What's In A Name?

Posted on 5/26/2011

Over the years, I have been asked several times if I was related to the Garrett family...

Over the years, I have been asked several times if I was related to the Garrett family, whose vast numismatic collection was sold in four sales from 1979 to 1981 by Bowers and Merena. The collection, which was formed around the turn of the century, contained some of the greatest numismatic rarities to ever cross the auction block and sold for tens of millions of dollars. After a brief laugh, I usually tell people my ancestors lived in the mountains of Kentucky and read the Sears Roebuck catalog in an outhouse.

Today, coins with the Garrett pedigree are highly coveted by collectors. Examples from the collection rarely appear on the market, but when they do, you can be sure the coins will bring a premium price. Collectors love coins that were once part of a name collection; this is not a new phenomenon. Large cent collectors have long been great fans of coins with illustrious pedigrees and many important large cents have been traced back, owner by owner, over 100 years. Colonial coinage has been collected in this manner for generations. Copper scholars spend a great deal of time researching this fascinating aspect of numismatics.

Owning something hand-selected by a great collector is a strong attraction. One can imagine a numismatic great such as Eliasberg, Bass, Clapp, Pittman or Garrett deciding that this was the coin deemed worthy of his collection. Now, you have the opportunity to add it to your own holdings; this is another reason price records fall when great collections are offered for sale. Astute collectors know an important pedigree will continue to add value to a numismatic delicacy.

When truly important coins are offered for sale, the pedigree is often highly touted. Many great coins are known by their previous owner’s name. For example the Childs 1804 Dollar, the Garrett Brasher Doubloon and the Pittman 1838 Eagle. Many affluent collectors are eager to add their names to the roster of famous collectors who have possessed a great rarity. Many might deny this, but don’t let anyone tell you that ego does not come into play at the top end of the rare coin market.

My favorite example of a permanent pedigree being attached to a coin is the Dexter 1804 Dollar. Dexter truly loved his 1804 Dollar and wanted future generations to know that he had owned it. On the reverse of the coin, Dexter stamped a small D in the clouds above the eagle; the true reason for this tiny mutilation is unknown. Large cent collectors sometimes marked variety numbers in ink on examples but to actually stamp your initial on a coin was probably extreme even in the 1800s. However, the coin’s value today is likely not affected by the small D. It could actually add allure and romance to the coin.

Speaking of romance, collectors also love coins that have been involved in shipwrecks. There is a large and active market for coins that have a pedigree associated with an historical event; coins from the S.S. Central America, S.S. Republic, S.S. New York, and others are highly collected. Coins from the Atocha, the 1715 Fleet and others conjure images of pirates and buried treasure; many of these coins are in poor condition and would trade for small sums if not for the shipwreck pedigrees. The Odyssey Marine Group has found some incredible hoards in the last decade and collectors eagerly await the next announcement of a discovery.

Common pedigrees that many collectors encounter are silver dollars that were once part of the GSA hoard. There were hundreds of thousands but most have been well dispersed to collectors over the years. The GSA pedigree adds value and today NGC actually grades and attaches labels to the original government holder. On the extreme end of the scale, only one example of an 1889-CC Silver Dollar is known in an original GSA holder. The coin is worth many, many multiples of what it would bring if not for the GSA pedigree.

It’s never too late to start assembling a world class collection. Maybe collectors will one day covet a coin with your name attached! Anyone interested in an 1880-S Silver Dollar from the Garrett Collection?

Jeff Garrett bio

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