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V20 2017 INDEX       E-SYLUM ARCHIVE

The E-Sylum: Volume 20, Number 48, November 19, 2017, Article 17

MORE ON ROBERT MARTIN AND THE MIDNIGHT SALE

Here are some responses to last week's article on the late early American coinage expert Robert Martin . -Editor

David Menchell writes:

I read the latest comments about Robert Martin and thought I would add a few remembrances of my own. I first met Robert around the time of the Frederick Taylor sale in 1987. I was the new kid on the block with a recent interest in State coinage. Of course, I didn't have Robert's vast knowledge, but I guess I was active enough to come onto his radar. We soon began to communicate extensively.

Robert was something of a paradox: he had that New York accent and tough guy appearance that reminded me of Jack Palance, yet when he began talking about coins, he was very precise and methodical, not at all what you would expect. He maintained an extensive file on Connecticut coppers, which he willingly shared with anyone who was interested in the series. I remember his giving me lists of several Connecticut collections being auctioned taken from his notes, in advance of the actual auctions.

We would talk about the major sales, like Hessberg, Perkins and Ford, going over each lot, with Bobby highlighting those items he felt were underrated in terms of rarity, grading or condition census. If I purchased a piece that he was aware of, he would frequently provide me with pedigree information and the listings of prior auction appearances of the coin. He was a true connoisseur of the series. I can recall many a night when I would speak to him on the phone (usually later than 11) and we would be chatting away for two hours or more. I'm embarrassed to say that on more than one occasion I dozed off during these conversations, while Bobby was still enthusiastically continuing the discussion.

Bobby was a regular attendee at the first Colonial Cookouts that I held in the mid-1990's. These annual summer BBQ's at my home on Long Island were attended by many local collectors, including Bobby. He always brought items of interest to share with the rest of us. On one occasion, the evening was drawing to a close and the guests were leaving. Bobby was chatting with the late Steve Tanenbaum in front of the house. I had to run an errand and was away from the house for about two hours. I returned to find Bobby and Steve still chatting away exactly where I had left them two hours earlier.

Bobby always had interesting stories and anecdotes about himself and other collectors, usually told with a wry sense of humor. I remember his tale about his first wife and her disapproval of his interest in coins. "I was sitting at the kitchen table having breakfast and reading a copy of Coin World", he related, "when suddenly, a knife came plunging through the newspaper. I suspected at that time that she did not share my interest in coins".

Over time, family, career and other matters reduced my contact with Bobby. I would see him at Colonial coin gatherings and auctions, but he was always willing to talk and answer any numismatic questions. He was truly a unique individual, kind, knowledgeable, and generous in sharing his expertise with others. Numismatics has lost a brilliant and scholarly collector and researcher, and those of us who knew Robert Martin have lost a good friend.

David Fanning writes:

I was very saddened to hear of the death of Robert Martin. I probably met Robert about ten years ago at a C4 convention. I was collecting Connecticut coppers at the time and he was the acknowledged expert in that arcane little world (though he certainly would never have presented himself as so being).

Robert was kind and encouraging to his fellow collectors, and while he possessed the wit and intelligence to make him an insightful commentator on the foibles of our crowd, there was no malice in him. His willingness to share the knowledge he had carefully and laboriously built up over the decades is a model to be emulated. He'll be missed.

Here is a photo of Robert in the foreground at Roger Siboni's 2009 gathering of colonial coin collectors.

Robert Martin at Roger Siboni's

The Midnight Sale

The article included a photo submitted by Randy Clark at a Colonial Coin Collectors Club convention in Boston. I asked for more information about Robert and the event and received responses from David Fanning, Jack Howes, David Menchell, Don Mituzas, Mike Packard, Roger Siboni, Tony Terranova and others. Thanks! Below is the picture and a consensus list of names. -Editor

C41991 Midnight Sale Crop

* Seated at left: Walter Breen
* Seated at right, holding book: Mike Ringo
* First row standing: Jeff Rock, Don Mituzas, Tom Rinaldo, Dave Townson, Michael Spencer
* Back row standing: Ed Sarrafian, Jim Goudge, Steve Tannenbaum, Robert Martin and Rob Retz
(Don Mituzas took the picture with a timer)

Don Mituzas writes:

midnight sale catalog I was a friend of Robert Martin for more than 30 years. Randy Clark was nice enough to forward The E-Sylum to me with the tributes to Robert. At the end was a photo that I took of the group present at the sale. I always had my camera with me at C4 conventions for coin photography. You had asked for more info on the sale so I thought I would respond.

