Another Error Coin Pioneer Passes … Lonesome John Devine 1933-2013
Memorial by Ronn Fern & Ken Potter
John P. Devine, a founding member of the Combined Organizations of Numismatic Error Collectors Of America (CONECA) and the first inductee into the CONECA Hall of Fame, passed away on July 10, 2013, just a few months short of his 80th birthday. He was a husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather, entrepreneur, mentor, teacher, hobbyist, and friend. He created the Error Coin Museum, which was the umbrella under which the Collectors Of Numismatic Errors (CONE) and the Numismatic Error Collectors Of America (NECA) were able to merge into CONECA in 1983.
John’s wife, Peggy, is also a CONECA Hall Of Famer, a former CONECA Errorscope Editor and Board Member. John first met her in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania while she was walking home on the Walnut Street Bridge over the Susquehanna River. He tried to pick her up and she didn’t accept the ride but did give him her phone number. The rest is history! John had the ability to pick good ones even then. John and Margaret “Peggy” Elizabeth Ewing eloped on June 6th, 1953 — 28 days after the attempted “pick-up on the bridge” incident. They were married in Towson, Maryland.
They had three children, all girls; one passed shortly after birth. Stella (who would later do a stint editing the Errorscope) was born in 1960 and is married to Rick Knight. They have three college aged boys, Sean, Aaron and Ben. Their daughter, Brenda was born in 1962. She has two boys, Cody and Travis. Cody is in the Army in Dubai, and Travis lives with his wife Kristin and son Aiden in Nevada.
John was preceded in death by his parents, Kieran Agustus and Dorothy Ruth Devine. His sister, Nancy, passed away a few years ago.
John served in the Air Force and had just finished his tour of duty when he met Peggy. In Pennsylvania, there weren’t many good jobs. He drove a milk truck, painted cars at the DeSoto dealership, drove a Canada Dry truck, and worked at Jackson Manufacturing making wheel barrows.
John knew there were many jobs in California, so they sold much of the little they had, piled the rest in their ’47 Olds convertible and took off for California in a snowstorm! There, he worked for Douglas Aircraft from 1955 to 1960; then Rocketdyne; a short stint at what is now Northrop Grumman Corporation, and a couple of years as an Industrial Engineer at Burroughs.
John had always been interested in coins since he was a kid and met John Burrison at the Conejo Valley Coin Club shortly after he and Peggy moved to Newbury Park, California. He also connected with Duane Spellman through the club.
In the early 1970s John Devine and John Burrison formed a company called John-John Specialties. As I recall, Burrison worked as a co-pilot/navigator for a major airline. This gave them the opportunity to visit many area coin shows and dealers where the flights were scheduled, allowing them to add to their error stock. Devine’s residents was the home base and he put the error coin catalogs together and sold mainly through mail order. There were many layoffs in the engineering field during this time and Devine felt he needed to find more stable employment. Burrison lost interest in the hobby so Devine ended the relationship and started his own error coin mail-order business out of the family’s dining room. Spellman suggested the name of “Lonesome John” based on the fact that he was to become the first (and lone) full-time error coin dealer at that time.
The error coin business was later moved from the home to a commercial site in Newbury Park. As the business grew, the printing business evolved due to the difficulty of finding an efficient and reliable printer for the error coin catalogs. John decided he could do it himself better and cheaper. The other tenants in the building came to him for envelopes, letterheads, business cards and fliers. So both the coin business and printing businesses grew and thrived.
Peggy taught John basic computing through her knowledge of word processing. While he was producing his error coin catalogs, The Numismistake, his talent and enjoyment of writing took hold. Not only was he able to incorporate his writing skills into the catalogs, he wrote and published two groundbreaking books entitled, Detecting Counterfeit Coins Book 1 (with a focus on error coins) and Detecting Counterfeit Gold Coins Book 2, the later seeing 19 printings. He also published many error related books and catalogs for the growing number of dealers and collectors in the field. Probably the most widely known books he published (aside from the ones on counterfeits) were: Paul Marvin and Arnold Margolis’, The Design Cud, John Wexler and Tom Miller’s, The RPM Book and Wexler’s, The Lincoln Cent Doubled Die. He purchased Error-Variety News from Wexler in the 1980s and published it for a number of years. He also published CONECA’s journal, the Errorscope-Gram (later simplified to just Errorscope) from the time the club formed until a few years before his retirement.
Heigh Ho Silver Company came into being in the 1970s when Devine and Spellman designed a number of silver art bars. They produced several sexy ones, like “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen” as well as one on Patty Hearst. Peggy said that John had at least a hundred bars squirreled away all over the place, but she can’t find any of them (great hiding places, John).
John enjoyed many things other than coins. The family began camping out weekends in a small trailer. In the mid-1970s he bought their first motor home. Friends and contacts were many in coin collecting, bottle hunting, and metal detecting arenas. They met Marian and Bill Robinson at the Conejo Valley Coin Club. Marian had a metal detector, which interested John immensely, so he bought one. (He would later become a distributer for White’s Metal Detectors.) They would go camping together at ghost towns or just out into the desert and scratch for “treasure” and bottles. This evolved into treasure hunting stories of these activities included in John’s publications, in particular, in Error-Variety News/The Numismistake (later reverting to just Error-Variety News). After his retirement he produced profusely illustrated and well documented travelogues sent to many friends via email that included diverse subjects such as: ghost towns, beautiful desert flowers in full bloom after a rain, stands of Saguaro Cacti silhouetted by glorious desert sunsets, glittering gold nuggets, gold flakes, coins, rings, etc. that he and Peggy found prospecting or detecting and more.
John and Peggy owned several homes in Newbury Park, and over the years they owned significant acreage in a variety of locations in Nevada, (the Boundary Peak area, Quartzite, Imlay and Boulder City), which were their bases for gold prospecting mainly throughout Nevada and California. Eventually they started looking in Pahrump, Nevada where they found their final home together. In sharp contrast to their earlier Nevada homes, it was all fenced in with lots of mature trees. Peggy felt safe there, which hadn’t always the case in the more remote locations. Their dog Bandit, is a loud barker, and wards off potential intruders.
Knowing John the best, Peggy is almost positive that if he could leave us a message it would be “to listen and learn from others; read and expand your knowledge of coins, their history, and manufacture. Never stop learning!”
John loved the error hobby and the wonderful group of friends he made, many of which he was still in contact with. He touched many people through his life, some more than others. Peggy said, “When he got interested in something, whether it was a job or a hobby, he never went half way – it was all or nothing.” Recently he’d grown a full beard because he wanted to be Santa for his great grandson, Aiden, this coming Christmas.
We were all blessed to know this man. Be it as a family member, hobbyist or friend, we all gained something special by crossing paths with Lonesome John. Rest in peace, my friend.