In an article published in the September 30 Numismatic News (and available now online at Numismaster) researcher David Lange discuss how he discovered information about a nearly forgotten pioneer of the coin collecting board, Joseph Oberwise. -EditorLast year I wrote an article for Numismatic News (Aug. 7, 2007) which told the story of Joseph Oberwise, a Los Angeles coin dealer and publisher of coin board premium cards during the 1930s and 1940s.
Actually, it would be more correct to say that I described what little was known of him at the time. This wasn't much, consisting mostly of what could be gleaned from federal census records, city directories, old newspapers and his advertisements in numismatic publications. This told me little about the man himself and his family, and it was likewise frustrating that the only photograph I had of him was a grainy image from the Los Angeles Times taken while he was serving as a juror in 1934.
Among those reading this article was Eric Head, an amateur genealogist from Tennessee. He wrote me shortly after its publication with additional information that not only revealed more about Mr. Oberwise but also provided me with a link to the Oberwise descendants. Having never had children or a male sibling, Joseph Oberwise left no heirs under his own name. It is through his sister, Barbara (alternately Barbra) O. Gavron, that the family now traces its lineage, and Mr. Head was able to make this connection I'd missed in my own research.
Armed with the current family name (originally Gawronski), as well Eric's information that several Gavron descendants could be traced to northern California, I began writing to individuals of that name shown in public records to be still living.
I soon received an answer from Robert Gavron, and we arranged to meet at a coin show in Santa Clara, Calif. This proved to be a most fruitful exchange in which he provided me with an Oberwise/Gavron family tree and a photograph of several family members. He also gave me the address of his cousin by marriage, Josie, who is custodian of many family records and photographs. I sent her a copy of my book, Coin Collecting Boards of the 1930s & 1940s: A Complete History, Catalog and Value Guide, which details what I knew already about Joseph Oberwise. Her son Jay responded with the wonderful photographs that accompany this article, as well as a number of family letters that have helped to flesh out the story of Joseph Oberwise.
One incident from Joseph Oberwise's years of producing and distributing coin boards was not so pleasant. John Gavron also recounts how Uncle Joe had a press in the garage back of his coin shop for punching out the holes in each board (always a clever businessman, Joe Oberwise gathered up all of the punched out disks and sold them to local bingo parlors). The machine was motorized, but the cardstock had to be fed and removed by hand. In a hasty moment, Oberwise did not time the operation just right, and the punch press came down on his right hand, costing him the loss of two-and-half fingers. Though he recovered from this grisly accident, he wrote to family members that he'd have to "give up playing baseball and bowling." To emphasize his point, he enclosed a photograph of his mangled hand, all the while assuring his family that he was all right!
The incident described occurred right about the time his coin boards and folders went out of production around 1948, and the two events were probably related.
The legacy of Joseph Oberwise is found in the many surviving coin boards, or premium cards as he labeled them, which today are popular collectibles. It was my pleasure to catalog these boards for my book on the subject, and it was a pleasure, too, to be able to tell the story of this remarkable entrepreneur. I would like to thank Eric Head and the various members of the Gavron Family who so generously provided me with additional information about Joseph Oberwise, as well as the wonderful family photographs which accompany this article.
To read the complete article, see: Family Helps Bring Coin Board Titan to Life (http://www.numismaster.com/ta/numis/Article.jsp?
Wayne Homren, Editor
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