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Gerald Ephraim Hart (1849-1936)

Gerald Ephraim Hart came from a prominent Canadian Jewish family. Aaron Hart had settled in Trois-Rivières in 1860 and prospered as a merchant. In 1807, his son Ezekiel was one of the first Jews to be elected to the legislative assembly anywhere in the British Empire, thereby becoming a cause celèbre as he could not take the customary oath and was therefore expelled (the reasons for his expulsion were more political than religious but the failure to take the oath was used as formal justification). Ezekiel’s son, Adophus Mordecai, was a prominent lawyer in Montreal who married Constance Hatton Hart. Gerald Ephraim Hart was their son, born in 1849.

Gerald Hart was educated at Trois-Rivières, Montreal and New York (his maternal grandmother’s family was American and Gerald’s father was based in New York from 1850 to 1857). He made his career in the insurance business and was based in Montreal from 1869 until 1896. He became general manager of the Citizens Insurance Company and then from 1890 held a similar position in the Montreal office of the Phoenix Fire Company of Hartford, Connecticut. Around 1896 he moved to Florida where he lived until 1934. In that year he returned to Montreal, where he died in 1936.

Hart was however best known as a collector – of coins and medals in particular, but also of books, stamps, china and furniture. Unfortunately, his passion for collecting led to considerable expense and Hart was obliged on several occasions to dispose of part of his collection. In 1883, following protracted negotiations over a number of years, he finally persuaded the Canadian government to purchase a significant number of Canadian coins and tokens. There were also major sales of coins at auctions in 1888 and 1895 in New York and Hart’s library was sold at Boston in 1890.

Hart’s collections were closely linked to his interest in Canadian history. He published two books in this field (in 1888 and 1891) and further works were planned, but many of his papers were destroyed when his house in Florida caught fire. He was a life member of the Numismatic and Antiquarian Society of Montreal and from as early as 1869 served as an officer of the Society, publishing regularly in its journal.

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