By Jesse Robitaille
The latest offering from the Sherbrooke Seminary, the third of multiple sales from the Québec-based theological college’s numismatic collection, finished crossing the block on March 15.
Hosted by Montréal’s Champagne Auctions, the 468-lot sale offered the seminary’s token collection, including “rare pieces never seen on the market,” according to auctioneers.
“We were very pleased with some of the results,” said Montréal dealer Peter McDonald, who assisted with cataloguing the expansive Sherbrooke Collection, assembled by the school’s abbots beginning in the late 19th century.
The first two Sherbrooke sales took place on Sept. 28-29 and Nov. 2-3, 2019, respectively. The third sale – postponed until 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic – began on Feb. 28 with Lots 1-302; however, auctioneers postponed the remainder of the sale until mid-March after encountering computer issues.
“This is something we’re not happy about,” said McDonald, who has been involved in numismatics for nearly five decades.
Auctioneers returned on March 15 with Lots 303-468, and despite the technical troubles, bidding remained strong throughout the sale, McDonald said.
“They were just beating themselves to death (to bid), and it was actually the third monster token auction in a very short period of time,” he added, referencing the Doug Robins Collection in 2018 and the Donald Partrick Collection earlier this year. “And you know what, the market is sustaining – the tokens are actually holding their prices.”
He compared the recent glut of Canadian tokens to the iconic John J. Ford Collection, one part of which offered more than a dozen Chesapeake Bay medals. Despite people’s concerns about “flooding the market,” the medals sold for more than their estimates, McDonald said.
While the Ford Collection was offered in the early 2000s, more recent sales have an additional driver of interest – the pandemic.
“Now, I think the pandemic is having a tremendous effect because people are stuck at home,” said McDonald, a long-time member of the Royal Canadian Numismatic Association (RCNA), which honoured him with the Charles D. Moore Professional Numismatic Award in 2018.
“They’re cleaning up their inventory or collections because it’s the first time they’ve had time to do it in years. I’m getting calls from customers that I haven’t talked to for 20-30 years who say, ‘Pete, I’ve cleaned up, and I’ve got doubles on this and I’m missing that. Can you help me?’ It’s kind of an interesting footnote, but this pandemic has allowed people the time to go back to collecting.”
Among the top token highlights was an 1820 North West Company brass fur trade token (Breton 925) that crossed the block as Lot 337.
Described by auctioneers as “attractive, popular (and) rare,” it was certified as Fine-12 by International Coin Certification Service (ICCS) and sold for $5,500, topping its $4,000 estimate.
Another 19th-century token was offered to collectors as Lot 346. It featured a Devins & Bolton “Small Ampersand” counterstamp on an 1837 New Hampshire “Hard Times” token.
McDonald noted U.S. token undercoins are not yet categorized in the Charlton Standard Catalogue of Canadian Colonial Tokens.
The counterstamped token sold for $840, more than quadrupling its estimate.
Lot 347 offered an 1852 Hunterstown Lumber Company token (Breton 567) in ICCS Very Fine-30.
“We have been advised by several specialist collectors that this may well be the finest copy known,” according to McDonald, who added this issue is “very rare.”
It brought $9,600, topping its $7,500 estimate.
An 1862 Weir and Laramie token (Breton 568) with an encased U.S. postage stamp – a 10-cent green Washington – was also offered in ICCS Very Fine-20. Listed as MT-7 in the Charlton token catalogue, it sold for $3,000, tripling its estimate as Lot 348.
Another rarity, the 1821 Lauzon Ferry token (Breton 560) in ICCS Very Fine-30, crossed the block as Lot 357. Described by auctioneers as a “very nice example of this fragile and easily damaged white metal token,” it sold for $4,440, topping its estimate by $500.
The following lot offered another rare 1821 Lauzon Ferry token, this one counterstamped with “JMcK” on both sides and certified as Fine-12 by ICCS. It sold for $4,560, almost doubling its estimate.
Rounding out the token highlights is Lot 360, a gold restrike of the 1947 Lachine Railway token in 18.1 grams of 10-karat gold. Described by auctioneers as uncirculated and “extremely rare,” it sold for $4,800, more than quadrupling its estimate.
That amount of 10-karat gold is worth about $1,400.
EGYPT MEDAL, HBC BUTTONS & MORE
Among the sale’s earlier highlights was a named example of Canada’s Egypt Medal, awarded to army and navy members who took part in the Egyptian campaigns from 1882-89.
Offered as Lot 9, the Egypt Medal includes an 1884-85-dated Nile bar. Described by auctioneers as being in Extremely Fine condition with a “nice patina but no ribbon,” it sold for $4,800 to reach its estimate.
A trio of Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) buttons also brought strong prices, McDonald said.
The first piece, Lot 56, was a 1771-80 concave HBC button named to manufacturer S. Firmin Strand. The 23-millimetre, four-gram button includes an incused HBC cypher with “pro pelle cutem” (Latin for “a pelt for a skin”) in a garter with a fox sitting on a chaplet (prayer beads). Described by auctioneers as a “beautiful piece of history,” the button still includes 90 per cent of its gold gilt inlay. It sold for $1,500, topping its $1,000 estimate.
The second piece, Lot 59, offered a 1780-1800 flat HBC button. The 16.5-millimetre, 2.2-gram button includes the words “HUDSON’S BAY” at the top of the obverse, with an Indigenous warrior shooting a musket at a fox. The reverse is blank with a raised dome of metal, to which a broken shank is welded. It sold for $1,700, topping its estimate by $100.
The final piece, Lot 60, offered a 1780-1800 “Indian Shooting a Fox” button. The 32-millimetre, 9.7-gram button – described as “very rare” – also includes a raised dome with a shank on the reverse. It sold for $1,900.
Lot 78 offered an undated repoussé beaver – a pewter piece whose design was hammered into relief from the reverse side. Measuring 42.5 millimetres and weighing 2.8 grams, it brought $3,200, quadrupling its $800 estimate.
McDonald and his team are planning to set the date for the fourth Sherbrooke sale, offering world coins, in late April.
More material from the Sherbrooke Seminary Collection will also likely cross the block before the end of the year, McDonald said.