J. Harold Cobb's George Washington Inaugural Button Collection

Warning! Clicking on the plate downloads a MUCH larger and detailed picture! (1.8 MB)

Plate thumbnail

Credit: Photo plate from "George Washington Inaugural Buttons and Medalets, 1789-1793", J. Harold Cobb

All of the buttons in this plate were at one time part of Harold's collection. He traded many, but at one time had 60 GW's. He kept the finest.

Harold was the first major collector of GW's starting in the early 1950's. Over the years, he kept notes and research material on the types and numbers of buttons available, and with the encouragement from fellow collectors, put the results in his book. This book is itself a collectors item with only two printings, one in 1963, and a revised version in 1968 (revised with permission by Elmer Piercy). I have further revised it and put it in .pdf format and with the family's permission make it available for downloading. Get the book "George Washington Inaugural Buttons and Medalets, 1789-1793" (revised January 27th, 2005. Corrected some typos, added new pictures and photo plate).

Harold passed the collection to his son Lloyd, before his death in 1969. Lloyd died the following year, and the collection went to Lloyd's wife Joan. She kept the collection for her children until her recent death in August, 2002.

Harold found great joy in helping others with their GW collections, and he had his agents constantly looking for these rare buttons until his health slowed him down.

The collection has now been sold in Stack's of New York January 21-23, 2003 Americana sale, lot numbers 1326-1365. The catalogue is a keeper, with excellent color plates of the collection, and the descriptions make this an excellent resource for GW button collectors. I've posted an update with the prices obtained so that this site can act as an online resource for collectors curious as to some values. Then again, maybe it won't be such a good guide. One major button dealer stated the prices were astronomical. Buyers pay a 15% buyers fee on the hammer price, so the amount paid for the buttons are even higher than I've reported.

The sale set records for prices of many pieces. We're very excited! The collectors picked out the gems of the collection and paid what were said to be unbelievable prices. Button collectors and political historical collectors seem to have been outbid by coin collectors in the sale. Stack's has the hammer prices online, but they match what we were giving earlier.

An interesting article in the February 10th, 2003 issue of Coin World adds some interesting background to what happened at the sale, as well as the collection itself. My thanks to Coin World for permission to post this article here.

Another article in the Maine Antique Digest gives another perspective of the sale. View it here. My thanks for the kind permission to reprint the article here!

I've been contacted by several people asking for help in selling individual buttons that they possess. I'm happy to do what I can. My advice is to contact Stack's and ask for Michael J. Hodder. He's now the acknowledged expert in the field of GW's and has an obviously outstanding track record in successful sales of the same. Stack's has negotiated for another large GW collection, and now probably has the largest stock of these buttons in the world.

Of course, that means that if you're in the market to buy these historical political items, you should give Stack's a call. Another source would be MastroNet, which has also received excellent prices for GW's. Not as good as Stack's to our pleasure though. B-{)

Stack's had the catalogue online, but no longer. Here is the introduction to Washington Inaugural buttons by Dr. George Fuld. HERE.

The Cobb Collection introduction and lot descriptions with B/W and color plates can be found here . Stack's has removed their archive of the sale, so this is a copy of their online catalog. Of course, I somehow broke the link to it, but just fixed it. (Jan. 20, 2012)

If your interest in GW's has been stirred, you should visit Mr. Scott Dolson's fine website, politicalbadges.com, particularly his section on Washington Inaugural Buttons.

The collection has been catalogued by numismatic expert Michael Hodder for the Stack's catalogue, and I've modified this site with the new information he's come up with, including corrections to Albert and DeWitt numbers, and composition. Harold indicated copper composition for a lot of buttons that Mr. Hodder feels are brass.

A list of the items in his collection are as follows using Cobb #'s, as well as "Political Campaign and Commemorative Buttons" by A.H. Albert, 1966 and "A Century of Campaign Buttons 1789-1889" by J. Doyle DeWitt, 1959.

Note: Some of the variants were unknown to DeWitt or Albert, in which case they didn't list them with individual numbers.

Existing numbers are also uncertain, especially where variant patterns are concerned.  In general, duplicate numbers in that column indicate that all those variants add up to that number.  (e.g. 5, 5a, 5b, 5c have about 76 known specimens between them.)

The Rarity rating was from Cobb's book, and notes, but there may be some confusion.  (e.g. 4a is only rated R with 2 specimens known)

***Warning*** Clicking on the plates will download a MUCH larger and detailed picture. I've added links to individual pictures of each button if you click on the Cobb #.

