My Mentors in Numismatics

by Bill Febuary – The California Numismatist

Over the years I have known some pretty influential people in the “World of Numismatics.” I want to relate how each one of these individuals directed my way of thinking about how I collect numismatic materials.

Art Kagin

It all started when my family and I traveled to Des Moines, Iowa, for our Christmas vacation in the early 1970’s. I took it upon myself, while visiting relatives in Des Moines, to try and not bore anyone while we were there, so decided to strike out in search of a few coin dealers that were in the area. I left the relatives behind and ventured into the downtown area with my son, Jeff, who was eight or nine at the time. Every time we traveled to this city over the next three years I became acquainted with the coin dealers in the area, namely Ben Marlinee Coins in downtown Des Moines and Kagin’s Numismatic Auctions in the Royal Union Building. My last visit to Kagins’ was rather interesting because as I entered the dilapidated building and climbed the stairs to what I thought were the Kagin offices, someone approached me from behind and said they had moved about a year ago. Much to my surprise, I was able to recollect my thoughts and return to the street level. I was informed they had moved only a few blocks away, so I kept walking until I sighted the Capitol Bank Building, which housed the new offices of A.M. & Don Kagin. I was greeted at the door and was asked if I wanted to see Art or Don Kagin and I replied, “Mr. Art Kagin.” Art finally arrived at the front office. I could see him conversing with his wife before he greeted me.

Art apologized for keeping us waiting (my son Jeff was with me on this visit) and asked us to accompany him into his office. We sat down and visited about their new offices, as I gazed around the room, which contained numerous pictures on the walls displaying currency in consecutive sequence. During our tour of the facility every desk in the various offices contained stacks of currency on the desks or currency displayed on the walls. The experience of just visiting with a man that had so many years of numismatic knowledge gave me a thrill in what I had just started doing: collecting currency.

I didn’t see Art after that until we moved to California in 1982 and I was attending one of the Long Beach Coin Shows in about 1985.

Walter Breen

Another favorite numismatic character was Walter Breen, who in later life was censured for being a child molester, but his knowledge of coins was probably second to none. I had seen Walter at a few coin shows in the early 1980’s, but never really got to know him until at a by-chance meeting at the San Jose show in 1989. He was lecturing on his new book and was fielding questions from the many visitors at the show. It became my turn to meet the man and visit with him about my limited numismatic knowledge. I could see he was almost overpowering in his manner of speech and appearance (baggy shorts, sandals and a long white beard and hair with an almost unruly appearance). We sat and chatted for almost an hour talking mostly about his many notes that he was compiling for another book that he hoped to write within the next year if he could get financing. Shortly after our conversation and his visit to San Jose, Walter became embattled in a court action over this youth molestation charge, causing his health to fail and he never seemed to recover after that and died the following year.

John Hickman

John was probably the person that had more influence on my entering into the currency hobby than anyone else. Our first encounter was at the Higgins Museum near Spirit Lake, Iowa, where John was the curator of the museum. My wife and I were on vacation at Lake Okoboji that summer and happened by chance to see the museum along the route between Lake Okoboji and Spirit Lake, so we stopped to take the tour. The smallbuilt man at the registration desk appeared to be older than his years and asked us to register. We were escorted into the multitude of rooms in the building, which housed various displays of national bank notes that were either hanging on the walls or were displayed in metal cases around in the rooms. We were free to browse on our own, so didn’t converse with anyone until we were about ready to leave. At that point in our visit, John introduced himself and explained how he had become interested in collecting currency. It was through that short visit that I knew this was the special part of numismatics that I wanted to be involved in: collecting currency! Over the years that followed, I corresponded with John several times because I became fascinated with the numismatic catalogs he was producing along with his partner, Dean Oakes, in the Hickman-Oakes Auctions. They were partners for many years and both became famous as currency experts, especially in researching and writing books on National Bank notes. My last visit with John was at the Long Beach Coin Show, where he was promoting the sale of several estates of currency that he was consigned to sell. He let me look through the enormous stack of notes that he was selling. I just think he tempted me to look at every one of them! John died in 1992.

