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The E-Sylum:  Volume 9, Number 16, April 16, 2006, Article 9

BARRY JABLON'S GREAT DEPARTMENT STORE COIN SHOP ADVENTURE

New subscriber Barry Jablon writes: "I recently came across
your articles written about people who purchased stamps and
coins at department stores around the county in the early 1960s
thru the 1980s. I was lucky enough to apprentice with Ernst Kraus
at the Gimbel's in Philadelphia. I then became manager of the
newly opened coin department in Hutzler's Department store in
Baltimore when I was eighteen years old.

I transferred back to Philadelphia when I was nineteen and worked
for Gimbel's (actually Jack and Bob Friedberg) at their suburban
Gimbel's outside Philadelphia. In 1962, I left the company and
went to the Air Force and then went on to become a school teacher.
I recently retired. I have some great stories about some of the
purchases I made in Philly and in Baltimore and about meeting
Louis Eliasberg and the Stefanelli's in Washington (curators of
the Smithsonian coin exhibit)."

I invited Barry to share some of his stories with us.  He writes:
"I have thought a lot about my years in the coin business and
the excitement associated with it. As far back as I can remember,
I was a coin collector. The old Whitman coin albums were sold
everywhere for $.35. I would go through my father's change every
night and fill in the holes. Of course, there were always those
holes which would remain empty.

To own a 1909-S VDB or a 1914-D was as remote to me as owning a
DaVinci painting. However, I could gaze upon these rarities any
Saturday, and for free. All I had to do was to take the subway
to center city Philadelphia, walk a block to Gimbel's, and gaze
into the old wooden display cabinets at all of those coins that
we would never own.

Just imagine how I felt, when I was sixteen and happened to be
staring into the cases in front where the manager was standing,
and I heard him talking on the phone about being able to hire a
part-time salesperson. I got up the nerve to ask for the job.
One half hour later, I was filling in forms and was starting my
career as a coin dealer for Coins and Currency Institute, who
leased space all around the country in the largest department
stores along with Jacques Minkus (stamps)."

"Each of the coin departments owned by the Friedberg/Minkus
group was allocated as much money as it needed to make purchases
from the public who came to the counter with their coins or currency.
Mr. Kraus, who ran the Philadelphia Gimbel's coin dept., was from
New York. He had been a member of the Brooklyn Coin Club with the
Kagins and other famous people in the coin hobby and business.
He trained me to know all coins. American, foreign, ancients,
patterns, etc.

I wasn't allowed to make purchases on my own. After a few months
on the job, he allowed me to evaluate a collection someone had
for sale, but I had to clear the price I was going to pay with him.
One Saturday afternoon, we had the usual crowd around the department,
when Mr. Kraus called me over to where he was standing talking to
two well-dressed gentlemen. "Barry" he said, "this gentleman has
a coin he wants to sell, you handle it." He walked away, smiling
to himself.

Here I was, about to make my first purchase, totally on my own.
I took the jeweler's tray from under the counter and asked the
gentleman what he wanted to sell. He reached into his coat pocket
and took out a square Lucite coin holder and, literally, tossed
the holder onto the jeweler's tray. I took out my jeweler's loop
and picked up the coin. It was a 1913 liberty nickel!

The gentleman's name was Wolfson. I don't recall his first name.
He was in town for an A.N.A. show at the old Ben Franklin Hotel
in Philadelphia. He was a friend of Mr. Kraus, and they thought
they would have some fun with the "new kid". The coin was to be
put on display at the show. But, of course, at the time, I didn't
know any of this. "Well" he laughed, "will you give me enough for
the coin so I can take you and Ernie out for lunch?"

My hands were still shaking when Mr. Kraus came over to me and
took the coin, and gave it back to his friend. So, here I was,
sixteen years old, and I had held one of the rarest coins in the
world in my hands. This was going to be a great job."

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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