As collectors progress in their collecting pursuits, we begin to think about the great collections and how we compare. To give you an idea of what some of the most famous and extensive collections are like, the following is a list of current, past, and two special government collections.
National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institute
The only way to start this list is with the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institute, the world’s largest numismatic collection. With over 1.6 million coins, tokens, medals, and other numismatic objects, the collection includes United States, world, and ancient coins. The collection contains rare coins and patterns not seen anywhere else in the world. Amongst its holdings are famous rarities include all varieties of the 1804 Draped Bust Silver Dollar, a 1913 Liberty Head Nickel, and two 1933 Saint Gaudens $20 Double Eagle coins. Also in the collection is a Brasher Doubloon, sometimes called the United State’s first gold coin, and a 1974 aluminum Lincoln Cent created by the U.S Mint to try to convince congress to allow for its production.
Unfortunately, the Smithsonian Institute has taken the National Numismatic Collection off display. Curators are incorporating the coins into other displays and creating travel exhibitions that have appeared in other museums and at large coin shows. You can visit the Smithsonian’s online virtual coin exhibits and read more about the collection online.
Edward C. Rochette Money Museum
The Edward C. Rochette Money Museum at the American Numismatic Association headquarters in Colorado Springs is the largest museum dedicated to the study of United States coins and currency that also covers the history of numismatics. With over 250,000 pieces, the collections contains famous rare coins including the George O. Walton specimen 1913 Liberty Head Nickel, an 1804 Draped Bust Silver Dollar, and one of the three known 1866 No Motto Seated Liberty Silver Dollars.
The Rochette Money Museum is the home of the Harry W. Bass, Jr. Collection. Bass was interested in United States gold coins and had built the most complete collection ever assembled, including many one-of-a-kind specimens, of gold coins from 1795 through 1933. Bass’s collection includes the only complete set of $3 gold pieces including the rare 1870-S, complete set of gold coins and patters from 1834-1933, and a set of 1896 “Educational Series” silver certificates including test printings and uncut sheets.
Read more about the Rochette Money Museum and all of their collection on the ANA’s website.
Coin and Currency Collections at the University of Notre Dame
University of Notre Dame Libraries Department of Special Collections boasts one of the largest collections of colonial coins and currencies in the United States. The coin collection includes an Oak Tree one-shilling coin, a Continental dollar, and a 1792 half disme—the first coin-type struck by the newly established United States Mint. The colonial currency collection includes samples from nearly every emission (issue) from all thirteen colonies and lottery tickets that were used to raise money to pay the costs of the Revolutionary War.
The collection also includes Washington Tokens and Confederate Currency and our Nineteenth Century American tokens. You can visit the colonial collection on line at www.coins.nd.edu.
Penn Museum Archaeology and Anthropology Coin Collection
The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology has one of the most complete collections of ancient coins. But rather than display them as a coin collection, the curators at the museum keep the coins with the various sections. Visit the ancient Roman section, and you can see the coins that defined the rule of the Roman Empire and the ancient Greek collection is very impressive. All coins were found during archaeological visits to the regions of ancient civilizations. You can read more about the Penn Museum at www.penn.museum.
The Fitzwilliam Museum Coin Collection
The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England has a nearly complete collection of ancient Roman coins issued after the murder of Nero. Amongst it collections are British and other Campaign and Gallantry Medals, European Renaissance medals, unique copper tokens handed out by the Cambridge chandler in 1668, and coins found casually and archaeological discoveries throughout England. The Fitzwilliam boasts of ongoing research into areas such as Indian and Islamic coinage. If you cannot visit The Fitzwilliam in Cambridge, you can see parts of their collection on line.
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
The collection at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (National Museums in Berlin) is well known as being very comprehensive and diverse covering the beginnings of coinage through the coins of today. With over 500,000, it is one of the largest collections in Europe. Staatliche Museen boasts large collections of Greek, Roman, and European coins from the Middle Ages to today. They also have an extensive collection of art medals dating from 1400.
In addition to the coins and medals, the collection also contains an extensive collection of paper currency primarily from Europe and items used as money from all over the world. The non-coin collection includes tools and dies that were used to strike coins in Berlin since the 17th century. The Staatliche Museen online English version of their online catalog can be found here.
Numismatic Museum, Athens
One of Greece’s oldest museums, the Numismatic Museum located in the Heinrich Schliemann mansion in downtown Athens, Greece. The Numismatic Museum collections has over 500.000 pieces of mostly coins but includes medals, lead seals, gems, weights, and minting objects dating from the 14th century BC until today. The collection includes a remarkable display of Greek coinages from Athens, Macedonia and Alexandria, Magna Graecia, and other Greek leagues and alliances. Modern coin galleries include coins from the Ottoman Empire through Greece joining the European Union. Read about their collection online at www.nma.gr.
State Hermitage Museum
Located in Saint Petersburg, Russia, the collection at the Sate Hermitage Museum is one of the most popular coin exhibits in Europe. With over 1.2 million pieces, it is the largest collection known outside of the United States. The largest segment of their collection tracks this history of money in Russia from the ninth century through today.
