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Top 5 Famous Coin Collections of All Time

Museums and Private Collectors Assemble Vast Coin Collections


Harry W. Bass Jr. Collection at the ANA Money Museum

Harry W. Bass Jr. Collection at the ANA Money Museum

Image Courtesy of: The American Numismatic Association, www.money.org

Some famous coin collections are housed in museums, while others have been assembled by individuals. Here is my list of the top five notable coin collections. These were selected not based upon size or value, but their impact on the world of coin collecting.

1. Eliasberg Collection

Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. (1896-1976) was a Baltimore businessman who actively collected coins from the mid-1920s until the late 1970s. He is best known in numismatics for being the only person ever to assemble a complete collection of circulating United States coins by date and mint mark. Eliasberg did not differentiate between business strikes and proof strikes. Nor did he collect mint errors and die varieties. The only coin that he did not have in his famous coin collection was the 1849 Double Eagle. There is only one of these known and it is in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC. Since this unique specimen was produced in the year before the coin officially went into production in 1850, most numismatists consider this a pattern coin and not a circulating issue.

Eliasberg spared no expense to obtain all the major rarities. His collection included a 1913 Liberty Head nickel, the unique 1873-CC no-arrows Liberty Seated dime, an 1804 silver dollar, an 1870-S three dollar gold piece and a 1933 gold $20 Saint Gaudens Double Eagle. When he learned that the 1933 gold coin may have been obtained through illegal means, he voluntarily surrendered it to the government. The first part of Eliasberg's collection was sold in 1982, the second set in 1996 and the remaining lots in 1997. The total realized across all three auctions was more than $57 million.

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2. National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution

The National Numismatic Collection (NNC) is located in Washington DC in the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of American History. The collection contains over 450,000 coins, medals and decorations and approximately 1.1 million pieces of paper currency. This most diverse collection of numismatic items contains ancient coins, medieval coins, world coins and United States issued coins. The collection was jumpstarted in 1923 when the United States Mint gave its collection of rarities to the Smithsonian for storage and display.

In addition to multiple world coinage rarities, the collection contains many U.S. rarities such as an 1787 Ephraim Brasher half doubloon, the unique 1849 $20 gold Double Eagle, two 1877 one dollar pattern pieces, all three types of 1804 silver dollars, two 1933 $20 gold Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles, and a 1913 Liberty Head nickel. In 2004 the "History of Money and Metals" exhibit closed permanently. A few years ago, "Stories on Money," a smaller and less expansive exhibit, opened and still continues today. The museum regularly rotates many of its numismatic rarities into the exhibit for public display.

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3. ANA Money Museum

The American Numismatic Association, one of the largest coin collecting organizations in the world, is home to the prominent "Money Museum" at its Colorado Springs, Colorado headquarters. The museum houses over a quarter of a million objects that capture the history of numismatics. Its main exhibit is the Harry W. Bass Collection that consists of some of the finest U.S. gold coins, pattern coins, and paper money. Every piece in the Bass Collection is featured in a multimedia presentation that visitors can view interactively. Additionally, you can see such rarities as an 1804 silver dollar, and two 1913 Liberty Head nickels. Admission for ANA members is free and nonmembers pay a nominal admission charge.

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