Charles White: Banker, Numismatist, Hoarder
One of Dave Bowers’ favorite books among those he has written is American Coin Treasures and Hoards, published in 1996.
The treasure story below is one of many chapters. Enjoy!
A Bank Cashier
Charles White, cashier of the Northampton Bank in Massachusetts, is little remembered today. However, the masterwork by James A. Haxby, Standard Catalog of United States Obsolete Bank Notes 1782-1866, Vol. 2, p. 936, illustrates $1 (series of May 27, 1863) and $2 (alteration) notes of the Northampton Bank bearing White’s inked signature. This institution in 1865 became the Northampton National Bank, Charter 1018.
Charles White, who apparently later moved to New York City, was also a coin collector, and like many numismatists he could not resist some hoarding, too. Little survives about his hoard(s) in print. However, what does is fascinating
Harlan P. Smith, of 269 West 52nd Street, New York City—himself a first-rank collector—catalogued the White cabinet in 1886 and offered it for sale. Smith, born on March 18, 1839, was in the wholesale fruit business up to about the time of the White sale, but had a coin dealership on the side. The Charles White auction took place in a well-known gallery rented for the purpose. Smith’s introduction to the offering noted:
What Was In the Hoard?
The flavor of this long-ago event is gained by reprinting some of the catalogue descriptions beginning with Lot 121, the prices in brackets being those realized. Note in particular Lot 128 which gives a hint of a hoard of a particular date, but which, unfortunately for present-day aficionados in the early quarter dollar field, leaves much unsaid. How many were there? Where were they found. What happened to the others?:
- Lot 121: 1796 Very Fine, bold impression; slightly touched by circulation; a handsome piece [Price realized at the sale: $9.25]
- Lot 122: 1804 Very Good [$2.00]
- Lot 123: 1805 Uncirculated, except for two minute nicks in field: beautiful sharp impression generally: few stars flat: surpasses my own specimen and all others I’ve seen. [$2.87]
- Lot 124: 1806 over ’5; Good. [$0.60]
- Lot 125: 1806 Fine; perpendicular crack across obverse die [$0.90]
- Lot 126: 1807 Uncirculated: splendid impression: excels the 1805 in some points: a very desirable specimen: in the Randall sale Lot 558 brought $90: that piece claimed to be the only Uncirculated specimen existing; this proves the contrary. [$26]
- Lot 127: 1815 Uncirculated: sharp impression. [$2.90]
- Lot 128: 1818 Uncirculated: sharp: rev. die cracked across; this is the last specimen of the hoard discovered by Mr. White, while cashier of the Northampton Bank; he naturally reserved the best specimen for his collection. [$1.40]
- Lot 129: 1818 Uncirculated: sharp: plain edge; only specimen known. [$1.20]
- Lot 130: 1819 Very Fine, sharp impression: barely touched by circulation: Reverse with colon after the “25 C:,” the “5” engraved twice; desirable in this condition. [$1.40]
- Lot 131: 1820 Uncirculated; sharp impression [$2.40]
- Lot 132: 1821 Uncirculated; sharp impression [$2.30]
- Lot 133: 1822 Uncirculated; stars flat; seldom equaled [$3.10]
- Lot 134: 1823 over ’22; Good for date; the most difficult date to obtain, except ’27. [$30.00]
- Lot 135: 1824 Very Fine, but little circulated. [$5.00]
- Lot 136: 1825 Uncirculated; sharp impression. [$2.80]
- Lot 137: 1828 Very Fine; rubbed only on highest points. [$0.65]
- Lot 138: 1831 Uncirculated. [$0.45]
- Lot 139: 1832 Uncirculated; desirable so perfect. [$0.95]
- Lot 140: 1833 Uncirculated. [$0.70]
- Lot 141: 1834 Uncirculated; sharp [$0.90]
- Lot 142: 1834 Uncirculated; sharp; lacks the period after “25 C.” [$0.40]
- Lot 143: 1835 Uncirculated; cracked die. [$0.50]
- Lot 144: 1836 Very Fine; cracked die. [$0.40]
- Lot 145: 1837 Uncirculated. [$0.50]
- Lot 146: 1838 Uncirculated. [$0.55]
- Lot 147: 1838 Liberty Seated; Uncirculated. [$0.45]
- Lot 148: 1839 Very Fine. [$0.40]
- Lot 149: 1840 Uncirculated; draped elbow; “O” mint; splendid specimen. [$0.75]
Later in the catalogue a half dollar was described as follows, an overdate not known to numismatists today:2
- Lot 218: [Capped Bust half dollar] 1820 over ’18 Fine, and now first described; only specimen I’ve seen. [$2.00]
Also of interest is an 1840 Liberty Seated half dollar:
- Lot 246: [1840 Liberty Seated half dollar struck at New Orleans, but lacking an O mintmark] Fine: large lettered reverse; this appears to be the same die used in the New Orleans Mint in 1839, and re-engraved; this variety seldom found.
