The Norweb Collection
A legendary coin collection compiled by a family of dedicated numismatists
R Henry Norweb Sr was born in Nottingham, England at the end of the 19th century and moved to Ohio, USA.
However, it was in France where he started his family. In Paris with the American ambassador to France during WW1, he married Emery May Holden who was working as an ambulance driver. R Henry Norweb Jr, their son, was born in a bomb shelter in fear of a German air raid.
All three members of the family were avid rare coin collectors and studiers, with the Emery May inheriting a significant collection from her family's collection, started by Liberty, then Albert Holden, and imbuing the younger Norweb with passion for the hobby.
Even from their adolescent years, he remembers his mother challenging his sister and himself to identify died varieties of Connecticut copper coins and large cents.
Emery Norweb had an aesthetic eye, and later became President of the Cleveland Museum of Art. Her son by comparison was fascinated with trees, and Executive Director of the Holden Arboretum in the same city.
It is thanks to such instincts that the collection gained and preserved some of the finest examples of various rare coins in existence.
The overall Norweb collection became very broad in both sources and period, in part reflecting that it had involved the interests of a variety of different people. Norweb Jr had a particular fascination for Brazilian coins, for example, and was a driving force in the Sociedade Numismatica Brasilera.
Some coins which they possessed are legendary. They owned a Brasher doubloon before donating it to the American Numismatic Society in 1969.
Ephraim Brasher, who was once neighbour to George Washington, was a renowned expert in metallurgy, whose initials stamped into a gold block were used as guarantee of purity.
Brasher struck a few gold doubloons as America was on the cusp of creating its dollar, and each is now worth millions.
The family also held, and donated to the Smithsonian, one of the five known 1913 Liberty Head Eagles. These were minted (supposedly as an accident but possibly as an intentional, private minting) after all Eagles were supposed to have the new Indian Head design.
Having passed through the hands of great collector Colonel E H R Green, the five acquired the names of different collectors. One of these, named after the collector Fred Olsen, became the first coin to sell for seven figures and more recently sold for an enormous $3.7m - a great investment for someone!
The Norweb name is always associated with the highest quality in pieces. For example, a 1911-D Quarter Eagle currently on offer at Heritage is very unusual in being graded at MS-66 (and it has passed the six figure mark since we first reported on it).
The coins span far beyond America, however. An example of a rare 'Petition' Crown created by Thomas Simon depicting a draped bust of Charles II for 1663 (the design of which was mentioned by Samuel Pepys) brought £120,000 at a Spink auction, over an estimate of £50,000-60,000.
It is therefore difficult to describe the history of numismatics without running into the Norweb name.
Their reputation has such clout that following the sale of all that was not donated in the 1980s and 1990s, unscrupulous owners and auctioneers occasionally add the name to a list of provenance to add interest. Collectors and investors should be on their guard!
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Images: American Numismatic Society (Norweb), Heritage (1911-D Quarter Eagle) and Spink (Petition Crown)