A specialized price list, covering an outstanding collection of United States half cents was issued in 1963. It featured the collection of Joseph Brobston of Nazareth, Pennsylvania, formed over close to a half a century. Many collections of this caliber and completeness had been formerly offered at public auction by Stack’s. However, it was Mr. Brobston’s request when we purchased this impressive half cent collection, that we endeavor to sell it intact to a single collector
The negotiations for the collection were handled by my uncle Joseph B. Stack and my father Morton Stack. Both were close friends of Joseph Brobston and they had a relationship of trust and friendship between them. After the deal was concluded on the telephone, I was dispatched to Nazareth to pick up the collection. Of course, in those days you didn’t find the coins housed in sealed plastic holders, but Mr. Brobston had them stored in old-fashioned 5 x 8 loose-leaf pages. These he hand-lettered to show the date and variety, and sometimes a special note about the specimen. He always wanted to be able to remove a coin from its holder and examine it up close. In that way he could study varieties and admire the beauty that copper reveals when examined under incandescent light. The closeness he felt to his coins cannot be fully described, but it was evident that a bond existed between him and each coin he possessed
During that period in 1963 there were a number of copper coin collectors in the hobby, many had formed outstanding collections of both half cents and large cents. The Brobston Collection was the envy of most of them. It seems that this group of collectors had contracted "copper fever" as Dr. William Sheldon called this collecting discipline. We made a concentrated effort to sell the collection intact, but those who could afford it and had an interest in the series already had a start on their collections and asked if it could be broken up and sold individually.
Our first thought was to offer it at public auction, but Mr. Brobston was not interested in that idea. Each collection has an “individuality” that reflects the enthusiasm of the collector who created it. In 1963 we had already purchased the Davis-Graves Collection and the Anderson Dupont Collection, both of which had extensive collections of gold, silver and copper coins, including good collections of half cents. These two collections, as you know, were offered at public auction. However, knowing Mr. Brobston for many years, we understood his desire to keep it as an individual offering. Eventually we decided to purchase the collection outright and to describe and offer it in a Fixed Price List.
All outstanding collections of numismatic material share certain characteristics. They must show both completeness and a high standard of quality in the individual parts. With only a few negligible exceptions this collection of U.S. half cents was complete. Completeness is important because buyers are presented with the opportunities that might be "once in a lifetime." There was never a collection this comprehensive offered for sale either by private contract or public auction prior to 1963.
We made that statement at the time with the full knowledge of the fine pieces contained in the Alvord Sale of 1924, and in the later Dupont and Ryder sales. We also stated that we were certain that there could be few collections of half cents at that time which could not be improved by the inclusion of pieces from the Brobston Collection. We remarked in the forepart of that Fixed Price List that American collectors are noted for their interest in superb quality (as they still are today). We were able to say that many of the finest known specimens could be found in the Joseph Brobston Half Cent Collection.
There were 50 Proof coins, including the 1811 and 1852 Original. Many others were in choice Mint State, highlighted by the 1796 With Pole. We suggested that collectors who simply wanted to acquire a perfect example of this denomination, could readily achieve their goal through this collection. In the price list we remarked "each piece described is a single specimen, and that as many alternates selections as possible should be included with each order." The response was unbelievable, and we did our upmost to satisfy each request.
We further explained the method of our attributions. The coins were described in accordance with the Gilbert’s earlier work on this series. As was customary, the Gilbert numbers were placed immediately after the date. Some of the Gilbert numbers were expressed with brackets. These were our own additions, which were not in the 1916 listings by Gilbert, as since that publication there had been a number of new varieties discovered. As the series got more popular, we tried to revise the listing to help collectors place newer specimens in relation to their fellows. We did not use the Gilbert’s 10-point scale for rarity, as we felt it to be obsolete. Instead we used the currently accepted 8-point system, developed by others since Gilbert’s scale.
To try to summarize the Joseph Brobston Collection, permit me to describe it:
According to the records available at the time, the collection was virtually complete. Among the highlights it had five 1793’s, 13 1794’s, 15 1795’s, both 1796’s with the Pole to Cap in Gem Mint State, and eight 1797’s, From 1800 to 1857 it included virtually all varieties known, highlighted by 1811 Proof, l831 Original, three First Restrikes and one Second Restrike all in Proof. Virtually all the Proof varieties from 1832 to 1857, Originals and Restrikes, were there, highlighted by an 1852 G-1 Large Berries Proof. It would have been a difficult assemblage to duplicate!
We tried to provide collectors with as much of the newer information that might not have been readily available to him. We always felt that the professional dealer, whether he sold coins over the counter or by mail, or conducted public auctions, should be a source of useful information to buyers. This was part of the obligation that went along with the title of a "Professional Numismatist." During the early part of the 20th century (and of course earlier), few new books or publications were created; we basically had only the Numismatist as a monthly publication for information and sometimes prices. It was up to coin dealers to provide the information that helped turn the casual collector into a true numismatist. It was our obligation to teach and instruct. There were no grading services so the professional dealer had to be the grader and also teach the methods of grading to clients.
We at Stack’s have always lived by the motto: “An educated collector is the best client.” During my years in the business, I was taught to help the collector, to provide the use of all the books and literature we had in our shop and try to teach them how the study of numismatics is the best way to become the owner of a noteworthy collection.