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At the hint of a request for this biography discovered in The Asylum Vol. 34, No. 4, Winter 2016, page 20, W. David Perkins and the John Reich Collectors Society bemoaned a lack of published material on J. Colvin Randall. I write this brief biographical sketch of the illustrious Joseph Colvin Randall, Jr., to satisfy that dearth on him in numismatic literature. There is great difficulty assembling appropriate records on him since two different men named Joseph Randall lived in Philadelphia born about the same time. One of them married Elizabeth and the other Mary. One had six children, the other two sons. One was a wool yarn manufacturer the other a merchant. Another Joseph C. Randall, lived in Merchantville, and was hit on the head for smoking on a boat, and who absconded with Lodge funds. Regardless, his biography, therefore, is a bit difficult and demanding in separating the different lines of three or four different men, and like a surgeon trying to keep the tangled sinews distinct.

Joseph Colvin Randall, Jr. (1832-1901), was born at Philadelphia, the third of six sons and of eight children (two daughters) on June 17, 1832, son of Joseph Colvin Randall (1800-1865), a native of Philadelphia and a merchant, and native New Yorker, Caroline M. Randall (1803-1886). He is descended from a distinguished affluent Colonial family of American blue-bloods. His own immediate family also proved to be well connected and successful. Moreover, his family history seems to contain links to early American numismatic history which might account for his own interest in the subject and his own vast collection. He was baptized on June 17, 1832 at Old St. Paul's Roman Catholic Church. His father appears to have imported a variety of goods from Liverpool, England, including curry combs for horse-grooming. In his youth he lived with his family at 190 South 9th Street. South 9th Street was also the neighborhood of his grandfather Joseph Colvin Randall (1774-1856), who lived at dwelling No. 103. He also frequently travelled with his father to England. There he married his first wife Frances "Fanny" Harrold when he was nearly twenty-eight and a half.

Randall like most schoolboys studying the classical languages and history began collecting coins in the 1840's. When postage stamps were issued in 1847 he certainly began to collect them as well as those of other countries. This fact is supported by his own mail receiving stamp circulars from foreign stamp dealers. (See Fig. 2 below) From his youth on Randall collected U. S. coins as they were issued saving them in Mint condition directly from the U. S. Mint at Philadelphia and labeling them with slips of paper in each square compartment in his coin cabinet. This allowed him over time to create a comprehensive catalogue of all U. S. silver issues of the dollar, half dollar and quarter dollars that eventually was published by his friend Captain John White Haseltine, a colleague and fellow coin collector and dealer at Philadelphia. This we shall discuss in more detail a little later on below.

The first known tragedy in his life was the death of his older brother Washington West Randall (1820-1841) in November 1841. Washington West Randall's estate was not settled until January 1858. This was followed by a second tragedy by the death of his older sister Lyndamyra Colvin Randall at age twenty-one in November 1849. She was named after her aunt Lyndamyra Randall, who had been married to William Harbeson on October 17, 1833. According to the U. S. Census of 1850, the Randall family comprised the parents and their son Samuel Jackson (1828-1890), Joseph (1832-1901), Alfred Harrold (1836-), Edward "Edmund" (1841-1925), Theodore Colvin (1846-1883), and their daughter [Donna] Isabella (1838-1922). They had two servants : seventeen year-old Frances Keller, and twenty year-old Susanna Thompson. The third known tragedy occurred just prior his eighteenth birthday on June 9, 1850 when the family home was burglarized and robbed of valuables including food from the family's pantry. The newspaper description is rather striking and colorful since it is the second time in my life I ever encountered the word "eatables". [1] After reporting the home was robbed of valuable booty and the pantry cleaned out it adds "forcing the family to borrow a pound of butter and other eatables from their neighbors for the Sunday meal." When his father died on February 19, 1865, the family had lived to 1715 Vine Street, Philadelphia. His father's estate leaving a mortgage was finally settled in Orphan's Court in August 1877. The 1866 City Directory on page 598, lists his mother as Mrs. Joseph C. Randall, gentlewoman, at 1509 Girard Avenue at the home of her son Edmund an attorney. Oddly, we find no listing for Joseph Colvin Randall in the 1866 City Directory. In 1886, his mother Caroline died at age 83 in Brick Township, near Point Pleasant, Ocean County, New Jersey. Her funeral was held at the home of her son J. Colvin Randall, 1905 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia. Oddly, his photograph is not among those in Mason's Photographic Gallery of the Coin Collectors of the United States, No. 1 published in Mason's Coin and Stamp Collectors' Magazine, Volume III, No. 2, February (1869). So far no photograph of Joseph Colvin Randall has surfaced though it is almost certain that many family photographs must have been created and most probably still exist somewhere. His death certificate tells us he was 5'-10-1/2". However, his 1874 U. S. passport describes the 42 year old J. Colvin Randall as 5'-8" with blue eyes, high forehead, oval face, small mouth, round chin, fair complexion and having grey hair.

