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Extremely Rare Original 1852 Proof Half Cent From the Jacob Giles Morris Collection

Proof-65 RD (PCGS) Finest of Four Known

Author: Q. David Bowers / Thursday, March 09, 2017 / Categories: Highlights from the D. Brent Pogue Collection

By Q. David Bowers, Founder

This marvelous 1852 half cent is another treasure from the D. Brent Pogue Collection. It will cross the auction block at our sale at the historic Evergreen Museum & Library in Baltimore on Friday evening, March 31. You are invited to attend in person or, if your schedule does not permit this, in virtual reality—real time—on the Internet. Either way you will be part of numismatic history as it is being made.

This marvelous 1852 Original half cent, thought to be the very finest of only four known, will be key to a set of Braided Hair issues. Although Christian Gobrecht’s Braided Hair motif was introduced on the $10 gold eagle of 1839 and large copper cents and gold half eagles in 1839 it was not until 1840 that it was used on half cents.

From 1793 onward, half cents and copper cents were the only denominations struck by the Mint for its own profit. Silver and gold coins were minted as an accommodation to depositors, and little if anything remained as profit. In contrast, the Mint bought copper on the market and coined it into half cents and cents. The difference between cost and face value translated to the bottom line as profit.

Popular numismatic history has it that half cents were made in small quantities because they were not popular with the public. That is not true. Many items were priced with half cents being part, such as 12½ cents, the value of a Spanish silver real.

The main reason for the small production of half cents in comparison to cents is that it was more profitable for the Mint to coin one cent than two half cents. For precisely the same reason, when the $20 double eagle became a reality in 1850, the Mint began making more of these than of other denominations. It was more efficient to make one double eagle than, say, eight quarter eagles or 20 gold dollars.

In 1840 there was numismatic demand for Proof coins. Half cents were made in Proof format for inclusion in such, a process that continued for years afterward. It was not until 1849 that Braided Hair half cents were made for circulation, after which time production continued until 1857, with the solitary exception of 1852, as per the coin here offered. Half cents of 1852 were made only in Proof format. Nearly all in existence today are restrikes. The marvelous original offered here is a landmark.

Rare coins often have stories, including about their past owners. For this coin John Kraljevich has re-created a marvelous scenario, the essence of which is quoted below.

Warning!  Reading the following might inspire in you a love for numismatic history—which can use up a lot of time!

As you will see from the provenance notes at the end of this narrative, decades ago this coin was sold to R.L. Miles by Harry Forman, the resourceful and entertaining Philadelphia dealer. According to Breen’s half cent encyclopedia, Forman acquired the coin from another local Philadelphia dealer, C.J. Dochkus, who obtained it from Philip “Piggy” Ward. Ward, best known as a buyer and seller of stamps at the time, has come down through numismatic history as the man who was able to purchase the coin collection of the University of Pennsylvania in the early 1960s, for him a great coup.

That collection was composed of two 19th century cabinets of incredible importance, both assembled by wealthy Philadelphians. One was gathered by Robert Coleman Hall Brock, whose collecting heyday extended from the mid 1880s to the late 1890s. The other was built by Jacob Giles Morris, a pioneering numismatist who died in 1854. While the coins traced back to Forman, Dochkus, and Ward uniformly come from the University of Pennsylvania, numismatists have too often confused the Morris and Brock collections despite the fact that each tells a fascinating story.

Robert Coleman Hall Brock was a wealthy Philadelphia lawyer, collector, and philanthropist. Born in 1861, he graduated from St. Paul’s School at 19 and continued his education at Oxford. His passport application described him at 23 as 5’10”, with brown hair, a high forehead, a large nose, and grey eyes. He apparently looked much the same when he died in 1906, at the age of 45. Brock’s own father, John Penn Brock, was the last in a line of John Brocks that extended back to the one who immigrated to Philadelphia before 1684. When the father died in 1881, his obituary described “immense coal and iron estates” that gave the surviving generations access to education, travel, summer homes, and all the coins a gentleman could acquire. Robert Brock collected heartily, acquiring enough stamps to be called “one of the wealthiest and best known of American philatelists” in 1894.

