US Coins

Guest Commentary: A life in the U.S. Army helped in building numismatic library

I started collecting Southeast Asian numismatic pieces in 1964. Very few world numismatic references were available to buy back then. Even fewer were about Southeast Asia, and I bought them. I also bought non-Southeast Asian references with formats I liked, because I planned to someday start writing my own references.

While overseas in the Army, I kept little with me, especially during my six years in the Vietnam War. I mailed everything to my mother to store for me. I told her that all nonregistered mail was for her and all registered was for her to store for me. My time overseas and in the Vietnam War ended in January 1973.

I was a student/assistant instructor in an Army school when my wife, Phung, arrived in the United States in February. To give her something to do, I had all of my stuff stored at my mother’s home shipped to me. Phung could go through the contents and sort them down for me.

I graduated and was assigned to a research job in Reston, Va. I had bought a large used station wagon, but our stuff barely fit inside it when we drove off from Indiana.

We rented an apartment and went shopping for some furniture. Phung did not want us to go into debt, so we bought a sleep sofa. We used a large cardboard box for our dining table and sat on flattened boxes. Each month we bought one or two more pieces of furniture for cash. Two of them, eventually, were bookcases, which quickly filled up.

Later, I had an office desk and a third bookcase. One day I came home and a used IBM Selectric Typewriter was on a stand next to my desk. Phung told me, since I said I wanted to write my own references, let’s get started! Within two years, I self-published my first catalog in 100 copies. They sold so fast I forgot to keep one and had to buy one back!

I received emergency orders for Germany and while there, bought many more references in European languages, and published another catalog. During some missions in England, I had time in London before my return flight. At one bookstore, I opened a book and found the owner was an author in my library. I asked the bookstore owner how he obtained the book.

He told me that he heard a rumor about him passing away and he contacted his widow. She was about to trash his personal library because a local library refused it. He showed me several boxes of his books and I bought many of them. Those books are still very important references to me and they could have ended up in a dumpster!

After we arrived back in Virginia in early 1979, we had to buy a condo with an extra room for books. The condo cost more but it paid off in the future when we sold it. On Sunday afternoons, we visited used bookstores in the Washington, D.C., area. I found few books for myself but many for other numismatists at only 25 to 50 cents each. The people selling the numismatist’s libraries did not know their value and sold them to junk book dealers. In the numismatic book market, some were worth over $100 each.

After I retired from the Army in 1981, I started my own business to sell the many books I was finding. It was a good business, but it took up too much of my spare time after long hours in my new work managing a computer retail store. What could I do to stop this flood of excellent references into the junk book world?

I was already giving talks about Southeast Asian numismatic subjects so I added a short plea at the end about having a personal will like mine, with several people as executors for certain parts of my estate.

The numismatist in my will is Joseph E. Boling. If I pass on before him, he will sell all of my numismatic related items and then hand a check to Phung after covering his expenses. I can trust him and I will do the same for him if he beats me through the gate. The plea to my audiences is that they do the same so their estate does not find a dumpster.

After I hit 70, I started selling and donating some of my 3,000+ books to lighten the work to dispose of them. Besides my numismatic-related references and periodicals, I also have many books about Southeast Asian culture, art, religion, politics and government.

Since I stopped collecting some Southeast Asian countries, I decided to start selling and consigning the non-numismatic books and periodicals of those countries. But for countries I still collect and write catalogs and articles about, I am keeping those books to still identify the designs and scenes on the coins and paper money.

Some close friends had me in their wills to dispose of the numismatic-related parts of their estates. It took time to sell everything but I knew the money was important to the widows, and the looks on their faces when they see the checks is priceless. Please update your will with someone you trust to sell the numismatic-related parts of your estate.

Howard A. Daniel III is a member of many collector organizations worldwide. He lives half of the year in his Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) home and the other half in his Virginia homes. Since his wife retired, they are frequently traveling on vacations or numismatic-related trips.

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