J. Colvin Randall became a celebrated coin collector and dealer beginning in his twenties by avocation in Philadelphia from about 1855 until his death in 1901. Over 10,000 rare coins passed through his hands during his career. He was nearly nineteen years old at the Dr. Lewis Roper sale held from February 20-21, 1851. Certainly, his interests grew in the coin industry as a result of it seeing excellent profits of premiums paid over face value for coins he knew he could readily acquire at face or slight margins over face. The proof of this is that we have in all well over 9,200 lots of coins sold in nine known coin auction catalogues published containing the Joseph Colvin Randall coin collections. A merchants' son who studied business and accounting needed no further prompting to open his eyes to this ever growing and expanding market. Indeed, J. Colvin Randall was among the earliest coin dealers who helped shape the industry as we know it today. He owned the pattern proof of the 1856 Flying Eagle Cent from the U. S. Mint as one of his early acquisitions probably acquired soon after it was made. He was a dealer located at 114 South 17th Street, Philadelphia, PA. Coin dealer, collector and cataloger located at 1209 Race Street, and 1905 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia. Randall also became distinguished by ownership of the first strike 1794 Silver Dollar formerly owned by Neil/ Carter/Steve Contursi and purchased by Linda Sperber of Legend Numismatics (my neighbor in the next county) for $10 Million.

On November 7, 1860, Joseph Colvin Randall married an Anglo-American woman of a distinguished American Colonial family, Frances "Fanny" Elizabeth Harrold (1837-1862), at Edgbaston's St. Bartholomew Old Church, Birmingham, England, and they moved to Philadelphia. Fanny had been in America over the years and the relationship of the Randalls with the Harrolds seems to have been a close one. The Harrolds had long standing connections to Pennsylvania and to the city of Philadelphia. Her parents were married in Philadelphia. So it seems he probably knew her lifelong prior to their marriage. That there was a family relationship between them seems clear since Joseph Colvin Randall, Jr.'s, brother was named after his wife's father Alfred Harrold (1806-1844). His mother-in-law Elizabeth Coleman Sellers Harrold (1810-1841) was buried at Sandy Bank in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. His mother-in-law was the daughter of Coleman Sellers and Sophonisba Peale, making her the granddaughter of Charles Wilson Peale; as well as a relative of Coleman Sellers Harrold, who was also a descendant of Nathan Sellers (1751-1831), who assisted the government in making Continental paper money.

According to the 1862 City Directory on page 747, Joseph C. Randall is listed under Agencies, Commercial and Mercantile, which was his father's firm at 619 Market, where Joseph Colvin Randall, Jr., worked as a clerk, bookkeeper. This office at Market Street appears to have been in the family for a few generations. Joseph Colvin Randall, Jr.'s, grandfather Joseph Randall also traded there. Sadly and suddenly, on June 21, 1862, his wife, the twenty-four year-old Elizabeth, died.

