Throughout most of the first two decades of Coin World’s 55
years of publishing, Editor Margo Russell was on the scene during many
newsmaking events in the hobby.
Mrs. Russell died Jan. 26, 2015, at the age of 95.
Here are a few highlights of some of those newsmaking events in
which Russell was an active participant through her editorials and
testimony before the U.S. Congress.
One of the big stories in the world of coins in 1967 was the
transference of the Josiah K. Lilly Collection of gold coins to the
Smithsonian Institution’s National Numismatic Collection.
Russell and other hobby leaders were actively involved in testifying
before Congress in support of legislation that would authorize a $5.5
million tax write-off to the Lilly estate in exchange for the collection.
In 1968 the collection became one of the main elements on display at
the Smithsonian. The main numismatic exhibits were dismantled in 2004
to make way for exhibits of broader interest that may or may not
In a story published in the July 28, 2014, issue of Coin
World, the newly appointed curator of the National Numismatic
Collection, Ellen Feingold, said returning more of the Lilly gold coin
collection to public display was among her goals.
Hobby Protection Act
Russell’s coverage of a Feb. 28, 1973, hearing before a House
subcommittee on Commerce and Finance, published in the March 14, 1973,
issue of Coin World, provided collectors insights into the
beginnings of the Hobby Protection Act.
Russell was a witness at the hearing and her testimony sounds like
it could be given today in light of the increasing tsunami of
counterfeits flooding the market.
She testified that “coins and related numismatic items are indelible
footsteps of time — objects so historic we can reconstruct entire
civilizations from them.”
She continued: “Mr. Chairman, the thousands of readers of the
numismatic press and those on the Mint’s mailing list include some of
our brightest and most inquiring young people.
“They not only learn history from coins, but an all-important ethic:
Misrepresentation and deception have no place anywhere, but especially
in numismatics, a multi-million dollar science-hobby-industry.
“Unmarked replicas of genuine numismatic items are flagrant
falsification, trickery that can cause problems for generations.
Because we believe there are loopholes in our existing laws, replica
U.S. Colonial coins, which preceded official U.S. coinage for more
than a hundred years, and U.S. provisional coinage, issued by private
banks and coiners during the gold rushes of the 19th century are being
fabricated in giant quantities.”
Included in her testimony were copies of her editorials concerning
the alarming rise in replica “coins.”
Ultimately, legislation calling for more protection was approved by
Congress and on Nov. 29, 1973, the Hobby Protection Act became law.
Fort Knox gold
On Page 1 of the Oct. 9, 1974, issue of Coin World, is a
detailed report by Russell about the first public check on the gold
supply of the United States stored at the bullion depository at Fort
“A seven-man congressional inspection team and nearly 100 newsmen
came away from Fort Knox, Ky., Bullion Depository Sept. 23 satisfied
that all the gold that’s supposed to be there is safe and secure,”
according to the story that covered more than half the front page.
“Coin World was there to see more than half of Uncle Sam’s
gold — one-eighth of all the official gold reserves in the world —
147.4 million fine troy ounces, valued at $6.2 billion ($42.22 an
ounce, official price) or about $24 billion on the open market,”
The inspection was prompted by a conversation that summer between
Rep. Philip M. Crane, R-Ill., and Treasury Secretary William Simon
concerning rumors that the gold was missing.
Shades of the 1964 James Bond movie Goldfinger, where baddie Auric
Goldfinger planned to attack the Fort Knox gold supply?
According to Russell’s report, at least one reporter asked U.S. Mint
Director Mary Brooks that very question.
“I think that’s what stirred this up,” Brooks smiled. “I chuckled
when I saw it on the late show a few months ago. Hollywood’s idea of
what the place is like inside is quite different.”
Brooks went on to say “the movie crews were allowed to film from
outside the gate, and this is what the James Bond fans saw on the screen.”
Among the longest lasting coin-related legacies Russell played a
part in were the 1976 Bicentennial of American Independence coins.
The 1976 Bicentennial coin program was truly a revolution of sorts.
Dual-dated 1776-1976 quarter dollar, half dollar and dollar coins
would be struck with reverse designs selected from a national design competition.
No commemorative coins had been produced since 1954 and certainly
the idea of circulating commemorative coins was a new one for U.S.
Treasury officials to ponder.
