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Trying to catch a Buss was daunting


bussThe late Jerry Buss might be remembered by most people as the owner of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team. To coin collectors, he will be remembered as living the hobby life we all dream of. After all, not many people can own coins like 1913 Liberty Head nickels and then have a name auction to dispose of a collection carefully assembled.

For me, Jerry Buss provided a lesson in being a successful hobby newspaper editor at an early age.

Buss purchased his 1913 Liberty Head nickel for $200,000 in a private treaty sale that was announced in the July 22, 1978, issue of Numismatic News.

At the time, Buss did not want to be revealed as the buyer, so the firm arranging the sale, Superior Stamp and Coin Co. of Beverly Hills, Calif., called the buyer a big star in the entertainment industry.

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Readers, of course, would have liked to know who the buyer was. Speculation about who it might be was rampant in the industry.

I was pretty much a bystander to all of this as I had joined the Numismatic News staff just three months earlier.

It was all pretty heady stuff as far as I was concerned. I was curious about the buyer. Who wouldn’t be?

The anonymous buyer remained on the mind of my boss, Numismatic News editor Arnold Jeffcoat. He was hearing what was said on the grapevine.

Several months later the same mystery buyer purchased an 1804 dollar for the same price.

Obviously, this buyer was a major player. But who was he?

Finally there was a dealer who gave Jeffcoat a name that he said was that of the mystery buyer. Jeffcoat decided he wanted to tell readers who it was based on this single source.

In the March 3, 1979, issue he wrote another column lamenting the trend toward secrecy by buyers of famous American coin rarities and recalling happier times when owners like J.V. McDermott stepped into the public eye and made their coins even better known.

He ended the column with the words:

“Are you listening, Buddy Ebsen?”

Mystery solved? Quite the contrary. Ebsen was a coin collector but not, as it proved, the mystery buyer.

This information came out a little at a time week by week. Several letters arrived criticizing the column and disputing the identity of the mystery buyer.

Jeffcoat dug in his heels and asked one letter writer to prove his contention that the mystery buyer was not Ebsen but a sports figure.

Ebsen put Jeffcoat out of his misery by writing a letter published in the May 19, 1979, issue.

He wrote, “I am listening and I am laughing.” He explained that he never bid on anything but gold coins.

“As for my ‘recommendations on the disposition of this matter,’ why not join in the general laughter and forget it?”

Jeffcoat did not laugh. I never forgot the lesson. Buss was unmasked a month later by Sports Illustrated.

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