The Hispanic Society of America wants to sell some 38,000 “permanent loan” coins that the American Numismatic Society has held and been cataloging since the death of benefactor Arthur Milton Huntington in 1955 at age 85. Sotheby’s apparently will use ANS cataloging data to facilitate the sale, which some say could exceed $30 million.
The surprise move was reported in The Art Newspaper in a copyrighted story by Jason Edward Kaufman. A check of New York Supreme Court files reveals four court decisions, on March 4, April 8, June 4 and July 15 supporting the win for the Hispanic Society. Two decisions are marked “Default.”
Huntington was a major benefactor, multimillionaire and philanthropist largely funded Audubon Terrace in New York City’s Washington Heights at the turn of the 20th century. Among the organizations that he sponsored were the American Numismatic Society, the Hispanic Society of America, the American Geographic Society, and other learned organizations dedicated to scholarly analysis of the arts and sciences.
Founded in 1858, the American Numismatic Society has over a million numismatic objects in the ANS Museum. So, too, its library, with over 100,000 items included, is the largest in existence.
In 1948, the Hispanic Society of America collection consisting of some 30,000 coins, many of which were hammer-struck, including many of the ancient world, was placed on deposit with the ANS, making it the finest collection of its kind in the Americas. That is the source of the 2008 legal controversy.
Origins of the 2008 lawsuit probably started a half century ago when Huntington died. The Hispanic Society then had control over 38,000 coins that comprise the finest collection of Spanish coins outside of Spain. An agreement was reached under which the ANS undertook to catalog them and to have them on “permanent loan.”
When the ANS left Audubon Terrace, in effect abandoning the Hispanic Society, which remained in what had then become a largely Hispanic neighborhood, the Hispanic Society altered the terms of the “permanent loan” to the ANS to constitute an annual agreement. When ANS announced its intention to move yet again, the Hispanic Society declined to renew and asked for the return of the coins.
According to papers on file with the court, the ANS declined to return the items before having an extended discussion and the Hispanic Society decided to take action on the loan. A Madrid- based newspaper described the holding as part of Spanish patrimony, implying it belonged to the people of Spain, not an organization.
On Feb. 13, 2008, Hispanic Society brought suit.