US Coins

Numismatic commandments

At left is the Professional Numismatists Guild logo as introduced in 1955. At right is the organization’s logo currently in use.

In a recent punning commentary in my Coin World column I mentioned, somewhat in jest, but not really: “The 13th Commandment: If a coin is certified but is overgraded or artificially toned, never remove it from its slab.”

This brought in a comment from reader Rich L., who said: “I am stumped. You have mentioned the 13th Commandment, but now I am interested in knowing the 11th and 12th Commandments. Do they exist?”

Well, probably not. I dropped a note back to Rich saying that I needed to dig out a Bible and re-read what Moses presented. On the other hand, other 11th Commandments probably exist, and the 13th Commandment (an error on my part to be sure) probably has little competition.

When I joined the Professional Numismatists Guild in 1960 as the youngest dealer ever admitted to that group, it was quite an honor.

Unlike today, when any qualified applicant can be admitted after being reviewed by peers and having checks done, back then the PNG was more or less a private club. It was run by Abe Kosoff and his close associate Sol Kaplan. Abe conceived of the idea in 1953 and had the first formal meeting in 1955, and Sol, who made most of the decisions, essentially ran the business end and conducted the meetings.

If someone wanted to apply and asked, his name (the only “her” in the early days was Cathy Bullowa, still a familiar figure today, I might add) would be brought before the membership at its next meeting. There would be discussion back and forth as to the personal characteristics of the individual, gossip concerning him and more. A comment such as “He bounced a check 15 years ago in Eugene, Ore.,” would be enough to end the matter. Votes were then taken at the meeting, sometimes by ballot but usually by show of hands.

In any event, although some great dealers were excluded, those who were admitted were usually of excellent character, having passed the rigors just mentioned, but on the other hand the selection process was hardly fair. Many complaints were heard about the process, particularly from well-known, reputable dealers, who kept knocking on the PNG door and were told to go away.

Returning to the lead-in to this column, at a meeting someone passed out a slip of paper titled something like, “Commandments for a PNG Member,” which went something like this:

No. 1: Never drink alcohol.

No. 2: If you do drink alcohol, do not become tipsy.

No. 3: If you do get tipsy, don’t stagger.

No. 4: If you do stagger, don’t fall.

No. 5: If you do fall, do so in a manner as to cover your PNG badge.

Of course this probably originated elsewhere, but it was fun. If I ever write Unpublishable Memoirs (a title a leading dealer in rare books once used), I’ll add some more PNG stuff!

Just kidding. PNG is a great organization.

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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