TRENTON, N.J. – An anonymous buyer has paid more than $30 million for a collection of rare U.S. prototype coins, some from the 1700s, that never went into circulation, according to the dealer that brokered the deal.
The collection consists of about 1,000 coins that collectors refer to as pattern coins — trial designs that never went into production because the U.S. Mint chose other designs.
"This collection is an incredible collection. ... These were some of the first coins ever, ever struck by the United States government," said Laura Sperber, a partner in Legend Numismatics of Lincroft, N.J., which brokered the deal.
The seller wanted to remain anonymous, and the buyer, concerned about security, agreed to be identified only as "Mr. Simpson, a Western states collector," Sperber said.
"Both the buyer and the seller are very competitive people. And they're very successful in their careers, and they both love the romance and collectability of coins," Sperber said.
The coins span the period from 1792 to 1942. Highlights include test designs for the first pennies made in 1792 and six coins from 1872 that are often referred to as "Amazonian" patterns because the female figure portraying liberty is much stronger and regal looking than earlier versions.
It took the seller about 10 years to assemble the collection, Sperber said.
Gathering such a large collection of pattern coins is difficult because so few were created in the first place. And they were usually supposed to stay in the possession of the Mint — after all, these were the rejects.
"To accumulate as many patterns as there are in this collection, that's incredible," said Douglas A. Mudd, Curator of the American Numismatic Association Money Museum in Colorado Springs, Colo.
The coins could have made their way into private hands as gifts, or as trades with collectors for other coins that the Mint wanted to acquire, Sperber said.
Independent, third-party experts have verified the collection, Sperber said.
Many of the coins bear depictions of a woman representing liberty and not the profile of a former president, as displayed on coins currently circulating.
Until 1909, when Abraham Lincoln's face was placed on the penny, presidents weren't allowed on coins. At the time the first coins were minted in 1792, putting the nation's leader on a coin seemed too similar to the practice of kings being displayed on European coins. That wasn't considered the best example for a country less than a decade removed from the Revolutionary War.
"To put an individual on coinage was considered very unrepublican because the people have the power in a republic," Mudd said.
Sperber would not say how much her company earned for brokering the deal but said she hopes the magnitude of the sale will get more people interested in collecting coins.
"They're historical. They're beautiful works of art," Sperber said. "They're just plain neat."