The E-Sylum:  Volume 7, Number 44, October 31, 2004, Article 12


  Bruce Burton writes: "The times I saw a coin department
  within a department store were at Macy's (Kansas City, ca.
  1963-ish), Houston (downtown ca. 1977, I don't recall
  what store) and Sear's (I think) in Lisbon, Portugal in
  about 1979."

  Myron Xenos writes: "Back in 1956, I was a high school
  senior, and did my shopping, so to speak, at Halle Bros.
  Dept. Store,  the building which now houses the Drew
  Carey TV show's Winfred Lauder Store.

  48 years ago, the stamp & coin dept. was operated
  by Carl DiFalco, who was my mentor in the coin hobby.
  One day I was looking at some coins and also bought
  some stamps from the King Farouk collection. Carl
  looked at me and said, much like a father would,"You
  can't collect both stamps & coins successfully. You
  have to divorce one or the other." Not wanting to be
  thought a bigamist, I chose coins.

 Several years later, I became his accountant and
  tax advisor when he opened his own shop.From one
  decade to the next, I became his mentor regarding
  his finances. His eyesight began to fail, and I then
  had a coin dealer who was legally blind. We were
  friends till he died, but we spent many hours sharing
  our opinions about numismatics, politics, and taxes."

  David Lange writes: "My first coin purchase was from a
  Woolworth store. Until that time (c.1967) I had always
  wondered how collectors found all the old coins I saw listed
  in the Blue Book (my entire library at the time). I knew they
  certainly couldn't be found in circulation, and it hadn't
  occurred to me that old coins were actually for sale until I
  saw them at the dime store. The coins were mounted in
  2x2s and displayed within swinging, glass and metal frames
  of the sort used by libraries to display historic newspapers
  and photographs. My first purchase was of a 1914 cent in
  Good condition, priced at 75 cents. It was a high price at
  the time, and it remains above retail even today. Mom was
  a bit skeptical of paying 75 cents for a penny, but I had to
  have it.

  A couple years later I began buying from the coin and
  stamp department at The Emporium department store,
  downtown San Francisco's largest retailer at the time.
  Dad would drive me down there on Saturday mornings so
  I could relieve myself of whatever money I had managed to
  acquire from doing work around the house and other odd
  sources. I bought BU Roosevelt Dimes to fill the few holes
  remaining in my set, along with Buffalo Nickels that actually
  had readable dates. I also acquired 1892 and 1893
  Columbian Halves for $3 apiece, along with a few heavily
  worn Barber coins. I lusted after the sandwich bags filled
  with dozens of Walking Liberty Halves and Indian Head
  Cents, all different dates. These were priced way beyond
  my budget, but I was surprised for my birthday one year
  with a bag containing almost an entire set of Mercury
  Dimes. Such coins seem so ordinary and worthless now,
  but to a kid who daily searched in vain for anything dated
  before 1940 this was absolutely magical.

  Both store chains gave up their coin and stamp franchises
  in the early 1980s, about the same time that neighborhood
  coin shops likewise disappeared at a high rate. Now,
  twenty years later, both Woolworth and The Emporium
  are history. Buying coins from eBay may be more efficient
  and cost effective (if done correctly), but somehow the
  magic just isn't there anymore. Old coins and stamps,
  attractively presented, were a powerful lure to bored kids
  being dragged around by Mom while she shopped for
  clothes and other uninteresting stuff."

  Ken Berger writes: "Regarding the Golden Age of
  department store coin shops, I have an item of interest.
  Growing up in New York City, we had two major
  department stores next to each other in Manhattan:
  Macy's on 34th Street & Gimbel's on 33rd Street.
  Periodically, my family would go into the City (this is the
  way residents of the other four boroughs of NYC refer to
  Manhattan) to go shopping.  Macy's didn't have a coin
  (or stamp) department but Gimbel's did.  I seem to recall
  that both the coin & stamp departments were next to each
  other on the ground floor, with the stamp department being
  bigger than the coin department.  At that time, they
  emphasized the fact that they were selling stamps from
  President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's collection. This was
  in the late 50s & early 60s.

