THE PROFESSOR’S PASSION – John McCloskey takes Seated Liberty coinage seriously
By Al Doyle for CoinWeek
Who would have guessed that starting a coin club would lead to nearly 40 years of constant but enjoyable work?
Along with the late Kam Awash, John McCloskey played a significant role in founding the Liberty Seated Collectors Club in 1973. This was well before many of today’s specialized numismatic groups were formed, so the Awash/McCloskey team was ahead of their time.
“Our first meeting was at the 1974 ANA convention,” McCloskey recalls. “Our goal was to get a record of what people were doing with Seated coinage and get that into print.” That vision led to the original 20-page version of the Gobrecht Journal, which has since grown to 52 pages and is among the longest-running publications of its kind.
McCloskey has served as editor since the inception, and he produces three issues a year. He also fills another crucial role with the LSCC.
As club president since 1974 (“Kam was president the first year, but he said he it was too much work for him because he had a business to run”), McCloskey’s dual LSCC responsibilities combined with his career as a math professor and math department chairman at the University of Dayton from 1965 to 2001 meant he never lacked for projects.
“Basically, I don’t find it to be a problem,” McCloskey said. “I enjoy the creativity of finding new material.” Articles in the Gobrecht Journal are submitted primarily by the club’s 550 members, with an occasional piece from McCloskey.
“I’ll write when we come up short of filling 52 pages,” he said. “It was $2 a year when the club started, and annual dues are now $20. We make ends meet.” The LSCC also puts out a monthly e-Journal under the direction of Bill Bugert.
“The e-Journal allows us to respond faster to questions,” McCloskey said. “The print Gobrecht Journal is a more permanent record.” Even though the congenial McCloskey is never at a loss for words in conversation or at a keyboard, he admits he never expected the club’s publishing venture to have such a long run.
“I figured we’d run out of things to say in two years, but the hobby keeps getting more sophisticated,” McCloskey said. “New ideas that no one would have thought of years ago keep coming out, and new varieties are always being discovered.”
Adversity such as a broken leg that happened after being struck by a car and family illnesses have never prevented McCloskey from maintaining his writing and editing schedule and meeting deadlines.
“This takes a lot of time, but I’ve always a had a sense of personal discipline,” McCloskey remarked. “It’s the tenacious nature of my personality.”
That “tenacious” streak expresses itself in various ways. McCloskey specialized in Seated Liberty quarters – a challenging series filled with tough dates – even when he had a limited collecting budget while raising a family. His ever-curious mind has led McCloskey to research and collect several 19th century U.S. series beyond Seated issues with an emphasis on die varieties. As for other activities, McCloskey has climbed 31 mountains of 14,000 or more feet, and his list includes California’s Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the continental U.S.
“You can be so tired that you can hardly move, and you tell yourself to keep going and take one more step up that mountain,” he said.
Anyone who has ever spoken with McCloskey quickly sees why he spent his career in the classroom. This is someone with a passion for learning and sharing knowledge.
“My objective as a college professor was to give the best possible service to students and answer their questions,” he said. “If someone was willing to work and learn, I was happy to stay after class. It’s the same attitude I take with coins. Let’s get your stuff in print so people can learn from it. My sole objective with the Gobrecht Journal is to give a voice to the scholars of this period. I hate to see someone’s work not get published before they pass away.”
Numismatists who want to share their findings or enjoy the experience of being a published author will find a receptive editor in McCloskey. He does ask writers to maintain a high standard of accuracy and a respect for the language.
“I don’t like slang,” he warned. “Use ’1846 quarter’ instead of ’46 quarter’ when you’re writing for the Journal.”
McCloskey’s long tenure as LSCC president and editor has given the club stability, and he expressed a willingness to delegate some of that responsibility.
“If someone wants to take it, they can have it,” he laughed. “I’m 74 years old, and I can’t do this forever. I’m not going to worry about a successor, because I don’t expect anyone to spend as much time on this as I do.”