You can’t tell a book by it’s cover, they say, and you can’t know what’s behind a door until you open it.
Both axioms hold true for visitors to the Chicago Coin Company, Inc.
Located behind a nondescript storefront on on Archer Avenue on Chicago’s southwest side, just a mile or so west of Midway Airport, is an inner sanctum that is truly something to behold.
Back behind the shop area, owner William Burd’s modest office, and the work and shipping areas that support the business operation, is a spacious, well appointed, extensive and comprehensive numismatic reference library. Upon its shelves rest more than 12,000 reference books, catalogs, periodicals and pamphlets covering a diversity of interests from ancient to modern.
To say that this repository of numismatic knowledge makes the Chicago Coin Company one of the most unusual coin shops in the country would certainly be an understatement. The story behind the library, the location and the principal is an interesting one.
Let’s start with Bill Burd. Not a collector of coins in a systematic way, he does set aside numismatic items of curiosity that flow through the shop or that are encountered while doing business at the several shows he sets up at during the course of a year. Many of these interesting accumulations are displayed in revolving display cases placed in an annex area of the library.
Born and raised in Syracuse, N.Y., Burd joined the Army out of high school, where he was engaged in clerical and intelligence capacities. After leaving the service he spent several years with Penn Central Railroad handling transportation clerical responsibilities, being transferred to several locations east of the Mississippi. Chicago was his last stop, having decided that with a young family, it was time to settle down.
In the mid-70s, Burd began setting up at flea markets. He’d given no thought to coins, although he had done a bit of collecting coins out of circulation as a paper boy in his youth, plugging them into Whitman folders. In 1978 he visited a coin shop with a friend, where he purchased a few coins for resale at the flea markets. One thing led to another and he soon found himself working at that same shop.
Burd worked at that shop through the 1980-81 boom in gold and silver speculation. In 1995 he decided it was time to strike out on his own. He purchased the Archer Avenue shop of Daru Coin, a shop that had been established by the late Don Urchel back in the mid-1950s. The business had grown into a bullion and wholesale oriented focus, which remains the thrust of the Chicago Coin Company operation today.
In 1994, prior to striking out on his own, Burd had started researching numismatic subjects for his personal curiosity. Among the early topics researched were the history of the 1894-S dime and the second San Francisco Mint and the career of Superintendent Oscar LaGrange. Those forays led him into writing a couple articles that found publication in The Numismatist and led him to start building a reference library for personal use.
When he took over the Daru Coin shop, renaming it the Chicago Coin Company a couple years later, Burd said that all of the reference books he had at hand would probably have fit into two modest-sized cartons. At that time he was finding it necessary to frequently rely upon the resources of the American Numismatic Association library to fill in the research gaps.
Through the first 10 years of operating the Chicago Coin Company, Burd gradually expanded those modest research holdings into a budding library to meet his business needs and personal desires. He realized it was probable that others might find it useful to consult the reference works he had assembled, by which time numbered somewhat more than 5,000.
The number of items in the library has more than doubled over the past five years, Burd said, with a focus on filling in gaps with missing titles, catalogs and related studies. Within the past two years he has started promoting the availability of the library for public use with advanced inquiry. The references may be consulted only on site, but photocopies in satisfaction of specific needs will be honored.
The Chicago Coin Company reference library was relocated into renovated and expanded quarters earlier this year, with an open house hosted on April 17 with about 60 interested collectors and scholars from the area in attendance.
The library guest register they and other visitors sign into is maintained in a century old journal of Virgil Brand’s buyer, Theophile E. Leon, who conducted business in the early decades of the 20th century. As a predecessor to the Chicago Coin Company, it contains some of his important contact and transaction records in his own hand.
If you’re a serious collector or numismatic scholar who would appreciate a visit to a fine and appealing library, you owe it to yourself to make it a point to arrange to pay a visit to the Chicago Coin Company reference library.
Any inquiries concerning utilization of the library should be directed to Bill Burd at the Chicago Coin Company, 6455 West Archer Avenue, Chicago, IL 60638. The phone number is; 773-586-7666. The website is; www.chicagocoin.com.
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