Welcome to Steve's blog, sharing stories of his professional coin career, 1963 to date. Enjoy stories of Steve's numismatic journey.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Grande Dame of Coin Collecting (Part 1)

On opening day of the 1981 Michigan State Fall Convention, in Dearborn, MI, I notice a stately older woman strolling down the aisle, perusing tables and showcases as she progresses.  She stops in front of my table, and asks to see the Colonial coins in my showcase.

She examines the coins and politely returns them to me.  “They are very nice, but I have all of these.  May I see your Half Cents?”  She looks at these, and again politely returns the tray. 

“I’m so sorry, but I already have all of these examples.  But thanks so much for showing the coins to me.  They are lovely.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Norweb.” I say quietly.  She looks up at me, smiling sweetly, charmed that I knew her name.  What a nice lady.

Mrs. Emery May Holden Norweb was the grande dame of coin collecting and the Norweb Collection one of the greatest cabinets of classic and rare coins assembled and held by a family in the United States.  It was sold at auction beginning in late 1987, approximately three years after her death at age 88.

A Brief History of The Norweb Collection
The renowned coin collection was begun by Mrs. Norweb’s grandfather, Liberty Emery Holden (1833-1913).  Holden invested in mining properties - iron in the Lake Superior region and silver in Utah - and owned the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Liberty’s son, Albert Fairchild Holden (1866-1913), was one of the most prominent mining engineers of his time, with business interests in multiple mining and timber ventures in the U.S. and Canada.  Albert was a mineral collector and botanist, and deeply interested in numismatics. 

He ordered proof coins directly from the Philadelphia mint and collected branch mint coins in the finest possible condition. His cabinet contained a 1907 Ultra High Relief Double Eagle acquired directly from the family of the coin's sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens. This coin was a centerpiece of the Norweb collection.

Through her father, Emery May Holden (1895-1984) became interested in coin collecting as a child.  By age 12, she was keeping inventory notebooks, attributing coin varieties and perusing upcoming auction catalogs for potential acquisitions. 

Mr. & Mrs. R. Henry Norweb - 1922
Library of Congress
In 1917 Emery May married career diplomat R. Henry Norweb.  Over the next 60 years, Emery inherited her family coins and together the couple acquired rarities to assemble their legendary collection.  

During their lives, Mr. and Mrs. Norweb made important numismatic donations to the American Numismatic Society and the Smithsonian, including a 1787 Brasher doubloon and one the finest known 1913 Liberty head nickels.

According to author and Norweb acquaintance, Q. David Bowers, theirs was a “living collection” . . . “something to continually work on, to improve, to study, and beyond that to use as a vehicle to meet many people and to participate in many events.”

Mrs. Norweb assembled a superb English gold coin collection; her foreign coin holdings were legendary, rich with exquisite pieces from the Caribbean, Central and South America.  She had special interest in die varieties of colonial and early American coins.  Mrs. Norweb continuously worked, studied and appreciated the collection’s coins and their artistry. 

Emery May Holden Norweb
Cleveland State University Library
Love of art was central to her life and community service.  The Cleveland Plain Dealer described Emery May Holden Norweb as “an art expert and collector, civic worker, grand dame of Cleveland society, and the only woman to become president of the Cleveland Museum of Art.”  She collected pre-Columbian art, was a trustee of the Holden Arboretum, Cleveland Museum of Natural History, and other arts-based organizations. 

The well-known Norweb cabinet of coins was a family endeavor, created by three generations of avid and knowledgeable collectors.  Mrs. Norweb in particular exhibited great stamina and determination to develop and maintain this beautiful, eye appealing collection. 

To this day the Norweb pedigree continues to have special significance – not only because of the family who made the cabinet famous, but because of the extreme high quality of its holdings.

Coming up next . . . Part 2
Steve attends the Norweb Auction in NY, acquires important coins for clients. How have clients fared with these coins?

1 comment:

  1. steve i enjoy reading your coin blog and find it very interesting keep up the good work and by the way you have an good eye for great coins perhaps one of the best