40 Years in Business – The History of Classical Numismatic Group

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September 17, 2015 – The beginnings of Classical Numismatic Group can be traced back to the spring of 1975, when Victor England graduated from the University of Denver and decided to enter the rare coin business. Victor first pursued the path of dealing in United States, ancient, and world coins, but after attending a coin show in Biloxi, Mississippi, and realizing that his merchandise was about the same as every other dealer’s, he decided to switch his focus entirely to ancient, medieval, and world coinage. He decided it was more fun to sell history than to argue about the nuances of grading U.S. coins. Victor England Ltd. was started in Denver, Colorado out of an office on South University Boulevard, not far from his alma mater.

CNG Lancaster Staff (from left to right): Kerry Wetterstrom, Ken McDevitt, Travis Markel, Dawn Ahlgren, Jeremy Bostwick, Karen Zander, Jeff Rill, Dale Tatro, Bill Dalzell, Jessica Garloff, Cathy England, Brad Nelson, Victor England, Scott VanHorn.

The outset of Classical Numismatic Group
Victor almost immediately began publishing fixed price lists and mail bid auction sales, and by the time he published Volume II, No. 5, he had announced his relocation to San Francisco, California. Business was conducted out of Suite 717, at 500 Sansome Street, and soon Victor hired his first numismatic employee, Stephen M. Huston. After a crippling burglary in February of 1980 at the Sansome street office, Victor again relocated back to Denver. He reestablished his business in Denver during the summer of 1980, and would remain in the Denver area until the fall of 1983, when he decided to once again relocate, this time to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where his parents still lived and where Victor had attended high school before he left for the University of Denver back in 1971. Victor married in 1983, and he and Cathy decided that Lancaster County was the place to start their family.

CNG’s new home in Quarryville
Victor purchased a home in the rural community of Quarryville, Pennsylvania, which would become the base of his operations for the next ten years. In 1986, Victor decided to enter the competitive world of coin auctions. To that end, he hired Karen L. Zander to be his office manager, and formed Classical Numismatic Auctions, Ltd., which conducted its first auction on 1 May 1987 in New York City at the Sheraton Center Hotel & Towers, familiar to many as the home of the New York International Numismatic Convention since the early 1970s. The auctioneer for the first sale was Herbert J. Kreindler, a noted dealer in ancient coins, and this relationship with Herb has continued to this day. Other important influences on Victor’s early career were Charles H. Wolfe, Sr., John Barton (Owl Ltd.), Thomas P. McKenna, and Joel Malter.

Victor decided he needed help to continue the auction sales, and Kerry K. Wetterstrom joined the firm in time for the next sale held on 7 November 1987, this time in conjunction with the Grand Central Coin Convention, held across the street from the Sheraton at the Omni Park Hotel. As the number of auctions increased, both public and mail bid only sales (yes, this was before the Internet), additional employees were added: first Peter L. Lampinen in late 1989, and then Dawn Ahlgren in mid 1990.

Victor England and Eric McFadden becoming partners
The next step in the evolution of what was to become CNG started with conversations at several coin shows in the late 1980s between Victor and Eric J. McFadden. Eric was based in Southern California; he had studied Classics at Pomona College and Oxford University (where he was president of the Oxford University Numismatic Society), and he had worked as a volunteer at the Getty Museum organizing the museum’s coin collection. Eric then worked at Numismatic Fine Arts, Inc. in the late 1970’s and early 1980s. He left NFA to obtain his law degree from Harvard Law School, where he paid his expenses by dealing part-time in ancient coins. Eric continued to deal in ancient coins during his four years as an attorney, and eventually realized that he preferred the ancient coin field to a law career. In 1990, Victor and Eric decided to join forces as partners.

At this point, the company of Victor England Ltd. ceased to exist, and a new corporation was formed: Classical Numismatic Group with offices in Quarryville, Pennsylvania and Beverly Hills, California. Eric’s tenure in Beverly Hills was to be short-lived, however, as a new opportunity presented itself during COINEX, the annual London coin fair, in the autumn of 1990. An agreement was made whereby CNG purchased the rights to the numismatic business of the venerable London firm, B.A. Seaby Ltd.

Effective in March of 1991, CNG took over the daily coin operations of Seaby, which at that time was located at 7 Davies Street just off Berkeley Square. It was soon decided that Eric would close the Beverly Hills office and relocate to London in order to manage the Seaby coin business for CNG.

CNG London Staff (from left to right): Alexandra Spyra, David Guest, Eric McFadden, Tina Jordan.

CNG establishes in the European market
The purchase of Seaby Coins gave CNG a foothold in the European market, and Eric helped to establish Seaby/CNG as one of the leading firms in ancient, British, and world coinages in London. Eric will be observing his 25th year of managing CNG’s London operations in 2016.
Back stateside, CNG’s U.S. business continued to grow, which prompted a move from the sleepy village of Quarryville to the larger community of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. A 19th century farmhouse was purchased in 1993, renovated, and the offices were moved there in January of 1994. Cathy England had joined the firm full-time in 1991, and the numismatic staff grew with the addition of Barry P. Murphy in January of 1992, and more office space (and bookshelf space!) was needed.