The impromptu sale was held in Robert Martin’s hotel room and was the result of a purchase of colonial coins that Mike Ringo had made. I’m quite sure that they came from the Worthy Coin Shop in Boston, but I’m not sure if they were part of the bid board they had at the time. Word got out that something was going on and a number of people showed up. Next thing you know Walter Breen was cataloging and creating lot tickets for the coins. Those in attendance were “registering” to bid and chose their own paddle number. Having a fondness for Machin’s Mills coinage I picked 9-76B for a rare Machins piece and Robert was 2.2-D.2 after a favorite 1786 Connecticut copper.

Walter Breen cataloged all the coins “lot tickets” on a small Howard Johnson’s note pad. Mike Ringo was of course the auctioneer. Bidding was active with most, if not all in attendance winning at least one lot. I think in many cases Walter’s hand written lot tickets are worth more than the coins. I still have the coins and lot tickets as a reminder of the event.

A couple of months later Rob Retz put together a hardcover auction sale catalog and sent it gratis to those who were part of the group. I believe he made a couple of extra copies, but I’m fairly certain the total printing was no more than 15 catalogs. The catalogs all had the owner’s name on the front cover. The Terms of Sale make me think of a SNL skit and that was the attitude in the room. It was really quite a fun and certainly memorable event.

As a side note Robert Martin and I frequently brought books that Walter Breen had written to the EAC conventions for his autograph. Usually it was more than an autograph. The Breen Encyclopedia Mike Ringo is holding is one of the books I brought for Walter to sign along with his book on US and Colonial Proof Coins. I’ve attached scans of those that were signed immediately after the sale in Walter’s classic purple pen.

RIP to those in the photo who are no longer with us including Walter Breen, Mike Ringo, Steve Tannenbaum, Rob Retz and most recently and of a great personal loss to me, Robert Martin.

Thanks! Readers can click on the photos to see larger versions on our Flickr archive (and click a second time to enlarge). The Terms of Sale are a hoot. -Editor

front page midnight sale terms of sale midnight sale
Title page and Terms of Sale

lot tickets
Lot Tickets

Breen encyclopedia book signed Breen proof book signed
Walter Breen's Encyclopedia and U.S. Proof Coin books

Tom Rinaldo writes:

Before saying a few words about the sale itself I first want to pay personal tribute to Robert Martin. With only possibly the exception of Eric Newman, I have never known such a gentleman in our Colonial corner of numismatics as was Robert. Not that he was anyone's babe in the woods by any means. If there was ever dirt to be known about any players in Colonial coin collecting, Robert knew of it, but only because he cared so much about the hobby and was always paying very close attention. Maybe that informed the twinkle that was always in his eyes, but Robert remained kind and generous to all of us.

As the primary cataloger for the C4 Auctions for a dozen years I never could have remotely done justice to the Connecticut Coppers series in them were it not for Robert Martin. Come October I was always on the phone to him late at night, going over the best specimens of Connecticut Coppers consigned to each year's sale to try to fit them, best I could, into the general scheme of the condition census. And Robert was always ready with lot numbers of coins in sales gone by, stretching back for decades, that I should closely compare whatever coins that I called to talk to him about with, augmented by additional information he knew about from private holdings.

Robert didn't have to do that. He was after all still an active bidder on coins in those sales, but he never held back information. He always at the very least gave me leads. If I failed to adequately appreciate the implications of the clues that Robert always gave me, it wasn't because he ever attempted to mislead me. And the foundation of our hobby is that much stronger due to his generosity sharing that information.

The Midnight Sale itself was a total hoot. I no longer have my once personal copy of it - having long since sold it to a dedicated bibliophile friend who I knew would give it a fitting home. I can't remember what was actually said of it in the actual catalog, but I remember the motto: "Worth getting out of bed for". Mike Ringo had a bid in at a Boston coin shop bulletin board large lot of low grade coppers, which sure enough he won right before that C4 Convention in Boston. I believe it was Worthy Coins where he won it, but don't hold me to that - my memory is foggy.

Mike showed them to a few of us fellow colonial dealers and soon enough the idea of selling them all through a tongue in cheek auction in a hotel room was born. As those who have already seen the catalog know, large photos were taken, and later published, of some coins that almost anywhere else none would have thought worthy of even attributing. From start to finish it was organized in just hours. Walter Breen cataloged most of the lots on Hotel note pad paper, and Jeff Rock handled a few that Walter didn't get around to. I believe it was the last auction that Walter ever cataloged.

The rules for the auction emerged from a rowdy group session of suggestions, the wilder the better. Pretty quickly into the Sale itself all of us got bitten by the bug to actually buy something from the Midnight Sale, only because it was the Midnight Sale, not because we particularly wanted the actual coins we were bidding on. So the prices realized for lots were pretty crazy for what they were. But then again we all got copies of the catalog that was issued long after the sale itself was held. How unconsciously astute it was for all of us buyers, who no doubt lost money on any coins we purchased if we subsequently tried to resell them, to keep our makeshift paddles raised, for we all struck gold in the after sale catalog aftermarket. For that we all owe thanks to a true labor of love by Rob Retz, who compiled everything needed to turn a spontaneous numismatic happening into the splendid leather bound limited edition numismatic auction catalogs that are so coveted today.

