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The E-Sylum:  Volume 10, Number 23, June 10, 2007, Article 11

ON THE BUSINESS AND DEATH OF WILLIAM VON BERGEN

Patrick McMahon of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston writes: "I have 
only seen one copy of “The Rare Coin Encyclopedia” but it was one 
of the ones issued by William von Bergen and I am pretty sure it is 
a late issue for him (despite the fact that it says copyright 1901 
on the title page). The edition belongs to the Boston Athenaeum and 
it is pretty clear that it hasn’t been rebound, covered, or altered 
since they acquired it in 1916. 

"The book has a maroon cloth cover with “The Rare Coin Encyclopedia” 
and “C.N. Caspar Co. Milwaukee, Wis.” imprinted on it in white. My 
guess is that the Caspar Co. bound the book for von Bergen rather 
than the Athenaeum because there is a bookseller’s ticket (Hall’s 
Book Shop 388 Boylston Street Boston, Mass) tipped inside the cover 
and that is presumably where the Athenaeum bought the book. According 
to the Athenaeum’s acquisition label they purchased the book March 2, 
1916. It is very possible that it was new at the time.

"The first title page (printed in blue ink) says that the book is 
the ninth edition and von Bergen identifies it as No. 896 both on 
the inside title page and in the back matter. 

"Thinking about Jim Hirtle’s theory got me to really look at the way 
the book is put together and I wondered about the “Universal Coin 
Dealers” and what they might have represented. It seems like the 
majority of the text was a pastiche of other texts - the typeface 
varies slightly throughout the sections, most obviously where the 
dollar sign has one vertical bar in some sections and two vertical 
bars in others. The text was produced and shared by or sold to 
these coin dealers who would then add their own cover page, appendix, 
and end matter and have it bound for distribution.

"This week, Dan Hamelberg's contribution about the Agent's Circular 
makes this clear, and identifies von Bergen himself as the publisher 
behind it. But von Bergen was definitely a coin dealer as well and 
he did publish a fixed price list which is appended to the main text 
in the Athenaeum's copy of the Encyclopedia. 

"There are some strange things about the Athenaeum copy. For one, 
the first page —- printed in blue ink rather than black —- is the 
one where von Bergen’s name appears with his address and it is given 
as 196 Chestnut Avenue, Boston. This is in the Jamaica Plain 
neighborhood of Boston and von Bergen did not live/work on this 
street until 1909. Prior to 1909 von Bergen had a store at 89 Court 
Street in Boston (the address given in Dan Hamelberg's circular) 
and lived at 23 Spring Park Lane in Jamaica Plain. 

"So this “edition” must have been issued in or after 1909. But 
the main title page says "copyright 1901." The majority of the 
sections seem to be of the 1901 vintage until the first appendix 
on page 128, which includes information about the 1907 Saint-Gaudens 
coinage and mentions the Pratt 1908 coinage. At the bottom of this 
page it lists the advances in values to be added categorically to 
the prices quoted in the preceding pages (ie” “25 per cent on all 
gold dollars in fine condition”). Clearly many pages were added 
much later than the 1901 printing of the main guts of the book. 

"Pages 130 onwards focus on the coins that von Bergen himself has 
for sale and the printing quality of these pages is different again. 
It is lighter and lots of pages are mis-cut; some of them even run 
right off the page at angles. Again on the final page (also in blue 
like the first title page) he states that this is to be referred 
to as number 896 when anyone corresponds with him about buying or 
selling coins.

"So it seems that there existed the Universal Coin Dealers text 
printed in quantities for select dealers to add their own wraps, 
bindings, and price lists. That von Bergen sold them to others is 
confirmed by the circular identified by Dan Hamelberg this week. 
I think that the No. 896 in the Athenaeum copy is the number of 
von Bergen’s own price list. As prices changed the appendix could 
be replaced or modified like the one here to include new issues 
or increases in values. The whole book would not need to be 
reprinted or re-typeset. 

"On the last page before von Bergen’s own price list is a Universal 
Coin Dealer Directory and he is listed as the only one in the United 
States (the group listed is: Spink & Son and W.S. Lincoln in London; 
Rollins & Fueardent and Reymond Serrure in Paris; W. Kuenast and 
A. Weyl in Berlin; Zschiescke & Koder in Liepzig; Sally Rosenberg 
in Frankfurt; Dr. Jacob Hirsh in Munich; E. von Krakau in Hamburg; 
Bruder Egger and Max A. Wormser in Vienna; J. Knill in Rome; and 
W. von Bergen in Boston).

"Perhaps Max Mehl acquired texts or the rights to them to modify the 
way von Bergen seems to have done for himself? Could this be when von 
Bergen seems to have closed his actual shop (1909)? Or if the Universal 
Coin Dealers were a group rather than von Bergen alone, perhaps Mehl 
joined them. Are there any copies of the encyclopedia out there with 
other dealers' names or price lists attached to them besides von 
Bergen or Mehl? Do Mehl’s issues include a list of other "Universal" 
dealers in the back as this one does? All of my suppositions above 
are based solely on looking a single copy of the book. I agree with 
Dan Hamelberg that Mehl may have seen a good idea and imitated it 
rather than actually entering into a business arrangement with von 
Bergen--they clearly overlapped for quite a while.

"The rest of what I have learned about William von Bergen is that 
he was operating his shop at 89 Court Street by 1901 and living in 
Winthrop. The Agent's Circular would extend the address of that 
shop back at least to 1889/90. By 1906 his work address is still 
89 Court Street but his home was listed as 23 Spring Park Ave in 
Jamaica Plain. 

"In 1907 and 1908 he is listed as having William Jr. (a salesman) 
boarding with him. Starting in 1909 he no longer has the Court 
Street shop and his only listed address is now 196 Chestnut Avenue 
in Jamaica Plain and he seems to have several family members at 
the same address (Edwin, electrician; William Jr., salesman; Harry, 
salesman). 

"The 1917 Boston city directory lists Edwin, Harry, and William Jr. 
all still living at 196 Chestnut Avenue, but it includes the following 
line---“William died June 18, 1916.” His obituary in the Boston Globe 
is surprisingly graphic: 

COMMITS SUICIDE-- William von Bergen Jamaica Plain Coin Dealer, 
Despondent Because of Ill Health. 

Despondent after a long siege of ill health, William von Bergen, 
65, single, a Jamaica Plain coin dealer, went to the kitchen of 
his boarding house at 196 Chestnut av, Jamaica Plain, some time 
between 1 and 5 yesterday afternoon and committed suicide by 
attaching a tube to the gas stove and holding the other end in 
his mouth..." It is interesting that the obituary does not 
identify any surviving family despite the fact that several 
others at the boarding house share his last name."

"So the key date to focus on for the dissolution of von Bergen's 
business and any stock he may have held would likely be 1916. Perhaps 
there was an auction in Boston (or nearby) that year that mentions 
him? As Dan Hamelberg said--so many questions!"

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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