US Coins

Starting with a lot to learn

Missing in action in August 1955 was the writer’s scarce 1849-O Seated Liberty half dime, similar to this example, but in lower grade. Coin is shown at more than twice the actual 15.5-millimeter diameter of an actual coin.

Images courtesy of author.

I continue my reminiscences of my first American Numismatic Association convention. The time was August 1955, and at age 17 I was not yet old enough to be a member of the ANA (18 was the requirement).

However, the association had 40 bourse tables to sell at $50 each and some were not spoken for.

I had been a dealer since 1953 and had attended a number of shows in the East, but this prospect would be my first long-distance trip — to Omaha, Neb.

The ANA awarded me a table with the provision that my father be responsible for the integrity of my transactions. Minors were viewed with a wary eye. Quite a change, I must say, from now. Youngsters are welcome and the Young Numismatists group within the association has special programs and is very much appreciated — as the future of the hobby.

The 1955 show set a record with 500 attendees. Today, well over 10,000 register, and the number of bourse tables is in the hundreds.

The bourse was in the Grand Ballroom of the Sheraton-Fontenelle Hotel. Dealer tables were placed all around the walls, and in the center were tables for educational displays. A kindly old gentleman, O.L. Harvey, from Seminole, Okla., had a complete set of four 1879 and 1880 $4 gold Stellas on view. I had never seen such before, so he let me examine them.

Among the coins I had for sale was an 1849-O Seated Liberty half dime, a worn example of this rare date and Mint. A man came over to look at it, while I was talking to someone else. When I returned my attention, he had departed, as had the half dime. The dealer having the bourse table next to me, Charlie, a railroader who dealt in coins part time (and who wore the same tie, with a stain on it, each day at the show), told me that he knew the culprit, a well-known shoplifter, but there wasn’t much that I could do about it as he needed to be caught in the act.

I learned that others around the bourse were quite aware of him.

Proof sets were all the rage in 1955, and at the convention Sol Kaplan posted a list of bid and ask prices for modern sets from 1936 to date, changing certain values during the show. This created quite a stir, and at later conventions he set up a large chalkboard to do this. At the convention I saw three complete 1915-S Panama-Pacific International Exposition sets for sale, which was amazing. The “rare” was common, it seemed. I still had a lot to learn.

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,, or at Q. David Bowers, LLC, Box 1804, Wolfeboro, NH 03894.

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