Lot 15106 of the 2018 November 7 & 10 Eric P. Newman Collection Part XI US Coins Signature Auction is a fascinating archive of material having to do with Mr. Newman’s acquisition of material from the estate of Colonel Green. It consists of two boxes of correspondence, inventories, and financial papers including thousands of pages of detailed records tracking the purchase and resale of coins, medals, and paper money from the Green Estate. Mostly consisting of loose sheets in folders, but also including typewritten inventory records housed in small binders, the archives are in very good overall condition.
The Colonel Green Estate archives divide into two interrelated categories: purchase correspondence and settlement records. The purchase correspondence largely consists of Newman writing the Estate, usually through Chase Bank in New York, and negotiating purchases. It also contains Newman and Johnson’s correspondence and inventory records, the latter of which includes six small notebooks devoted to dimes, paper money, cents, and half dollars (with two copies of the last two being present). Materials are mostly typewritten, but occasionally handwritten; typewritten materials are frequently annotated by hand. Occasional other items, such as telegrams and adding machine tape, are also included.
The settlement records were intended for use by Newman and Johnson in tracking the sale of items acquired from the Estate and the distribution of proceeds. Newman’s task was to be the primary contact with the Estate, while Johnson was responsible for selling what Newman obtained. The proceeds were to be divided between the two. These records are painstaking in detail, meticulously recording each item sold and the price achieved. The close friendship between Newman and Johnson could lead one to expect a less rigorous accounting, but the personalities of the men involved insisted on strict record-keeping as the best way to maintain that close friendship. On more than one occasion, trifling errors were corrected by one party sending the other a check for an amount small enough to be ignored by most. The records continue through Johnson’s death in February 1947 and consist of nearly 2000 pages of material.
The story of the Colonel Green Estate coins and their acquisition by Eric P. Newman and Burdette G. Johnson has become the stuff of numismatic legend and has been told many times before. It began on August 15, 1939, when Newman drew upon his slight acquaintance with Colonel Green to approach his Estate about purchasing some of Green’s Missouri paper money:
“I am a collector of paper money and specialize in items current in Missouri. The late Edward Green was very well known in the numismatic field and had in his collection certain bank notes from the State of Missouri which I would very much like to purchase. I do not know what disposition you plan to make or have made of some of his various collections but would appreciate very much if you could tell me who has charge of the collections and if the same were inventoried.”Being a graduate of M.I.T. I had the opportunity of knowing Colonel Green and did not at that time ask him to part with any of the things which gave him so much pleasure. Now, however, I would like to have you put me in touch with the person who could let me know what Missouri items are in Colonel Green’s collection and how I might find out if I could obtain some of these.”
Writing the Colonel Green Estate was a bold move on Newman’s part. The Estate was almost incomprehensibly large, and the Missouri paper money he sought was utterly insignificant in relation to the matters with which the executors had to be concerned. But nothing ventured, nothing gained, and Newman’s letter eventually bore results he could scarcely have dreamt of. The purchase of $1200 worth of Missouri paper items was the first of what would become many acquisitions from the Green Estate. When it became clear that Newman could arrange the purchase of virtually any of Green’s collections, he brought his good friend and numismatic mentor Burdette Johnson into the deal and they quickly came to an arrangement that was more than satisfactory to both of them. While the purchase correspondence through the end of 1939 is only 11 pages, broadening to 33 pages for 1940, it jumps dramatically to over 600 pages for 1941 as what must be considered the Deal of the Century took off. As Johnson wrote to Newman on Sept. 29, 1941:
“I sold a number of the Dimes today and although this is not a very large sale, it is a fair example of how the costs are running and will show you that it is going to be well worth our while for both of us to try and get as much of this material as possible.”
Much of the correspondence consists of Johnson reporting to Newman on sales he had made. Others enclose funds for additional purchases. One amusing example from Dec. 20, 1941, has Johnson briefly writing Newman: “Herewith check for $500.00 covering my half interest in the three 1913 Liberty Head Nickels.” While most of the correspondence and inventories concern less important coins, it must be emphasized that, given the enormous size of Green’s collection and the fact that it was privately distributed after his death, the present archives are of exceptional significance in tracing the provenance of coins to Green’s collection and in determining their subsequent disposition. These records constitute one of the most important lots in the present offering of Mr. Newman’s material.