18th Century Tokens from the Dr Allen Bennett Collection

18th Century Tokens from the Dr Allen Bennett Collection

Dr Allen Bennett

My fascination with numismatics started in the 1950s. A kindly middle-aged gentleman, Aldo Basso, had a small coin shop on 25th Avenue in San Mateo, California. Many happy hours were spent in that pipe smoke-saturated cubby hole studying his inventory. I formed a nice United States type collection from the 1850-1950 period, using savings from my paper routes. I also traded Aldo some fine-ish but rare silver dollars my grandparents had given me. Shortly thereafter, a large hoard of silver dollars was released and those rare dollars became common overnight. After that, Aldo did not want any more of my 'junk'. My type set was eventually stolen and never recovered.

After leaving home, I had quite a few false starts before finding my way in this world. During those many years I was so impoverished that collecting was out of the question but the fantasy did not die. A few years into my medical practice in Southern California, I occasionally enjoyed the wonderful hospitality and beautiful inventory at Goldbergs' Superior coin shop in Beverly Hills, when they were just off Wilshire Blvd. You never knew who you would see in that shop. One weekend I looked up and Johnny Cash was sitting next to me. I almost fell off my stool. He was deeply religious and was interested in Roman coinage from the time of Christ.

In 1982, Bowers and Ruddy published a fixed-price list offering of the John Adams Collection. I was instantly captivated with 1794 large cents and tried unsuccessfully to purchase several lots. Stack's offered the Floyd Starr collection in 1984. It contained a beautiful Sheldon-32 that Virgil Brand once owned. After winning this lot at $9,900 ($100 less than my maximum) there was no turning back... the little pebble started an avalanche. Over the next 16 years I aggressively pursued collectible 1794 obverse varieties 'by the portrait'. Del Bland, Jack Robinson, Tony Terranova and Eric Streiner were essential in making choice material available. I met several excellent collectors in the Early American Coppers Club, including Darwin Palmer, Dan Trollan, AI Boka, Dan Holmes and Wes Rasmussen. Also my colleague Robert Schuman, who is a distinguished connoisseur of 1794 large cents and Hard Times tokens. Jack and Sondra Beymer... still dealing from their shop in Santa Rosa, California ... are quite simply two admirable human beings. Walter Husak, cherished friend and well-known collector of early American large cents, bought my 1794 collection intact over a period of years from 1998 to 2001. He sold his collection at a now-famous Heritage sale in 2008.

My interest in Conder tokens was triggered by a visit with Jerry and Sharon Bobbe in the mid-1990s. Their fabulous collection and passionate enthusiasm were an unimprovable introduction. Since then, multiple major auctions and price lists have been sources of new material. It has been a good time to be collecting 18th century British provincial tokens. The CTCJ has provided regular additions to our growing knowledge about the series.

I have sought out D&H varieties with interesting designs, always seeking specimens with beautiful overall eye appeal and surface quality. The best tokens are really charming miniature art objects. My personal favourites include halfpennies with dramatic late die states and overstrikes with clear undertypes. 'Just right' examples of three much-loved and desired varieties have proven elusive: Lancashire 2 (in copper), Middlesex 676 and Middlesex 1063.

It has been a pleasure and privilege to know Joel Spingarn, Allan Davisson, the late Wayne Anderson and the late Douglas McHenry. The 'Mad Monarch', Jerry Bobbe, has been a continuous font of knowledge and a remarkable source of material. His assistance has been essential. Thank you, MM!

I hope that several new collectors will purchase examples from my collection. Beauty is a wonderful fertilizer that energizes the transition from acorn to mighty oak. In seeing these tokens move to new homes I fervently hope that their next custodians will resist urges to 'improve' their prizes. Such efforts almost invariably do more harm than good. Wrapping tokens in jewellers' tissue is inconvenient, but it does afford the optimum preservation.

This auction probably marks the end of my numismatic adventures. Most collectors cannot stay focused on just one area and I share this characteristic. My collections of specimen sea shells, contemporary Japanese wood-fired stoneware, contemporary wood turnings and contemporary art are still growing. They provide formidable challenges, daily life-enrichment and welcome sanctuaries from our current problem-filled world. Enjoy your wonderful hobby and Happy Hunting!

Cataloguer's note
The 299 pieces that form Dr Bennett's collection represent the finest quality group of 18th century tokens to appear in an auction catalogue since the dispersal of the late Wayne Anderson's holdings in 2000. Many of them were exhibited at the Token Congress in Seattle in May 2009. In accordance with DNW house style, they have been catalogued by location rather than by denomination as in Dalton and Hamer; in this way pieces relative to each other and specific to a particular locality are easier to find.

While collectors always seek to obtain the best in whatever field they pursue, the Bennett pieces are for the most part simply stunning and represent a magnificent testament to a numismatist who has only ever settled for the very best quality he could find. Fully two-thirds of the collection was acquired directly from Jerry Bobbe, whose commitment to, and passion for, the series is without peer in North America.

Among the great rarities and classic tokens here are a James Bisset halfpenny without pictures (lot 405), white metal trials for Elmsthorpe and Tamworth (lots 236 and 375), a perfect Swainson (lot 273), two stunning George Barker pennies (lots 400-1), a uniface trial of Thomas Welch (lot 415), a top quality ‘Sir Original' (lot 409), and much else besides. The illustrations in this catalogue don't do them justice: take a look on the DNW website or, better still, come to London and see them in person!