LIGHTHOUSE, JOHN C.

Copyright 2000-2019 John N. Lupia , T.O.C.


Photograph of John C. Lighthouse published in 
The Numismatist, Vol. XVIII, No. 1, January (1905) : 28; and in his obituary November 1909.
 
John C. Lighthouse (1844-1909), was born in March 1844, at Rochester, Monroe County, New York, son of German immigrants Johann Jakob Leuchtweiss (1813-1897), a nautical engineer, and Anna Maria Liszt Lighthouse (1820-1891).

His family arrived in America in 1842 and sometime Anglicized the spelling to Lighthouse.

The 1850 U.S. Census places his birth in Germany in March 1844. However, in The Numismatist  January (1905) : 28-29, he claims he was born in Rochester, New York. Charles Ricard, great-grandson of Lighthouse, settled the issue in his landmark and award winning article in January 1988, The Numismatist, pages 47-54.

He lived most of his life in Rochester, New York except for his long stays with his family in their residences out west in Washington and later on in California.

Lighthouse was an industrialist who began as a leather goods craftsman and rose to a national mail bag, and harness manufacturer. He began collecting in 1860 and his remaining collection including 660 proof coins was sold posthumously by J. C. Morgenthau at auction on February 18, 1936. His family and he were all abolitionists. He specialized in Roman and papal medals, but, especially in U. S. coins of all metals and denominations as well as paper money. Lighthouse had written : ' My United States series is as fine as I could obtain and approaches completeness in copper and silver and is quite good in gold; 1793 to 1857 good to uncirculated, and from 1858 in proof." He owned a specimen of the scarce Shultz & Co., San Francisco, 1851 $5 gold piece with the misspelling Schults & Co.  He displayed the coin to George Bauer at his daughter's wedding on June 3, 1890. Only three were known to exist at the time. The other two were held by H. O. Granberg and Virgil M. Brand. His biography and photo first appeared in the January 1905 issue of The Numismatist. In August 1906, Thomas Elder complained against him in his own magazine remarking that he returned 44 lots of coins after winning them at auction. He says another dealer had a similar complaint and urged dealers not to sell to him at auction.

In 1865, he opened a tanning factory making horse collars of straw and leather at 203-205 State Street, Rochester.

In 1867, he married Margaret F. Lighthouse

From 1879 to 1885, Lighthouse was awarded the United States a U. S. patent and subsequently a contract to manufacture mail bags for the Post Office Department. That same year he purchased a 1794 silver dollar, an 1801/2 silver dollar, and a proof 1836 Gobrecht dollar, as well as an 1838 and 1839 silver dollars off Ed Cogan.

In 1880, he opened a large tannery in partnership with his brother in the firm J. C. Lighthouse and Brother.


In 1883, he purchased a Stella proof set.

Lighthouse's advertisement in the Wessington Spring Herald, Saturday, October 2, 1883, page 8.

In 1885, he renewed his Star Route contract with the Post Office.

Lighthouse had postcards printed up with blank backs for his dealers to print stores merchandise and address on it.

In 1885, like J. J. Mickley before him he was robbed of his coin collection valued at $60,000. Most of it was recovered from a married couple, the Gaffields. Among the loot was his three 1792 half dismes.


Lighthouse's advertisement in the Iron County Register, Thursday, October 1, 1885, page 8.

In 1887, while visiting out west with his family his factory burned down at an uninsured total loss of $135,000. He retired the rest of his life spending time with family, friends, traveling, and coin, fish, and game hunting. 

In September 1895, his wife and children moved to the state of Washington for health reasons. John Lighthouse initially went with them but upon the arrival of spring of 1896 he returned to Rochester, New York.

In March 1897 John Lighthouse returned west to visit his family but returned in August to Rochester.

In the summer of 1898 he returned west to visit his family but by November they moved south into California for his wife's failing health.

In February 1899, he returned to Rochester, New York.

In the spring of 1900, he returned to California to visit his family for three months returning to Rochester in May.

He returned to California for Christmas 1900 and returned to Rochester in the spring of 1901.

He returned to California for Christmas 1901 and remained until mid July 1902.