Though the program was widely anticipated by enthusiastic
collectors, it was not warmly welcomed by the U.S. Treasury Department.
In 1970, Russell was among the collectors, dealers, club officials
and hobby periodical editors appointed to the Coins and Medal Advisory
Panel by the American Revolution Bicentennial Committee.
The panel recommended changing all six circulating denominations,
cent through dollar, and issuing a single commemorative coin unique in
design and composition.
But Treasury officials were not impressed, citing excesses of
previous commemorative coin programs. However, bowing to hobby
pressure, Treasury officials said if Congress approved legislation
requiring the minting of special coins to mark the Bicentennial, they
would yield their opposition.
By March 5, 1973, Treasury officials said they would agree to new
designs on both the Kennedy half dollar and the Eisenhower dollar.
But Russell, and other panel members, continued to push for changes
to all six coins, and new legislation introduced May 31, 1973, did so.
Eventually Treasury offered a compromise by seeking the redesign of
the Washington quarter dollar.
President Richard Nixon signed the Bicentennial Coinage Act Oct. 18,
1973. The act authorized a national design competition, the first time
the United States had engaged in a coinage design competition of
national scope and open to artists of any ability.
The winners were announced March 6, 1974, with Jack L. Ahr
submitting the winning quarter dollar design; Seth G. Huntington’s
design selected for the half dollar; and Dennis R. Williams’ design
chosen for the dollar.
The Bicentennial coins entered circulation July 4, 1975. A total of
1.7 billion quarter dollars, 500 million half dollars and nearly 250
million dollars were minted.
The fact that circulating commemorative coins were struck to
celebrate the 200th anniversary of the nation’s founding actually
paved the path for design contests in 50 states and then the
production of the 1999 to 2008 50 State Quarters Program with reverse
designs honoring each state.
That program was followed in 2009 with a one-year series of quarter
dollars honoring the District of Columbia and the U.S. territories.
Beginning in 2010 the America the Beautiful quarter dollar program,
honoring national parks in all 50 states, began.
Many of those who worked alongside Russell in expanding and
protecting the hobby have offered tributes to her following her death.
Russell’s impact on the hobby was recognized by Harvey G. Stack, an
owner of Stack’s and a co-founder of Stack’s Bowers Galleries:
“It is with great sadness that I learned of the passing of one of my
dearest and wonderful friend, Margo.
“I first met Margo shortly after she took on the editorship of
Coin World. We worked together on many of the projects she
endorsed, and I am grateful that she always considered me a friend.
“I worked with her in getting Congress to acquire the Lilly
Collection for the Smithsonian in 1967, I was the representative for
the professional numismatist regarding the development of the Hobby
Protection Act, we stood together in the 1970’s to be certain that the
new grading services did things right, we helped each other with the
development of the expansion of the ANA library and we opposed the
promotional aspects within the trade, which was harmful to the real
collector, and I worked with her on numerous projects to improve the
way Numismatics should be encouraged.
“She fought for the hobby, went to Washington many times to testify
on behalf of numismatics, wrote editorials encouraging people to
collect and was a force to reckon with on any project she undertook.”
In comments published in the Feb. 1 issue of the E-Sylum, the weekly
electronic publication of the Numismatic Bibliomania Society, Coin
World columnist Joel Orosz wrote:
“Margo’s place in numismatic history is certainly secure for her
accomplishments in transforming Coin World from its late
start-up days into a fully-realized numismatic newspaper. Nor should
anyone underestimate how effectively she opened the door for the
participation of women at every level of numismatics.
“One remarkable fact to note: until January of 2015, it was possible
to gather every person who had ever occupied the Editor’s chair at
Coin World, from 1960 to date, in a room together — Dick
Johnson, Margo, Beth Deisher, Steve Roach — and take a group picture.
55 years! The editor’s chair at Coin World must confer
longevity on all those who occupy it!”
Author and numismatist Ken Bressett wrote in E-Sylum:
“I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Margo Russell. She
was a dear friend not only to me but also to the scores of others who
knew her. She was a leader in many ways, but perhaps more than
anything else, a guiding influence on the modes and principles of how
collectors and dealers should conduct their numismatic activities. My
sorrow extends beyond her family and friends but also to those who
were not fortunate enough to have known her, for there will never be
another quite like this Grande Dame of our hobby.”