As I set myself to recording the thoughts and reflections which follow to electronic storage, embracing that three generations of time, it is early March, the commencement of my 50th year of association with the publication.
While I had not been a recipient of that introductory issue, I had become a subscriber somewhere down the road in the mid-’50s, I don’t recall just when, but it was probably in 1955 or 1956. At the time I’d been a collector for five years or so, since the late summer of 1950, and had already subscribed to the Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine and The Numismatist.
Reflecting back, a few words that Chet shared with his first edition audience fit me perfectly; “Far away from the coin clubs, far away from coin shops, live thousands of collectors who rarely see another person whose interests are in harmony with his. His collecting is known to only a few and these are not especially interested except that he has so much money.”
That was me in a nutshell. With the school year of 1954 winding to a close, as a freshman I joined my fellow schoolmates in the exercise of presenting that year’s yearbook to friends and acquaintances for the penning of brief autographed thoughts. I recall a neighborhood schoolmate, one of the graduating seniors, offering up the wish; “May you collect all of Midas’ coins.” I was certainly not that fortunate, of course, but I have had the enjoyable opportunity of collecting a few.
More importantly, particularly over the past 49 years, I’ve had the good fortune to be intimately involved in a hobby community that has provided unbounded opportunities, enjoyments, satisfactions, experiences, rewards and the development of incalculable lifelong friendships. In this commentary I’m going to reflect back on some of the satisfactions that have been mine over that time.
Shortly after joining the News staff I became engaged in the launch of a sister publication, Canada Coin News, the date of the first edition being June 3, 1963, which is today published as Canadian Coin News out of Toronto. Having been engaged in numismatic publishing on an avocational basis for the previous five years, chronicling modern medal and token issues, while generally plying the building trades as a day job, it was exciting to participate in this undertaking. It was just one of a variety of Krause periodical and book publishing launches that took wing through the mid-’60s boom and bust cycle of the coin hobby marketplace.
One of the first truly memorable early involvements that flashes back into my mind is the 1965-67 drive to restore mintmarks to United States coinage. Eliminated at the instigation of then mint director Eva Adams, with the assist of her former boss, Sen. Alan Simpson of Nevada, they were restored by legislation enacted on June 24, 1967, largely as the consequence of the committed drive of Chet Krause. I was tangentially involved in this successful initiative, conducted under a United Coin Collectors Alliance umbrella, and centrally involving the offices of Senator John Sparkman of Alabama and the brothers Anderson from Florence, Alabama.
Then, there was the more or less coincident matter of devolving the application of terminology where words like coin and medal are concerned, which the ANA undertook to tackle. Shades of the more recent action of the U.S. Mint in claiming exclusivity with respect to the term “America the Beautiful,” they undertook to corral the term “mint set” to their exclusive application during the “Special Mint Sets” era. Director Adams was doing her utmost to eradicate coin collecting from the American scene. Subsequent to their claim published in the Federal Register, with the gathering of documentation for application of the term in hobby media well back into the 1930s, I was able to forestall that action.
When our neighbors to the north celebrated the centennial of the Canadian Confederation, their commemorative coinage program was topped off with a $20 gold issue. American citizens who were collectors of Canadian coins were, of course, prohibited from purchasing the coin and bringing it across the border. So, in February, 1967, Coins magazine went north of the border, to prepare a color illustration for the cover of an upcoming issue, Dr. Leland Howard, director of the Treasury’s Office of Domestic Gold and Silver Operations, having denied a temporary importation request for a proof set containing the coin for photography purposes.
Packing away the requisite photography equipment in the trunk of the company Ford, photographer Jerry Krueger and editor Douglas Huntington, headed out to navigate 350 cold and snowy miles northeast to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, on a photo mission to capture the requisite images. They were met there by Sudbury (Ont.) Coin Shop proprietor C.F. (Chuck) Martin, who had driven 185 miles west, at the Wellington Arms motel where a lodging room served as a studio. In the end, that exercise actually went for naught. For actual publication they reverted to utilizing photos that had been taken in Iola that had previously found its way into Iola hands on the sly, as those taken in Canada were inferior.
Next up would be unfolding developments commencing in 1968 that led to the issuance of the Eisenhower dollar in 1971 as the successor of the Peace dollar, to serve the casino and other commercial desires of the Intermountain West. The years 1969-70 found me making several trips to Washington working the halls of Congress, and interacting with Sen. James McClure of Idaho and his staff, in successfully seeking to carve out a silver collector edition of the Ike, the first examples of which were struck at the San Francisco minting facility on March 31, 1971. The legislative sun was starting to shine on the hobby.
In the fall of 1970 one of my trips to Washington was to participate in the first meeting of the coins and medals advisory panel of the American Revolution Bicentennial Commission. Over the course of the next three years the hobby’s unrelenting insistence on the development of a meaningful United States bicentennial coinage for 1976 moved the government, as embodied by the Treasury/Mint structure, to relent on an initial unaccommodating position of “no” to a three coin program, which included the “colonial drummer” quarter, which is still encountered in circulation more than 35 years later. Special measures of credit must be extended to mint director Mary Brooks and John J. Pittman for the roles they played in this result being realized.
