BY JOHN FEIGENBAUM, PUBLISHER & PATRICK IAN PEREZ, EDITOR
One of the prime attractions of the annual convention of the American Numismatic Association has always been the exhibits and displays of rare coins, currency, and medals. This year’s show is no exception, and one of the displays is a collection that is being exhibited for the first time in public. This collection, known as the Horseneck Collection, is a complete 46-coin set of Type One gold $20 Double Eagles.
The double eagle is, of course, the largest gold coin struck for circulation by the United States, and the Type One design was struck from 1850 to 1866. Many Type One double eagles were struck of gold mined in California during the Gold Rush, so their display in California is all the more appropriate. This series features many famous dates in the pantheon of U.S. coinage, and a complete set is no small task. Additionally, the Horseneck collection features many finest known or tied for finest known specimens, and 12 of the coins were recovered from well-known shipwrecks, including the S.S. Central America and the S.S. Brother Jonathan.
When we heard this collection would be displayed this month, we felt this would be an opportunity to reach out to the collector directly and ask about his motivations and journey in building the set. After all, there is so much to be learned here from dealers to collectors about the mindset of the advanced collector: what motivates him; how did he feel about the process; and so on.
With the help of Adam Crum, of Monaco Rare Coins, and Donn Pearlman, we were able to pose a series of questions to the collector, with his responses published here.
CDN: What are the origins of your coin collecting? We know you made your first gold purchase from Monaco but did you have any history of coin collecting as a youth?
Horseneck Collector: I started collecting coins from my allowance and stamps from the family mail when I was quite small. When I became a little older, my grandfather, who had worked as a bank teller in the 1890s, gave me a number of unusual coins that he had purchased when they came through his cage: quarters and half dollars from the 1830s and 1840s, two and three cent pieces, and lots of Liberty nickels. This really got me excited. I bought all the blue Whitman folders and began collecting sets of pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters and halves. By the time I got to high school, I had arranged to pick up a $50 bag of pennies from the local bank branch and pedal them home on the back of my bike to look through over the weekend. I slowed down a lot when the treasury began pulling all the coins with real copper or silver out of circulation.
CDN: After your initial purchase, what motivated you to build an entire set of double eagles?
Horseneck Collector: My first double eagle was a lovely 1857-S from the Central America shipwreck. I was amazed at its wonderful preservation after all those years on the bottom of the Atlantic. My set started slowly, but after a few years I began to realize that with patience and a good partner like Monaco Rare Coins that I could eventually put together a pretty nice set. I guess I was pretty lucky to snag the two really rare dates in the set (1854-O and 1856-O) in such nice condition. But eventually, after about a dozen years, my set was complete.
CDN: Now that you’ve achieved a huge milestone in your collecting, do you think you will expand into collecting other coin series?
Horseneck Collector: It would be nearly impossible to match the thrill of completing this set with another. Since my kids have grown up and I’ve retired, my interests have changed somewhat. Now my emphasis is on spending what time I can with my children and grandchildren.
CDN: Do you have any other hobbies or collectibles?
Horseneck Collector: I have always loved the outdoors. When my kids were small, my wife and I began volunteering as Scout leaders for them and their friends. What a great decision that was. It helped them to grow up strong and principled, and provided untold hours of pleasure for my wife and me. I have continued as a Scout volunteer all these years, and look forward to serving my grandchildren as well.
CDN: What advice can you offer to other collectors who may be contemplating starting a significant collection?
Horseneck Collector: Have a lot of patience. Choose a good partner or partners to work with you on finding candidates for your set. Adam Crum and Neil Sharkey of Monaco Rare Coins were wonderful to work with and I appreciate their patience and willingness to locate the very best coins for my set. Buy the best specimens you can afford.
The Horseneck collector has followed a similar path to many others who don’t necessarily share the same budget. Many collectors started out with their hobby as kids building sets in Whitman folders. (How many times have you heard this story?) Often the advanced collector took a hiatus from collecting after childhood while he/she attended school, raised a family and was otherwise quite distracted. It is usually only after some years in the workforce, or in retirement, that the collector re-emerges with time on their hands and disposable income — often seeking a hobby that can double as an investment. I often hear conversations among dealers lamenting the aging population of our collector base, but this is the most natural progression of our collectors. It’s simply not reasonable to assume that 30-year olds are going to have the time, resources or inclination to seriously collect and invest in rare coins. As an industry, we should instead embrace this reality and understand our demographic better and work to better attract and suit the needs of these buyers.