The E-Sylum:  Volume 9, Number 21, May 21, 2006, Article 7


George Kolbe's four-part 100th sale catalogs feature not only
a fabulous array of numismatic literature lots, but some very
interesting and well-written foreword material about the beginnings
of George's business, the transformation of the U.S. numismatic
literature market, the inception of NBS and thoughts on sale
consignors Alan Meghrig and John W. Adams.  With George's permission,
Here are some excerpts:

By Joel Orosz: "When historians of the future turn their attention
to the rise of the numismatic literature market in the United
States, they will find that the early days of that history are
tied inextricably to the career of one man: George Frederick Kolbe.
Not because Kolbe was the first numismatic literature dealer, nor
even the first major dealer of this ilk. Not because he wrote the
definitive reference book on the topic, nor because he amassed
the greatest personal collection. Not because he has held more
sales than any other numismatic bibliopole, although in fact, that
is a true statement. Rather, Kolbe’s place in U. S. numismatic
literary history—indeed, his status as indistinguishable from that
history—lies in the fact that his catalogues, the 100th of which
you are holding in your hands, comprise in their entirety the most
comprehensive annotated bibliography of the literature of
numismatics of all nations, and all times."

By George Kolbe: "The American numismatic literature market was in
its infancy. Frank and Laurese Katen’s 1971 sales of the marvelous
American numismatic library formed by George J. