The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 14, Number 32, August 7, 2011, Article 9


Joel Orosz writes:

Vol 10, No 42, October 21, 2007, "Alan Weinberg on the Stack's John J. Ford XX and XXI Sales"
Insightful commentary on two unforgettable numismatic auctions by an advanced numismatist

Alan V. Weinberg writes: "Wow! I've just last night returned from the final two catalogued and scheduled John J Ford, Jr. Stack's auctions in New York in the penthouse of the Le Parker-Meridien Hotel across 57th Street from Stack's offices.

"These sales have continued since October 2003. It seems like just yesterday that an enthusiastic Larry Stack called me and others to announce the coup. Ford had personally told me many times that his collection would not come up for auction for 20 years after he died. So much for the plans of mice and men.

"These two final sales were a fitting close to this historic four-year offering. The audience in the penthouse, with a full view of Central Park and the New York skyline, was enthusiastic and largely filled. For the first time, everyone had a table top. Some of the active attendees and bidders were Bill Anton, Tony Terranova, Russell Augustin, Don Kagin, Fred Holabird, John Kraljevich, Ron Karp, John Dannreuther, Martin Paul, Scott Rubin and private collectors unknown to me. And of course master cataloguer Mike Hodder, one of the two men singularly responsible for the Ford sales being so successful and historic - the other being Larry Stack.

"The phone bank was very active with many phone bidders being quite successful in their pursuits. A phone bidder may be at some distance or may be nearby in his hotel room, not wishing his prospective competitors to know who's bidding. Additionally, Larry Stack and Bruce Hagen handled a dozen or more selected clients' "floor bids" and cell phone bids which were bid aggressively and successfully.

"There was some pre-sale speculation about part XXI (the Ingot sale) not being successful due to the controversial nature of many ingots and their Paul Franklin provenance. So it was something of a surprise to watch this vigorously contested auction succeed with every lot selling for record prices. A dated Wiegand $20 gold ingot for $87,500 hammer to Don Kagin, a unique Meyers gold $18 ingot for $75K hammer to bidder 890 underbid by Tony Terranova, and so many others in the $20K- $30K range.

"I know little of obsolete paper currency but there were certainly more than a few knowledgeable bidders for this group with the California Salt Lake Mail Line $50 at $32,500 hammer to agent Bruce Hagan bidding for phone bidder 174, a Utah Territory currency copper plate hammering for $24K to phone bidder 429 and an interesting Brother Jonathan Steamship cabin ticket for $3,500 hammer to Fred Holabird underbid by John Kraljevich. Bill Anton, Kagin-Holabird, Ron Karp and Tony Terranova dominated the obsolete currency and paper ephemera among physically present floor bidders but the phone bidders were hugely successful too.

"The tokens, medals and Pioneer gold patterns really opened one's eyes. Standing out as undoubtedly the most unusual and aesthetically-pleasing item in the entire Ford collection was the gold nugget -encrusted hand-constructed 1850 San Francisco gold Alderman's medal which sold for a total $316,250 to Tony Terranova for a client, Larry Stack for himself, the underbidder. (JJF's favorite two medals were his silver John Jacob Astor Indian Peace Medal and this Alderman's medal )

This was the third highest auction price ever realized for an American medal, surpassed only by the Stack's-sold gold Zachary Taylor Congressional gold medal at $460K total two years ago and the Saint-Gaudens 1889 Centennial George Washington Inauguration medal in gold at $391K. The three 1850's Committee of Vigilance silver medals all sold to Don Kagin for $31,625 and $25,300 for the last two medals. It was only a few years ago that Kagin sold one for $7,500 to a California dealer!

"But there were some literally laughable auction results too - in a 'what were they thinking?' fashion : a set of three 1969-struck Empire City Mine fantasy tokens for $1,300 hammer, a set of three J.J. Conway restrike denominations, struck in 1956 and quite common on eBay, for (gasp!) $4,000 hammer. And to cap this off, how about two Unc specimens of the extremely common 1849 Liberty Head / kneeling miner brass game counters (I've seen 500 if I've seen 1) for $650 and $750 hammer to Kagin and Karp. What were the bidders thinking?

"Mid-way, Stack's set up a sumptuous Greek food buffet, thoughtful since the auction commenced at 5 PM and would go on into the late night. Could the influence of Christine Karstadt and American Numismatic Rarities have something to do with this? Yup.

"At the conclusion of the two Ford sales parts XX and XXI, Larry Stack and Mike Hodder bear-hugged each other in the auction room, clearly overjoyed that all their blood, sweat and tears resulted in magnificent results. It was more than just a higher gross. It was a vindication of the cataloguing effort, the sales and publicity effort, and a fitting final salute to a man they both knew very well - John Ford. Ford would have been proud.

[I understand that four members of the Ford family attended the sale. So it seems the market has spoken - the assay ingots, several of which had been in question, sold for record amounts. Skeptics may well note that it only takes two fools to create a record price, but that can be said of any auction. The high prices paid for relatively common pieces described by Alan could be cited as evidence of the presence of fools among the bidders, yet this phenomenon is not uncommon in big-name collection sales, where bidders have been known to overpay as a premium for the name.

Since the beginning of The Great Debate over assay bars it's been clear that the controversy has long legs. The questions initially raised many years ago will continue to be debated into the future; this sale is only the latest episode in a long saga. It will be interesting to see how events unfold from here.

I look forward to purchasing the remaining hardbound versions of the Ford sale catalogs to complete my set. Despite the controversies and mysteriously missing items the sales remain a landmark record of a legendary never-to-be-seen again collection. They are a core holding of an American numismatic library and I expect the set will remain in high demand for generations. Congratulations to Mike Hodder and Stack's for a job well done. -Editor]


To read the complete original E-Sylum article, see: ALAN WEINBERG ON THE STACK'S JOHN J. FORD XX AND XXI SALES (

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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