Lorin Parmelee Coin Collector
In terms of publicity toward the end of the 19th century, Lorin G. Parmelee stood out above the rest. While T. Harrison Garrett collected quietly in his Evergreen House mansion in Baltimore until his passing in 1886, Parmelee and his activities were well known and publicized. His collection was either the finest known—as widely claimed—or was a close second to Garrett’s.
Parmelee was born in Wilmington, in the hilly south central district of Vermont, on May 7, 1827. He moved to Boston at the age of 22 and set up as a baker of beans, “Boston baked beans” being one of the city’s best-known trademarks. He elected to serve restaurants and hotels, although he did some single-portion business as well. Large black iron kettles filled with The Product were delivered regularly to many of the finer places in town, and to lesser-known establishments as well.
In the 1850s he began watching the coins in his till, taking note of and plucking out interesting copper coins of New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont, which were still seen with some frequency, along with United States copper and silver coins of many early dates. Not long afterward he began buying from dealers.
In the early and mid-1860s he bought coins at local sales and was a customer of Henry Cook and Henry Ahlborn, both of whom had coin counters in the downtown district. On December 22, 1870, Parmelee was on hand at the sale of coins from W.S. Lincoln & Son, London, held by Leonard & Co., Boston. At the time he lived in the Highlands district. On December 5-7, 1871, he attended W.H. Strobridge’s sale of the Dr. Charles Clay Collection held in New York City, leaving it to his employees to tend the bean pots back home.
As his cabinets bulged with old and new acquisitions, including collections purchased en bloc, he occasionally sold some unwanted pieces and duplicates, as on June 18-20, 1873, when 1,202 lots including copper cents, gold coins, and other pieces were sold, mostly from the collection of George F. Seavey, of Cambridgeport, which he had bought. Other sales could be mentioned, including one lasting several days, commencing on June 12, 1876, with unwanted items collection of J. Carson Brevoort, another of Parmelee’s en bloc buys.
The coup of Parmelee’s career occurred subsequent to July 17, 1880, on which date Charles I. Bushnell, distinguished New York City collector, died. On one fine day, Bushnell’s son sold his father’s cabinet to Parmelee, who extracted desired rarities, then consigned it for sale to the Chapman brothers of Philadelphia. Sold by the Chapmans in 1882, the Bushnell Collection made numismatic history in an event that still echoes.
Finally, time came to sell. On June 25-27, the New York Coin & Stamp Company’s 96-page, 1,443-lot offering titled Catalogue of the Finest Existing Collection of American Coins, the Property of Lorin G. Parmelee of Boston, Mass., caused a sensation among collectors. The sale included an example of the great 1822 half eagle, sort of, as explained in the present text.
Parmelee valued certain of his rarities above current market, and ended up not letting them sell. This was not a wise move, for he then spent the next several years trying to sell such pieces privately, with much effort and probably yielding no more than if he had sold them at auction in the first place.
Today Parmelee is remembered as one of the greats in American numismatics. Any coin with his name in the pedigree has a special aura.