When Alan Herbert, the renowned Answerman who writes the Coin Clinic column in Numismatic News died Saturday at the age of 86, an era came to an end. I was informed of his passing yesterday.
When he began writing for Numismatic News in late 1968, he probably did not realize that he would continue his association with the paper in one form or another for the next 44 years or so.
I considered him to be both friend and mentor no matter what the distance was between us. I associate him with South Dakota, where he lived at the time I first learned who he was and now at the end, but he also spent many winters in Arizona and years working here in the office in Iola, Wis., and in Germany.
His role with Numismatic News began as an authority on error coins and that was the topic of his “Odd Corner” column.
When I subscribed to the paper the following spring, it was one of the elements that drew me into numismatics and kept me there.
What is it about errors that makes them so compelling to read about?
I guess we all dream of finding a mistake made by the Mint that will be worth a lot of money. With the end of the circulation finds era regarding 90 percent silver coins, errors beckoned as a new frontier.
The simple fact is that most errors are not worth a lot of money. It is a field that requires some study to know the difference.
Alan took it as his mission to educate collectors as to the many errors that are common and the few that are not.
He pointed out the paradox that error coins like the 1922 plain cent and the 1937-D three-legged Buffalo nickel would not have passed muster with today’s educated collectors if found in the present, but coins like the 1955 doubled-die cent and the recently discovered 1983-D copper cent would.
Another thing that was so compelling was Alan’s sharing of credit. He would photograph and publish images of coins sent to him by readers and announce to the world that this person was the finder of such and such.
A public slap on the back certainly didn’t hurt his many contacts in numismatics who supplied him with coins to evaluate. Some were regulars. Some asked one question and that was it.
Alan was great fun to work with in a reserved sort of way. His many experiences of life would turn into stories shared at a quiet moment.
My favorite was when he lived in Germany, long before East and West were reunited.
Germans like to know what you do for a living. It affects how they treat you.
Alan Herbert proudly wore our corporate Krause Publications pin when it was created. Many readers might recognize the “KP” initials.
The Germans did, too. It meant something else.
He noticed his good friends behaving unusually.
One had the courage to ask him: “Are you really a member of the Communist Party?”
Alan quickly put the pin away.
More often he was simply asked by collectors when they met him for the first time, “Are you really the Answerman?”
He was. He will be greatly missed.
Buzz blogger Dave Harper is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."