US Coins

Want to be a (biblio)maniac?

Shown is the first plate from the first illustrated coin catalog published in America.

Image courtesy of Joe Orosz.

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 Bibliomania Society.”

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 ( 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

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