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The E-Sylum: Volume 18, Number 4, January 25, 2015, Article 10

19TH-CENTURY NUMISMATIST WARREN GEE

On Monday, January 19, 2015 the Grand Haven Tribune published an article profiling local collector Warren Gee of Spring Lake, Mich. Born about 1840, Gee was known nationally for the extent of his U.S. coin collection. He died in 1905. -Editor

Born 185 years ago to Nicholas and Adaline (Daniels) Gee in Ohio, Warren Gee became nationally known in the mid-1880s for his enthusiastic love of coin collecting and the money he made trading in rare American coins.

But, when he died in 1905, the Spring Lake resident dropped out of the news, and what became of his coin collection is unknown. In today's value, Gee's coin collection would be worth a small fortune.

Gee's personal collection of coins was regarded as one of the best in the nation at the time.

“Warren Gee, of Spring Lake, Mich., is the possessor of one of the most complete and finest collections of money in the county,” the Brooklyn New York Union reported in the spring of 1885. “The collection of cents embraces specimens of every (U.S.) coinage from the first to the last, all in fine condition.”

It was reported that Gee possessed the first U.S. cent bearing the date of 1793. That first cent “had on the obverse a female head with flowing hair. The head faced the right, not the left.”

Warren Gee, a produce and grain broker by trade serving Ottawa County and locations in Wisconsin, was also once president of the Spring Lake Horticultural Society. His wealth afforded him the hobby of collecting, which turned into a side business buying and selling rare U.S. coins.

Also a stock broker, Gee conducted a partnership and office with George Knowles Jr. in Milwaukee, where he built a second home in 1897.

Gee was one of the original subscribers to Illustrated Encyclopedia of Gold and Silver Coins of the World magazine, an early publication for collectors of coin and paper money. He made national headlines in an article published in the Weekly Wisconsin on Jan. 7, 1885. Within years, he gained respectable recognition for his hobby-turned-business.

“American coinage from Warren Gee, of this city, is well-known throughout the country as a collector,” the Weekly Wisconsin reported on May 5, 1888.

Newspapers and periodicals began publishing Gee's expertise regarding coins. The collector-turned-dealer was called “the famous coin collector of Spring Lake, Michigan” in several publications.

“Last year, I sold a brilliant proof quarter of a re-strike of 1827 to a New York gentleman for $135,” Gee told the Chicago Inter-Ocean newspaper in an article published in early 1887. “Not long ago, the identical coin sold at public auction for $210.”

“A cent of 1799, in good condition, which I sold to a New York dealer for $50, was sold for $75 not long after,” Gee added.

In an 1885 widely published article, Gee told a reporter he witnessed a rare cent sold at a New York auction.

“I saw an unusually fine 1804 cent sold in New York a month ago for $200,” he said. “It was an uncirculated cent, which had been kept in a box of cotton, and was perfectly bright. There was a competition at the sale.”

The coin, plain 4 with stems, uncirculated, has an estimated value of $15,000 today.

It was reported that Warren Gee possessed “every (U.S.) coinage from the first to the last,” which would have been to the year he died in 1905. But the old saying, “you can't take it with you,” is true.

Thus, whatever became of Gee's coin collection? Does it still exist with an ancestor today, or was it sold off long ago? Perhaps ancestors of Gee will chime in regarding this column, and we'll have an answer in the near future.

I don't recall having heard of Mr. Gee before seeing this article. I contacted some Michigan numismatists (Joel Orosz, Mike Marotta and Mike Strub), but none of them had heard of Gee either. Martin Gengerke's American Numismatic Auctions does not include a Warren Gee in the index. So what did happen with his collection? Any other leads or references are welcome. -Editor

Joel Orosz writes:

Grand Haven is a lovely little lake Michigan resort town, about 90 miles from Kalamazoo. It doesn't surprise me that the reporter doesn't know anything about numismatics, and also obviously doesn't understand the distinction between and ancestor and a descendant.

I've never heard of Warren Gee before, but he must have had a respectable collection if someone living in the wilds of lower Michigan was noticed by a reporter in Brooklyn in 1885. I imagine his sudden death left behind a family who didn't know how to wisely dispose of his coins, and it probably went for a song to some dealer in Indianapolis.

Here is my question--was Warren related to E. Gordon Gee, formerly President of The Ohio State University, and now President of West Virginia University?

Wonderfully intriguing, isn't it? A significant collection formed by a part-time coin dealer a century ago, and it seems to have vanished without trace.

To read the complete article, see:
Finding Gee's coin collection makes a lot of cents (www.grandhaventribune.com/article/strange-grand-haven/1593991)

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Wayne Homren, Editor

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