Interesting topic, and for my wife and I it's interesting timing for the topic. We just returned from a long road trip that marks the end of our time as vest pocket coin dealers and collectors and my time as a buyer's side agent.
We've been selling the remaining inventory from our coin show days for the last year or so, and this trip finished that process. We drove to where the inventory was stored, in a title company vault out of state. We loaded up that inventory, along with the bulk of our personal collections. It took most of a week, but we delivered the inventory to a dealer friend who is finishing the sales on commission for us. We played connect the dots with three of our longtime customers and friends who bought my Buffalo nickel
collection, my 19th Century collection, and my wife's Canadian and Provincial collection. It's an interesting experience.
While we were driving long miles (and ducking tornadoes in the Midwest) we spent a lot of time talking about our younger years as collectors and the things we experienced along the way. My wife has a much better memory for detail than I do. She remembered so many of the mentors we both met.
I'm an oldster, so my mentors are from a nearly forgotten generation of numismatists. As a teenager who could barely drive, I started vest pocket dealing. (It was a literal vest pocket back then!) I drove crazy distances to shows, all the way to the Mississippi River and California. Fun times.
At a show in St. Louis, I worked some floor deals and spent some time visiting with an older dealer from Florida. Hubert Carcaba was a character. People told me he had "something" to do with the 1913 Liberty nickel
. I asked him, and he grinned and said "I may have." That's all he ever said on the topic. He had an endless supply of Hudson halves and Isabella Quarters, along with some remarkable early coppers. He taught me how to buy quality, not quantity, and how to grade the tough coins. I bought several Isabellas from him, and made some decent money. That got me hooked.
He introduced me to another Florida dealer whose name I flat can't remember. I know he was older and had a full head of gray hair. He was chubby and had a huge entourage with him. I listened to his stories of making deals with Max Mehl and Farran Zerbe and other early numismatists. He taught me a bit about trade tokens and obsolete currency. He also had a few of the specimen strike 1964-D Kennedy halves
. That fascinated me. I didn't know they existed.
Then he introduced me to yet another Florida character I could never forget, Grover Criswell. He looked like Col. Sanders, and had a table full of Confederate currency. He talked me into buying two Confederate $500 bills for $20, and told me I'd make good money on them some day. He was right. At a break, he took me around to several other dealers, and shared a tip. He pointed to a California dealer who had a table full of Morgan dollars
. He pointed to several prooflike dollars, and said "buy all of them you can find." He explained that everybody wanted the brilliant dollars (today's blast white coins), but he said the prooflikes would be the ones to own someday. He showed me the difference between semi-prooflikes, prooflikes and what he called true prooflikes. They didn't seem to be in as much demand back then, and were definitely affordable. I followed that advice, and build a ridiculous assortment of them over the years. We just sold them this last week, at a healthy profit.
At shows in Kansas City and Omaha, I met Virgil Marshall. He was one of the true gentlemen of the business. I bought two rolls of 1909 VDB cents from him. He convinced me to go for the higher grades, and sold me two EF/AU rolls. They were good profit factories, too. I ran into another vest pocket dealer from Missouri about then, Bill Knight. Over the years, we did business with each other and sometimes bird-dogged coins for each other's clients. That taught me how to network for mutual benefit and profit.
I also had a few dealers warn me about people to avoid. At one show (I think it was an ANA
show) a couple dealers pointed to a creepy looking old hippie and said I needed to stay very far away from him because I was a young guy. I must have been naive, because one of the dealers pulled me aside and told me what that meant. I found out later that was Walter Breen, and I heard stories that made me glad I avoided him by a country mile. I still refuse to use his books or reference numbers.
Lots of sage advice, and the most precious commodity was the time these dealers took with a teenage kid who was learning the business. Half a century has gone now. I'm a long way from a teenager. But those experiences were everything.
And along the way, I started making phone calls back home to a black haired girl with a twinkle in her eye. For over 38 years, I've been the luckiest man on earth with an amazing bride who went from "why would anybody pay that much for a nickel?" to a coin shark who assembled an amazing collection from her parents' native Maritime stomping grounds.
What a blessing of a journey.