McCOMBE, GEORGE THOMAS
McCOMBE, GEORGE THOMAS
Copyright © 2011-2018 John N. Lupia III
George Thomas McCombe, Jr. (1856-1908), was born at Lockport, New York, on May 1, 1856, the son of George McCombe (1806?-1881), an architect, carpenter and builder, and Mary Ann McCombe (-1881). He was educated at Lockport High School. He had two brothers William E. Mc Combe, cashier at the National Exchange Bank, Lockport, New York, and Frederick J. Mc Combe, a wholesale grocer at Denver, Colorado.
There are many pieces of mail between George T. McCombe and the Chapman Brothers. This article uses a few of them in order to illustrate salient points for his biographical sketch.
In the 1860 and 1870 U. S. Census, Lockport, Niagara, New York, his parents are listed born in England and his age as 5 and 10 years old respectively. Curiously in the 1880 Census his family is listed as McComb without the “e” ending. He is listed not as 25 years old as one would expect, but rather, as 23, living at home with his parents, and working as a bookkeeper at a bank. His father is listed as born in Ireland and his mother in England. In his later biographical sketches his father is described as Scottish, not Irish. So much for the accuracy of the U. S. Census reports.
His first coin ad published in Numisma is in the May 1878 issue. From a letter mailed to the Chapman Brothers on his office stationery we know he worked at the National Exchange Bank at Lockport in the 1880’s gaining him access to a wide variety of coins he handpicked at face value to build up stock as a coin dealer. According to his biographical sketch published in 1897 he entered the National Exchange Bank at Lockport at an early age serving four years as a clerk and eight as bookkeeper. Afterwards he was the paying and receiving teller at Niagara County National Bank, Lockport, N. Y., serving in that capacity for another eight years. Sometime later he travelled to Europe, Asia, Africa, Egypt, Syria, the Holy Land, and around America, returning home in 1892. He entered the wholesale produce commission and established branch offices in Gasport, N. Y., New York City, Boston, and Croswell, Michigan as an exporter of American produce to Europe. It seems as though his older brother William E. Mc Combe, cashier at the National Exchange Bank, had influence to get him a position at the bank as a clerk at an early age.
Fig. 1. Letter sent by McCombe to the Chapman Brothers postmarked April 19, 2 P. M., 1881, Lockport, New York on postal stationery, Thorp-Bartels No. 625, of the National Exchange Bank, where he worked as a bookkeeper. His personal hand-stamp in red ink G. T. McCombe is visible superimposed over the bank's return address. He hand colored the upper left and lower right corners in matching red ink. Courtesy of the Lupia Numismatic Library, Special Collection, The Chapman Family Archive.
The U. S. Census report of 1880 lists his occupation as a bookkeeper yet we do find him as a professional coin dealer active about that time.
Fig. 2. Letter sent by McCombe for bids on the coin auction held November 19th & 20th, 1880 on his own letterhead and business envelope to the Chapman Brothers postmarked November 8, 5 P. M., 1880, Lockport, New York. Courtesy of the Lupia Numismatic Library, Special Collection, The Chapman Family Archive.
The earliest evidence of McCombe active as a coin dealer this researcher has found dates to 1880, not 1873 as he avers on his business card printed no earlier than 1883. (see below)
Fig. 3. Letter sent by McCombe on his own letterhead and business envelope to the Chapman Brothers to purchase coins postmarked October 29, 8 P. M., 1881, Lockport, New York. He had illustrated printed business envelopes showing the Bust Type introduced in 1796 found on the half-dime, dime, quarter, half-dollar, and dollar, but the design of the reverse device is closer to that of 1794-1795 Flowing Hair Type coinage. Courtesy of the Lupia Numismatic Library, Special Collection, The Chapman Family Archive.
Fig. 4. Postal Card (Scott # UX5) sent by McCombe on his own business post card to the Chapman Brothers to purchase coins postmarked Deecember 23, 1881, Lockport, New York. "If you wish you can send 1/2 Dollars mentioned at 60 c each following dates only ; 1841-43-45-47-48-50. Could not use them at 62 1/2 each- As I shall sell them at 60 c each you must pay express charges - (if you send them)- I could have bought same dates in Philad'a at 55 c V Fine- yours resp'y G. T. McCombe" Courtesy of the Lupia Numismatic Library, Special Collection, The Chapman Family Archive.
