US Coins

Tracking down obscure coin facts Bowers

Probably the most publicized figure in the history of American numismatics is B. Max Mehl (1884 to 1957). Mehl is shown, with his secretary, in his office in 1915.

Image courtesy of Q. David Bowers.

The Joys of Collecting column from Dec. 14, 2015, issue of Coin World:

In connection with John Kraljevich’s research on certain provenances of coins in the D. Brent Pogue Collection Part III sale, set to cross the block next Feb. 9, I have been involved in helping to track down obscure information. I have always held that a coin is worth one point on its own, but another point of desirability can be added by learning the art, history, and romance concerning it.

In a related scenario, John W. Adams, whose collection of 1794-dated copper cents I cataloged and Bowers and Merena Galleries sold in 1984, “collected collectors” in addition to the coins themselves. The aura of each coin was increased by adding the biographies of past owners. Nearly all of the Pogue coins have rich pedigrees, some dating back to the era in which the coins were struck.

Collectors and dealers of past generations laid the foundation of what we know today. Learning about their lives is a fascinating pursuit. My own interest in doing that started in the early 1950s after I discovered the art and science of numismatics. Research in the 1950s was done the hard way: mainly by reading books and out-of-print auction catalogs and periodicals. I skimmed each and every issue of the American Journal of Numismatics from the first issue of 1866 until it more or less expired and became a series of monographs in the early 20th century; all issues of The Numismatist from 1888 onward; and all issues of The Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine starting in 1935. I also did a lot of interviews — with B. Max Mehl, George Bauer, Oscar G. Schilke, Stephen K. Nagy, and dozens more. When I read printed material, a lot of the facts and figures became imprinted in my mind.

I am not sure I would remember them if I read the same things on a computer screen, or remember them as well, at least.

Today the gatekeeper for information from the past is the Numismatic Bibliomania Society, which publishes The Asylum as a hard-copy magazine and via editor Wayne Homren, eSylum, appearing for free on the Internet each week. He is also key in the Newman Numismatic Portal project, a revelation in virtual information.

If you want to broaden your horizons beyond the latest price of gold or whether a coin is Mint State 65, tap into the art and science and check out the Numismatic Bibliomania Society. 

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