.
Over the course of 20+ years,
Smith purchased amazing U.S.
pioneer gold rarities, such as the
1849 Templeton Reid $25 gold
piece (made in either Georgia or
California), of which only one is
known. (This gold coin might have
been stolen from the U.S. Mint’s
collection in 1858 and may have become
part of Virgil Brand’s extensive
collection after Smith’s death.
We will follow up on this interesting
piece in another column.)
Smith also owned the extremely
rare 1849 J.S. Ormsby & Company
gold $10 California specimen, for
which he paid $1,310; one of only
three known 1850 gold $5 coins
from Dubosq & Company; and the
very rare 1851 $5 gold piece made
by Dunbar & Company. He also
possessed one of 13 known Kellogg
& Company $50 gold pieces struck
in California in 1855.
Other rare coins owned by
Smith included what has often
been considered “America’s first
coin,” which was an undated 1652
Massachusetts Bay Colony New
England shilling designed and
struck by John Hull and Robert
Sanderson in Boston. This coin
represents an extremely rare die
variety of which only 13 other
pieces are known, with Smith’s
example being one of the finest.
Although he suffered paralyzing
strokes in his later years, Smith’s
interest in coins and collectors continued
until the day before his
death on June 25, 1908. In fact,
he wrote a letter on June 24 inquiring about a colonial coin he
wished to purchase. He was 69
years old when he passed. Famous
numismatists such as Wurtz bach,
S. Hudson Chapman and J.C.
Mitchelson attended his funeral.
Smith left behind his wife, four
sons and a daughter.
Soon after Smith’s death, his
gold coin collection went up for
sale. A 1908 edition of The Numismatist
reported the following:
For more information on the American Numismatic Association, see:
Wayne Homren, Editor
The Numismatic Bibliomania Society is a non-profit organization
promoting numismatic literature. See our web site at coinbooks.org.
To submit items for publication in The E-Sylum, write to the Editor
at this address: firstname.lastname@example.org
To subscribe go to: https://my.binhost.com/lists/listinfo/esylum
Copyright © 1998 - 2020 The Numismatic Bibliomania Society (NBS)
All Rights Reserved.
NBS Home Page
Contact the NBS webmaster