Aubrey BeBee

This was a man that I had read about in my early collecting years, but never dreamed that I would personally meet. It was on a trip to Omaha, Nebraska, to visit one of my best friends from high school, that I decided to take a side tour and visit the coin shops in Omaha. It was during the years when the Hunt Brothers were trying to capitalize on the silver market and I had obtained five rolls of silver dimes from a banker friend who helped collect silver coins for me at the bank in my home town of Huron, South Dakota.

I was eager to exchange the silver dimes for something more worthwhile, so struck up a conversation with one of the coin dealers at the first coin shop I visited while in Omaha. The silver dimes I had collected from my banker friend were of no real intrinsic value to me and I wanted in the worst possible way to complete a set of Franklin half dollars. Apparently, the dealer wanted silver coins because he went out of his way to find enough coins in the shop to complete my set and some of the coins were of high grade, as he was determined to fill my request. I left the store with a set of AU/BU Franklin half dollars and the dealer in turn ended up with five rolls of common date Roosevelt dimes.

My next stop was at the Bebee’s Coin and Currency Supply Store at 4514 North 30th Street in downtown Omaha, which was located directly across the street from a bank that I later found out was where some of the Bebee coins and currency collections were stored. The supply store was merely that of a supply store where they shipped out supplies to customers all over the world. There were no
coins or currency in the shop.

Mr. Bebee and his wife Adeline were both working in the store at the time of my visit as I casually talked with him about my collecting preferences. Mr. Bebee asked me if I was interested in coin books in which to store my coins, but I declined at that point and merely looked around the store at the various items that were being prepared for shipment. This was my only visit to their shop and I never had a change to visit with him again.

Robert H. Lloyd

I discovered communicating with this long-time numismatist by accident.

I had always wanted a copy of The Numismatist (ANA’s publication) dated on the month and year of my birth, so decided to contact the librarian at the ANA headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colorado to see if they had any back issues. Upon visiting with her for a while over the telephone she indicated that somewhere back in the archives they might have such a copy. If she had one, she would send it to me. About a week later, I received my slightly used copy of an August 1936 issue. In reading through that issue, I noticed one particular individual’s name appearing and reappearing in several articles in the publication. His name rang a bell with me as I remembered a recent article by him in a copy of Numismatic Scrapbook which I acquired some time ago, and more recently in a recent copy of the Paper Money publication put out by the Society of Paper Money Collectors (SPMC) of which I am a member. Sure enough, he was the individual that wrote the article on small currency in Numismatic Scrapbook, which was the predecessor to Coin World. The article from Numismatic Scrapbook was a detailed report on the small silver certifi cates that were printed from 1928 to 1957. This particular issue was of great interest to me and I made copies of the article and carried them with me for several years in my numismatic folder.

After discovering Mr. Lloyd’s name in the 1936 The Numismatist, I realized that he had been writing for a long time, as it mentioned in the 1936 issue that he had been an ANA member for 10 years. I then subtracted 10 from 1936 and came up with 1926. I then subtracted 1926 from 1996 (when I received my 1936 copy of The Numismatist and realized he had been writing articles on currency for 70 years, not to mention the recent articles that were appearing in the SPMC publication “Paper Money.”

The President of SPMC, Robert (Bob) Cochran, had been a close friend of mine over the last several years and I decided to write to Bob about Mr. Lloyd, who was the one that had been writing currency articles for over 70 years. Bob indicated that Mr. Lloyd had been writing articles for their publication for as long as he could remember, so I asked Bob if he knew Mr. Lloyd. He indicated he did know him, and he was alive and well and living in North Tonawanda, New York. Bob even had his address.

My next step was to contact Mr. Lloyd by writing to him. I had several questions for him on the changes in certain series of the small silver certificates that had been noted in his earlier articles. Low and behold, Mr. Lloyd wrote back to me and commented on the changes that he had discovered years later after writing the article. I corresponded with him several times and each time I would write he would respond to my many questions. As far as I knew at the time this article when I wrote it, Mr. Lloyd was still writing numismatic articles and enjoying life. Since writing this article about Mr. Lloyd I found out that he had passed away on October 29, 2009 at the age of 103.

Posted in: Numismatic History

About the Author:

The California Numismatist is the official publication of the California State Numismatic Association (CSNA) and the Numismatic Association of Southern California (NASC).

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