Either in the beginning of winter of 1862 or early 1863 he married his second wife Mary Best Patten. His second wife was also an English woman named Mary Best Patten (1833-1906), daughter of John Patten and Mary Best. They seemed to have had a honeymoon baby Washington West Randall born that August 1863. Washington West Randall (1863-1931), was so named after his uncle, i.e., the older brother of our Joseph Colvin Randall, who died in Galveston Texas in November 1841, at the age of twenty-one. They also had a daughter named after his wife Frances Elizabeth Randall born on March 8, 1871. She died three months later in infancy.

In 1865, he is listed as a member of the American Numismatic Society.

October 28-29, 1868, Ebenezer Locke Mason, Jr., catalogued the 883 lots of the J. Colvin Randall collection to the dismay of Ed Cogan, who, furious for not being selected as the coin dealer by Randall started a fierce feud over it. The sale realized $1,294.45.

October 18-19, 1869, Ebenezer Locke Mason, Jr., catalogued the 665 lots of another portion of the J. Colvin Randall collection, again to the dismay of Cogan and his "Lancashire Lass"! The sale realized $1,843.89.

According to the 1870 U. S. Census he worked as a clerk and he and his wife Mary, and son W. W. lived with his brother Alfred and his wife Evelin and son Alfred, Jr. His brother Alfred was the Assistant Fire Marshall of Philadelphia. His grandfather Joseph Randall was the secretary of the Fame Fire Company in 1820.

In 1870, J. Colvin Randall purchased from James B. Longacre a portrait of Daniel Boone styled after a portrait by Chester Harding and engraved for the National Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Americans in 1834. This piece was sold posthumously at auction at Davis & Harvey on October 31, 1901 (see advertisement below at the end of this essay). At this time he lived at 1209 Race Street, Philadelphia.

Fig. 1. April 2, 1874 Circular announcing restrikes of the 1861 Confederate Cent published jointly by Joseph Colvin Randall, John White Haseltine and Peter L. Krider. Krider the diesinker certified the number struck. E. J. Attinelli called the discovery a "mare's nest" reflecting the perception of it at the time. Courtesy Lupia Numismatic Library.

In the late 1870s Randall moved from Race Street and operated a coin and curio store at 114 South 17th Street, later at 1905 Chestnut Street.

May 21-22, 1877, John W. Haseltine catalogued the 1,057 lots of the J. Colvin Randall collection. This auction contained the finest known Granby copper specimen. From their mutual collaboration over the past years Haseltine took the Randall catalogue of U. S. Mint coins made earlier and adopted them for his own publications using R numbers = Randall numbers of the varieties of U. S. Type Coins.

In January 1880, Édouard Frossard printed this in Numisma:

"Messrs. Haseltine and Randall of Philadelphia are now engaged in a descriptive list of the United States Silver Dollars, Half Dollars, and Quarters, a work for which their long experience and thorough knowledge of the subject eminently qualifies them. Mr. Haseltine informs us that the work will describe minutely all the known varieties . . ."

In March 1880 Frossard quoted a comment from Haseltine to the effect that the work was “progressing favorably, and that orders for copies are coming in from every quarter.” However, in 1881 it appeared under the title, “Catalogue of John W. Haseltine’s TYPE TABLE.…,” with no mention of Randall! Ouch John W. H.!

Several years later, in his auction catalogue for his June 29-July 1, 1885 sale featuring Randall material, W. Elliot Woodward noted this:

In a private letter Mr. Randall writes me: ‘The idea of a correct work on types and varieties of United States silver dollars, halves and quarters, originated with me. H. and myself were to publish the work together, but without any consultation whatever with me, he issued for his own benefit what he styles the Type-Table Catalogue.

In the Fall 1993 issue of The Asylum, Charles Davis advised scholars and lovers of old numismatic publications that the Thomas Birch & Sons sale, conducted in Philadelphia on April 15, 1879, used “Randall numbers” in designating the half dollars. In Haseltine’s own sale of November 1879, “H&R” numbers are used to describe dollars, half dollars, and quarter dollars. In the 20th century, B. Max Mehl reprinted it with Haseltine’s name in the title, and others have nearly always cited the work as Haseltine’s. Randall’s connection was nearly completely forgotten.

