As you read these words I am immersed in writing a book for Whitman about the numismatic world from 1932 to date. In that year the world was in the depth of the Depression, and in America, many would consider the year and the beginning of the next to represent the point when the economy touched bottom. Elected president in November, Franklin D. Roosevelt was to effect changes that would have far-reaching implications on numismatics, especially areas involving gold coins. The American Numismatic Association was to see few changes during the year, except for a slight drop in membership. The Numismatist continued to represent the association to the average member, as only a very small percentage of individuals ever attended the annual conventions. The usual format of the publication, under the editorship of Frank G. Duffield, of Baltimore, continued, serving up a miscellaneous mixture of articles, fillers, reprinted newspaper articles, and other items. They were not arranged in any particular order, with little editorial commentary inserted, and with little or nothing in the way of lead-ins to tie an installment with that in a previous issue, for the enlightenment of new readers. It seemed to be time for a new occupant in the editor’s chair, but this was not to happen soon. Club news was carried in detail, and each issue offered numerous pages of dealer advertisements.
In 1932 the Washington quarter made its debut with production at the Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco mints. It was intended to be a one-year commemorative issue honoring the 200th anniversary of the first president’s birth, but the design became the standard and in various modifications has been continued to the present day. There was hardly any interest in investing in coins, so quantities were not saved. Years later the branch mint coins became highly prized and priced as key issues in Mint State.
America’s leading dealer continued to be B. Max Mehl, who had started in business in 1900. In the January 1933 issue of The Numismatist he proclaimed that he had spent $17,500 for a coin advertisement on Sunday, January 8, 1933—a four-color advertisement appearing in six million copies of various Hearst Sunday newspapers. He offered the Star Rare Coin Encyclopedia for sale for a dollar—a guide listing the prices he would pay, including $50 for a Liberty Head nickel minted in 1913 (an offer later upped to $500). Today as you read these words that particular nickel has been well documented. Only five are known to exist. In 1996 I was the auctioneer that sold the specimen in the Louis Eliasberg Collection—the first coin to ever cross the million-dollar mark.
In 1933, Barney Bluestone, of Syracuse, New York, announced that he would be selling at auction the collection of the late Dr. George P. French, of Rochester. Earlier French had sold the crème de la crème of his collection, his cabinet of large cents, to B. Max Mehl for a reported $50,000, and Mehl had, in turn, distributed the coins by means of a fixed price list. Ambrose J. Brown, of Marblehead, Massachusetts, offered various United States coins for sale at fixed prices, the most expensive of which was a Very Fine 1868 $3 piece at $6.50. Brown was to remain a prominent mail-order coin seller for decades thereafter. M.H. Bolender, of Orangeville, Illinois, advised readers of his forthcoming 80th auction sale, while J.C. Morgenthau & Co., New York City, solicited consignments for its own sales, noting that the pieces were cataloged by Wayte Raymond and J.G. Macallister, “men who know their business.”
William Rabin, a Philadelphia dealer, offered bulk quantities of common issues of various denominations, all coins in Good grade, except gold coins which were Fine. There were no grading standards in place at the time, and “Good” and “Fine” meant “nice,” or desirable to own. A group of 10 gold dollars could be had from Rabin for $20, the same number of $3 pieces could be purchased for $47.50, and the following were his prices for groups of 100 specimens: half dollars before 1840 $60, quarter dollars before 1840 $45, 20-cent pieces $50, dimes before 1840 $20, nickel three-cent pieces $6, two-cent pieces $4.25, large cents $5, Flying Eagle cents $5, copper-nickel cents $2.50, and half cents $19.50. John Zug offered quarter dollars for sale, including a Proof 1796 for $50 and a Very Fine example of the same date for $20, a Proof 1825 for $12.50, Proof examples of 1856 and 1857 for $3.50 each, and an Uncirculated 1878-CC for $1.25. A Proof Isabella quarter was priced at $3.50, and an Uncirculated example was listed for $1.50.
A. French, of Garden City, New York, offered gold and other coins for sale. This was the trade name of Arline French, the wife of Charles French, a coin dealer, who traded under his wife’s name. Both had changed their last name from Lehrenkraus to French after Charles had a dispute with the law in 1935, was convicted for fraud in the real estate market and had spent some time in Sing Sing Prison in Upstate New York. C. (Charles) E. Green of Chicago, Illinois offered a booklet for sale, Mint Records of U.S. Coins 1793-1931, Inclusive, which listed the number of pieces struck of all United States coins. Numerous facts given were not available in any other current publication. Lee F. Hewitt, also of Chicago, advised that he would be selling a collection of United States coins by mail auction on February 15. Hewitt would go on to great fame in the numismatic hobby with the launching of the Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine in 1935.
The above gives you an idea of what to expect. There is a lot more to come! Tune in to the Whitman website to find publication and availability details. Or check it right now for many interesting titles, including dozens of my books.