The Cardinal Collection, Stack’s Bowers Galleries Interviews Martin Logies
Christine Karstedt: Martin, you’ve done it again! After completing your collection of early dollars, which we brought to market for you in 2005, it is obvious that you’ve acquired several fabulous individual rarities and a spectacular collection of large cents. When did you start building the current Cardinal Collection and what was the driving force behind these acquisitions?
Martin Logies: This is not a short story but one that has brought me much enjoyment! After having built the set of early dollars (which was a project that extended a bit more than ten years), the set was completed, I had the opportunity to display it across the country, a couple publications were printed, an educational website was launched (www.earlydollars.org), and it was time to sell and redeploy the capital into the next collection.
I decided to build an early type set which, of course, would feature several very nice dollars and some very nice large cents but as a complete set of early type it had to include an early half disme. At that point, just by way of opportunity, I had the chance to acquire an incredible gem 1793 Chain cent which became a centerpiece of the type set. Joining these and other coins was a type set of early gold including a gem 1795 Small Eagle $5 with original toning in a first generation holder and the single finest known Heraldic Eagle $5 gold piece. The very last piece needed was the 1792 half disme. As fortune would have it, the finest known specimen became available and it became the most important piece in the collection.
As is often the case in the coin market, collectors learned of what I acquired. I began getting a lot of interest from other collectors who wanted to purchase some of these pieces from me. And, their offers were for extraordinary numbers and record prices. As a result I sold privately the majority of the pieces from the early type set, but I kept back some of the landmarks, including the Chain cent and the silver half disme.
Through the process of working on the early type set, I increased my focus on the early copper cents that I retained and went a step further, building a complete date set of that series from 1793 to 1857. That also became a ten-year process before it was completed! I truly enjoyed the educational aspects of numismatics and loved sharing these sets with others. I displayed the set across the country and produced informative publications that accompanied those displays.
Along the way, I wrote a little book on 1794 dollars and, as such, I suddenly became very much familiar with the owners of 1794 silver dollars and they became familiar with me. What fun it was to personally examine many specimens I had only seen from a distance or never seen before! During this research period, I developed a relationship with Steve Contursi who had acquired the undisputed finest known 1794 dollar. Through that relationship I had the privilege of inspecting the coin in my own hands and outside of the PCGS holder. I fell in love with its extraordinary beauty and exquisite quality, which was fortuitous as Steve became open to discuss the possibility of selling this finest known specimen. As you can see, finest known pieces have a special draw for me.
With Greg Roberts handling the negotiations, we had several conversations and, as they say, the rest is history. Really! We made history as the coin changed hands for a very fitting price, one that set the new world record price for a United States coin at private treaty for $7.85 million! Certainly, that price tag was eye popping for the world at large, but the piece deserved that. When examined outside of its grading capsule, it displays immensely deep mirrored surfaces and stunning cameo contrast, yet we know it was struck over two centuries ago! Those who have not seen it in its natural state may have doubts, but those of us who have are true believers. It may well be the first fully mirrored Proof-surface coin produced by the Philadelphia Mint, a national treasure, and utterly irreplaceable!
CK: One of the questions most frequently asked is why are you selling? I know you are a very philanthropic individual and an incurable connoisseur and collector. I think collectors everywhere would like to know your thoughts.
ML: Chris, as we talked about a moment ago, I have had great enjoyment in building this set and displaying it in public venues to be appreciated by collectors everywhere. As a collector and curator with a deep and long standing interest in the early coinage of the United States, reality eventually sets in and a decision on the future must be made.
When capital is not unlimited and new acquisitions start hitting your radar screen, decisions must be made on the appropriate items to be retained and what items must be sold to fund those future acquisitions. This fact is shared by many serious collectors and museum organizations. While the previous type set brought many offers, interest in these newest holdings have astounded me and the offers received have been remarkable.
Collectors and dealers representing private parties have made offers that could not be ignored. This contributed to my decision to follow a familiar path and sell these prized rarities into new collecting homes and move on to my next collection and its many different aspects for research and study. As always, this is a bittersweet decision, but one that comes with the excitement of the new collection in the offing, and the knowledge that other collectors will now have the pride of caring for these treasures. This proved to be an ideal situation when you auctioned my collection of early silver dollars several years ago.
CK: Of course, this means that your collecting focus will be on another series. Are you giving any hints as to what that might be?
ML: Not at this time. However, I have been alerted to the availability of some important and historic pieces that are very intriguing!
CK: Will this mean there is another book in the offing for you?
CK: Great news! We love collectors that keep collecting and, it is a rare individual who documents his research and shares it with others along the way. All of us sincerely appreciate your many accomplishments and your reference works, such as An Introduction to Early Dollars, The Pocket Guide to Early Dollars that was adopted by the PCGS grading room staff, The Portraits of Liberty, and The Flowing Hair Silver Dollars of 1794.
How about sharing with me some closing thoughts or interesting tidbits for collectors everywhere.
ML: Numismatics at numerous levels can be an extraordinary, enjoyable, intellectual and educational experience. Early coins of the United States have their own appeal due to the peculiarities of their method of manufacture. Those methodologies and attendant historical connections extend to the coinage of the current day. The saying “History in your hands” could not ring more true. Whether conceived in the legislature or in the mind of a commemorative program sponsor, it is a truly fascinating journey to follow the steps beginning with the artistic design to the moment the coin pops from the press.
Through the process of learning more about the coins and the processes by which they came into existence, I developed a deeper understanding of the greater historical picture of the early days of the United States, when statesmen served the country rather than seeking political power from it. The coins of today bear the image of a president on one side; early coins did not, although the initial bill in Congress did include a directive to have the current sitting president featured on the coinage of that year. It was George Washington himself that spoke out stating his preference that it not be the case. Nonetheless, numerous proposed coinages featured his portrait.
I happen to have original printings of the Journals of the Senate and House of Representatives which record the debate and final passage of the official Mint Act of 1792, along with the reports to Congress from Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson very eloquently argued that coins must be minted within our own borders rather than placing reliance on foreign nations by contracting them to be produced overseas more cheaply, and the discourse between the Houses on the resulting Mint Act is similarly illuminating.
As the result of all of these arguments, debates, compromises and agreements, we now have the minting of the first official coins of the United States – the 1792 silver half dismes – personally collected after minting by Thomas Jefferson and proudly announced to Congress by George Washington as the “small beginnings” of the nation’s coinage, and we have the beautiful Flowing Hair, Liberty Cap, and Draped Bust designs of the 1790s, and, of course, the awe-inspiring prooflike gem 1794 Dollar. Absent their history, these coins might just be curious metallic tools of commerce, but in their full historical context, they represent our Founding Fathers’ circulating declaration to the world of the sovereignty of our great Nation. So to collectors everywhere, I would implore you…Just think about all of the history in your hands!