The Late Robinson S. Brown Jr Collection
Robinson S Brown, Jr (1917 - 2005)
Born in Louisville, Kentucky, on 6 May 1917, Robinson Swearingen Brown Jr, or 'Robbie' to his many friends, was the grandson of George Garvin Brown (1846-1917), a pharmaceutical salesman who, with his half-brother John Thompson Street Brown Jr, established J.T.S. Brown & Bro., whiskey blenders and marketers, in 1870. What began as a small local concern bottling and selling Old Forester, their original brand of premier bourbon, evolved over time into the Brown-Forman Corporation, today one of the world's top ten wine and spirit organisations.
Robbie's uncle, the outgoing Owsley Brown (1879-1952), who started work at the company in 1904, assumed the management of it from G.G. Brown in 1917. In 1934 Owsley's younger brother, Robinson Swearingen Brown Sr (1886-1968), joined the company's senior management team who directed the firm through the precocious years of Prohibition and the Great Depression, enabling the succeeding generation of management to expand the product line beyond Kentucky in the 1950s and 1960s with the acquisition of Jack Daniel's Tennessee whiskey, Old Bushmills Irish whiskey, Southern Comfort and other brands.
Growing up in Louisville during the Depression, Robbie studied engineering at the University of Virginia. During World War II he was a pilot in the Army Air Corps. Honourably discharged with the rank of captain in 1945 he returned to the family firm, where he rose to become Brown-Forman's first executive director of sales and marketing. He was elected chairman in 1971 and retired from that office in June 1982.
Robbie was also very active in social, civic and political affairs, serving on a number of boards and committees. In late 1956, while working in Brown-Forman's public relations and personnel department, he was asked to head a committee planning events for the 1957 Kentucky Derby Festival and appointed the first chairman of the modern Derby. Believing in doing things right, Robbie requested a three months leave from work in early 1957 to ensure it ran successfully. Subsequently he was greatly honoured when, on the eve of his 88th birthday, he was invited to serve as 'Thundernator' for the 2005 Thunder Over Louisville fireworks show, the traditional pyrotechnic curtain-raiser to the Kentucky Derby. in 1975 he served as president of the Louisville Chamber of Commerce. He was a former chairman of the board of trustees of Bellarmine College (now University), from whom he received a law doctorate, and was a founding member of the Louisville Zoological Commission. He particularly supported the Louisville organisation Prodigal Ministries, which help men and women released from prison to re-establish themselves by starting a new life, devoid of crime.
Robbie's interest in coins began in the early 1960s. In 1964 he bought 16 different date U.S. large cents from a dealer in New Orleans, and that was the trigger to specialise in the series. Acquiring copies of Sheldon's Penny Whimsy and Newcomb's United States Copper Cents 1816-1857, and subsequently joining the fledgling Early American Coppers society, he set out to complete all the varieties and different die states of the entire span of years from 1793 to 1857. Only five others had previously managed it, including Sheldon himself, George Clapp, Ted Naftzger (whose collection was auctioned recently) and Denis Loring. But Robbie achieved the feat -twice! His first collection, catalogued into 1,456 lots by Jack Collins, with assistance from Del Bland, Walter Breen and others, was auctioned by Superior Galleries in West Hollywood on 30 September and 1 October 1986. Following that sale he immediately began assembling another collection using his duplicates which, minus the late dates, was completed in 1995; this went under the hammer in 683 lots with Superior in Beverly Hills on 27 January 1996. The later date business strikes, from 1840 to 1857, an extensive run, subsequently became the third Robinson S. Brown Jr collection to be auctioned by Superior on 2 June 2002, the 1,543-lot catalogue being the work of Bob Grellman and Stuart Rubenfeld.
Like some before him and many since, the basis for Robbie's introduction to 18th century British trade tokens as a collecting field lay with the contemporary American copper series. Fellow EAC member Myles Gerson (1925-86), of Flossmoor, Illinois, sold him a tranche of duplicates in April 1978 and now Robbie had two main spheres of interest. Gerson was a considerable source of supply in the early days as he upgraded his own collection, auctioned by Spink in 1986 and 1987 after Patrick Deane, Jim Noble and Jerry Bobbe had first pick in 1985. Jerry Bobbe, who purchased his first 'Conder' tokens in 1972 and was an early mentor of Gerson's in the series, moved to Portland, Oregon in 1978 and by the early 1980s had started to sell tokens to Robbie. Perusing this catalogue it will be obvious that many of the best tokens in the collection have come through Jerry's hands one way or another, because over nearly a quarter-century Jerry became Robbie's 'eyes and ears' in the market, especially latterly as Robbie's collection grew to a size on a par with that formed by Jim Noble. The Noble sale of 1998 provided many opportunities for Robbie, both at the auction and afterwards, with acqusitions from Jerry, from Allan Davisson and from Richard Gladdle. Apart from a few direct purchases at DNW auctions, Richard was Robbie's only direct UK contact; Robbie enjoyed a plentiful supply via the domestic market, from people like Phil Flanagan, who traded as Gothic Coins out of Akron, Ohio, and after 1985 under his own name from Coupeville, Washington; from the Hawaiian-based dealer Simon Cordova; from Denis Loring when he was based in New York; from Joel Spingarn, the Georgetown, Connecticut-based collector and co-founder of the Conder Token Collectors Club, whom Robbie had met at an EAC convention and introduced to the series; from CTCC founder Wayne Anderson (1941-99) in Maple Grove, Minnesota, and many others.
Whether it was collecting U.S. large cents or 18th century tokens, Robbie was always meticulous to note the provenance of every piece and his detailed records have been of immense help in compiling this catalogue. To my knowledge, he only wrote about his tokens on one occasion, as a contribution to the November 1996 edition of the Conder Token Collectors Journal (p.31). There he went on record as owning 3,120 pieces; that number was to rise to over 5,300 tokens, including several hundred duplicates, by the time of his death, at the age of 88, on 28 July 2005. This auction, the third of four annual dispersals which began in 2009, features 1,151 different tokens and medals from the alphabetical English counties Norfolk to Yorkshire. There is much to commend to the specialist and general collector alike, with unique pieces from Shropshire, great rarities from the Warwickshire series and many other classic tokens within the following 385 lots. Part IV, in October 2012, concludes with tokens of Wales, Scotland, Ireland and several hundred duplicates. Robbie's U.S.-related tokens were sold in DNW's pre-Coinex auctions in 2009 and 2010.
Robbie was an inspiring role model, always demonstrating a tremendous commitment to honesty and integrity. With his quiet, unassuming demeanour, he was known for a wonderful sense of humour and a twinkle in his eye. His wife, Jean McCauley Brown, whom he met during the War and married in 1942, died in 2004; they leave five children, 14 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.