Fig. 2. Berlin stamp dealer, Johann Braunschweig, Preisliste No. 10, circular for May 1878 mailed to J. Colvin Randall at 1905 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia. Courtesy Lupia Numismatic Library.

The 1879 City Directory on page 1236, lists J. Colvin Randall living at 114 South 17th Street, and a Joseph C. Randall, a bookkeeper living at 621 South 9th Street.

The 1879 City Directory lists him as a bookkeeper living at 721 Vine Street.

According to the U. S. Census of 1880, J. Colvin Randall is listed as a numismatist at the time he operated his coin and curio store.

Fig. 3. Letter to George Clark two days prior to the Harzfeld coin auction, postmarked Philadelphia, November 24, 1880, with concentric circular killer No. 11 Clarke #136a. Towanda is the town that Rodney A. Mercur lived in at this time. Mercur was a correspondent of the Chapman Brothers and member of the ANS. Courtesy Lupia Numismatic Library.

He was a member of the Numismatic and Antiquarian Society of Philadelphia and served on the Committee On Numismatics.

November 26-27, 1880, Sigsmund K. Harzfeld catalogued 1,390 lots, of which only a part was of the J. Colvin Randall collection.

March 29, 1882, George Cogan catalogued 694 lots of the J. Colvin Randall collection.

November 28, 1882, Bangs & Company catalogued 702 lots with the cooperation of Joseph Colvin Randall the Randall Sale.

Edwin Atlee Berber, in his June 1885 issue of The Museum : An Illustrated Journal for Collectors of All Classes, on page 27 reported that J. Colvin Randall owns the largest and most complete collection of U. S. gold coins in the world. He owned half a dozen varieties of the 1795 Half Eagle.

From June 29th - July 1, 1885, W. Elliot Woodward catalogued 1,749 lots the J. Colvin Randall sale held at Bangs & Co. At the event, 1,749 lots were said to have realized $6,110.26.

From September 15-17, 1885, W. Elliot Woodward catalogued 1,839 lots the J. Colvin Randall sale held at Bangs & Co.

From October 25-27, 1886, W. Elliot Woodward catalogued 1,660 lots in his sale 89 of the J. Colvin Randall sale held at Bangs & Co.

American Journal of Numismatics, April 1887, notes : “A lovely 1794 dollar stood for two years in the ‘Bureau de Change’ window, Charing Cross Station, London, staring at the British public; the writer [Woodward] could have had it a dozen times at £1. It was finally swept off by Mr. Randall on this last visit to the British Isles.”

According to the Trenton Evening Times, Thursday, May 24, 1888, page 3 J. Colvin Randall of Philadelphia is listed as a retired member of the board of directors of the Real Estate, Safe Deposit, Trust and Investment Company, 26-28 West State Street, Trenton, New Jersey. We find him selling developed property at 2017 Sansom Street, Philadelphia for $17,500 in a reply notice published in the Journal of Common Council of the City of Philadelphia dated April 3, 1888 in reply to inquiries posted by William McCoach.

On June 17, 1894, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Joseph C. Randall "a well known Quaker City gentleman" and his family were vacationing at Point Pleasant, New Jersey for the summer.

In the January 1895 issue of The Numismatist, Augustus Goodyear Heaton described a visit to Randall:

"J. Colvin Randall, a veteran in numismatics, has an attractive residence in the fashionable part of the city. He is well off and keeps up his interest in coins merely as a pastime. His 'den' is a second story back room which

is full of cabinets, loaded bookshelves, rare prints, and curios. He has a shrewd genial face fringed with short grey hair and beard, talks fluently in clear cut Saxon, enjoys story telling and with special gusto, when

someone's blundering in coins is subject of merriment. From May to November, however, he annually sheds his

numismatic shell on the Jersey shore and then collectors may bait their hooks for him in vain.

