By Greg Reynolds for CoinWeek …..
I feel honored to have had the privilege of knowing Eugene H. Gardner, Sr., 80. He was one of the most distinguished, visibly active and enthusiastic collectors in the history of the coin community in the United States. I was saddened to hear of Gene’s passing on July 16, 2016, after a long illness.
For the rest of my life, I will remember the moment that Gene revealed to me that he was terminally ill. He very much enjoyed collecting coins and discussing them.
For the previous 10 years, Gene had been an aggressive buyer of many coins that are particularly important to me. I often witnessed him bid at auctions.
Before the sales of the Gardner Collection were announced, it was widely known that he had formed one of the best collections in recent decades. If he had been in decent health until age 83 or so, he may very well have assembled the all-time greatest collection of classic U.S. silver coins, 1793 to 1934.
Although Gene had a few excellent U.S. coins from the first era of U.S. coins (1793 to 1815), the thrust of his collection was silver coins dating from around 1825 to around 1917. In such a category, his collection could be the all-time greatest, definitely one of the three best.
I know for certain that, had Gene not been so ill, he would have competed for many of the excellent pre-1840 silver coins in the Pogue Collection. If he had acquired one-third of the Pogue silver coins that interested him, his collection would have become substantially more incredible than it was!
Indeed, Gardner was an extraordinarily determined collector, who built the all-time greatest collection of Liberty Seated coins and perhaps the best collection of Barber coins as well. Indisputably, Gene assembled the premier set of Barber quarters. I tentatively figure that Gardner formed the third all-time-best set of Barber halves.
Gardner’s incredible collection contained more than 3,000 coins, most of which were classic U.S. silver coins. His sets of large cents, Two Cent pieces, Indian cents, and nickels were impressive as well. Unlike most collectors with similar preferences and budgets, Gardner sought to complete sets of both Proofs and business strikes.
While being intensely focused upon obtaining a large number of choice rarities and completing sets, Gardner was always social and kind. In my conversations with him and in group conversations, he never lost his temper or became agitated. If he was bothered by a statement or a question, he would respond with polite sarcasm or by smoothly changing the topic.
Gene’s overall pleasantness and mild-mannered personality were distinctive and especially memorable.
Specific coins that he owned will not be itemized now. Gene’s life, personality and overall achievements are appropriate topics during this sad time. Besides, I’ve already written a seven-part series on the auctions of his collection and subsequent articles about the appearances of coins with the Gardner pedigree in later auctions.
“Gardner was a very passionate collector. He loved to talk about coins,” recollects Richard Burdick. “If I or my associate outbid Gene for a major coin at an auction, he would graciously walk over and shake the winning bidder’s hand,” Richard remarks. Even if “it was a coin he really wanted,” Gene warmly “congratulated” the winner.
Gardner began collecting coins as a kid in the 1940s. He just about filled the first Whitman folder for Lincoln cents by obtaining coins from change or asking merchants for “old pennies.” Starting in 1955 while he was in college, Gene devoted more funds to collecting and would frequently spend $10 to $25 per coin. Even then, he was attracted to gem-quality silver coins from the 19th century, his trademark over the years.
Gardner graduated from Harvard College in 1958, with a degree in economics. He earned his MBA at Harvard Business School, finishing in 1961.
He and Anne Downey were married in 1963. Their engagement had been announced in the The New York Times on November 25, 1962. For many years, Anne has been the chief compliance officer for Gardner, Russo & Gardner. Reportedly, Anne is a descendant of Andrew Curtin, governor of Pennsylvania during the U.S. Civil War. Gene was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1936, and has deep roots in the region.
Not long after he married Anne, Gardner decided to sell his coin collection. My impression is that the main reason was that Gene decided that he had to abruptly cease spending so much time pursuing coins and focus on immediate priorities.
Before 1965, his collection contained around 500 coins, and was not well organized. In some ways, it was a ‘work in progress.’ In February 1965, Gardner’s collection was auctioned by Stack’s in New York. Gene was not yet 30 years old.
Early in his career, Gene was employed by Kidder, Peabody. In 1968, he founded his own investment management firm, which evolved into the current firm of Gardner, Russo & Gardner.
Tom Russo became Gene’s partner in 1989. The Dataroma site lists a portfolio valued at more than $11.8 billion being managed by Russo as of March 31, 2016. The accuracy of that listing has not been verified. An immediate point is that the Gardner firm manages many billions of dollars worth of equities.
A company brochure in 2011 revealed that “Eugene H. Gardner, Jr. came to the firm in 1998 and in 2000 the firm became Gardner Russo & Gardner, a business partnership wholly owned by the three principals.” Also, Gene’s son is a life trustee of Lancaster Country Day School and a former president of the board.
During all the time that I knew Gene, I was unaware that he had an interest in art or art history. Yet his daughter has publicly emphasized that Gene is an art collector who played a key role in spurring her interest in art history.
His daughter, Victoria Gardner Coates, has a doctorate in Art History from the University of Pennsylvania. She ceased teaching Art History after beginning a new career as an advisor to prominent politicians, including presidential candidates. Curiously, she is both an art historian and a foreign policy expert.
Family members, friends and guests will attend the funeral service for Gene, which will be held on Friday, July 22 at the Highland Presbyterian Church, 500 East Roseville Road, Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Although the service itself is scheduled to begin at 11:00 AM at the “Sanctuary,” the “Gardner Family Greeting” will begin at the “Narthex” at 9:30 AM.
©2016 Greg Reynolds