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Recollections of U.S. Numismatics in the 60s
by Wayne Homren

Alan Weinberg submitted these thoughts on the state of the numismatic hobby in the U.S. in the 1960s.

Having read Bob Rhue's reminiscences of his hobby experience in the 1960's, I thought I'd jump in with a few more general thoughts.

There were a lot fewer collectors and dealers in the early 60's. Most had no real affinity for natural toning and brilliant/bright was "in". "Original skin" by any terms was unimportant.

The 2nd largest & most important "coin show" (currency was not widely collected or emphasized back then) was the New York Metropolitan Coin Club show held once a year, in March, at the then New York Park-Sheraton Hotel, a five minute walk from Stack's who held their annual pre-eminent auction at that show.

The bourse size was a tiny fraction of today's large coin show bourses but the dealers set up and the material available, all "raw" of course, was usually top of the line. Bob Batchelder, Herb Tobias, Ed Shapiro, Max Kaplan, Dan Messer, the Stack "boys", a youthful Dave Bowers and Jim Ruddy, Ford & Wormser, Kreisberg & Cohen, Kosoff, Cathy Bullowa, FK Saab, "Foxy" Steinberg, "Izzy" Snyderman, Hans Schulman, Lester Merkin, Jerry Moskowitz, Dick Picker, Bill Anton Jr., and Ed Hipps.

Hipps offered me a four-piece Gem Proof Stella gold set for $40 grand and I passed and another time a Gem Unc 1792 half disme at around $10,000. A few others lined the walls around a relatively small "ballroom" in the hotel. To my memory, only four of these oldtimers are still very active on today's bourse- a then very young Donald Brigandi (monitored by his effervescent dad Tony) and today's very senior but very healthy Ben Levin, Ed Hipps and elder statesman QDB writing and administering the reconfigured Stack's.

I almost forgot to mention Morris Geiger (who called everyone 'kid' )- he was well liked and had a street-level coin shop on 44th St where incredible material would walk in. He was active into his mid 80's and, having retired to Florida, annually set up at the Jan FUN show until he died perhaps 6 yrs ago. Surprisingly, he looked virtually the same in his 80's as when he dealt actively in the early 60's.

Grading? While I have mixed feelings about slabs and the point by point grading system today, there were significant abuses back then, with EF and AU coins, often doctored or whizzed , being offered as Brilliant Uncirculated .

I learned early on in 1960 not to ever buy a coin in an auction that I didn't first examine when I "won" a Proof 1829 half dime for approx $50 from a very prominent NYC coin firm auction- the coin was a polished AU which I kept as a "lesson" I never forgot.

You could buy all the gem proof Barber halves and quarters you wanted for $50 or less on the bourse. Choice VF or EF (I mean choice!) 1793 chain cents - take your pick of 3 or 4 on the bourse floor. Nice Wreath cents? - too common and available to seriously consider spending real money on. Choice perfect EF-AU New Jersey coppers literally a "drug" on the bourse floor at $25 apiece at NJ and NY shows - and rarely attributed.

Crew-cutted Bob Batchelder of Ambler PA, who almost invariably had the best and highest quality material at each NY show, was the first bourse dealer any serious collector would approach. He wasn't cheap and his prices made you swallow hard, but he had the "stuff" and a pleasant personality to boot. He left numismatics abruptly decades ago - I never knew why - and made a name for himself in the rare autograph business still in Ambler , passing away around at 80 only perhaps two yrs ago.

Similarly, Long Island's Dick Picker always had a fascinating assemblage of rare colonial coins (he was the only regular dealer in such esoterica back then - Bill Anton only occasionally set up and was more of a collector) and Dick's prices were always sky high but you were paying for his expertise and his was the "only game in town". Dick always refused to "grade" his coins- he firmly insisted the grade was reflected in his price.

My biggest regret in all these years was when Dick called me up at home the summer of 1962 - I'd just graduated from high school. He had the Virgil Brand Brasher Doubloon and offered it to me for $15,000. I just didn't have the money and Dick sold it immediately to Jack Friedberg. Chicagoan Walt Persche has owned it now for decades, having bought it at a RARCOA auction for about $434,000 and last I heard he wanted $5 or 6 million for it.

Dick Picker reigned supreme for years until the theft of a briefcase out of an ANA show security room (contents never recovered and the unique die trial uniface WM 1792 Roman Head cent is still outstanding) and the resulting years-long battle with the ANA resulting in Dick's being barred from the ANA bourse sapped him of life.

I do recall being pulled aside at the circa 1960 NY Metro bourse and being warned by Martin Kortjohn, then the club official, that I could not offer a 1797 half cent to bourse dealers - only bourse dealers could sell coins. How things have changed!

And John Ford and Max Kaplan standing up mid-Stack's auction circa 1962 and yelling at each other to back off driving a price up - Ford enjoyed intimidating (or trying to) his auction competitors for decades thereafter.

And, perhaps at the same early 60's Stack's NYC auction, John Pittman striding up to the front of the auction audience all the way to the auction podium, turning around to stare at the audience and raising his arm to bid like the Statue of Liberty, daring his competitors to drive him up. Wouldn't work very well today!

And an utterly "Gem Proof" iridescently toned 1796 quarter that Stack's auctioned in the Milton Holmes sale in 1960 for an unheard-of $3,000 - I believe to "too-tall" collector (6'5" and under 200 lbs) Bill Wild who had a discerning eye but limited financial resources and used to repeatedly place his Gem 1792 half disme up for loan collateral to buy another rarity.

And an apparently teenaged Johnny Rowe boasting to me that he would/could buy the About Unc. Kellogg gold $50 fast approaching in the Stack's auction and me doubting him - he bought it - for around $15 grand!

Was the hobby more fun then? More enjoyable? More rewarding in every aspect? A resounding "Yes!" Knowledge was King back then - you didn't have the excellent reference books now available so Picker, Anton, Ford and others really prospered. They knew true rarity and they knew their clients. Collectors like me learned at their feet and from attending and watching/listening at the FAR fewer shows than are held today. Life just seemed less intense, more relaxed back then. And the hobby was too.

To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see: ROBERT RHUE'S RAMBLINGS ON THE HOBBY IN THE 1960S (www.coinbooks.org/esylum_v13n15a17.html)

 



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