Brock’s interest in collecting seems to have come and gone quickly. He was 33 when he sold his stamps. At the age of 37, he not only donated his collection of coins to the University of Pennsylvania, but also acquired large groups of ancient and Islamic coins specifically to round out his donation. For his remaining days, Brock gambled in Monte Carlo, became one of the first people to drive by automobile from coast to coast in 1903, and was active in Philadelphia high society.

In September 1898, an article in Appletons’ Popular Science Monthly, a predecessor publication of the modern Popular Science, ran an extensive article on the recently donated Brock coins, focusing on his territorial and pioneer gold and highlighting that his coins “are in excellent preservation.” Were an inventory of the Brock cabinet discovered or somehow reconstructed, it would undoubtedly be an extremely impressive assemblage. However, he appears to have been more of a trophy hunter than a systematic collector. Today in 2017 this is a familiar method, but generations ago the plan was to acquire one of each major variety. Indeed, D. Brent Pogue did this in modern times with most of his series. For example, his collection of $10 gold eagles of the 1795 to 1804 years, offered by us in Part II, had marvelous specimens of each variety listed in A Guide Book of United States Coins.

In 1900, just two years after the Brock bequest, the University of Pennsylvania was given the coin collection of Jacob Giles Morris. Morris was also the son of a wealthy old-time Philadelphia family whose life ended at a tragically young age; he was just 54 when he was lost aboard the S.S. Arctic off Newfoundland in September 1854.

Morris was a pioneering collector, with close ties to the Philadelphia Mint and the tiny community of numismatic diehards that treated it as a clubhouse. Morris was actively collecting as early as 1839. In 1851, he won lots at the auction of the Dr. Lewis Roper Collection. On January 12, 1852, Morris paid a visit to Joseph J. Mickley to play show and tell with his newly acquired 1792 Silver Center cent, and he visited Mickley several more times over the course of the year. In 1852, Morris also spent a considerable amount of time at the Philadelphia Mint; on November 21, 1851, Chief Coiner Franklin Peale announced that Morris would be placed in charge of arranging the Mint’s own cabinet. It is nearly impossible to imagine a scenario where Morris would not end up with an 1852 Proof set in his collection.

William E. DuBois, the assistant assayer who served as the longtime keeper of the Mint cabinet, recalled in 1872 that there were four major collectors in Philadelphia 30 years earlier: Joseph Mickley, Lewis Roper, Jacob Giles Morris, and himself. In 1843, Morris was the second collector he mentioned in a letter to Matthew A. Stickney, who had inquired about others who shared his passion. Mickley and Morris apparently became good friends, both enjoying similar access to the Mint’s employees, cabinet, and new issues. It is interesting to note that Mickley’s collection, sold in 1867, included a six-piece 1852 Proof set. Lot 1721 brought $65 to Lilliendahl, more than any other Proof set in Mickley’s collection. Auction cataloger W. Elliot Woodward noted, “I believe that a Proof set [of this year] has never been offered before.”

After the death of R.C.H. Brock in 1906, the University of Pennsylvania coin collection was sold, piece-by-piece. It has been assumed for years that a portion of the Brock Collection was sold to J.P. Morgan, deposited at the American Museum of Natural History in New York in 1902, then transferred to the American Numismatic Society in April 1908. This appears to have first been rendered in print in the 1958 ANS Centennial History, but the timing makes it impossible. An April 8, 1908, New York Times article states that the coins had been on display since 1902 and that “the collection was originally brought together by a well-known Philadelphia numismatist, and upon his death was offered for sale.”

The latest coin in the Morgan bequest is dated 1901. This precludes the coins having belonged to Brock who died in 1906 and who stopped collecting in 1898, the year his coins were donated to the University of Pennsylvania. Instead, as recent inquiry by John Dannreuther has determined, the J.P. Morgan coins at ANS were almost certainly the property of Philadelphia dealer J. Colvin Randall, who died in 1901 and who was the purchaser of record at the last known auction appearance of many of the coins in the bequest. Randall, by the way, was a pioneer in describing early American silver and gold coins by die varieties.

Though the University of Pennsylvania appears to have kept many of Brock’s ancient and Islamic coins to the present day, the United States coins were apparently deemed extraneous to the museum’s mission and were deaccessioned. Edgar H. Adams noted in the September/October 1908 issue of The Numismatist that all of Brock’s coins were bequeathed to the University of Pennsylvania, thus every coin with an authentic Brock provenance would have to be also ex. University of Pennsylvania. However, not every coin that came from the University of Pennsylvania has a Brock provenance. By the time the deaccessions began, it’s clear the Brock coins and the Jacob Giles Morris coins had long since been intermingled.

