Roger Siboni Reflects On
The Sydney F. Martin Sale Part I
It is still hard for me to contemplate that the sale of Sydney F. Martin’s remarkable collection of colonial American coinage, medals, tokens, and ephemera is upon us. Syd’s collection will always be known and remembered for its vastness (totaling over 30,000 individual items), its completeness, and its areas of incredible quality. When I think of Syd’s collection, names like Garrett, Brand, Green, F.C.C. Boyd, Newman, Ford, and Partrick come to mind – truly rarefied company. Assembling collections like these goes well beyond everyday numismatic collecting. For all the names listed, it was a multi-decade, sometimes multigenerational effort involving a tireless pursuit of great and relevant coinage. Each worked through an extensive global network of specialized dealers, attended conventions and coin shows, stayed in active contact with multiple auction houses, and last but most importantly, seized the moment to buy large and small collections intact. These are the things that made these collections iconic. And Syd Martin’s collection is no exception.
Every one of these great collectors sought the opportunity to acquire the important holdings of peers when the opportunity presented itself. Dare I say that none of these colonial collections would have been nearly as impressive had they not included important smaller collections acquired along the way. Garrett purchased the collections of Dr. Edward Maris and James Ellsworth. Virgil Brand purchased Dr. Hall’s collection of state coppers and is rumored to have purchased coin shops across the country outright, leading to his massive holdings of over 300,000 numismatic items. F.C.C. Boyd purchased Hillyer Ryder’s collection of state coppers and T. James Clarke’s collection of Massachusetts silver that the latter purchased from Carl Wurtzbach. Newman purchased the choicest of items from Col. Green, and John Ford purchased the amazing Boyd collection. Don Partrick purchased Warren Baker’s extensive Canadian collection of coinage and tokens, Anthony Terranova’s outstanding 1787 and 1788 Connecticut coppers, Mike Ringo’s Evasions, and Don Miller’s Merchant and Hard Times tokens.
Syd Martin followed in this tradition. In the span of just a few decades, he purchased multiple collections to assemble an extraordinarily in-depth series of colonial issues that collectors and scholars will visually and intellectually enjoy in these catalog pages and internet archives for years to come. As I indicated in my January 2021 obituary for Syd Martin, every book effort he undertook started with the opportunity to buy an extensive collection in one area or another. The more extensive the collection, the more obscure the area, the more confusing the literature explaining the topic, the more appealing he found the acquisition. He purchased Bob Vlack’s collection of Wood’s Hibernia and Rosa Americana coinages that gave him over 1,000 coins to study and make sense of as a prelude to his first two foundational books. Vlack’s collection came, in part, from the Estate of William Wood. He purchased James LaSarre’s exhaustive collection of Saint Patrick coinage as the cornerstone for his third book. He purchased collections of French American coinage from Jeff Rock and Anthony Terranova for his book on French Colonies. And outside of his published books, he created several treatises and notebooks for other groups of acquisitions. Syd and I co-purchased an extensive collection of Washington Inaugural buttons from Dana Linett leading to lot 113 (Cobb, J. Harold, Elmer A. Piercy, Kirk Mitchell, and Sydney F. Martin. GEORGE WASHINGTON INAUGURAL BUTTONS & MEDALETS, 1789 & 1793) in the recent April 2022 Kolbe & Fanning sale of the Syd Martin Library. From Tony Terranova, Syd purchased one of the finest collections of 1785 and 1786 dated Connecticut coppers ever assembled, significantly helping move him toward completion of his front-line collection of over 350 distinct varieties and mules a feat unlikely to ever be accomplished again. And finally, he acquired over 40 Fugio cents from Donald Scarinci leading to an almost complete set in that series save the American Congress Fugio and a handful of R-7+ and R-8s.
Each of these purchases materially expanded and/or improved Syd’s holdings. But each purchase generally fell into a specialized category. Rarely is a purchase so significant that it elevates a collection across its full landscape. The core highlights of the sale before you, involving New Jersey and Massachusetts coppers, are part of such an acquisition, an acquisition I was delighted to partner with Syd on (as we did on several smaller ones from time to time). In early 2006, after Syd and I had come into our own in the colonial collecting field, I was initially approached after a few private treaty transactions by Lawrence R. Stack. I am not sure if Larry or the family was originally serious, nor were they ready for my immediate YES answer after a brief consultation with Syd. The Stack collection of colonial coins was all-encompassing and of overall excellent quality. It was put together over a professional lifetime by Larry Stack, continuously building and curating the collection. In addition to regular opportunistic purchases, the collection also derived from decades of Stack’s sales. When, from time to time, a coin did not achieve what Larry thought was fair value and it fit the collection, he would step up as a collector and purchase it himself. In fact, during the initial collection review, both Syd and I recognized several pieces that we were underbidders on! It took several months and a great deal of dialogue and research, as well as helping Larry and the Stack family go through the painful process of giving up one of their “children” to finally complete the transaction. But completed it was.
While the core of each of the collections that follow may be of Stack provenance, once in Syd’s collection, he aggressively added to each area striving to exceed 100 New Jersey varieties and form as complete a collection as possible of the 51 Ryder varieties of Massachusetts half cents and cents. The highlight Maris 21-N was certainly an amazing addition. That coin was brought from France to America by Billy Paul (one of Syd’s many regular dealer contacts). It was sold in one of the most unusual and competitive sealed bid auctions I can ever remember. The Ryder 2-F Transposed Arrows was a coin coveted by Syd for as long as I knew him. He bought what he could early on. But it was the Crosby, Ryder, Parmelee, Mills, Jackman Transposed Arrows piece from the recent Stack’s Bowers Galleries Twin Leaf sale that now highlights his Massachusetts collection. I am not sure how many of the extant Ryder 14-Js Syd went through to finally get the finest AU example offered in this sale. In fact, most people may not know that Syd’s Massachusetts coppers constituted one of the areas he was most proud of and he worked very hard to make it one of his finest collections.
Finally, as with all the collections that Syd put together, there was always a love for the obscure or ephemeral like the William Pitt Halfpenny brockage or the William Woart Massachusetts token. These are perhaps the sort of items that fascinated Syd the most.