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Thomas Gatch Melish : Coin Collector Profile

Thomas G. Melish. Image colorized by CoinWeek.
Thomas G. Melish. Image colorized by CoinWeek.

Coin collector, commemorative coin promoter and distributor, ANA Board Member, Businessman. ANA #4520. Born October 28, 1876 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Died on February 15, 1948 in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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Thomas Gatch Melish was an Ohio businessman and coin collector most known for his involvement in the creation of two United States commemorative half dollar coins in the 1930s.

Born in Cincinnati, Melish graduated from the University of Cincinnati and the University of Cincinnati College of Law. He served in World War I. Melish was married to Lawson M. Melish (1885-1949) and served as the president and chairman of the board of Bromwell Wire Goods Company.

While not recognized as a historically significant collector, Thomas Melish did assemble an extensive collection of early United States quarter eagles (which were studied by numismatist Walter Breen). He owned a rare 1848 Liberty Head Quarter Eagle in Proof, one of three known (the Earle specimen).

Melish’s collection (plus coins attributed to Melish) was sold by dealer Abe Kosoff on April 27, 1956, in Indianapolis, Indiana. This was the scene of the John Jay Pittman “Statue of Liberty” play, where Pittman held his hand aloft for the entire time that Melish’s 1854 gold Proofs were being offered.

He was also a member of the American Numismatic Association (member #4520) and served on the ANA Board of Governors. After his board service, Melish offered the ANA a check for $10,000 to help the Association set up a permanent home in Cincinnati. The ANA declined the offer and later found a permanent home in Colorado Springs. Kosoff believed that coin dealer Sol Kaplan financially backed the Melish offer.

Thomas Melish died of pneumonia at Good Samaritan Hospital in Cincinnati. His obituary was published in the April 1948 issue of The Numismatist.

Thomas Melish and the 1936 Cleveland Centennial Half Dollar

1936 Cleveland Half Dollar. Image: Stack's Bowers / CoinWeek.
1936 Cleveland Centennial Half Dollar. Image: Stack’s Bowers / CoinWeek.

Melish conceived of the Cleveland Centennial Half Dollar, which he distributed in conjunction with the 1936 Great Lakes Exposition. Melish packaged the first 201 examples struck in special black holders bearing his signature and the signature of a notary. These pieces were given to those close to Melish and other VIPs. He marketed the coin in The Numismatist (March 1938) for $1.65 each or 10 for $15.00.

In 1942, Melish still hadn’t distributed all of the coins he had on hand, so he approached Abe Kosoff and asked him if he would pay an $8,000 bank loan plus $50 for 16,000 Cleveland half dollars. Kosoff turned the deal down. According to Kosoff, it took Melish years to dispose of the coins.

The 1936 Cincinnati Half Dollar

1936-S Cincinnati Half Dollar. Image: Stack's Bowers / CoinWeek.
1936-S Cincinnati Half Dollar. Image: Stack’s Bowers / CoinWeek.

In addition to the Cleveland Centennial Half Dollar, Thomas Melish was also responsible for the 1936 Cincinnati Half Dollar to commemorate the Cincinnati Musical Center Commemorative Coin Association, which he chaired. The coin was pitched to Congress to honor Cincinnati’s contributions to American music, but its real purpose was to make a tidy profit for its distributor. Melish marketed the three-coin mint-marked set for $7.75 but failed to fulfill many orders, telling his disappointed customers that the coin sets had “sold out.” In truth, Melish sought to maximize his returns by selling the sets through other dealers, who listed them for $50 or more.

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Sources

Kosoff, Abe, Abe Kosoff Remembers. 1981. 14.

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CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes presents expert analysis and insights from Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker, the award-winning editors of CoinWeek.com.

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