These were the cradle days of American numismatic information. As part of the description of Lot 182, an 1879 Uncirculated Liberty Seated quarter (which brought $0.45), cataloguer Smith noted concerning issues from that year through 1885: “None issued for circulation.”
A similar comment was found under Lot 293, an 1889 Liberty Seated half dollar (which realized $0.75), part of a listing continuing through 299, mostly Uncirculated pieces, also bearing this note: “Of this and all following dates, none were issued for circulation.”
It is known that business strikes were indeed made, and contemporary Mint Report issues mention them. Curiously, such pieces were made to prevent the dates becoming rare (as they would have been had only Proofs been struck). Inasmuch as the Mint and certain of its officials were exploiting the numismatic community for all it was worth, this in retrospect seems to have been a curious motive.
With regard to the remark, “none were issued for circulation,” it could have been the case that by the time that these were auctioned in 1886, the relatively restricted business strike mintages of these dates were still in storage and were not generally available, although the offering of “Uncirculated” examples indicates that at least a few got out.
A gratuitous comment concerning trade dollars appeared before Lot 353, the first coin in a set of Proofs by date from 1873 through 1883 inclusive. Harlan P. Smith, apparently no fan of trade dollars, was incorrect in his information as, in fact, trade dollars were heavier than regular silver dollars. The introduction read as follows:
“It will be noticed that Mr. White wasn’t an advocate of the lightweight dollars, which must eventually be recoined; as they are actually tokens.”
A mini-hoard of sorts followed Lot 474, a collection of 1864-1873 two-cent pieces, Uncirculated except for the 1872 and 1873 which were Proofs. Then were presented four separate offerings of Proof 1873 two-cent pieces—the rarest date in the series.
And That Was Not All
On April 15, 1887, part II of the Charles White Collection was offered by Harlan P. Smith, who by this time had exited the wholesale fruit business and was devoting much if not all of his time to being a coin dealer. The 1887 catalogue bore these introductory comments:
“Having concluded to dispose of the balance of the White Collection, the reader will find described in the following pages many very choice specimens of the U.S. coinage. The exceptionally fine condition of so large a number of pieces will be found worthy of attention of the most prominent collectors.”
In this second sale, in remarks preceding Lot 134, the cataloguer noted this in connection with an offering of silver Proof sets:
“Prices of Proof sets are now as low as they possibly can get, and now would be the opportunity for parties desiring an investment to obtain a series which will undoubtedly greatly increase in value in a few years.”
Interestingly, Lot 162 was described as a set of “1884 brilliant Proofs, no trade,” while Lot 163 was described as “1885 brilliant Proofs,” with no mention of a trade dollar being either absent or present. This would seem to indicate that in 1887 cataloguer Harlan P. Smith was aware of the existence of an 1884 trade dollar, but realized that there was not one in this particular 1884 Proof set. Otherwise, there would have been no reason to have noted its absence. However, the numismatic community at large did not know of silver strikings of the trade dollar until 1907 when John W. Haseltine and Stephen K. Nagy made known the existence of 10 pieces, although the rumor of silver 1884 trade dollars had surfaced earlier, and some copper impressions had appeared on the market.