During this time significant effort out of Iola, spearheaded by Chet Krause, was also invested in what proved to be an ill-fated campaign to replace the Great Seal on the back of $1 notes with a representation of Mount Rushmore. Notwithstanding a measure of support garnered from James Conlon, director of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and the driving interest of South Dakota governor Frank Ferrare, political intrigue ultimately sidetracked the concept. There was likely interplay, however, between that concept and the replacement of the depiction of Monticello on the back of $2 bills in favor of the depiction of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1976 coincident with the bicentennial.
In late 1971, I joined then ANA president John Pittman and Red Book editor Ken Bressett in traveling to the West Point Bullion Depository where the Treasury’s remaining hoard of Morgan silver dollars had been transferred for packaging and disposition by the General Services Administration in accordance with a law enacted on Dec. 31, 1970. We were invited in to pass judgment judging sets being assembled for the effort underway to categorize the hoard by quality for the sales which commenced on Feb. 2, 1973. While the resulting “quality” selections were certainly not even a shadow of the “grading” standards observed by PCGS and NGC these days, the packaging was a precursor of today’s omnipresent slabs.
In March of 1972, the 20th anniversary year of the News was marked with the first appearance of the Standard Catalog of World Coins, which had been more than a year in development. The chubby 800 page volume was nicknamed the telephone book almost overnight. It quickly became the “bible” of its field, under the dynamic leadership of editor Colin R. Bruce, II, commencing in 1974, dramatically advancing the world coin collecting scene. That success led to the launch of World Coin News and the development of the Chicago International Coin Fair (CICF). Both Chet and I had burned untold evening and weekend midnight oil hours to bring the project to fruition; this stab at diversification proved to be a boon to the company as well.
On Feb. 14, 1973, I was accorded the privilege of traveling to the Philadelphia Mint to participate in that year’s Annual Assay Commission process. A historic body that convened annually from 1793, with the last public participation being in 1976, President Jimmy Carter restricted it to government officials for 1977, and the statutory requirement was eliminated in 1980. Having sought and received the appropriate legislative recommendations on several occasions over five or six years during the mint director terms of both Adams and Brooks, and having dismissed any prospects for success, I was surprised when the latter solicited my participation in late 1972. Proudly displayed on the wall of my office is my commission of appointment signed by President Richard Nixon.
In 1973 the fifth annual ANA Summer Seminar introduced the offering of Young Numismatist scholarships, the News led the way in underwriting the program. The seven youngsters selected for scholarships under the program were chosen from 57 qualified applicants, with only three girls being among the 118 requesting scholarship applications. Three of the seven scholarships, of which one was to a girl, went to youngsters from California, and one each from Georgia, Iowa, Texas and Wyoming. The Summer Seminar has an additional Iola tie, that being that the concept was fostered to life in 1969 by the late Adna G. Wilde, then ANA executive director, and Edward C. Rochette, then editor of The Numismatist, who had headed up the News from 1960 to 1966.
A development brought to life with great promise in 1973, but one that has had minimal beneficial impact where our community is concerned, is the Hobby Protection Act. This measure, specifying that coin reproductions incorporate the word “COPY” incused into the surface, was championed by the late Virgil Hancock, then a member of the ANA board and a widely published authority on fakes, who was a regular columnist in the News. The regulation was signed into law by president Nixon on Dec. 12, 1973, but enforcement at the federal level has been minimal at best.
On Sept. 23, 1974, I was among a handful of participants drawn from the hobby community, among a mix of more than 100 legislators and news media representatives, invited in on a tour of the Fort Knox Bullion Depository. The glitter was unmistakable; 147,353,827,327 fine ounces, worth $6,221,602.767.87 at the then official U.S. government value of $42.2222 per ounce, but in the range of $250 trillion at today’s bullion value level.
Situated in the rural countryside south of Louisville, the nation’s gold bullion depository was at the time subject to speculation with respect to the integrity of its gold holdings by the hard money folks. Our group was reputed to number the first “unauthorized” persons to enter the facility since its inauguration in 1936, the other having been President Franklin D. Roosevelt on April 28, 1943, during his visit to the grounds of the Fort Knox Armory Post.
At the stroke of midnight on Dec. 30, 1974, I joined Russell Rulau, editor of World Coin News, and more than 300 other invited guests in witnessing the striking of the first example of a new 100 Balboas gold coin at The Franklin Mint. This was a historic occasion, marking the Dec. 31 return of unrestricted gold ownership by U.S. citizens, authorized by an Aug. 14, 1974, law signed by President Gerald Ford. Ownership of most gold coins dated after 1933 had been restricted by an executive order signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on Aug. 28, 1933. Such was the appetite of the public to own examples of this coin that more than 3,000 of a total production of nearly 120,000 examples were sold the first day’s waiting queue.
The opening of unrestricted gold ownership by U.S. citizens, reflecting back, was a watershed of sorts for our hobby community. While the immediate impact on the value of the precious metal or the collecting of coins and medals fabricated therefrom was but moderate, with the removal of controls from the realm of government fiat, the road was paved for the development of new realms of collecting interest.
With that observation in mind, I’m going to close off this reflective exercise for now, but I’ll return down the road to record some more steps back in time for a future commentary, picking up with some late 1970s experiences.