US Coins

John Burns: A life celebrated by stories and memories

The world of coins is populated by an eccentric group of people who often march to the beat of their own drummer.

There are lots of men like John Burns who make the rounds to coin shows every weekend and are experts in their chosen field — in John’s case, numismatic literature. While they don’t leave a legacy of published articles, they make their mark on thousands of individuals.

John’s passing on Jan. 11 was decades too soon, and it leaves a substantial void in the hobby.

Brad Karoleff said it better than I could, writing: “Everyone who knew John realized his depth of character. His friendship was without reserve. His numismatic knowledge was second to none. He could converse with you on many topics seamlessly. Education was John’s greatest pleasure. Books came easily to John; he never met one he did not want to read. He was a genius that had a difficult time transferring knowledge into a livelihood. All of us who knew him received much more from him than he did from any of us.”

Brad shared a story, likely typical of many people’s stories involving John and it’s one of my favorites.

“We all have favorite stories we tell about our friends once they are gone. I’m sure there will be more about John than the average person. I remember a couple of years ago at FUN when John, Steve Roach and I went to dinner. John drove and that was the subject of much amusement. John had a large white van, (which he named Shamu), that had metal grates on the windows in the back. There were no back seats so he could load more boxes of books for his trips.

“I sat in the passenger side seat and Steve climbed into the back for the short trip. I can’t remember who started it but we thought that if a policeman saw us riding with Steve in the back of this van we may be stopped for kidnapping. Steve and John traded one liners back and forth and I was reduced to a fit of laughter. I could hardly breathe, I was laughing so hard. It will be a night I will cherish forever.”

Sure, coin collecting and numismatics is about objects: the study of physical coins, medals, tokens, paper money and literature is at the core of our field.

But what keeps people involved are largely the relationships. The familiarity that comes at a coin show with knowing lots of people; being able to look forward to a dinner with good friends to “talk shop” after the bourse floor closes. I always looked forward to dinner with John at shows because I knew that I’d always get good food, great stories and lots of laughter.

As Michele Orzano was putting together the piece on John that runs on page 30 of this week’s issue, she commented that she hoped that people told these kind of things to John while he was still alive.

Our hobby has lost one of its biggest characters, but if the dozens of tributes that have appeared online are any indication, he’ll be remembered for decades to come.



Steve Roach

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