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Old Hawaii money goes to auction


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POSTED: Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Numismatists and auctioneers will be hard at work on Labor Day whilst we chill and grill—as they congregate to corral coins and currency of rare Hawaiian vintage.

The collection belongs to a Hawaii man who wishes to remain anonymous, said Larry Goldberg, principal of one of two auction houses involved.

Both Beverly Hills-based Ira & Larry Goldberg Auctioneers and Stack's in New York City are involved to maximize exposure, he said.

The auction catalog breathlessly proclaims, “;This presentation is the most extensive ever to appear at auction or elsewhere in the history of American numismatics.”;

It is “;much more extensive and a lot bigger”; than the collection of Hawaiian money Goldberg acquired from Al Ostheimer 40 years ago—in a sale conducted at Ostheimer's home next door to the then-Kahala Hilton Hotel.

With 26 pages of coins and 30 pages of currency and other notes, the catalog quotes heavily from “;Hawaiian Money,”; originally co-authored by Ronald Russell and Donald Medcalf in the 1970s. The latter owns Hawaiian Islands Stamp & Coin on Bishop Street.

“;Whenever stuff like this comes up ... people use my descriptions,”; Medcalf said.

While Medcalf was an unpaid consultant, Goldberg said, “;Donald will be there for the auction.”;

Goldberg sold the Ostheimer collection to the grandson of the railroad baron for whom Huntington Beach and other things in California are named.

The Huntington descendant sold the collection, and “;a lot of his stuff was bought by Ronald Russell,”; who “;sold a lot of it to our consignor,”; Goldberg said.

Goldberg had not tallied the face value of the coins and currency, because such a figure would be “;meaningless,”; he said.

Yeah, but I'm a columnist, came the explanation on the other end of the phone.

“;I never figured it out,”; Goldberg said, “;but I can tell you it's probably less than $1,000.”;

Collectors will fork over an estimated $1 million to $2 million for their share of that less than $1,000.

The catalog can be purchased from the auction houses for $15 but can be viewed online or downloaded for free.

In it are 1-cent, 5-cent, 10-cent, eighth-dollar, quarter-dollar, half-dollar and dollar coins, statehood and other special coins, territorial-era and war-era notes and more.

The description of one of the 1847 Hawaiian cent coins admonishes, “;Bidders will have to submit a strong bid to (ensure) ownership.”; It and others are valued at between $1,300 and $1,400.

“;The currency is (also) very rare,”; Goldberg said, noting an 1839 $5 note from Ladd & Co.

The company started Koloa Plantation on Kauai, and due to the scarcity of currency and in order to meet its payroll, it printed such notes for employee use in its company store, according to the catalog. Its estimated value is between $20,000 and $30,000.

The note is signed “;Lada ma,”; he noted, causing your columnist to wonder if it really was a signature, or perhaps it is a plantation worker's pidgin scrawl telling the cute company cashier he would see her “;lay-dah,”; and perhaps he signed off with “;Ma”; as it was his first or last name.