John E. Wilkison, Sr. was a Springfield, Tennessee medical doctor who collected coins most of his life. He completed numerous sets of United States issues, but his collection of gold patterns was his greatest numismatic achievement. His gold pattern collection was the largest assemblage of this numismatic caviar in the history of American collecting. Of the 51 gold patterns produced, Dr. Wilkison owned 35 different ones and 47 total pieces. Even the National Numismatic Collection housed in the Smithsonian has only 20 different gold patterns. Only a king came close to the Wilkison gold pattern collection – King Farouk of Egypt assembled 32 different gold patterns with 35 total pieces. These were sold in the 1954 Palace sale after Farouk was deposed. Dr. Wilkison obtained several of the Farouk issues, including the most famous of all gold patterns – J-1776, the Indian Head double eagle designed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens at the behest of President Teddy Roosevelt. In fact, in numismatic circles, this unique gold pattern is often called “Teddy’s coin.”
Gold patterns are so rare that most collectors never own a single example. Wilkison obtained nearly 70 percent of the gold patterns. There are numerous unique coins in the National Numismatic Collection that, of course, Wilkison (or any collector) never had the chance to own. The unique half unions (the two $50 gold patterns of slightly differing designs), the unique 1906 Barber double eagle, and others residing in the Smithsonian are forever off the market. The only two examples of the double thickness Ultra High Relief double eagles are in the NNC, representing another gold pattern issue that Dr. Wilkison never had the chance to obtain.
The story of Wilkison’s purchase of Teddy’s coin (J-1776, the unique Saint-Gaudens Indian Head double eagle) is very interesting. Numismatic lore (even at the time – 1954) was that King Farouk cleaned all of his coins. So, when the Palace sale was held in 1954, the Indian Head double eagle was described as Extremely Fine. Dr. Wilkison decided that he did not want the coin if it had been harshly cleaned. Of course, Farouk did not clean any gold coins (it was unnecessary), so Abe Kosoff bought the coin in the Palace sale (for under $4000) for another famous collector – super large cent collector Ted Naftsger. When Wilkison found out that the coin was still pristine, he acquired it from Kosoff about two years later for $10,000!
The Wilkison gold pattern collection was sold in 1973 to Mike Brownlee and Julian Leidman in a transaction brokered by Tennessee Coin Exchange. Paramount International purchased the entire collection from Brownlee and Leidman later in 1973. Several of the gold patterns were traded to A-Mark for Redfield silver dollars, which were sold for several years by Paramount in specially designed Redfield holders.
It is unlikely, considering the cost of gold patterns in today’s market, that anyone will best Dr. Wilkison for the honor of the most complete gold pattern collection. The entire collection was valued as less than one million dollars in 1973, while today, several gold patterns contained in the collection have each sold for more than a million dollars!