His name appeared in the March 1892 issue of The Numismatist, in list no. 15, as number 438. He is listed as ANA dues paid in 1897. In 1897 he loaned the University of Pennsylvania Museum an American Colonial antique powder horn of Jabez Gooddel made in 1776 purchased by Randall in a curio shop in Birmingham, England.

The American Numismatic Society, Archer Archives, contains three handwritten Notebooks of Joseph Colvin Randall, dated by the curator to circa 1898.

He died at 10:30 P. M. on June 2, 1901. He is buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Fig. 4. Tomb monument of J. Colvin Randall at Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Buried below the monument with him is his infant daughter Frances Elizabeth.

J. Colvin Randall was elected to the John Reich Collectors Society Hall of Fame.

Fig. 5. Notice for the public auction at Davis & Harvey of the Estate of Joseph Colvin Randall from October 29-November 1, 1901.

A little over five years later Stan V. Henkels opened his own auction house and sold more Washingtoniana of the Joseph Colvin Randall Estate and of others. Collection of Rare Engraved Portraits: Of Washington, Lafayette, Franklin and Napoleon ... the A. Douiol Collection, of Paris, and Collections Belonging to the Estate of J. Colvin Randall, Estate of W.H. Dougherty, and Others ... Busts, Statuettes and Ivory Miniatures ... Snuff Boxes ...ancient Armor and Antique China, to be Sold ... Feb. 19 and 20, 1907. Neil Musante take note!


Thanks to Kay Olson Freeman for helping me find the death certificate of Frances Elizabeth Randall, wife of J. Colvin Randall. I mistakenly thought Washington West Randall was Frances Elizabeth Randall's son which caused her death in 1862 during delivery. But it appears she died two months prior to his birth which was misrecorded as August 1862, which seems to be corrected as 1863. It also seemed rather odd that he and his second wife Mary Best Patten Randall would have named their daughter after his first wife. But they did! Thanks again Kay!


[1] For the other use of eatables see Trautman letter to the Chapman Brothers in The Chapman Family Correspondence Archive in The Museum Store on this website.

Bibliography :

Franklin Gazette, Friday, July 7, 1820, page 3 Joseph Randall, secretary Fame Fire Company

National Gazette, Thursday, October 17, 1833, page 3, marriage of aunt Lyndamyra Randall to Wm. Harbeson

Philadelphia Inquirer, Monday, November 8, 1841, page 2 (brother's obit)

Public Ledger, Wednesday, November 14, 1849, page 2 (sister's obit)

Boston Courier, Thursday, November 22, 1849, page 2 (sister's obit)

Public Ledger, Monday, June 10, 1850, page 2

North American, March 15, 1856 (obit of Joseph Randall (1774-1856)

Daily Pennsylvanian, Saturday, March 29, 1856, page 3 cites the Market Street office of Joseph Randall, deceased.

Daily Pennsylvanian, Monday, January 11, 1858, page 3 (Estate of W. W. Randall)

Aris's Birmingham Gazette (West Midlands, England), 10 November, 1860 (Marriage to Fanny E. Harrold)

The Gentleman's Magazine and Historical Review, December (1860) : 663 (Marriage to Fanny E. Harrold)

Philadelphia Inquirer, Friday, February 27, 1863, page 5 (import of 1 cask of curry combs)

Philadelphia Inquirer, Monday, February 20, 1865, page 5 (father's obit)

Public Ledger, Tuesday, February 21, 1865, page 2 (father's obit)

American Journal of Numismatics, November (1868)

