Some Reflections From Long Ago


When I was building my business in the 1950s, one of my suppliers was Robert K. Botsford, an old-time collector and dealer in Nescopeck, Pennsylvania. He had been friends with the late William H. Woodin of Berwick, a town not too far distant. Later, he acquired many coins from the Woodin estate. I bought dozens of 1896-dated pattern cents and nickels from him, and many other things. He used to give me advice, which I heeded. Now, in a turnabout, I reprint his reflections and advice as printed in the July 1933 issue of The Numismatist. This was the year that our illustrious predecessor firm, Stack’s, started business.


And, although in 1933 there might have been no “present” in stamps, it was not long until newly installed President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked the Post Office to make him all sorts of rarities! Thus ensued a big controversy, and additional examples were made for collectors. Roosevelt was also a coin collector, but very casually. Years later his modest collection was sold through Gimbel’s, the New York City department store. If he had been more passionate about numismatics, perhaps he would have made some 1934-dated double eagles or other such things! Who knows?


To me, Robert K. Botsford’s ideas are still excellent, except that I do like stamps!


Robert K. Botsford Writes (July 1933)

It is absolutely necessary for a well-balanced individual to have both a vocation and an avocation. The vocation feeds the body. The avocation feeds the soul. There is a distinct place for both of these activities, and it is not wise to go to extremes with either one. The border line of each blends into the other with a nicety. Yet each individual must maintain a physical and a mental poise in order that he may escape the ravages that beset the fanatic.


Mr. Average Citizen is a coin collector and is generally interested in odd or unusual dates, designs or figures. He wants to know the whys and wherefores. But, as a general rule, there is no individual to whom he can turn for immediate information that is of a comprehensive nature. This situation is similar to the child who wants to know the great facts of life, and knows not where to inquire concerning them. It is really surprising to find that the bankers of our country are but slightly versed in numismatics. In fact, it is quite rare to find a banker who is even a coin collector to any marked extent. True, he has accumulated a number of odds and ends that he values but little. So, if one is desirous of traveling on the numismatic path he must depend on what he can pick up from dealers’ catalogues and other odds and ends of numismatic literature that he is able to secure.


Coins — gold, silver, nickel, copper — of this age and of the ages long since gone by are a medium of exchange recognized for their bullion value at any period and any time. They speak the universal language of values known and recognized by mankind. History is written upon their faces. Great events are recorded on the coins used by man. The likenesses and images of the world’s famous personages are handed down to posterity on the coins of the various nations.


Coins are ever alive and willing to work. They represent values as set forth by the leaders of a group of people. Their purchasing power goes up and down with the passing of time. Nevertheless, coins are a living medium of exchange, while paper money, stocks, bonds, mortgages, bank notes are but representatives of values as expressed in dollars, pounds or francs.


It is all very well and good for those who so desire to collect stamps, and the philatelist has much to interest him. He is dealing with a representation of a service rendered or to be rendered. He has no present. He is either past or future. The numismatist is always dealing in values of the present, even though the gold or silver coin he has in hand was made centuries ago. When the coin passes for a value it continues on and on until it is worn beyond recognition, and even then is worth its bullion value. The stamp pays for one particular service, which when rendered, cancels the stamp and also eliminates its value. And when this service is being rendered the stamp is out of the philatelist’s possession. He directs, but another executes.


A numismatist deals in metals. A philatelist deals in paper. Metal was made by God. Paper is made by man.


What a contrast!


The great numismatists of the United States are the kindliest of men, ever ready and ever willing to be of service. They take great pride in their collections and are always ready to show their choice specimens to those who will appreciate the rarity and handle properly.


Just go to visit some well-versed numismatist and find out what a real man he is. Call on him and let him see and know how much you are interested. Why, my friend, you have a treat in store for you that will live for years as one of the happiest, most pleasant memories of a lifetime. Words cannot give you the revelation that you will receive of what a brother really is until you spend some hours with such a man. That is, providing you are a numismatist at heart and long to learn the vast facts of the world’s coins and how this kindred spirit has acquired and taken care of the specimens that have come into his possession.


I would suggest that you visit Henry Chapman, of Philadelphia, and get his grand report of a lifetime of numismatic activity. Another, sit on the spacious front porch of the home of John Zug, at Bowie, and you will have a man for a companion that knows coins and is eager to talk about them in a way that leaves an indelible impression on the mind that enhances one’s outlook on life and increases his general knowledge of the coins of all times and all ages.


So, each to his particular hobby. Let the philatelist continue with his hobby. That is his line of activity, and may he find joy and pleasure therein. Let the numismatist study the specimens he has and add to his collection as his means permit.


There is no comparison between the numismatist and the philatelist.


There is a vast contrast.

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