The Hermitage Museums’ Oriental collection boasts of coins, money ingots, dies, coin-shaped amulets and primitive currency of Asia, Africa, and neighboring Atlantic and Pacific islands. The collection includes a collection of very rate Sassanian coins and the 19th century Chinese silver money ingots that are considered amongst the finest collection in the world.
The Coin Room is in the main museum building at Palace Square in Saint Petersburg, which is closed on Mondays. Discover more about their collection on their website at www.hermitagemuseum.org.
Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. Collection
One of the most famous coin in United States numismatic history belonged to Louis E. Eliasberg. Eliasberg was a Baltimore financier who is the only person ever to build a complete set of United States coins. In 1950, he achieved his goal of building a collection of regular issue United States coins comprising all then-known dates and mintmarks when he purchased the last US gold coin and silver dime missing in his collection.
Eliasberg continued to collect turning his attention to rare world coins and medals. When he died in 1976, his collection was divided between his two children. The coins were sold in three auctions in 1982, 1996, and 1997 realizing nearly $44.9 million. Recently, the Eliasberg Collection of World Coins and Medals was auctioned in 2005 for more than $10.1 million.
The John J. Ford, Jr. Collection
John J. Ford, Jr. was a controversial figure in the world of numismatics, but his collection was legendary. Ford’s collection include colonial coins and currency from all 13 colonies, rare confederate pennies, and one of a kind tokens from the earliest days of colonial North America through the Great Depression. As a partner in the New Netherlands Coin Company, the auction catalogs Ford wrote became industry references.
Ford began selling his collection via auction in 2003. It was fitting that Stack’s of New York City handled the auction since Ford started his numismatic career as a youngster delivering coins for the famed company. Ford’s collection was sold in 10,855 lots during 21 auctions over five years bringing in over $56 million in sales. The auction catalogs were so meticulously written using Ford’s previous writings that they have become references.
John J. Ford, Jr. died in 2006 at the age of 81 leaving a numismatic legacy befitting a great collection, but leaving questions as to whether there were other pieces and writings hidden somewhere.
King Farouk I of Egypt
Saying that King Farouk I of Egypt lived in excess would be an understatement. From the time he took the throne in 1936 until his overthrow in 1952, Farouk used the Egyptian treasury to acquire rare works of art, gold, and a phenomenal coin collection. Farouk regularly worked with dealers in the United States and Great Britain to buy the best of the best from around the world.
After his overthrow in 1952, the new military government worked with Sotheby’s of London to sell Farouk’s collections. Farouk had accumulated the finest gold coins and many rarities from around the world. Notably, the collection included 8,500 gold United States coins including the only known complete set of Saint Gaudens $20 Double Eagle coins.
The auction caught the eye of the United States government who noticed that Lot 333 contained a 1933 Double Eagle that was considered illegal to own. The government convinced Egyptian authorities to remove the coin from the auction but it was never returned to the United States government as requested. The entire auction of King Farouk’s items sold for over $150 million.
The 1933 Saint Gaudens Double Eagle turned up again in 1996 when British coin dealer Stephen Fenton tried to sell the coin at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York to an American dealer. Fenton was arrested. This set off a legal battle for the next five years over the coin. The case was settled in 2001 and the coin was removed from its holding place in the World Trade Center, a few weeks before the attack.
In an astonishing one-lot auction on July 30, 2002, Sotheby’s sold what is now called the Farouk-Fenton Specimen for $7.59 million to an anonymous bidder. The auction price was increased by $20 that was paid to the United State Treasury since it issued the coin and had to ensure their books are balanced. To date, that is the highest price spent on one coin.
The United States Mint
Little is publically known about the collection at the United State Mint since the collection is not on display to the public. We do know that each of the U.S. Mint’s branches has a collection of material used at the branch and that this material contains trial pieces, dies, galvanos (artists proofs of coin designs), and medals. In a video recently released by the U.S. Mint, viewers are shown a collection of assay medals. These medals were created for the Assay Commission that used to verify that the coins struck by the U.S. Mint contained the proper metal content.
The U.S. Mint has rarely displayed their collection. At times, parts have been on display in the lobby of the U.S. Mint branches and at national coin shows, but only the employees at the U.S. Mint know the extent of this collection.
The Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Unlike the their counterparts at the U.S. Mint, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP), the agency responsible for printing our currency, regularly displays parts of their collection when they can. Pieces can be seen in the tour areas of the BEP facility in Washington, DC and at major coin shows. In recent years, BEP has brought its “Billion Dollar Exhibit” to many shows. The exhibit features more than $1 billion of rare U.S. paper currency that includes sheets of $100,000 notes, Treasury bonds and Gold and Silver Certificates.
The BEP collection dates back to the founding of the bureau in 1862. The collection reportedly contains notes, sheets, vignettes, test printings, and printing plates of every note and stamp every printed by the BEP. It is an extraordinary collection that very few have seen.