Harrison Garrett began his collecting interest as a student at Princeton in the 1860s, with a New Jersey copper being among his first acquisitions. A man from the wealthy family that controlled the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, he eagerly collected books, autographs, prints, and other items, keeping and enjoying them at Evergreen House on North Charles Street in Baltimore.
In the 1880s he was especially active, with Baltimore dentist and rare coin dealer Dr. George Massamore representing him at many sales under various pseudonyms including “Hotchkiss,” “South,” and “Harrison.” Many collectors, particularly advanced ones, kept knowledge of their holdings and their needs a secret, thus hoping to acquire desired pieces at a lower price than would be the case if it had been known that they were missing from their cabinets. In 1885, his collection, which by that time had an 1804 dollar and the unique hallmark-on-breast 1787 Brasher doubloon, was considered to be second in importance only to that of Lorin G. Parmelee. In actuality, Garrett’s collection was much broader and included world and ancient coins as well as tokens and medals, while Parmelee mainly concentrated on obtaining one of each date (but not mintmark varieties) of federal coinage. In the same year he acquired en bloc the James L. Claghorn collection of over 30,000 prints, paying the then remarkable figure of $150,000 for it.
In 1888, Garrett died in a boating accident in Chesapeake Bay, thus cutting short the career of a remarkable numismatist and leaving a family to mourn his passing. His collection passed to his sons and then in 1942 to the Johns Hopkins University. In 1979 the University contacted our antecedent firm Bowers and Merena Galleries, and after a competition among four auction houses awarded us the contract to sell the American coins, tokens, and medals at auction. Q. David Bowers led the project, including writing The History of American Coinage as Illustrated by the Garrett Collection.
The collection was offered by Bowers and Ruddy in a series of four sales in 1979 through 1981, during most of which time the silver and gold bullion markets were in a slump. Rare coin buyers and bullion buyers are two separate categories. The sales brought a record-breaking $25 million!