From the Numismatic News 60th Anniversary Special Issue – By Michael S. Turrini • Vallejo, Calif.
My story begins some four decades ago, back in those halcyon days of my youth, when I weighed less, looked better, could actually run a mile, and party to dawn. I had joined the Vallejo (Calif.) Numismatic Society, and that was in August 1972.
Within a few months of joining, I noticed that an older man, always present and always dressed as a gentleman, was highly respected and always welcomed. He was obviously someone who knew everyone, whose opinion was sought, and whose counsel was appreciated. He was William “Bill” Cummings.
One meeting, I do not recall the date, but it must have been in mid-1973, I brought my cheap Walking Liberty half dollars in the better blue Whitman album to the meeting and was hoping that Mr. Cummings would be present and would look at a particular half dollar.
He was, and he gladly examined the half dollar, explained it was an error – a lamination – and said a few cursory comments about my set, wishing me well. This was the start of a friendship and mentorship that would last until Bill would pass away.
We became good friends, and he even met my parents and spoke fondly of them and about me to them. As a longtime vest-pocket dealer, I began to buy regularly from him, paying on a handshake or with a scribbled IOU. I visited his home at 1120 Kentucky like it was my second home. On Friday evenings, after Bill and his wife, Addie, had installed cable television, I would walk over. He and I would sit on his couch, watch a movie, and Addie would make popcorn for us.
Bill and I were not the same, and by any measure, we should have not hit it off. I was in my 20s, fresh from higher education, already a card-carrying Republican. Bill was in his 70s, never finished formal education and a life-long, card-carrying union Democrat. My career was in education, and his had been a steam locomotive fireman and engineer. His jokes were old and never required profanity, and mine, well, were sick and profane. Yet, we shared a passion for coins, and even stamps. That was our bond.
For a time, there was not a week that I would not swing by, not to buy or do some business, but just to talk, and no long conversations and late-night graduate student discourse, just some simple talk.
It would be him and me, on the couch, viewing a baseball game or one of the seven television soap operas that he religiously watched, with his parakeet to join us. That parakeet could be another story too, particularly with Bill’s false teeth.
It was some day, long forgotten, maybe in 1978 or 1979, that I had stopped by, as usual, and we were talking. It was one of those conversations that mentors have, and you never realize the lesson until it is learned.
I remarked that for whatever reason there would never be a chance for me to own the things that Bill had. No way, not enough money or opportunity. I rambled about how he had built collections from circulation or those great finds that he had purchased as a coin and stamp dealer, and other nonsense, you might say.
There was a slight pause and then Bill, with a small smile and surety in his quiet voice, simply retorted, “You will.’ Pausing again, “You will.”
Nothing more. That was it. No explanations. Just, “You will.”
Advancing several years, it was Sunday, April 28, 1985, and it was the Vallejo Coin Show at Dan Foley Cultural Center. It was a typical: always something to do and always on the go.
Yet, having resolved to spend some money, in mid-afternoon, at last, I paused and bought some Newfoundland 50-cent-pieces from coin dealer Frederick R. Long. Long was an established coin dealer in California, and his specialty was Canada. His cases would be filled with the cents, 5 cents, on through to the dollars. He was expensive, but he had the stuff and knew Canadian numismatics.
The show had progressed, and I had spent my few hundreds dollars, when he said – and we have all heard this remark – “Michael, let me show you something else,” coupled with, “I can make you a deal on this coin.”
Impatient, exhausted and angered, standing at his cases, ready to leave for my show duties, I replied with a curt,“What?”
He turned and from a red cardboard coin flip box handed me the coin, saying “Michael, I can do you well with this coin.”
Taking it, I exclaimed: “My God, this is it! This is it! This is the dollar!”
He had handed me a pristine 1948 Canadian dollar, the key dollar.
As I attracted attention, he mentioned its grade, the hairlines on King George VI and how in Canada it was higher priced.
I was not paying any attention. I was holding the key to Canadian dollars. All that I really heard was the price: $800.
My loud response was say I could not afford it, would not pay by check, where could I get this amount of cash, he would not trust me to owe him, which he would, and so on. His response, calmly and confidently, was that the coin and price were an opportunity.
What was I to do? Setting the 1948 dollar back on his case and without a pause, I turned and walked about 10 feet straight through the show traffic and between two bourse tables across from Long’s table to Reuben Lee “Lucky” Williams’ table, whose life would be a story too, and said, “Lucky, I need $800. Can get you the cash by Tuesday.”
Without asking a question or for an IOU or even a handshake, Lucky opened his famous purse – he carried a small purse or bag rather than have cash in his wallet – and counted out eight $100 bills.
I now owned the key to Canadian dollars. It was immediate news on the show’s floor. I had arrived, and over the next few years, thanks to Long, would complete my Canadian dollars. Lucky was repaid, and yes, I still have the 1948 Canadian dollar.
Sometime later, not sure when, a voice called out to me and said, with a small smile and surety, “You will.”
Yes, Bill was right. It was his words I remembered. Those words are what mentors say to inspire. Thanks, Bill.