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Alicja Karlic talks to Mr. George Morgan about his collection of coins

By February 25, 2020November 12th, 20222 Comments12 min read

Would you tell us the story about how everything started with your hobby, the collection of coins?
Mr. Morgan: Well, I started in the 1940s when my mother gave me her collection of Indian Head pennies. Then I became a newspaper boy through The Cleveland Plain Dealer. I collected a lot of coins every week. I looked through the coins and I put them in books. I continued to collect American coins until 1964 when they stopped making coins out of silver. I didn’t want to bother anymore, but the Polish coins became attractive to me because the Polish coins were cheap. After all, there weren’t many wealthy Poles in Poland, America or England, and the price of gold was 35 dollars an ounce. I could buy gold for, of course, more than 35 dollars an ounce but still very cheap. And so, I continued to accumulate these coins, and I collected some scarce coins.

Can you tell us more about your collection?
-Well, off the top of my head, there is a half-ducat Lithuanian currency from Jan Kazimierz from about the middle of the 17th century. There are six known examples of this coin. I gave my coin books to Orchard Lake. Many coin books describe them.
There is an American coin, a nickel, from 1913. Then there are these rare coins from the establishment of the Polish Republic after 1919. There are many rare coins here including from Danzig, Gdansk. Three are coins from when Russia dominated Poland: for example, a coin, from about the 1820s to 1830s, under Czar Nicholas the First and Alexander the First. They are infrequent. They dominated with a few hundred known coins extent. Then I have other old coins from Zygmund August and Zygmund I Old. These coins go back to the early 1530s. The oldest Polish currency with a date on it was in 1506. Before that, it was just a picture of the King and the years were irrelevant. You needed the first Polish coin from 1506, which Zygmund Pierwszy (the First) struck.

In your opinion, which are the most valuable coins, the most important?
– All of them are valuable. But you have to check each coin. Other than that, I would include in the collection that I sent to Orchard Lake coins dating from 1488 to 1506 with others like Boguslaw the 10th and Pomeranian coins. Not Polish, but Pomeranian, but still, the Pomeranians were Piasts. They are Polish and the rulers had Polish names. Today they are still there; it was Kashubie. Therefore, I have dated coins from 1488 to the present time with the possibility of two exceptions. I don’t remember what the two exceptions are.
They struck during the reign of Stanislaw Leszczynski, who incidentally is related to Starowieskis. The Starowieski family still goes to France to visit with the descendants of Maria Leszczynska, who was the Queen of Ludwig the 15th. But he struck no coins at all when he was the King of Poland, Stanislaw Leszczynski. There were no coins with his image or data, so I have a blank there.

How did you get them? Were you looking at auctions?
– At auctions. I bid on coins in auctions in Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, Poland and in this country. I also bid on auctions. I dealt with Stacks, a coin dealer in New York, and I had a private dealer here in California. While I lived in Wyoming I dealt with him. So I just accumulated them slowly over the years.

Can you tell me why you’d decided to do something with your collection?
– I am getting old now. I am 82.

That’s not too bad.
– No, it’s not. My mother lived to be 95, my uncle lived to be 94, but my older sister only lived to be 73, so I am getting up there.

This collection was significant to you. I can imagine you collected this treasure during almost all of your life.
– Yes. They were like my children. I have an extreme emotional attachment to them. I collected them certainly from the 1940s to 2019.

Why did you donate your “children” to the Polish Mission? How did you know living here in California that there was the Polish Mission in Orchard Lake?

– I always knew about the Orchard Lake because I listened to “Koledy” from the school cantor at the Orchard Lake but I’d never visited Orchard Lake. I’d been to Detroit, but I’ve never been to Orchard Lake. I’ve decided that I wanted them to go either to Poland, which is very difficult if you are dying in America, or to have them in the United States, such as at the Kosciuszko Foundation, to which I’ve belonged for over 50 years.
I was wary of the Polish American Museum in Chicago because of the high crime rate in Chicago; I felt they wouldn’t be safe in Chicago. Orchard Lake looked to me like a safe place.
I felt I could have the protection needed for the collection from a common thief, who would take the coins and melt them down for bullion. I assured that by giving in addition to the coin collection. I sent a lot of bullion coins such as gold Kruegers, and other common gold coins that are contemporary, and that people collect for the value of the bullion in them. I gave a lot of silver coins also. American are the bullion coins. Polish coins are numismatic: they are collected for the intrinsic beauty, value and rarity.
I had previously sent a bust of John Paul II to Orchard Lake.