In January 1903 he received a sample copy of The Numismatist and in the February edition on page 54 bas de page he writes "Have just received a sample copy of the NUMISMATIST and am greatly taken with it".

In the April 1903 The Numismatist, page 122, Lighthouse is listed as a member who collects "all United States issues, foreign silver, ancient and modern." He was ANA member #479.

Lighthouse's advertisement in the September issue of The Numismatist on page 285 bas de page scouting for old and rare U. S. silver in high grades. No slouch.

Lighthouse's correspondence with the Chapman Brothers,  postmarked Rochester, December 27, 1903, soliciting proof sets needed. Recalling his statement cited earlier he boasted of his U. S. series in proof 1858 on we see where he was at this date. This remark was published by him in his brief biographical sketch in the January 1905, The Numismatist."Gentlemen - If you can sell me the following proof sets in addition to the list sent you I will take seq. [the following] Proof sets . 1896. '98 '99 1901 @ 2.75 set; 1873 Trade Type @ $3 set' minor proof sets 1865 & 1866 same as last. Yours truly, J.C.H." Courtesy Lupia Numismatic Library, Special Collection, The Chapman Family Correspondence Archive.

In October 1903, he visited his family in California remaining until Christmas but soon returned until May 1, 1904.  In the January 1904  issue of The Numismatist on page 23 the announcement that "Mr. Lighthouse will pass the winter  and spring in California where his address will be 2914 24th Street, San Francisco, California. This pattern remained for the following years 1905 to 1906.

In June 1904, The Numismatist on page 187, we hear Lighthouse will return east in June or July and intends to stop in St. Louis at the Exposition.

In October 1904 Lighthouse joined the ANA Convention held on the St. Louis Fair Grounds and was active becoming elected to the board of trustees. He served on the board until 1907. He remained in Missouri hunting and fishing and afterwards to travel to New Orleans for the same during winter.

About this time Lighthouse held monthly coin chats at his home.

In 1905, he published the fact his coin collection weighed 400 pounds. George Bauer recalls he kept his gold coins individually wrapped in a nail keg.

He bought many coins from the Chapman Brothers attested to by the numerous mail found in the Lupia Numismatic Library, Special Collection, The Chapman Family Correspondence Archive.

Very fortunately, on April 16, 1906, two days before the devastating earthquake and fire he removed his entire holdings from the safe in the Safe Deposit Company vault at San Francisco to exhibit it for Farran Zerbe and fellow numismatists visiting at the Palace of Art bringing it home afterwards. Though he stored his coins at his house escaping the devastation downtown his home was badly shaken during the earthquake shattering the family china.

In 1908, Mrs. Lighthouse returned to Rochester, New York due to John's serious illness. She remained until after his demise settling the estate and its affairs.


On June 30, 1908, Lighthouse sold 142 lots of his collection of coins at auction in The Numismatist pages 191-192.

Final correspondence to Henry Chapman, Jr, postmarked July 6, 1909, just thirty-three days before his death receiving payment from his private coin sale. Note the handwriting is probably that of his wife since he was incapacitated. Courtesy Lupia Numismatic Library, Special Collection, The Chapman Family Correspondence Archive.

On September 9, 1909, he died after a protracted illness at his home in Rochester. In his final moments he exclaimed he was surrounded in flames. Such a sad and poor ending to a story that should have ended bright!

Story by William F. Sunday on J. C. Lighthouse and his vast coin collection sold by Morgenthau in Democrat and Chronicle, Sunday, April 26, 1936, page 59.

Bibliography :

            The Numismatist, Vol. XVIII, No. 1, January (1905) : 28-29

“J. C. Lighthouse,” The Elder Monthly, Vol. 1, No. 5, August (1906) : 6

Pete Smith, American Numismatic Biographies, 145

Pete Smith, “American Numismatic Pioneers : An Index to Sources,” Asylum Vol. XXII, No. 3, Consecutive Issue No. 87, Summer (2004) : 294;

Gengerke, Martin, American Numismatic Auctions, Vol. 3 (1987)

Charles Ricard, " Charles N. Ricard and the Lighthouse Family," January 1988, The Numismatist, pages 47-54.

Feature article on Lighthouse extracted from Donovan Shilling, "They put Rochester on the map," RNA News, May-June (2013)

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