The first publicly identified group of coins from the Brock and Jacob Giles Morris collections were acquired by B. Max Mehl in 1952, an acquisition trumpeted by Mehl in the January 1953 issue of The Numismatist and dispersed by private treaty and auction in the years thereafter. John J. Ford, Jr. related to Dave Bowers that around this time he went to Fort Worth and made a successful offer to Mehl for the countless tokens and medals that he had accumulated over a long period of years—such “exonumia” being beyond Mehl’s interest or knowledge.

Tradition also has it that a group of Brock coins was sold by the University of Pennsylvania in the late 1950s or early 1960s to the aforementioned Phillip “Piggy” Ward, a local stamp dealer, on to dealer C.J. Dochkus, thence to Harry Forman of Philadelphia before further dispersal. That provenance chain was given for this coin in the Norweb sale, but it is unclear what precisely Ward and Dochkus handled. (Interestingly, an 1852 Original Proof silver dollar from this group also appeared in the Norweb Collection, perhaps from the same original set as this coin.)

Letters preserved between Dochkus and Eric P. Newman, who acquired the Jacob Giles Morris set of Sommer Islands coinage, reveal the Morris connection. When Newman inquired of the source Dochkus had located for world-class coins (coins well beyond those he typically dealt in), Dochkus reported that they came from the “Miller Collection.” The donor of the Jacob Giles Morris coins to the University of Pennsylvania in 1900, as noted in Joel Orosz’s May 2002 article in The Numismatist, was a descendant named Mrs. William Henry Miller, also known as Sarah Wistar Pennock Miller, Jacob Giles Morris’ niece.

There appear to be just four examples of this rarity known, of which the present specimen is the finest, followed by the Eliasberg and Brobston specimens. A worn example brought $32 in the 1924 F.R. Alvord sale, an enormous sum for a circulated half cent, and last sold two decades ago in a Craig Whitford sale. Breen’s contention that one was in the James A. Stack Estate did not prove true. When the John G. Mills Collection was offered in 1904, Henry Chapman wrote that just two examples were known, but it is unclear exactly which two he knew of at the time.

This coin has been at the center of a scholarly debate for a dozen decades, as various writers and researchers have speculated about the true nature of the 1852 Large Berries Proofs on the basis of precious little evidence. Neither Roger S. Cohen, Jr. nor Walter Breen could get over the fact that the Large Berries reverse was used for all Proofs from 1840 to 1849, then shelved until the production of this coin. We now know, thanks to the assembly of the Phil Kaufman Collection and follow-up research by John Dannreuther, that Proofs of each denomination used a single dedicated Proof reverse for all of the 1840s and, in some cases, as late as 1854, unless cracked or otherwise disabled. What Breen and others condemned as out of order, under further examination, has turned out to have been standard operating procedure.

Even before the status of the 1852 Large Berries Proof half cent as an original striking or a later restrike was clear, it was known as the prime rarity in the entire Proof half cent series. This is finest known of them, making this perhaps the most important post-1811 half cent extant.

Here is the provenance or pedigree, to the best of our knowledge:

Probably from the Jacob Giles Morris Collection, before 1854, then to Caroline W. Pennock, by descent; Col. Robert C.H. Brock Collection, before 1898; University of Pennsylvania, by gift, ca. 1898; Philip H. Ward, Jr. to C.J. Dochkus to Harry J. Forman; R.L. Miles, Jr. Collection; Stack’s sale of the R.L. Miles, Jr. Collection, April 1969, lot 69; Q. David Bowers; Spink & Son, Ltd.; Emery May Norweb Collection; R. Henry Norweb, Jr., by descent, March 1984; Bowers and Merena’s sale of the Norweb Collection, Part I, October 1987, lot 128; Jim McGuigan; R. Tettenhorst Collection, by trade, October 1987; Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society; Missouri Cabinet Collection (Eric P. Newman and R. Tettenhorst); Ira and Larry Goldberg Auctioneers’ sale of the Missouri Cabinet Collection of U.S. Half Cents, January 2014, lot 204.