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Sheridan Downey Numismatist - Coins

Mail Bid Auction 51

Auction ended on February 15, 2021

Lot Number 113

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John Cobb's Unpublished Manuscript on Capped Bust Half-Dollars, 1807-1836 -   R. 

John Cobb died October 28, 2018, a resident of Montana.  He was born 88 years earlier, April 16, 1930, in Beattyville, KY.  His father held a PhD in Chemistry; when offered a teaching job at Dakota Wesleyan University he took the family to Mitchell, South Dakota where John excelled in academics and athletics.  In 1947 he was named South Dakota’s outstanding high school athlete.  He ran the 440 yard dash in under 49 seconds.  Though only 5’8” his speed, tenacity and muscular physique made him the star of his high school football team.  By 1958 he had earned master’s degrees in both physics and chemistry.  His studies took him to the University of Kentucky (where he played football), the University of Colorado, U.C. Berkeley, UCLA and College of the Pacific.  His collegiate “career” was interrupted in 1950 when he enlisted in the U.S. Navy Officer Training School at Treasure Island.

After working at Lockheed Missiles & Space Co. in Sunnyvale, CA Cobb decided to enter the coin business.  His interest in numismatics began at age 13 when a history professor at Dakota Wesleyan showed Cobb a date-set of Indian pennies.  By the mid-1960s Cobb’s principal interest was capped bust half-dollars.  In an interview published in the Summer 1967 Calcoin News, Vol. 21, No.3, Cobb said that he was,

… cataloging die varieties of the early bust halves, specifically the turban type ….  I have approximately 7,500 of them [Cobb was prone to exaggeration; the total was probably closer to 3,000], not for hoarding purposes but to facilitate identification and to provide a permanent warehouse of information of the singular subject of the early U.S. half dollars.  Presently I have about 480 varieties .... My intention is to make a complete set and to maintain it during my lifetime as a perpetual collection which will be exhibited, updated and made available to responsible organizations on a museum basis.  Eventually it will be given to one of the national numismatic societies. 

Al Overton published his seminal 1st Edition not long after Cobb gave his interview.  Did Cobb still plan to publish his manuscript?  “Absolutely,” he told me in April 1995.  He said the same to Lee Hewitt, editor of The Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine, per a November 14, 1967 handwritten letter to Stewart Witham, “Was at Calif state convention and asked John Cobb what he was going to do with the book on half dollars he had written – now that Overton’s was out.  He said he was going to publish his eventually anyway.”

Cobb’s grandiose plan of publishing his manuscript while assembling and maintaining the ultimate reference set of Turban Head Half-Dollars by die variety fell apart in 1968 and 1969.  His continued association with Lockheed led him to accept work on a Top Secret governmental project; his expertise in nuclear power systems and the aerospace industry was required.  He had to relocate “in the desert,” he told me, and took a leave of absence from his coin business, leaving it in the hands of his wife and bookkeeper, Frances Cobb.  Domestic difficulties arose.  The upshot was a hasty decision to sell the manuscript and die variety collection.  The sale to Steven Markoff is described in Lot 112.

Cobb’s manuscript is awe-inspiring.  In 442 pages he laboriously describes the obverse and reverse working dies used to coin Turban Head half-dollars.  His descriptions of the 1807 Bearded Princess and the 1817 Moon Break die pairs are shown in the accompanying photos.  We know these varieties today as the 1807 Bearded Goddess, O.111a or b and the R.6 1817 O.104.  The latter die variety was discovered by Cobb before Overton published his 1st Edition in 1967.  The 2nd example was uncovered by BHNC co-founder Sam Nolt in the 1970s.

The original Cobb Manuscript found its way to the magnificent numismatic library of Dan Hamelberg in Champaign, IL.  Recall (lot 112) that although Markoff sold the Cobb Manuscript and publishing rights to Al Overton in 1969 Markoff wanted to retain the original manuscript to help him sell Cobb’s duplicate bust halves.  In October 1983, a photocopy of the manuscript turned up in Jack Collins’ sale of numismatic literature.  Armand Champa was the buyer.  John Ford and Champa then owned the finest numismatic libraries in private hands.  In March 1995 Bowers and Merena offered Part 2 of “The Armand Champa Library.”  The Cobb manuscript was lot 1150.  I was the happy buyer at $825.

It appeared to me that Don and Bonnie Parsley acquired Al Overton’s rights to the Cobb Manuscript when they inherited the Overton Collection in 1972.  Yet no copy of the manuscript appeared in Overton’s estate.  I asked Don whether he wanted a copy.  “Of course,” he replied.  I sent him the Champa copy.  Parsley made and retained a photocopy of the Cobb Manuscript on 8½ x 11 paper, placing it in a white 3-ring binder.  That copy is offered here.  With it go whatever ownership and publishing rights the Parsley’s acquired by inheritance from Al Overton or his widow, Canzada Overton.  (Bonnie Parsley is their daughter.)

Auction Ended

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