I didn’t know.

– Yes. You didn’t know. Well, it’s there, at least I sent it there. The bust of JPII is carved by a colleague of mine from the University of Wyoming. He subscribes to The Orchard Lake Bulletin.

Do you remember when this happened? When did you give them this art?

– I don’t remember. Certainly, it was over twenty years ago.

You had decided to ask the Polish Mission in Orchard Lake if they would be pleased with your gift?
– Yes, yes. I wrote a letter to Orchard Lake explaining my situation and that I wanted to donate them. In Orchard Lake they said fine.

And then what was your next step? You sent the letter and…?
– I invited the director of the Polish Mission Marcin Chumiecki to come.

Did he come here to your house?
– Yes. He came with some people from Orchard Lake.

Do you know the value of what you donated to the Polish Mission?
I do. I know what I paid for these coins. The price is always going up and only up. I knew these were precious coins, and finally, when the parish sent me to you, the value was more than a million dollars.

But the question I have, because I don’t know too much about this, the value of this, if it’s something numismatic does it have a higher value?
– Of course, a lot higher.

Is the gold price essential?
– As I said, a nickel is worth five cents. If you melt it down, it’s worth seven cents, but this nickel from 1913 you could sell for several million dollars.
In the case of Polish coins, in addition to Poland becoming an affluent country that wants to collect its history, there are many Russians, Germans and Swedes who also want to collect Polish coins. For example, I have Swedish coins from Zygmund Waza when he was the King of Sweden and had these minted in Sweden. I have a lot of valuable coins.
Then, on top of that, the Vatican elected a Polish Pope. Poland struck coins, gold coins and silver coins with his image on them and the date of issue. And also the Vatican started striking coins, and other countries, like Canada, Haiti, the Dominican Republic.

And you got them?
-Yes. I have them in the collection.

Do you remember how many Vatican coins you have in your collection?
– I don’t know, a vast number, because every year-he was Pope for 26 years.

Every year, it was a new coin?
– Yes.

Going back to your life collection, how many coins did you donate to Orchard Lake? Do you know, let’s say approximately?
– I don’t know.

Thousand, two thousand, five thousand? Any idea?
– Several thousand.

When you were donating them, did you describe what they should do with this collection?
– I’d just assumed that they would know by studying it. I gave them several books, like Czapski’s book. I have several new Polish books that describe the current status of a lot of the coins. And I have a lot of that I sent along, with the collection to Orchard Lake, a lot of catalogs.

A few months ago I got a letter from you written to the editor of the Polish Weekly, and then I started to be very interested in this collection: what’s happened to this collection, of its value, when it’s going to be displayed, etc..
Then I decided to call you, and we’ve talked by phone a few times. The coins were not displayed in the Galleria of Orchard Lake. I asked the director of the Polish Mission, Dr. Arkadiusz Gorecki, about it. He told me the coins were in the safe, but he didn’t see them.
Finally, I decided to visit you to interview you, because for me, as a journalist, it is a very interesting story
I am here at your house in California, and you’ve shown me some documents and the last agreement with Orchard Lake dated February 5th, 2019.
– Yes.

But you gave the collection to the Polish Mission a long time ago. What I have now in my hand is a copy of the agreement that you signed with Fr. Miroslaw Krol on February 5th, 2019.
– What you have in your hand is not the first agreement.

Do you remember, or do you have a copy of the first agreement you had with Orchard Lake?
– Perhaps I do, but I would have to go through my papers.

Did you memorize what was in this agreement, the first one, after you donated your treasure to the Polish Mission?
– Well, simply that the sale of the bullion coins would protect these coins. I understand that some of the bullion coins sold. I expect that money to be still available to protect my gold coins from theft.

