John E. Herzog reflects on a lifetime of collecting.
10/06/2021 News and Film, Books and Manuscripts
In 1959, I was a young and inexperienced stockbroker trying to figure out how to establish a customer base and earn a living. One day, I saw a certificate of the New York & Harlem Railroad in an antique shop window in Greenwich Village; I went into the shop and saw that it was marked $5. I decided to buy it and frame it to hang in my office. Visiting clients might think it was interesting, as I had, and I would steer the conversation to investing and hopefully open a new account. When I got home and held the certificate in my hand, I noticed it was signed by William H. Vanderbilt, then-president of the railroad. I instantly decided to find other certificates and quickly sent an ad to Collectors News. My collector instinct went into high gear, and I started a wonderful journey that has lasted over 60 years.
Alexander Hamilton, Report of the Secretary of the Treasury...for the Support of the Public Credit of the United States, 1789 | Lot 10, $30,000-50,000
I began to review price lists and auction catalogues and, while writing checks for purchases, I realized I should establish a theme before spending too much money. I decided to collect 18th-century financial documents, as I thought the people who had signed them would hold their value over time. As an economics major at Cornell, I knew a little about Alexander Hamilton, and when I saw a U.S. Treasury Bond, I bought it. I felt Treasury Bonds were a powerful symbol of Hamilton’s immense contribution to our country. Hamilton invented the Treasury Bond in 1790, and it has since become the preeminent fixed income investment worldwide, held by individuals, organizations, and other governments. Not a bad track record for a 231-year-old innovation!
Alexander Hamilton, Autograph Letter to the President of the First Bank of the United States | Lot 34, $12,000-18,000
My collection grew over time, and I spent many pleasurable hours reading about material for sale and interacting with fellow collectors and dealers both in the United States and abroad. I tried to find related ephemera that were contemporaneous with the bonds and other material I was collecting. These included postcards and other pieces that gave my collection context and added color. I discovered that people valued these items and held them for many years; some either forgot about them or possibly were waiting for the collector’s market to offer prices higher than the redemption value. A few cancelled bonds somehow escaped the Treasury’s hands and found new lives at auction. These bonds were discovered as the scripophily market was expanding, and there was a lot of excitement. Similarly, all pieces related to the Founding Fathers became more desirable. I was lucky to have been active at that time, and to have experienced the wonderful camaraderie that grew among collectors in those heady years.
Thomas Jefferson, An Act for extending the time for receiving on Loan that part of the Domestic Debt of the United States, which may not be subscribed... | Lot 31, $12,000-18,000
Recently I realized that my collection would be of interest to others and decided to offer this material that, in some cases, has been off the market for decades. This part of our nation’s history needs to be known, studied, and brought to a wider audience.
I look forward to the auction, and to experiencing the excitement of others as they see these objects and add them to their own collections. I wish everyone good luck and offer my appreciation to all who have been involved in this project.
—John E. Herzog, August 29, 2021