As a coin collector, it’s possible you’ve been called a “maniac.”
Only one numismatic organization is proud to consist entirely of
maniacs — the Numismatic Bibliomania Society.
How maniacal are NBS members about collecting numismatic books,
catalogs, magazines and price lists? Its official journal is The
Asylum, and its e-newsletter is The E-Sylum. The joke
goes that you don’t so much join the NBS as get committed to it.
Its story begins with the late Jack Collins, a genuine eccentric.
His talents were legion: proprietor of a beer bar, producer of
“A-List” network television shows, prominent large cent collector and
coin dealer, renowned coin photographer, and bibliomaniac (in 1981 he
paid a record $9,000 for a Chapman Brothers auction catalog).
Early in 1979, the idea of forming a literature collectors’ club
literally came to him in a dream. Jack shared his vision with George
Frederick Kolbe, the nation’s leading numismatic literature dealer.
Collins and Kolbe convened a dozen literature lovers at the 1979
American Numismatic Association convention, and birthed the NBS. Some
favored calling it the “Numismatic Book Society”; others the more
scholarly “Numismatic Bibliophile Society”; but Collins insisted on
embracing literary fanaticism, thus it became the “Numismatic
NBS sponsors two meetings at every ANA convention, a symposium at
which numismatic authors talk about (and inscribe) their books, and a
can’t-miss annual meeting. Typically, a speaker will discuss some
aspect of bibliomania, and fur has been known to fly.
The late Walter Breen once complained about heavy-handed editing
of a catalog he had prepared for a 1970 auction. Breen blamed the
edits on “Don Taxay, who, at that time, headed the firm of ...” and
then made a play on the firm’s name that suggested it committed
illegal activities. The company was not amused by this jest, leading
to a meek apology from Breen in the next issue of The Asylum.
Annual meetings occasionally feature surprises, such as when the
late John J. Ford Jr., who was fanatical about the condition of his
literature, was presented with a slabbed Stack’s auction catalog.
Encased between two sheets of plexiglass, and issued by B.U.G.S
(Bibliographic Universal Grading Service), the catalog was in pristine
shape, but no longer a pager-turner. Fortunately, this remains the
sole piece of literature slabbed by B.U.G.S.
NBS meetings are also memorable for their fundraising auctions.
Some members donate literature, others bid ferociously, and the
proceeds subsidize NBS dues, assist the ANA and American Numismatic
Society libraries, and send young numismatists to ANA Summer Seminars.
In years past, Brad Karoleff — author, Coin World columnist and
auctioneer — has used his quick wit to goose the take. Always
resourceful, Brad once telephoned an NBS member who was sick in bed in
order to secure a higher bid on a key lot!
Thanks in part to the Karoleff magic, membership in the NBS (www.coinbooks.org) is one of the
great bargains in numismatics. Only $15 per year brings four print
issues of The Asylum, 52 electronic issues of the E-Sylum,
and the right to attend the most maniacal meetings in numismatics.
JOEL J. OROSZ is a charter member of the Numismatic Bibliomania
Society and co-author of The Secret History of the First U.S.
Mint. He can be reached at Joeljorosz@gmail.com.