An impressive list of employees
As the firm continued to grow in the 1990s, CNG continued hiring and became a training ground for classical numismatists. As various staff members would leave to pursue other opportunities, others stepped in, and today, after 25 years since its founding, Classical Numismatic Group’s list of alumni is impressive.

In alphabetical order, the following numismatists have worked for the firm in the U.S.: Dr. Lawrence A. Adams, Benjamin R. Bell, Jeremy Bostwick, William A. Dalzell, A.J. Gatlin, Peter Lampinen, John C. Lavender, Ken McDevitt, David Michaels, Barry Murphy, Brad Nelson, William B. Porter, Jeff Rill, Wayne G. Sayles, Col. Ted Schmidt, Scott VanHorn, Kerry Wetterstrom, and W. Jeffrey Winter. In the London office, the list includes: David Guest, Eugene Paunov, Bridget Roe, Julia Trocmé-Latter, Max Tursi, and Italo Vecchi. Various numismatists have served as interns at CNG, including William A. Dalzell, Leif Davisson, Sam Spiegel, and Alex Steinmetz.

The list of experts that CNG has consulted over the years is also impressive and includes (in alphabetical order): BCD, Catharine C. Lorber, William Metcalf, Wayne Moore, Y.T. Nercessian, Fred B. Shore, Dr. Gordon A. Singer, John Spring, Karl Stephens, David Vagi, and William B. Warden, Jr. CNG has conducted many joint auctions over the years with other leading firms, including: Harlan J. Berk, Ltd., Freeman & Sear, Gitbud & Naumann, Fritz Rudolf Künker GmbH & Co KG, Numismatica Ars Classica (NAC) AG, Nomos AG, St. James’s Auctions (Stephen Fenton), Karl Stephens, and M. Louis Teller & Company.

Over the years, CNG has been privileged to handle the sale of many important private collections, as well as museum consignments from institutions such as the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Phoenix Art Museum, the American Numismatic Society, the MoneyMuseum (Zürich), the Royal Ontario Museum, and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

CNG’s valuable research tool
As the Internet and Digital Age evolved, CNG has taken full advantage of these new tools, and now has a major presence on the Internet through its website. Today, in addition to three printed auction catalogues per year, CNG has conducted over 350 biweekly electronic auctions on its website. Utilizing state-of-the-art digital photography, and the talents of the in-house photographers, Travis Markel and Jessica Garloff, and the research staff, CNG maintains a digital archive on its website under the “RESEARCH” banner, with access to an internal search engine including over 240,000 items sold since 2000. This part of the site is freely accessible to everyone (without registration), and is used by collectors, dealers, and academics from around the world.

CNG has been promoting numismatics
Over the last 25 years, CNG has also been active in the broader advancement of numismatics. CNG has published over 25 numismatic books, ranging from specialist studies to practical guides, including titles that have won major awards and several that are recognized as the standard references in their fields. In the U.S., CNG has worked with the American Numismatic Society in various endeavors, and in 2010 the ANS presented Victor with the ANS Trustees’ Award and made him the honoree at the annual ANS gala. In 2015, the American Numismatic Association presented Victor with the Harry J. Forman Dealer of the Year Award.

In the U.K., CNG has established the CNG Roman and Byzantine Fund, administered through the Royal Numismatic Society, to provide grants for the study of Roman and Byzantine Numismatics, and CNG sponsors the annual CNG Lecture at Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum. Eric has been particularly active in the International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAPN), the international numismatic trade organization; he has served as president of the IAPN and continues to serve as the president of the IAPN’s authentication bureau, the International Bureau for the Suppression of Counterfeit Coins (IBSCC).
By 2008, CNG was once more in need of larger office quarters, so a new building was purchased, remodeled, and occupied by the summer. In London, Seaby/CNG relocated in the fall of 2014 from its long-time space on Old Bond Street to a new location at 20 Bloomsbury Street, near the British Museum.

CNG Today
Today, as CNG celebrates 40 years in the numismatic trade (Victor England Ltd. – 1975 to 1990; CNG Inc. – 1990 to date), the company continues to grow and prosper. Victor England continues to manage the Lancaster office while Eric McFadden runs the office in London. Working with them is a team of experienced professional numismatists: Brad Nelson–Senior Numismatist, Scott VanHorn, Jeff Rill, Ken McDevitt, Jeremy Bostwick, Bill Dalzell, and Kerry Wetterstrom in Lancaster and David Guest in London. Accounting, shipping, and general operations are handled by Cathy England, Karen Zander, Dawn Ahlgren, and Dale Tatro in Lancaster. Alexandra Spyra and Tina Jordan keep the London office running smoothly. CNG’s Creative Arts Staff consists of Travis Markel and Jessica Garloff. CNG now sells over 20,000 coins annually, and over the past 10 years, the team of CNG has sold more than $200 million dollars worth of coins at auction and set numerous price records.

To visit the website of CNG please click here.