The name Dr. Gordon Shaw is likely unknown to all but a few of today’s New Jersey copper collectors. He began collecting coins seriously in the early 1980s, focusing on U.S. type coins, large cents, colonial type coins, and New Jersey coppers, with most of his efforts dedicated to the last two specialties. Though he hailed from Chicago, he found the history of New Jersey and its coinage fascinating; his personal connection to the state came through his wife Margie, who was originally from there. His most avid collecting period was from about 1981 to 1994, and as his purchases of U.S. coins became fewer, his dedication to New Jersey coppers grew.
Dr. Shaw began his New Jersey coppers collection 1981, and at first he mostly purchased modest coins from fellow collector Richard August. He expanded his reach, increasing his sources to include auction companies like Bowers and Ruddy (later Bowers and Merena), Stack’s and Early American Numismatics (Dana Linett). From EAN he acquired some significant coins from the famous Garrett Collection, the sale of which immediately preceded his entry into active collecting. The decade spanning 1983 to 1993 featured the auction sales of many significant colonial and specifically New Jersey coppers collections by Bowers and Merena and Stack’s. These allowed Dr. Shaw to add countless varieties to his set, including great rarities, Condition Census coins, and pieces pedigreed to significant collections. By the time his collecting activities ceased circa 1994, Dr. Shaw had collected 101 different Maris numbers, many of superb quality, achieving a goal most collectors can only dream of.
The statistics of Dr. Shaw’s collection are interesting. Stack’s Bowers received 167 New Jersey coppers from the Shaw family, including five duplicates that are being returned to the family as keepsakes of their beloved husband and father. The remaining 162 pieces at first represented 101 Maris numbers, including Maris 78-dd (actually a die state of Maris 77-dd) and Maris 82-hh (now better known as a fantastic flipover double strike of Maris 36-J). Subtracting these two Maris numbers leaves us with 99 die combinations. During the course of cataloging the sale, we discovered three incorrect attributions, chiefly from the 1983 GSNA Auction by Kurt Krueger. Netting these out leaves us with 96 die combinations, still a significant feat, given that there are 144 total possible die combinations, 28 of which are R-8 or unique. In the end, Dr. Shaw collected 83% of the 116 die combinations that are not prohibitively rare.
As we know, Dr. Shaw early on acquired some coins from the Garrett Collection sale, and he quickly learned that “ex Garrett Collection” meant a coin that was often the best in its class and always highly sought after. In his decade or so of collecting, he added 16 coins from the Garrett Collection, 15 of which were also from Dr. Edward Maris’ own famous collection sold at auction in 1886. Several of these were plate coins in Maris’ landmark photographic plate that accompanied his magnum opus A Historical Sketch of the Coins of New Jersey, published in 1881. These Maris-Garrett coins are avidly sought by astute collectors today, as they are often significant for their quality. At the very least they are historical connections to the nascent days of New Jersey copper collecting. And it has been decades since this many ex Garrett New Jersey coppers have been offered in a single venue.
The significant pedigrees do not end at Maris and Garrett, however. Dr. Shaw managed to collect coins that from collections representing a Who’s Who of colonial and New Jersey numismatics of the last century and a half: Bushnell, Parsons, Mills, Stickney, Hays, Hall, Brand, Green, Ryder, Boyd, Spiro, Deats, Douglas, Downing, Norweb, Bareford, Foreman, Oechsner, Hessberg, Sherr, Roper, Picker, Taylor, Ford, H. Garrett, Anton, and August.
The dispersal of Dr. Shaw’s collection represents an opportunity for collectors of all stripes. Condition collectors will find many choice pieces, both common and rare. Pedigree collectors will be dizzy with the volume of coins owned by the great collectors of yesteryear. Die variety enthusiasts will avail themselves of the opportunity to acquire dozens of Rarity-5, Rarity-6 and Rarity-7 pieces, including such delicacies as Maris 3-C, 10-G, 11-H, 11.5-G, 21-R, 22-P, 24-Q, 27-j, 36-J, 37-X, 38-b, 47-e, 51-g, and 57-n. Most of today’s collectors of New Jersey coppers prefer their coins to be raw, and we have left most coins ungraded. We have, however, had several dozen Red Book type coins and higher quality common varieties graded by PCGS to broaden their appeal to more casual collectors of colonials and type coins.
Though he is no longer with us to share in the excitement of the sale of his cabinet, Dr. Shaw would no doubt appreciate that his masterfully collected coins will now pass on to the next generation of collectors who shared his passion and enthusiasm for the horsehead coppers of New Jersey.
As a postscript, we must note that in addition to the fabulous Dr. Shaw Collection of New Jersey coppers, we will be offering the third known example of Maris 18-L in this sale, found by a lucky metal detectorist in Passaic Count, New Jersey.