Did you want the whole collection to display in the Polish Mission Gallery?

– Yes, I wanted Polonia to see these coins, and where is a better place than in the Polish Mission?

Yes, of course. It was a very good idea. I have to tell you the Galleria of the Polish Mission is temporarily closed. I have heard that they want to build a new one, like a museum.

Today, you showed me a lot of papers, like a thank you note. Does it look like somebody visited you from Orchard Lake here?
– Yes. Fr. Miroslaw Król with his friend from Cleveland, who knew where I was born – in Cleveland, Ohio. But I didn’t talk with him though.

OK, and why did he come to you?
– He came because he wanted me to sign some papers.

Is this the paper that I have in front of me? It looks like they’ve changed the agreement with you. Do you have any idea why they changed it?
– No.

Did they call you earlier and ask you if you would let them do this?
– No, I did not let them do it!

When they came here, did they give you this paper you sign?
– Yes.

Yes? How was it? Did you read the paper or did they read the paper? I mean the agreement?
– No, no, they didn’t.

But I see the notation on this paper, with handwriting, yes?

– Yes.

Was it your suggestion to write this; what is written on the bottom?

– Let’s see. Oh, this is the commemoration of the collection to be given in honor to my great-grandmother, not in honor of St. John Paul II.

In honor of your great grandmother?
– Yes, that is right.

Did Fr. Krol write this, or you did?
– Well, he wrote this.

Because you told him to write this?
– I told him that I wanted it. The collection must be dedicated to my great-grandmother Marianna Czajkowska.

Of course. It’s your collection and you can decide who to honor.
– I was not interested in having my name on it at all. I wanted the gift to be anonymous. Fr. Król brought me a project of the future blog on Chancellor’s Castle with my names on it.

Have you signed the new agreement? You told me that when Fr. Krol with his friend left your home you read this carefully. Were you satisfied with signing the new agreement?
– No, no!

Can you tell me why not?
– I was not satisfied with this; they changed my wish. I objected to the fact that he wants to have twenty-five of the most historic coins preserved – but I have given thousands of coins to them!

With the same historical value, yes?
– Yes, I have thousands of coins, and here he talks about saving twenty-five coins.

Did you ask them why? Why twenty-five?
– Yes, I did.

And what did Fr. Król say?

– He said he would save them all. He assured me that if Orchard Lake would not preserve the collection, he would find another source that would, including the Royal Palace in Warsaw or Jasna Gora. I didn’t want the coins to be given to a small museum in Poland, because it would be robbed. Nobody is going to rob the Royal Castle and nobody is going to rob Jasna Gora. In this country, I would safely donate the collection to the Kosciuszko Foundation and also to the American Jasna Gora Czestochowa in Doylestown.

So why didn’t you tell them you disagreed with the change made to your agreement?

– Well, I didn’t until he went back to Orchard Lake. I didn’t read this until later, and then I called him up and I said: I don’t agree with this agreement.

What did Fr. Krol say when you called him about this?

– He agreed with me.

Was this shortly after you had signed this paper?
– Yes, shortly thereafter. He just assured me that the coins would not be sold but donated to another museum if they could not handle them at Orchard Lake School.

It would be great for the young generation, for schools, for people who are not only interested in the coins but in history, to exhibit your collection in Orchard Lake Schools.
– Yes, exactly. I think it would be very exciting to learning the history of Poland from the history of the coins. It is amazing.
Now, after I have had a chance to talk with you, I am very interested to learn what happened to the coins, if they are in a safe place.

Thank you so much for your time. Thank you for inviting me to be here and talk to you. Thank you very much.

Mr. George Morgan is Emeritus Prof. of Chemistry at Wyoming University.
The interview took place on October 14, 2019, in California.

In the picture: Marianna-Czajkowska-greatgrandmather-of-George-Morgan.


  • EFM says:

    Mr. Morgan please hire a competent lawyer to represent you. The school is in financial trouble and your collection should be protected in some way. Be careful!

  • EFM says:

    The above comment should be addressed to Mr. Karlic and not Prof. Morgan.