My best wishes to all my good friends in one great hobby. And may Robert Martin always be remembered for the kind soul that he was, in addition to his being the master of Connecticut Coppers.

Jeff Rock writes:

Robert Martin was a dear friend for over 30 years and will be sadly missed. As one of the two cataloguers for this sale I feel like I can shed a little light on this event. The other cataloguer was none other than Walter Breen – a good friend and yet the only time we worked together on something numismatic. The auction catalogue from this sale is undoubtedly one of the rarest of the 20th century! But first some background.

In April, 1991 the EAC convention was held in Boston. The late Mike Ringo arrived a few days before us and scoured some of the local coin shops including one that had a bidboard (something sadly missed in the few remaining coin stores today). He bought several large groups of colonial coins, including a nice group of Connecticut coppers that had some better varieties in it – something he was famous for doing.

A group of us were in Robert Martin’s hotel room looking at them and attributing and at some point we said “let’s have an auction.” It was after midnight, but we ran around the hotel, waking people up to come join us. A dozen or so did, a few cussed us out for ruining their beauty sleep. While I have the original attendance list I think some people may not want to be publicly named – so I will just mention the ones in the photo who have passed away, which were Walter Breen, Rob Retz, Mike Ringo, Steve Tannenbaum and Robert Martin (in that order).

For the record, I am the baby in the room proudly wearing my Yale sweatshirt – I never attended that school, but had a friend who did and that was apparently justification for wearing it. We handed Walter some of the better coins and he wrote out descriptions on the Howard Johnson stationary at the hotel, and I did the rest, all while a haze floated above the room.

The fun continued both in the cataloguing and the terms and conditions of the sale that we wrote up as we went along, which included tidbits like “All payment must be made in coppers of full legal weight. New Jersey coppers are no longer acceptable at 14 to the shilling” and “All floor bidders shall henceforth be referred to as witnesses and may be subject to subpoena at a future date.” Snarky comments abounded in the footnotes (by this writer, after the sale itself was over, poking fun at just about everyone in colonials including himself) and they bring a chuckle to this day.

The sale did well enough, people took their coins and wandered to bed well after closing time at the local bars, and the matter was kind of forgotten (though we tried another sale the following year that was a dismal failure – magical moments seldom do well in a repeat performance).

As cataloguer I took the handwritten lot tickets with me, along with all the original documentation – and nothing happened. The group that was at the sale would wax nostalgic about it now and then, but it truly seemed like a different era just a few years after it happened.

midnight sale catalog Jeff Rock copy Now I didn’t say anything yet about the auction catalogue – because there wasn’t one at the time. But in a truly fitting fashion one was eventually issued – a half decade after the fact. The late Rob Retz took it upon himself to complete the job, and I still had the handwritten material to work with. We were able to get photographs of some of the coins that the original owners still had, as well as most of the lot tickets with written descriptions. A lavish hardbound catalogue was produced, with each individual’s name stamped on the cover – and as an added bonus a little pouch was pasted in the inside back cover to hold those original lot tickets.

By the time the catalogue was produced Walter Breen had passed away, but all the other bidders received a copy and a couple more were produced for people who were at the hotel and should have been invited, one for Michael Hodder who was just starting his reign as the consummate auction cataloguer, as well as one that was sold for the benefit of The Colonial Coin Collectors Club (which I believe was Breen’s copy). Only a couple have appeared in the numismatic literature marketplace as their owners are rightfully proud of having been there, and I think only the Hodder, Retz and Ringo examples have been sold.

The total run was just 15 copies – and in a good democratic fashion there were no special editions produced – or rather, they were ALL special. Most bibliomaniacs haven’t heard of the sale since the majority are still held amongst the colonial collectors that were there in person. Eventually one might make it up on the Newman Numismatic Portal, but until then it may just remain the white whale of numismatic literature.

It's kind of sad to look at the photo and realize five out of the twelve have passed away, three are no longer that involved with numismatics and two are still collecting but haven't been to the C4 Convention in half a decade or more. Tempis Fugit....or, since we are colonial collectors, Fugio.

Thanks, everyone. A memorable event! -Editor

To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
ROBERT MARTIN (1946-2017) (http://www.coinbooks.org/v20/esylum_v20n46a07.html)

Holabird E-Sylum ad 2017-11-12


Wayne Homren, Editor

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