John Kraljevich Welcomes You To
The Sydney F. Martin Collection Part I
Welcome to our first offering of coins and medals from the Sydney F. Martin Collection, one of the premier collections of early American numismatic material ever built.
Working through a collection like Syd Martin’s is a very personal experience, offering insight into what Syd valued, what Syd knew, and what Syd learned over time. Seeing how he made choices about his collection — and how the choices he made changed — provides something of a blueprint to building a cabinet like this one.
Syd possessed an analytical mind, with a pretty clear set of goals and a logical path toward reaching them. But within that classical arrangement, there was jazz: a willingness to color outside the lines. Syd valued completeness a great deal. Witness his collection of Massachusetts coppers, with 46 of the 51 known die combinations, lacking just three Rarity-8 marriages and two rated Rarity-7+. His collection of New Jerseys includes one more variety than our E Pluribus Unum Collection, trailing only the Ford Collection for raw completeness. But Syd was more than a hole plugger. He valued condition, but he wasn’t entirely hung up on it: given a choice between a coin that wasn’t nice and no coin at all, he’d rather have the variety included. He valued being able to study die states for their instructiveness on emission sequences. He valued pieces that had a bell or whistle beyond just the basic: provenance, striking anomalies, and more.
Syd valued relationships. He dealt with the same people over and over again. But Syd valued the treasure hunt of finding a new piece for his expansive collections too. From trades with friends to high-stakes adventures on the wilds of eBay to major auctions or European dealers, Syd found coins everywhere. But when you collect as many things as Syd did and have such a universal ability to find something interesting about every coin you encounter, a broad net is necessary.
Answering the question of what Syd knew is impossible to answer. It’s also daunting. The man wrote standard references on four different colonial coin series. The two collections most prominent in this catalog, his stellar quality Massachusetts coppers and his remarkably complete New Jerseys, reveal an expert’s mastery of both series — and they weren’t even his core specialties.
Some of the lessons he learned about collecting coins are shown in his acquisitions over time. He became more focused on condition. He became more willing to pay record prices for coins he knew he might not have a chance to buy again. And he became more interested in numismatic depth that showed historical context, as will become more clear when Syd’s medals and world coins related to early America come to market.
The offering at hand is lean but packed. Six Higleys! There haven’t been more than six Higleys in a single sale in almost 20 years (Ford owned seven). The offering of Massachusetts coppers is inarguably the finest ever. His New Jerseys are world class, surpassing all but the Ford Collection in recent or distant history. The Rhode Island Ship medals are led by the unique VLUGTENDE piece that’s the key to the entire issue, and his Pitt halfpence and farthings are superlative as well. The sampling of Saint Patrick’s coinage would be a magnificent collection all its own, but it represents just the finest highlights of a series (or really, two series) that Syd pursued with nearly obsessive abandon. And, of course, Syd’s Libertas Americana medals are both gorgeous.
Syd was a collector of immense importance. Aside from how brilliant he was, or how much his friends all liked him (and we all did), or how much his collection is worth, Syd ranks with names like Parmelee, Norweb, and Boyd, for their cabinet-building abilities, their truly universal interests, and their market-altering purchasing power. This is the first of a historic series of auctions that will be studied and discussed for decades. Plan to participate. Plan to obtain Syd’s provenance and learn from Syd’s approach. It’s an honor to relive a long professional and personal relationship with Syd over the course of cataloging a sale like this. Kevin Vinton and I take very seriously the responsibility of bringing Syd’s coins to the next generation — and cataloging them in a way that does honor to Syd’s achievements. As catalogers, we always wish there was more time, fewer errors, and more of a chance to know everything that Syd did about these coins, but we’re proud of the work we’ve done.
Enjoy this catalog, enjoy the sale, and raise a glass to Syd’s historic legacy.