Russ Rulau was behaving like a kid again at the end. I don’t mean that at the age of 86 he had somehow lost his adult mental faculties, but he was showing the childlike enthusiasm that we all have felt about numismatics. It was clearly bubbling up within him the last time I visited him at his home approximately two weeks before he died on Nov. 12.
He called me out to his house because he was having trouble with his email. There was nothing I could do to help him with that, but it provided a chance to simply talk and catch up. He and I were good at that.
I discovered this propensity in the office during my first few weeks at Krause Publications. He was viewed by many as stiff and formal, and that was true to all outward appearances. But I happened to see him one day and I simply happened to ask him a question. That started a conversation that continued in one way or another for more than 34 years.
Such is the nature of numismatics. You meet people and you just never know where it will lead.
Certainly by having taken a job at Krause I had two important things in common with him: I was interested in everything I could learn about numismatics and I had proven adept enough at it to get paid for it.
He liked to be able to earn a living in the field that he had first fallen in love with in 1939, the year he turned 13. But World War II interrupted and rerouted his life as it did those of millions of others. His time in the military stretched on for nearly 20 years before he got the chance to earn a living in numismatics when he joined the staff of Coin World at the end of 1962. That made him a competitor of Numismatic News. But more importantly it made him a professional in the field that he had always loved. He got paid for it.
I learned quickly that he was proud of the fact that he had invented the word “exonumia” to label the collecting of non-coin and non-paper money items like medals, tokens and wooden nickels, but his major contribution to numismatics occurred in the world coin field where he was editor of two important periodicals. The first was World Coins magazine that he started and headed 1964-1974. He ceased being a competitor and joined up with Krause Publications to help get World Coin News started properly in 1974.
I spent almost a year under his direction at World Coin News in 1983 both to learn that business and to go where I was most needed at the time. Russ had his first heart bypass surgery on Halloween of that year and in the next year he left, ultimately becoming the U.S. representative of the Pobjoy Mint. I was back at Numismatic News.
Through the years we continued our conversations. Just over two weeks ago he showed me his Dansco albums. He had returned to his roots by filling holes in them. We lingered the longest over the Franklin half dollars. I didn’t realize it was to be our last conversation. But life and numismatics go on. Russ knew that and counted on it.