Virgil Brand

Virgil Brand Coin Collector

Born in Blue Island, Illinois, on January 16, 1862, he moved with his family to Chicago, where his father established the Michael Brand & Company brewery. Subsequently, Virgil became president of the United States Brewing Company, and in 1899 he established the Brand Brewing Company.

Well financed with family money, Brand began collecting coins in 1879 (began keeping track of them in ledgers 1889) and continued until his death in 1926.[1] Along the way he acquired over 350,000 coins of all descriptions. He was a hoarder par excellence, and his holdings included six 1884 trade dollars (only 10 were minted), one or more wooden barrels filled with Uncirculated Civil War tokens, gold coins by the thousands, and more.

In the decade 1900-1910 he was especially visible in the collecting community, contributed a superb article to The Numismatist (“The Objects of Coin Collecting,” May 1905), was viewed as an authority in matters involving authenticity (even Edgar H. Adams asked his advice), and was active in the Chicago Numismatic Society.

In November 1908, The Numismatist printed a note congratulating Virgil M. Brand on the purchase of the DeWitt S. Smith Collection in a competition in which his rival was J. Pierpont Morgan. At the Andrew Zabriskie sale held by Henry Chapman, June 3-4, 1909, “the largest floor bidder was Virgil Brand, who attended in person as did his usual agent, Ted Leon.”[2]

In 1910 he formed the Chicago Coin Co. with his long-time friend and “go-fer” Theophile (“Ted”) Leon tending the shop. Brand lived upstairs over the Brand Brewing Co. at the corner of Elston and Snow avenues in Chicago. During this decade and into the 1920s he was a constant source for research information. His knowledge extended from ancient coins to modern, from medals to paper money.

In May 1922, The Numismatist included a commentary by Alden Scott Boyer, who told of a visit:

“In the afternoon Mr. [Moritz] Wormser and I called on Mr. Virgil M. Brand and spent a numismatic afternoon that was very enjoyable, indeed. Mr. Brand, I believe, is without a doubt the possessor of one of the world’s greatest coin collections. He started collecting in 1879 and started to list his collections in specially made journal volumes in 1889. These volumes now run up into the dozens, the serial of his coin numbers now being in the one hundred and twenty thousands. Mr. Brand explained to Mr. Wormser and me that he often classifies a whole collection under one single serial number, but lists it singly under sub-numbers. The number of coins in the collection runs over 300,000, and when one stops to think that there is a peculiarly large percentage of gold coins in the collection, its dollar value is very high. Mr. Brand possesses so many rarities that it would be useless to start to tell about them. One of the coins that shone brilliantly in my eyes, although I did not actually see it, was a Spanish gold piece representing 200 of our American dollars, money value. Mr. Brand possesses two of the strawberry wreath cents, of which three are known to exist. Mr. Brand, Wormser, and I went back over numismatics in the old days, and one of the hardest numismatic jobs that Mr. Brand ever had was when he was editor of the Chicago Numismatic Society Bulletin, a journal that lasted into its ninth number. Mr. Brand said he was editor, correspondent, feature writer, and copy corrector, all in one…

While he graciously received visitors for much of his collecting career, by the mid-1920s, battling with a skin disease, he became reclusive and, in effect, was a numismatic hermit. Among his last-known numismatic visitors was Emery May Holden Norweb, who in the early 1920s was building what would become one of America’s most memorable collections.

It was our honor and privilege to auction many American rarities for the Brand heirs in the 1980s, working with Norman Neubauer, executor on behalf of the Morgan Guaranty Trust Company. In connection with this, Dave Bowers wrote Virgil Brand: The Man and His Era, a best-selling volume that gave a “you are there” experience with Brand and with the collecting of coins during his lifetime.

[1] A book by Q. David Bowers, Virgil M. Brand, the Man and His Era: Profile of a Numismatist, 1983, is devoted to his life.

[2] Charles Davis, Henry Chapman and Numismatic and Antiquarian Society of Philadelphia sale, March 22, 1997.