J. Harold Cobb's George Washington Inaugural Button Collection

Cobb # Albert # Dewitt # Description Rarity Existing Notes Hammer Price
1 WI-26 1789-42 Liberty Cap RRR 2 Brass $17,000
4 WI-1 1789-4 Dated Eagle C 26 Brass $9,500
4a WI-1a 1789-4 Dated Eagle R 2 Copper $5,250
5 WI-11a 1789-7 GW in Oval C 76 Brass, Narrow spacing $7,250
5a WI-11b 1789-7 GW in Oval C 76 Brass, Medium spacing $3,000
5b WI-11c 1789-8 GW in Oval R 76 Brass, wide spacing $3,000
5c WI-11c 1789-8 GW in Oval - Emilio C 76 Copper, Banner ends are
6 WI-6 1789-27 Rayed RRR 3 Brass $17,000
7 WI-5a 1789-17 Sunburst RRR 2 Brass,23 pyramidal flames $4,250
7a WI-5b Sunburst RRR 1 Brass,24 pyramidal flames $2,100
8a WI-7c Grant RRR 4 Copper,32 punchmarks wide
spaced rays
8b WI-7d Grant RRR 4 Brass,32 punchmarks close
spaced rays
9 WI-4a 1789-9 Linked States C 55 Brass $7,250
9a WI-4a1 Linked States RRR 3 Brass design shows through back $4,000
9b WI-4b 1789-9a Linked States RRR 3 Brass 3 touchmarks between
links at border
9d WI-4a 1789-9 Linked States C 55 Brass $11,000
10 WI-9a 1789-2 Script GW C 20 Brass $17,000
10a WI-9a1 1789-2 Script GW RRR 3 Brass design shows
through back
11 Plain GW RRR 4 Brass $12,000
11a WI-8a 1789-1 Plain GW RR 8 Brass w/ narrow W $12,000
12b WI-115 1789-16 Elder 15 star R 5 Brass 15 stars $3,000
13a WI-17b 1789-25 Small Wreath Copper RR 10 Copper $5,250
14 WI-17a Wreath and Star RRR 3 Copper $14,000
15 WI-18b 1789-33 Darby 15 star RRR 1 Brass 15 mm $17,000
17d WI-12b 1789-3b Eagle and Star RR 8 Brass 54 impressions on
17g WI-12c 1789-3c Eagle and Star C 55 Brass 63 impressions on
17i WI-12c 1789-3c Eagle and Star C 55 Brass 63 impressions on
17j WI-12c 1789-3c Eagle and Star C 55 Brass 63 impressions on
17k WI-12d 1789-3d Eagle and Star 72 imp RR 8 Brass 72 impresssions on
17n WI-12c 1789-3c Eagle and Star C 55 Brass,34.8 mm 63 impressions $2,700
18 WI-13a 1789-37 Eagle and Sun RRR 5 Brass 21 punchmarks $2,100
18c 1789-37b Eagle and Sun RRR 5 Brass 27 punchmarks,
design shows through
19 WI-3 1789-40 Majesty of the People RRR 2 Brass $11,000
20 WI-19b 1789-41 Pater Patriae RRR 5 Pewter back, Brass face $22,000
1776 "Daddy of the GW's" Excavated $425
Geo. III Long Live the King Silvered or tinned Brass $13,000
1889 Commemorative GW $475
Continental Navy "Breeches Find" $275
Conn. Colonial "Misplaced Eye" $100
Oval, Conn. $100
Mourning Button $625
New York Pattern $100

Rarity Legend: C=Scarce R=Rare RR=Extremely Rare RRR=Ultra Rare

On several occasions I've received emails from folks either wanting to buy or sell GW's. I've been referring them to Stack's, but now I've been informed that Stack's no longer has any GW's. I'm sure they'd still be happy to purchase buttons, but I thought I'd offer a means of contacting interested parties here. I will provide a list of email address of those looking to buy, and those looking to sell, and interested parties can contact them and make their own arrangements. Email me with your request and a subject that refers to GW's and I'll place you here. I cannot accept responsibility for deals that fall through.
Wanted to buy Wanted to sell

I'm trying something new. If I find an auction of GW's, I'll try to add a link to the website of the auctioneers. If you are auctioning one off, let me know, and I'll add you to the list.

I stumbled upon Stack's Bowers Americana auction and found they have 10 GW's on the block, most of them Cobb pieces that they purchased when no bids were obtained at the 2003 Cobb sale. They ARE high quality! Check out lots 6189-6198 at their website.

E-Mail any questions or suggestions to Kirk Mitchell at kirkmitchell@gmail.com

Last modified Jan.20,2012.

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