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V13 2010 INDEX       E-SYLUM ARCHIVE

The E-Sylum: Volume 13, Number 14, April 4, 2010, Article 7

DICK JOHNSON ON ADVERTISING AND THE HOBBY IN THE 1960S

Dick Johnson submitted these additional reminiscences of his days at Coin World and elsewhere in the hobby in the 1960s. Thanks! -Editor

Numismatic advertising prior to 1960 was pretty boring stuff. It was mostly "listing ads" -- list of coins for sale and prices -- often in tabular format with only an infrequent coin illustration. This is in great contrast to today's ads with splashy art work, color and eye-catching content.

One of my desires when we first started Coin World was to change all that. I wanted to introduce more art in the ads. Publisher J.O. Amos and I even interviewed an artist from a Dayton advertising agency to that end. But it was a little ahead of its time. We did, however, grant agency discounts for a while to encourage agency-prepared ads for Coin World advertisers.

Then one day I took an ad over the phone. It was from Harold H. Berk of Warren, Ohio. Harold owned Warren Coin Shop and was part-owner in a car dealership, Sleck Pontiac of Niles, Ohio. This was in the hey-day of the l960 Small Date Cent fad. There was a frenzy of interest in the small date cents. Prices were rising rapidly as the coin was entering circulation.

Harold combined his two business interests. He offered to buy a bag of small date cents. He would pay $3,750 cash or give you a brand new Pontiac in trade, your choice!

"How big you want this ad?" I asked Harold. "Full page!" he answered.

After I got off the phone with Harold I rushed downstairs to the advertising department of the Sidney Daily News. Here is where we had an advantage over our nearest competitor, Numismatic News. As a sister publication to a daily newspaper we had access to a number of newspaper services, as news wire services and such.

One of those services was a "clip art book" -- a giant book the size of a full newspaper page. It contained thousands of illustrations of everything a newspaper could possibly need to put in an ad. From my prior newspaper experience I knew my way around that clip art book. I knew it had current car illustrations.

Bingo! I found the illustration of a new Pontiac. It even had an appropriate headline: "A Dream Comes True!' It was even the correct size. I cut out that big illustration and two smaller ones from the clip art, and ran back upstairs.

At my desk I layed out that ad and typed up the text from the notes I took over the phone, then sent the ad to the composing room back on the first floor. I had introduced art into a numismatic ad. The rest of the ad is rather mundane -- I am not an artist. But somehow I did know this ad would make history.

When the ad was published we put that offer of a new car for $50 worth of small date cents as a news item on the wire service. Newspapers everywhere picked it up. It was even published days later in Time Magazine. We got Harold Berk nationwide publicity in the People section of Time!

But that is not the end of the story and Harold Berk's involvement. Six year's later, I had left Coin World, started another publication, sold it to a group of investors in Houston, Texas (Space City Numismatics), which in time went out of business. I took a job as an editor for an engineering trade journal. I was available for a numismatic opportunity.

The American Numismatic Association had just finished building their headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The longtime editor of The Numismatist, Elston G. Bradfield, wanted to retire and not move to Colorado. For a while Glenn B. Smedley served as interim editor. But the editorship was open for a permanent position at the headquarters in Colorado Springs.

I wanted that job. But so did someone else, Edward Rochette, the editor of Numismatic News. The decision of who to hire was in the hands of the ANA Board of Directors. I was a very good friend of John J. Pittman, a board member from Rochester, New York. We had a long-time friendship and he had stayed at my home many times. I enlisted him to champion my application for the editor position. He lobbied for me and got three other board members on board.

I don't know if Ed had a lobbyist inside the board, but when it came down to the vote, we each had four pledged votes of the nine-member board.

The swing vote was that of Harold H. Berk who was also on the board at the time. The same Harold Berk. The vote took place August 23, 1966. Harold voted for Ed Rochette. How is that for gratitude for the publicity I helped generate for him?

Three months later in October I was offered a position at Medallic Art Company in New York City as director of research. I accepted that for a beginning of a new career in medallic art.

Meanwhile back in Colorado Springs, the ANA went through some tough times. The new "acting executive secretary," Jack R. Koch, was double billing the association for his travel expenses, in effect stealing from the association.

To his credit, Ed Rochette, progressed unscathed during those troubled times and went on to have a sterling career as editor of The Numismatist, and served the ANA in other positions as well. We have remained friends over the years, and both fondly look back to those years in the early 1960s when we were staunch competitors at the two leading numismatic periodicals.

But what about that ad? Well it was published this week in the April 5th issue, page 64, of Coin World (illustrated herewith). As Coin World approaches its 50th anniversary, Editor Beth Deisher is running five segments, one for each of the five decades of its existence. And, oh yes! Note all the art work in all the numismatic advertisements today. That Pontiac ad started a trend!

Coin World 1960 Pontiac ad
Coin World 1960 Copyright photo, published by permission.

Thanks, Dick, for these wonderful reminiscences of the early days of Coin World and the boom-boom years of the 1960s. I was just a numismatic tadpole then, barely out of diapers. But it was a time of huge expansion in the hobby in the U.S. I'd like to encourage other E-Sylum readers who were active at the time to come forward with some of their tales of the 1960s. -Editor


Wayne Homren, Editor

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