Obituary: Frederick R. Mayer (1928–2007)

by Richard C. Frajola

Frederick R. Mayer, noted philanthropist and world-class collector of art, coins, currency, and stamps, died in Denver, Colorado, on February 14, of complications following heart surgery. He was seventy-nine years old.

Mr. Mayer was a life member of the American Numismatic Association. A portion of his collection of Colorado territorial gold coins was featured in the museum show “Mountains of Money,” displayed at the ANA headquarters in Colorado Springs from April 2003 through March 2004. Mr. Mayer was also a member and generous contributor to the American Numismatic Society, and he and his wife have endowed the New World Department of the Denver Art Museum.

In the foreword of his recent book, The United States Five-Cent Stamp of 1856, Mr. Mayer described how his interest in pre-Columbian art began: “In the middle sixties, my wife Jan and I were invited by a friend in Costa Rica, who was a part-time stamp dealer and the American Consul, to spend several weeks driving around Costa Rica. We visited many of the towns I was familiar with from observing the cancels and postmarks on covers I had acquired. This interest in Costa Rica manifested itself fully when we began to build an important collection of Costa Rican Pre-Columbian art which has been donated to the Denver Art Museum. It is now considered to be the largest study collection of Costa Rican Pre-Columbian art extant outside of Costa Rica. The seed was the stamp collection.”

Born in Ohio and raised in Texas, Mr. Mayer left Dallas to attend Phillips Exeter Academy; he graduated from Yale in 1950. After college, Mr. Mayer organized the Exeter Drilling Company in 1953, and when it was sold in 1980, it held the distinction of being the largest privately owned drilling company in the United States. In 1982, he founded Captiva Corporation, an oil and gas resources company. These business successes allowed Mr. Mayer to indulge his passions for collecting, skiing, hunting, deep-sea diving, and fine wines.

Mr. Mayer had several active collections of coins and paper money. His love of stamps also drove him to assemble the finest collection of encased postage stamps ever formed. He aggressively sought out every known denomination from every advertiser, upgrading pieces whenever possible. His most recent major acquisitions were obtained from the June 2004 Stacks sale of the Ford encased postage, virtually completing his collection. Mr. Mayer‘s stamp interest also extended to first-issue fractional notes. That collection included sheets and various proofs and specimen notes. Other areas of interest in paper money included New Hampshire colonial notes and the first 1861 Confederate issues.

Mr. Mayer‘s interest in encased postage and fractional and Confederate currency paled in comparison to his love of all things Colorado. He had noteworthy collections of Colorado Territory postal history, Colorado territorial coins, and Colorado National Bank notes. The coins include Colorado pioneer patterns and Denver city assay office patterns, many obtained from the 1982 Clifford sale. The territorial gold collection is impressive and includes multiple Clark, Gruber & Co. examples and specimens from the extremely rare mints of John Parsons & Co. and J. J. Conway and Company. Pedigrees include those of Gainesboro and Clifford-Kagin. In 1995, Mr. Mayer began to aggressively pursue Colorado nationals. As with all his collections, he emphasized both completeness and quality. The collection contains several unique pieces and a number of territorial notes. It is one of the largest holdings of Colorado nationals known.

Mr. and Mrs. Mayer hosted a small gathering for a few close collector and dealer friends in conjunction with the August 2006 ANA show in Denver. A special exhibit of his various Colorado collections was organized, and the display brought a smile to Mr. Mayer‘s face. However, the full breadth of his beaming smile was reserved for those same collectors when they gathered in front of one of the exhibit frames to discuss the nuances of the material. For those fortunate to have spent time with Mr. Mayer, the experience was unforgettable. He was a renaissance man with vast knowledge in many areas and able to articulate his ideas with ease. His passion for collecting was contagious, and whether an inexpensive find or a priceless treasure, he enjoyed the hunt and the discussion equally.

In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be sent to the American Numismatic Society, 96 Fulton Street, New York, NY 10038.