By John Kraljevich, Numismatic Consultant….
There have been auctions of American coins conducted in the United States since the decade following the nation’s founding. Even before the establishment of the United States Mint in 1792, collectors with an interest in art, geography, and history assembled cabinets of fine specimens, chosen for their rarity, their historical significance, and their state of preservation. In that earliest era of American Numismatics, collectors focused on coins from ancient times and foreign countries, along with American medals and the coinage of the American colonial era, nearly everything but coins struck at the U.S. Mint.
Collectors grew in number in the early 19th century, and by the 1840s a small group of American numismatists knew which dates and design types of U.S. coins were rare and which could be traded for a premium over their face value. Interest in collecting American coins exploded in the few years preceding the Civil War, an era that saw the formation of the American Numismatic Society (ANS) in New York and the striking coins and medals expressly for sale to the growing legions of coin collectors. Numismatic auctions became commonplace up and down the eastern seaboard in the 1860s, and the most notable sale of that decade–that of the cabinet of Joseph J. Mickley of Philadelphia in 1867–netted an astounding $16,000 in sales.
In the century and a half since that explosion of interest in American coin collecting, there have been thousands of coin auctions. Billions of dollars worth of rare coins have crossed the auction block. American coins have been collected by kids gathering scarce dates from pocket change and by kings buying whole collections in a single stroke. The most famous collections have been built by marshaling significant resources over multiple generations. Through all of that, no one has ever built a collection like this before.
Not one of the great collections of the 19th, 20th, or 21st centuries had so many examples that were the finest known of their kind. Not one was built with such an unrelenting and uncompromising eye for quality. While all great collections are built from the constituent parts of past collections, none before the D. Brent Pogue Collection had ever taken greater advantage of the auction disposition of other legendary cabinets to assemble the finest-quality examples from each of those cabinets, picked like the choicest fruit from a expansive tree, and put them all together in one place.
This is a meta-collection, a collection that includes the best examples from every notable sale of the last quarter of the 20th century, an era that saw the dissolution of collections like Garrett, Norweb, and Eliasberg that had remained intact and off the market for a half-century or longer.
In so many of the major coin auctions of the last few decades, the numismatic cognoscenti would point to the best early American coin offered, the piece whose quality set it apart, and whisper that’s a Pogue coin. It was a compliment, a benediction even, to say that a coin was rare enough, fine enough, and important enough to be worthy of placement in the D. Brent Pogue Collection.
Without regard to the competition, many of those coins indeed became Pogue coins. If a coin of “Pogue Quality” wasn’t acquired for inclusion in the D. Brent Pogue Collection, it was because the collection already included a better one.
The first offering of the fruits of those extraordinary efforts are presented May 19th, 2015. They glitter and shine, each beautiful to behold. They tell stories about the founding of the nation and the establishment of its now dominant economy. They retain the names of all the great cabinets whose trays they have graced, names that define a fascinating narrative of the era since the coins stopped being tools of commerce and began being appreciated for their history, artistry, and quality.
These coins come from humble beginnings, most of them struck in the cramped quarters of the First United States Mint in Philadelphia, “a mean house,” in the words of one observer, converted to a mint in 1792 and used for the next 40 years. Nearly all were struck for the express purpose of being spent, coined with the designs and mottos of the United States of America to exist on no higher plane than that of common pocket change. Their antiquity has aided their transformation from spendable to collectable, while the rarity of their superlative states of preservation has further elevated them, allowing them to transcend the boundary between scarce collector coin and numismatic masterpiece. The D. Brent Pogue Collection, the sum of these parts, is the most important gathering of American numismatic masterpieces ever formed, a title it is unlikely to ever relinquish.