Mason's Coin and Stamp Collectors' Magazine, Volume I, No. 11, February (1868) : 101; II, No. 3, June (1868) : 27a; No. 4, July (1868) : 36a; No. 5, August (1868) : 46; No. 7, October (1868) : 65c-d, 71d-72a; No. 8, November (1868) : 75c, 81d, 82a; No. 9-12, December (1868) : 86d-88a, (signer) 92b, 100b, 107b-c; III, No. 2, February (1869) : 15a-16b; No. 3, March (1869) : 27; No. 4, April (1869) : 37; III, No. 7, July (1869) : 76d; III, No. 8, August 85c-d, 87b; (Thorn specimen) III, No. 11, November (1869) : 123a-c; III, No. 12, December (1869) : 138b-d; IV, No. 3, March (1870) : 45; Vol. IV, No. 11, November (1870) : 174; V, No. 2, February (1871) : 31, 34; V, No. 11, November (1871) : 174; VI, No. 1, January (1872) : 16; VI, No. 6, October (1872) : 86; (Buyer at the Searing sale) B-I, No. 2, July (1880) : 5c; H-I, No. 2, September (1879) : 11d; H-I, No. 4, March (1880) : 34a; Sale of the Smith Cabinet,” (Mason), H-II, No. 3, December (1880) : 18c-19a, 20d, 23d; M-I, No. 2, July (1884) : 24; M-XIII, No. 1, June (1890) : 12;

Emmanuel Joseph Attinelli, Numisgraphics (1875) : 97 "mare's nest" comment on Confederate Cent dies.

Winner, Coin & Stamp Journal, Vol. 1, No. 12, December (1875) : 4

Philadelphia City Directory 1879, page 1327

Philadelphia City Directory 1882, page 1276

Coin Collectors Journal, March (1883) : 46

Edwin Atlee Berber, The Museum : An Illustrated Journal for Collectors of All Classes, June (1885 ) : 27

The Times, Thursday, February 25, 1886, page 3 (mother's obit)

The Numismatist, Vol. X, No. 1, January (1897) : 20;

The Numismatist, Vol. 4, No. 3, March (1892) : 40

The Numismatist, January (1895) : A Walk Among the Dealers

University of Pennsylvania Museum Bulletin (1897) : 154-155

Boyd's Blue Book (1898) : 90

Philadelphia City Directory 1899, page 1867

U. S. Census 1900

Philadelphia City Directory 1901, page 1981

The Curio, October/November (1901) obit.

"Obituary Notes", The Numismatist, December (1901) : 341 obit.

American Book-Prices Current. Vol. VIII. (1902) : xii

Gnecchi, Ercole and Francesco, eds., Guida Numismatica 4th edition. (Milano : U. Hoepli, 1903. Edition) : 561, No. 5840

Philadelphia Inquirer, Friday, November 30, 1906, page 7 (wife's obit)

John W. Jordan, ed., Colonial and Revolutionary Families of Pennsylvania (New York : Lewis Publishing Co., 1911) Volume III : 1418

Proceedings of the Delaware County Institute of Science, Volume 8, No. 1, May 16, 1916) : 27 (genealogy of Frances Elizabeth Harrold)

Charles Henry Hart, Historical Descriptive and Critical Catalogue of the Works of American Artists in the Collection of Herbert L. Pratt (N. Y., 1917) : 72

The Numismatist, February (1952) : 129 reprint of the April 2, 1874 Circular

Don Taxy, Unofficial Misstruck and Countefeit U. S. Coins (1975) : 128-131, reprint and discussion of the April 2, 1874 circular

Bowers, Q. David, The History of United States Coinage As Illustrated by the Garrett Collection. (Los Angeles, CA : Bowers & Ruddy Galleries, Inc., 1979) :24

Lorraine Durst, Nos. 106, 291

John Weston Adams, United States Numismatic Literature, Volume 1 (1982) : 26, 34, 43, 44, 50, 51, 66, 104, 147, 150

Leah Lipton, A True Likeness: Chester Harding and His Portraits. (Smithsonian Institute, 1985) : 56-57 illustrated

Martin Gengerke, American Numismatic Auctions (1987) :

Pete Smith, American Numismatic Biographies (2004) : 190.

Kay Olson Freeman, "Joseph Colvin Randall," John Reich Newsletter, August 31, 2004