Early in the 20th century, my family started collecting coins. When my grandparents retired, they gave these coins to my parents. When my parents sold their business, we had a huge accumulation of coins and paper currency that spanned nearly a century of American numismatics. When I inherited the family hoard, I had absolutely no idea what was saved.
I devoted a significant amount of time to this family treasure. When I was pushing retirement, I completed the inventory. What to do with this vast treasure? I thought about selling, but this had no appeal to me. Mother Nature solved my dilemma. On May 8, 1997, I had a substantial stroke. As I counted the number of bubbles that were in the IV, I realized, rather harshly, that I had come face to face with my own mortality.
I never gave much thought to the coins. Some friends made an interesting suggestion: Have I contacted any museums? Perhaps I could donate some part of my collection. This had a tremendous appeal to me. So, over the years, the family collection has ended up in 12 different American national museums and one foreign museum.
1. My entire Palestine Mandate coin collection was donated to B’nai B’rith in Washington, D.C. The coins can be viewed at www.bnaibrith.org as follows. In the top right window at that website, enter Palestine Mandate Coins and hit return. The coins are currently on public display as well as on the website.
2. I never forgot the three years I spent in the Marine Corps. I asked one of the curators at the national museum in Quantico, Va., if they had any paper currency from any war where the Marines fought. The answer was no. I then donated my currency from the Vietnam War as well as currency from Iraq with the picture of Saddam Hussein on the face.
3. In Los Angeles, the Skirball Cultural Center is an outstanding Jewish museum. It received my entire Israeli Proof set collection.
4. The National World War II museum in New Orleans received my entire collection of all Allied military currency from all five countries for which the Americans issued paper currency: Italy, Germany, Japan, France and Austria.
5. Much of my family perished in the Holocaust. My huge and comprehensive Holocaust currency collection was given to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, now the Museum of Tolerance, in Los Angeles. This is probably the largest collection of its kind in the world.
6. I had many duplicates in my Holocaust collection. These went to the United States National Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.
7. I sent two ancient coins to the National Museum of American History (Smithsonian). One was a copper stater of Kashmir and the other was a Judean lepton that circulated in biblical Israel when Jesus was a young child.
8. The Mayme Clayton Library and Museum is a new national museum a short distance from where I live in Culver City, Calif. I gave them coins that were in circulation during the slave trade both under British and American governments.
9. I sent duplicates of coins that I donated to the Clayton museum to the National Museum of African American History and Culture (Smithsonian).
10. The Army Historical Foundation, in Arlington, Va., received my extra Italian Allied military currency.
11. The American Numismatic Association has my entire collection of Chinese year of the zodiac coins.
12. My current passion is developing the national coin collection for the country of Azerbaijan. What has been accumulated to date is currently shown on the website of the Karabakh Foundation. These can be viewed at www.karabakhfoundation.org as follows: After going to the website, click on the Azerbaijan Heritage Center Foundation tab at the top. Scroll down near the bottom to where a mention of the coins appears. The coins are on a website that is dedicated to Linda and me.
One more museum has received a currency donation: the Kadman museum in Tel Aviv where I donated some Holocaust currency.
When Linda and I started donating my family coin and currency collection, we never thought they would be put on public display. Nor did we ever consider that not one, but two museums would put our donated coins on their website and dedicate the numismatic portion of their website to the both of us. Long after we are gone, our family treasures, our legacy, can be viewed by future generations. Coin World readers should consider sharing their numismatic treasures as well.
Joel Forman is a longtime coin collector and a senior appraiser with certification in numismatics accredited by the American Society of Appraisers.