I don’t recall when I first met John J. Ford Jr., but it was
sometime in the early 1950s. I soon discovered the New Netherlands
Coin Co. Operated by Charles M. Wormser as business executive and John
as numismatic guru, with polymath Walter Breen on staff, the company
turned out auction catalogs that were absolutely fascinating to read.
History and numismatic research came to the fore. In contrast, the
catalogs of others were simple listings of dates, Mint marks, and, if
merited, a few sentences about rarity.
John was a genius in the fields of numismatic research and
marketing. He also was the leading figure in the combatting of
counterfeit and altered coins. He conducted programs on the subject
for the Professional Numismatists Guild and the American Numismatic
Association. His unmasking of phony coins received wide coverage in
Along the way, he and his associate, Paul Franklin, combed the
American West in the search for pioneer gold coins, gold and silver
ingots, and more, these being John’s favorite specialty. They were
successful beyond belief and discovered dozens of hitherto-unknown
items, many of which were sold into leading collections or to dealers.
The 1855 Blake & Co. $20 coin landed in A Guide Book of United
Some chinks began to appear in his armor in the 1960s when others
began to question the genuineness of some of the pieces, especially
multiple Proof 1853 $20 coins and patterns from Augustus Humbert and
the United States Assay Office of Gold in San Francisco. The PNG took
up the matter and appointed a fact-finding committee. Were these
genuine or were they modern concoctions?
The finding was a nonevent. Nothing was stated about authenticity
at all. By implication, they were authentic, it seemed. The decision
was that certain items called Proof should have been called prooflike instead.
In the meantime, I was not following such new discoveries, and I
assumed that whatever John publicized as a new discovery had been well
studied and authenticated. After all, he was the person the ANA, PNG
and others looked to for guidance in such matters.
I was a friend of John’s, visited his home many times, and bought
many coins, tokens and medals from him, but not in the Western series.
We did not discuss his new finds.
The Western gold controversy would not go away, and I finally
discussed it with John. He said all of his detractors (“boobs” was a
favorite word) were jealous and out to get him.
More next week.
Q. David Bowers is chairman emeritus of Stack’s Bowers Galleries
and numismatic director of Whitman Publishing LLC. He can be reached
at his private email, firstname.lastname@example.org,
or at Q. David Bowers LLC, Box 1804, Wolfeboro, NH 03894.