  To make a long story short, I have a copy of Gimbel's "1961
  Coin Price List No. 1." Some prices are as follow:

  4-Piece Gold Set (2 1/2, 5, 10 & 20). "The coins ... are in
  choice and brilliant condition ... Each set is mounted for
  presentation & display in a sparkling lucite holder." --- $145.00

  1798-1803 Silver Dollars in VF (choice of date by Gimbel's)
  --- $65.00

  1933-1934 Vatican Jubilee 100 lire gold coin --- $50.00

  1893 Columbian Half Dollar in Unc. --- $2.50

  Those were the days."

  Denis Loring writes: "Many years ago I went into Rich's
  department store, I think it was in Denver.  I asked to look at
  their large cents.  They had an "1800 Fair" for sale for $6.00.
  It was indeed a Fair, clean and very well worn. Only the top
  half of the date was visible, but that was enough to tell that
  they had missed it by a year -- it was a 1799. Needless to
  say, I bought it-- even paid the sales tax."

  An anonymous reader writes: "In your piece on coin
  departments in department stores, you posed the question:
  "Why did the practice die out in the first place?" (see below).
  Many of these coin departments and stamp departments
  were actually owned by independent companies who leased
  space from the department stores, much in the same fashion
  as stores currently lease space from shopping malls.  What
  killed these retailers was probably the percentage of gross
  sales demanded by the department store.  This would also
  account for why few coin stores are located in shopping malls.

  To be successful as an independent leaser of space in a
  department store (or a mall), you have to sell high markup
  goods.  That's why shoe stores and women's fashions are
  leading retail categories in malls.

   I'm hardly an expert on this subject, but I know someone
  who can probably give you the definitive answer.  I'm
  referring to Arthur Friedberg of Capital Coin Company in
  Clifton, NJ.  I believe his firm was the largest owner of
  these coin departments in department stores across the
  country.  As I recall, Capital abandoned these coin
  departments during the early to mid-1980's.  I remember
  Art posing the question:  "How can you agree to a lease
  that requires you to pay a percentage of the gross on your
  Krugerrand sales?"

  Dick Johnson writes: "In response to our editor's inquiry about
  the Golden Age of department stores' coin shops: The giant of
  this field was Robert Friedberg. At the height of his empire in
  the 1960s and 1970s he operated 35 of these coin departments
  in Gimbel"s stores across America. This is the same Robert
  Friedberg who wrote the early standard works on U.S. paper
  money and world gold coins. He published these in addition to
  Hibler and Kappen's "So-Called Dollars." the standard work
  on dollar-size medals.

  He taught himself numismatics in the reading room of the New
  York Public Library, went on to create Coin and Currency
  Institute for his numismatic firm. He ran this empire from a
  building across the street from Gimbel's flagship store in New
  York City. It was a family firm. He brought in his brother, his
  wife, and ultimately his two sons to help manage this giant firm.

  Can you imagine the buying they must have done to keep
  these departments supplied with material? The customers were
  primarily women, buying gifts for family members. So there
  were a lot of sales of coin supplies, but they had to stock
  numismatic material as well. It was natural for Bob Friedberg
  to join forces with Medallic Art Company when the Hall of
  Fame medal series was inaugurated; Coin and Currency
  Institute was the exclusive distributor. Friedberg's buying of
  numismatic material extended worldwide. It was so extensive
  he was even the owner of an 1804 dollar.

  His sons, Arthur and Ira, are still active in the numismatic
  field. Perhaps they will read this and respond with some
  reminiscences of their numismatically famous father and the
  perils and profits of the coin departments empire."

  [If any of our readers are in touch with the Friedbergs,
  please forward this item to them and ask if they'd care
  to share some memories with us.  -Editor]

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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