by Al Doyle for CoinWeek …….
He’s one of those semi-familiar names who has accomplished as much or more in his field than others with greater notoriety. That’s what happens when a person quietly and diligently goes about his business for more than half a century.
Author and researcher R.W. “Bob” Julian will be honored as the American Numismatic Association‘s Numismatist of the Year during the upcoming ANA summer convention in Philadelphia. Julian’s byline has been a regular sight in coin publications since the early 1960s, and he can do more than write magazine-length articles.
Medals of the United States Mint – The First Century is still regarded as a “must read” book 35 years after its 1977 publication by the Token and Medal Society. It was the product of thorough research and an unwavering commitment to accuracy. In other words, a typical Julian effort.
“I spent 12 or 13 weeks at the National Archives in 1975 and 1976 doing research for the book,” Julian said. “My first visit to the National Archives was in 1963. You soon learn that your hand wears out taking notes, so I started using a reel to reel tape recorder.”
Like many who grew up in the 1950s, Julian’s interest in coins was sparked by checking dates on Lincoln cents. The Logansport, Ind. native quickly moved on to a much different area of numismatics.
“There was a local coin dealer, and I would go to his shop,” Julian recalls. “He had trouble identifying his foreign coins, so I did it. There was no pay involved, but I would receive five or 10 coins out of every lot for my work. The czarist Russian coins looked neat, so I started collecting them.”
The interest in Russian coinage has never waned. Julian’s term paper on Russian monetary reform in the 1800s caught the attention of a professor at Purdue University.
“The professor liked it so much that he recommended I try and get the paper published,” Julian said. That led to a number of articles on Russian coins for the Numismatic Scrapbook and The Numismatist.
His hunger for knowledge and verifiable information was evident even at a young age. Julian corresponded with the Hermitage in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) in an effort to learn more about Russian coinage. That was an unusual move during the height of the Cold War era.
The Hermitage’s staff numismatist offered to microfilm Russian-language numismatic books. The cost was $100, a significant sum at a time when a new car could be purchased for $2000. Julian came up with the cash.
After decades of collecting, research, trips to Russia and an unpaid decade-long stint as editor of the Journal of Russian Numismatics, Julian has acquired a modest amount of familiarity with the language.
“I can read Russian slowly and catch snippets of conversation,” he said. “It’s all self taught.” Speaking of teaching, Julian made his living as a math teacher in Logansport for 30 years and spent much of his free time in numismatic research and writing.
“Nobody gets rich writing articles, but I just enjoy finding new material and publishing it,” he said. A good chunk of Julian’s earnings as a coin writer were used to feed his quest for knowledge, and that led to a problem which required a creative solution.
“There’s a little home I bought and fixed up to keep my library of 5000 to 7000 books,” Julian said. The converted home also serves as his office. Although he doesn’t keep track of the hours spent on writing and research, it’s much more than a casual pastime for the retired teacher.
The depth of Julian’s knowledge of the early decades of the U.S. Mint and its operations is obvious to all but the terminally clueless . He casually bring up names of 19th century Mint directors in conversation and discusses steam-powered coin presses with an unfeigned understanding of the process. In his case, it’s not a pretentious display of intelligence, but the natural product of a lifetime passion for the subject.
“It’s true that I don’t do a lot of self promoting,” he said. “I just enjoy working in the background and doing research.”
Even though he isn’t a big name in the traditional sense, Julian is appreciated by those who appreciate solid numismatic writing, and that led to his nomination for Numismatist of the Year.
“Col. Joe Boling asked if I minded if he nominated me,” Julian said. “You always figure your chances of winning are about 5 percent. In June, I got a letter from the ANA in June saying I was Numismatist of the Year.”
What’s next on the horizon? Julian is in the midst of a major project, as he is working on a book dealing with the history and operations of the Philadelphia Mint prior to 1837.
“It’s a slow process,” he admits. “I’m putting the documentation in digital form. You don’t find everything in one or two letters. One note may have an interesting sentence, and you always find interesting things and snippets.”
Those who are familiar with the precise and well-documented work of Bob Julian can expect more of the same in his upcoming opus on the early decades of the Mint.
“The idea is to be as accurate as possible,” he declared. “You just do it right.”