Judging from the text of this postal card it seems as though McCombe told some tall whoppers to other dealers to low ball his buying prices. If the Chapmans sold McCombe the coins at sixty cents apiece how can he sell them at that exact same price and stay in business without any profit? Then the rub, "I could have bought same dates in Philad'a at 55 c V Fine" O yeah! So why didn't he??!! The big fish that got away! I seriously doubt the 1841 and 1850 were obtainable in 1881 from any dealer in VF condition for a mere 10 % premium above face.
His illustrated business card printed on the back side of a post 1883 advertisement postal card of the Merchants Gargling Oil, Lockport, N.Y., claims “Established 1873” when he was 17 years old. (http://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/early-trade-card-coin-dealer-mccombe-205395698) No known advertisements or any record of him trading as a coin dealer have yet surfaced to corroborate his claim to this early date. Perhaps another of his exaggerated claims. Nevertheless, in a notice published by Ed Frossard in the March 1881 issue of Numisma we read :
“Catalogue of United States Silver and Copper Coins for sale by G. T. McCombe, Lockport, N. Y.; 1881. Price 10 cts.—Mr McCombe is in the field as a coin buyer and seller, and his list will be found to cover the entire field of the scarce regular mint issues and Colonial Coins.”
In the Evening Auburnian, March 1, 1881, we read that McCombe sold a complete set of 63 pieces of U.S. Large Cents 1793 - 1857 for $75.00, having paid as high as $14 for a single piece.
In the September and November 1881 issues of Numisma he ran two ads on the front page. The first advertising “Monthly Catalogues, giving buying and selling prices, free.” Here we find his previous marketing strategy of 10 cents an issue is now changed to a free monthly catalogue. The second advertisement claims to pay the highest prices to collectors wishing to sell their duplicates in U. S. dollars, halves, quarters, dimes, half dimes, and cents.
His earliest known address is 79 Walnut Street, Lockport, Niagara County, New York. He moved in 1883 to 51 Main Street, Lockport, NY. In 1898, his address is 367 High Street, Lockport, N.Y.
On January 13, 1882 he wrote to Jeremiah Colburn, which may have been about placing an advertisement in the American Journal of Numismatics.
He had a coin auction sale through Charles Steigerwalt’s 11th sale held at Bangs & Co., N. Y., on Friday, January 19, 1883, at 2 o'clock, comprising 581 lots that realized $708.99. Adams rated C+.
Steigerwalt’s Coin Journal, published a list of the best prices:
"1793 Chain Cent, $6.
1873 Proof set, old style, $10.50.
1865 Minor proof set, $1.70.
1818 Quarter, uncirculated, mint lustre, $3.50.
1825 Quarter, exceedingly fine, lustre, $3.65
1796 Dime, fine, $6.10.
1794 Half dime, very good, $7.50.
1795 Half dime, barely circulated, $6.
1787 Immunis Columbia, very fine, $6.50.
Chalmer's Annnapolis shilling, fair, $4.50.
Cochin China dragon dollar, $4.10.
Japanese book, curious and fine, $3.
15 cts., Grant-Sherman note, $2.30.
The feature of the sale, however, was a fine collection of Continental and Colonial notes. Under active competition some of these sold at high prices. Massachusetts Pine Tree notes of 1776 and 1779 sold from $2.45 to $6 each, the latter price being realized for a fine five shilling note of 1779. A New Hampshire note sold $2.10; Rhode Island notes. $1.50 to $2.10; Connecticut, $1 to $2.10. Three New York notes sold $3.10, $3.60 and $3.75. A $3 New Jersey note of 1780 brought $2.50, and a Franklin imprint of Pennsylvania, the same price. Virginia notes $1 to $2.10. The highest prices were, however, realized for three very rare Georgia notes, which brought $12.50, $12.50, and $12.75. The total collection of notes realized $201.38." (Adams indicates very rare North Carolina bank notes also.)