Beginning with Lot 315 in the second sale, quarter dollar listings included the following. Note that Lot 320 alludes to White’s hoard of quarters, implying via “of this period” that dates other than 1818 may have been included:
- Lot 315: 1796 Strong, sharp, brilliant impression; entire surface Proof: 6 in date almost touches bust; I believe this to be the finest known specimen; a gem for any collection. [$57.00]
- Lot 316: 1796 6 more distant from bust: Fine, strong impression; everything sharp except centers of stars on left; hair clear and well defined; eagle’s head perfectly struck up (more so than in preceding); it has seen but the slightest, if any, circulation. [$44.00]
- Lot 317: 1796 Broken die; Very Fair. [$1.20]
- Lot 318: 1807 Uncirculated; all sharply struck except for a few stars; mint lustre still retained; one of the finest specimens known; that in Randall’s sale sold for $90. [$42.00]
- Lot 319: 1815 Barely circulated; clear, bold impression. [$2.10]
- Lot 320: 1818 Uncirculated, brilliant and sharp; nearly all the extra fine quarter dollars of this period came from Mr. White’s hoard, as he seems to have paid more attention to this series than any other. [$2.10]
- Lot 321: 1819 Very slight trace of circulation; strongly struck; very desirable in this condition. [$2.10]
- Lot 322: 1820 Large O; Uncirculated. [$3.20]
- Lot 323: 1821 Uncirculated. [$2.10]
- Lot 324: 1822 Very Fine specimen; barely circulated; desirable in this condition. [$3.10]
- Lot 325: 1824 Very Fine for this date, in fact, I think it the best I have seen; very desirable. [$14.00]
- Lot 326: 1825 over ’22; Uncirculated; sharp. [$1.80]
- Lot 327: 1828 Uncirculated; sharp. [$1.65]
- Lot 328: 1833 Very faint traces of circulation; sharp, bold impression, and equal to any I ever saw. [$1.60]
- Lot 329: 1834 Handsome impression. [$0.40]
- Lot 330: 1837 Uncirculated. [$0.60]
- Lot 331: 1840 Draped Elbow; Uncirculated. [$0.75]
- Lot 332: 1842-O mint; fine. [$0.60]
- Lot 333: 1852 Uncirculated; sharp. [$1.20]
- Lot 334: 1853 Without arrows; Uncirculated; very desirable specimen. [$12.25]
- Lot 335: 1863, ’4 Brilliant Proofs, 2 pcs. [$0.55 each]
- Lot 336: 1865 Brilliant Proof. [$0.60]
- Lot 337: 1867, ’8 Brilliant Proofs. 2 pcs. [$0.65 each]
- Lot 338: 1873 Without arrows, ’72, ’75; brilliant Proofs, 3 pcs. [$0.37-1/2 each]
- Lot 339: 1880, ’3, ’5, ’6 Brilliant Proofs, 4 pcs. [$0.40 each]
- Lot 340: 1881, ’2, ’4, ’6 Uncirculated, 4 pcs. [$0.50 each]
The commentaries after lots 339 and 340 no longer mention that 1880 and 1881 quarters were not released; possibly by 1887 they had been. Also of interest was Lot 421, described under patterns as:
“1877 Copper Fifty Dollars: large head of Liberty left, by Barber, 13 stars surrounding. Reverse similar to double eagle but enlarged: FIFTY DOLLARS below: fine broad planchet (size 32); fine Proof. A prominent Philadelphia dealer recently had one of these and held it at $300, which alone will give an idea of the great rarity of this remarkable piece: this fact, however, has not influenced the owner to place any limit whatever on the piece, which will be sold on its merits solely; first and only one ever offered. [$20]“
Several later lots are representative of the eclectic nature of Charles White’s holdings:
- Lot 436: Original steel hub die for California octagonal $50 gold piece (1850): eagle on a rock, with upraised wings, long ribbon in beak: shield, arrows, olive branch in talons; perfect.4 [$2.20]
- Lot 437: Hub die for pattern $10 (or a Half Do.), head in circle of stars; unfinished.5 [$1.00]
- Lot 438: Hub die for small bust of Franklin, perfect.6 [$0.25]
Harlan P. Smith’s Later Career
As it turned out the second part of the Charles White Collection was the last of Harlan P. Smith’s catalogues under his own imprint. Later in the same year, 1887, he joined forces with David U. Proskey in the New York Coin & Stamp Company. In due course the pair handled many fine collections at auction, among which were numbered the cabinets of R. Coulton Davis, Lorin G. Parmelee, Francis Worcester Doughty, and George D. Woodside.
Davis, a Philadelphia druggist, had close ties to the inner circle of coiners at the Mint and thereby acquired many interesting rarities, especially in the pattern series, for which he wrote the first numismatic check list. The holding of Boston bean baker Parmelee crossed the block—or at least some of it did, as the owner bought quite a bit back—in June 1890 and at the time was considered to be the most complete cabinet of United States coins ever formed (second was the collection of the late T. Harrison Garrett, of Baltimore). Doughty was a writer of children’s fiction, student of large cents (in particular), and a couple of decades later would become a screenplay author. Woodside, whatever his vocation may have been, was a hobbyist of refined numismatic tastes who acquired many gems.
Harlan Page Smith departed this earthly sphere on March 2, 1902. His private collection was auctioned a few years later in May 1906 by the Chapman brothers and, among other things, included an 1822 half eagle, one of just three known to exist. The next month the same cataloguers offered the balance of Smith’s coins, after which Samuel Hudson Chapman and Henry Chapman dissolved their partnership which had been formed in June 1878. Later, both brothers conducted many illustrious auctions separately. Samuel Hudson Chapman, born on July 15, 1857, retired in 1929 and died on September 22, 1931. Henry, born on October 18, 1859, died on January 4, 1935, and remained in the coin trade until his final days. Among his last commissions was the appraisal (with Burdette G. Johnson) of the vast numismatic estate of Virgil M. Brand (1861-1926).