The Collection of Cut and Countermarked Coins formed by the late Edward Roehrs

The Collection of Cut and Countermarked Coins formed by the late Edward Roehrs

Edward Roehrs (1916 - 2008)

As the pool reflects the image
and the punch transmits the countermark
so the collection reflects the collector
Edward Roehrs, 1975

The study and collecting of West Indian cut and countermarked coins has always been a challenge. There have been serious collectors since the mid 19th century, but these individuals tended to collect the series as a part of much larger collections and were content to go along with the attributions made by dealers and writers of the times.

The cut countermarked coins in gold and silver are generally rare. They came about over a relatively short period of time to solve very local problems. Once the need no longer existed for these plugged and cut up bits and pieces, subject to confusion and private larceny, they were generally eliminated as soon as possible via the melting pot. In a few instances minor cut pieces remained in circulation into the mid-19th century and in the British Virgin Islands, quite remarkably, almost right up to the beginning of the 20th century.

Authorising documents from island Councils and from contemporary sources are also rare. Over recent years much has been uncovered, but certainly prior to the mid 1950s the lack of documentation opened the doors for wild speculations on attribution and modern larceny, in the form of fakes and concoctions, the former probably more prevalent than the latter. This situation generally made collectors approach the series with caution or avoid it altogether. Better fakes appeared in greater numbers from the 1960s, tailing off somewhat over the years as the collector base has become more familiar with the genuine coins and more adept at separating the sheep from the goats.

Prior to the 1965 publication of Part III of Fred Pridmore's The Coins of the British Commonwealth of Nations (West Indies), a few enquiring individuals decided to take on the challenge to study and collect the series in a specialised manner. One of them was Edward Roehrs.

Edward was born in Rutherford, New Jersey on 16 October 1916. He came from a family of horticulturists, the business being started by Edward's grandfather, Julius Roehrs, in 1869, five years after he emigrated to the USA from Hamburg, Germany. Edward's father, Edward H. Roehrs, was a well-known orchid collector and a founder member of the American Orchid Society. Thus Edward the son learned the 'family trade' at an early age. As a young man he sailed around parts of the Caribbean and eventually settled in Puerto Rico in 1949 to begin his own unique plantation, Edward Roehrs Exotic Plants, at Arecibo. As he established his business his interest in the West Indies expanded into the artefacts and numismatics of his island home. Much time and effort went into visiting remote coffee estates in the island interior, searching for the tokens and tallies used on these plantations. Over the next few years the natural progression was the further expansion of his numismatic interests to encompass the entire Caribbean area.

Edward's collection had been about so years in the making. Overall, it must surely rank as the most comprehensive assemblage of West Indian cut and countermarked gold and silver pieces, regal coins, tokens and medals ever formed. Indeed, the plugged and countermarked gold portion of the collection is extremely comprehensive in its scope and number of specimens and was the essential reference collection used by Ralph C. Gordon for his 1987 publication West Indies Countermarked Gold Coins.

The Howard Gibbs collection, sold in New York in March 1966, was his first participation in a major auction of countermarked coins. Since that time Edward participated in every major auction sale of West Indian coins and tokens, either in person or via an agent. Here you will find coins that once graced the cabinets of pioneer students John Caldecott and Fred Pridmore, and well-known collectors such as Julius Meili, Baron Ferrari, Virgil Brand, John Work Garrett, Raymond Peltzer, Bryan Clarke-Thornhill, Julius Guttag, John Rovensky, Ray Byrne, Dick Ford, John J. Ford, Ralph Gordon, Alexander Patterson, William Tankersley, Hal Wells, Holger Hede, Mrs Emery May Norweb and many others. In addition, many interesting coins have been purchased at small and sometimes obscure sales all over the world. The collection has also greatly benefited from a network made up of those who deal in and collect the series, wherever in the world they live.

The collection has been made available over many years for study by other serious students of the series. Edward engaged in correspondence with like-minded people and also with those in positions giving them access to reference material. The acquisition of new specimens to add to the collection was not his only activity. Many areas were studied and researched and the fruits of these efforts have been published in various issues of The Numismatist, the journal of the American Numismatic Association, and in the NI Bulletin, the journal of Numismatics International. In addition he also formed a superb collection of Puerto Rican coins, tokens, paper money, medals and exonumia and published his Historia Monetaria de Puerto Rico in 1964.

Edward died on 7 December 2008 at the advanced age of 92. With his passing it time for a new generation to take up the challenge of this fascinating series. His amazing collection of U.S. regulated gold coins, remnants of one of the most important episodes in American coinage history, was sold by Heritage Auction Galleries in Boston on 13 August 2010. The first part of his cut and countermarked holdings were sold in this room on 28 September 2010, while his important collection of medals related to West Indies and the slave trade passed under the hammer on 13 July 2011. After the present dispersal there just remains his collection of West Indies and other tokens, to be sold next Spring.

Importantly, it should be noted that this sale includes cut and countermarked coins from places other than the West Indies -Gibraltar, The Gambia, Sierra Leone, Prince Edward Island, colonial New York and early New Orleans. In every instance the weights of the coins have been quoted in grammes and grains, although it should be pointed out that these details, and other information given in the catalogue, may differ from that which may be found on the late owner's tickets.

Edward was a numismatist and a very special friend. He is survived by his wife of 52 years, Helena, and an extended family.