How a Young Collector Influenced His Father in Numismatics

Generally speaking, it was rare for a young collector to encourage his father into collecting.  Usually in numismatics, collecting started with a grandfather, passed on to his son, and often the grandson continued the efforts, if he was interested. Some of this had to do with the economy of the 19th and 20th centuries. Senior relatives had the capital to buy and hold their numismatic items.  Many started collecting change they used in commerce, finding different designs or dates that seemed rare. They put these items aside as a minor form of saving. Youngsters did not have the capital to do likewise, and could only occasionally afford to save something interesting they found in change or in the money they earned.  When a collection was passed on to a young collector, if he was interested, he continued to add to it. Often the knowledge that went with the collection was passed on as well and in this way more and more numismatists became interested in the hobby.


The introduction of denomination holders with spaces to fill increased the desire to complete a collection and increased interest in coin collecting. The early boards had celluloid slides to show the coin and keep them in place and were labeled so one would know what was made each year and what was needed for completion. It was sometimes a family project to go through all the change that entered the household, searching for the coins that were needed. The advent of a lower price holder, where the coin was inserted but not covered (some introduced by Seitz and Whitman), further stimulated the collecting of coins, mostly from change. When a given date could not be found in change, a trip to a local coin dealer might provide the "missing link." And so the hobby grew during the 20th century. But while the older generation usually led the younger, sometimes a young beginning collector could influence a parent or relative.

Such was the case with a young man named Dennis Wolfson. He had spent many a day searching through change that came to his home in the late 1940s and early 1950s.  His father, Samuel Wolfson, was a well-known industrialist, during the 1940s-1950s and would travel the country for business. He would usually bring home interesting coins from different U.S. mints that he found in his pocket change. From these, Dennis had the pick of the coins he wanted for his collection. Of course, some of the rare and scarce dates could not be found in change. In the early 1950s, Dennis had his Bar Mitzvah.  A portion of the gifts were cash and he asked his Dad to take him to Stack’s in New York, to see if he could use this money first to finish his Lincoln cent collection and then to get coins for some of the other denomination sets he was working on. 


So Sam Wolfson took Dennis on his next trip to New York, and they both visited Stack’s. Dennis wanted to get the 1909-S V.D.B., the 1914-D, and the 1931-S cents, all of which Stack’s had available in various grades. Dennis looked over what we had, trying to match the condition of the pieces already in his collection.  Meanwhile his Dad walked about the shop and saw things he was unaware even existed. My cousin, Norman Stack, chatted with Mr. Wolfson and explained collecting to him. Norman answered questions about what was on display, what the items would cost, how values compared from one grade to another, and generally worked with him for an hour. Dennis, once he had his selections, joined to listen more about coins.


After a while Sam Wolfson told us about how searching for coins had brought members of the family closer together. He decided he was going to build a monumental collection.  At the time, Stack’s had in the showcases complete sets of small cents, sets of two cents and three cents silver and nickels, Mercury dimes, twenty-cent pieces, Washington quarters, Liberty Walking half dollars, the 144 piece set of U.S. commemorative coins, a set of Peace dollars, a set of Proof trade dollars 1873-83, a set of Indian Head quarter eagles and an 11 piece set of gold commemoratives. Dennis, who knew a lot more about many of the coins than an average young beginner, helped his father review all the items that were in our showcases. They spent another two hours, with the help of Norman and myself, filling in information about what was shown to them. Sam told us later that he was surprised how much his son knew and how excited Dennis was to explain the coins he knew about but rarely saw. Sam thought that if he started to collect, he could also increase the bond he had with his son and with that goal in mind, Sam decided to acquire all that he saw on display. He also offered Stack’s the following compliment that we have always cherished: "Dennis told me that the only place he was certain that someone could help him finish his collection was Stack’s in New York, as they were known to have a large inventory for both the beginner and advance collector to select from, and the family worked closely with each client to encourage collecting.” Later Sam would confirm that he always found this to be true.

After the transaction was completed, Sam set forth a program of expanding his collection, by adding earlier coins, which he knew could not be bought as sets, but had to be acquired individually from over the counter sales, by mail order or by attending some of the great sales Stack’s had in the early 1950s. Unfortunately, the elder Mr. Wolfson became very ill and he decided to sell his collection in the early 1960s.  Stack’s prepared two catalogs of his collection, one for the gold coins and the other for the silver and copper coins. Sam always remembered that first visit to our shop, the information we offered, and the help we gave him in acquiring his collection. He also never forgot how it was Dennis’ interest in numismatics that influenced him to develop an interest in coins and led him to develop such a fine collection.

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