It was reported in the Poughkeepsie Daily Eagle, November 8, 1883, that McCombe exhibited an 1804 Dollar. (Not cited by Eric P. Newman and Kenneth Bressett). The next we hear of an 1804 Dollar is eleven months later, the so-called Adolph Wyel specimen at Berlin, Germany. There were several counterfeit 1804 Dollars in circulation by 1883. It is unknown at this time if the 1804 Dollar exhibited by McCombe was a counterfeit or one of the genuine specimens that has not been recorded in its respective provenance.
His interest as a coin dealer seems to have faded about 1884 when he took up an interest in autograph collecting, and in the hay industry while still very active as a banker. Eventually he resigns his banking career in 1892 devoting himself to the hay industry and as a business entrepreneur. His coin dealership most probable lasted from 1880 to 1884, but continued buying coins as a private collector.
A notice published in the New York Times reported that his house was robbed on September 2, 1888, described as one of the wealthiest homes in Lockport, the capital of Niagara County, not far from Lake Ontario and the Canadian border.
Fig. 5. New York Times, September 3, 1888. Courtesy of the Lupia Numismatic Library.
He married, in 1880, Sarah Alletta Woodward (1857-). They had two children : George Thomas McCombe, Jr. (1881-), and Howard Woodward McCombe (1883-).
In the October 1898 issue of The Museum he advertised buying “Fossil Fish, Trilobites and Crinoids.” Evidently he began dealing in curiosities and discontinued in the coin trade as we have said circa 1884. His 1897 biographical sketch describes him as an antiquarian with one of the largest autograph letter collections in the country of notable Americans, signers of the Declaration of Independence, and patriots of the American Revolutionary War. He is also a noted collector of coins, fossils, war relics and relics of New York state history.
In 1899 we find him as a representative attending the sixth annual meeting of the National Hay Association held at Detroit, August 8th-10th. He served two years as vice-president of the New York State Association of Hay and Grain Dealers having resigned in the summer of 1907. A specie of hay is named after him Lioclemella Maccombi.
McCombe died at his home on High Street, Lockport, New York, of Typhoid fever on August 21, 1908. He was survived by his wife Sarah, his two sons George, Jr., and Howard and his two brothers William and Frederick.
He was a member of several societies including the Egyptian Exploration Fund of London, National Geographic Society, the Red Jacket Lodge, Ames Chapter, and Bruce Council of Masons of Lockport, N. Y., and served as a representative to the Smithsonian Institute.
Thanks to Julia Casey for some additional information especially his obituary in the Buffalo Courier.
U. S. Census 1860, 1870, and 1880, Lockport, Niagara, New York
“Numismatic Publications, Etc.,” Numisma, Vol. 5, No. 2, March (1881) : 8. Numisma, Vol. 7, No. 2, March (1883);
Evening Auburnian, March 1, 1881
The Coin Collector’s Journal, March (1883) : 48
American Journal of Numismatics, April (1882) : page R but not paginated as such in advertisements
American Journal of Numismatics, April (1883) : 93
Steigerwalt’s Coin Journal, Vol. 1, No. 1, July (1883) : 2
Poughkeepsie Daily Eagle, November 8, 1883
The Buffalo Courier, March 8, 1885
The New York Times, Wednesday, September 3, 1888, page 1
Egyptian Exploration Fund. Report of the Eighth Ordinary General Meeting, 1893-94, page 51, McCombe donated $5.
William Pool, Landmarks of Niagara County, New York (1897) : 215-16 Biographical sketch
The Museum, Vol. IV, No. 12, October (1898) : 178
The National Hay Association Report of the Sixth Annual Meeting (1899) : 18-19
American Hay, Flour and Feed Journal, November (1903) : 486
Bulletin No. 292, United States Geological Survey. A Gazetteer of Colorado (1906) : 36
Who's Who in New York City and State (1907) 3d ed. : 872
The Buffalo Courier, August 22, 1908
William Richard Cutter, Genealogical and Family History of Western New York (1912) Vol. 1 : 157
Hobbies, Vol. 49, Nos. 10-11 (1944) : 88, 102
Lorraine S. Durst, United States Numismatic Auctions: A Bibliography (1981) : 8, No. 173
John Weston Adams, American Numismatic Literature (1982) Vol. 1, 107
Martin Gengerke, American Numismatic Auctions (2009) : 608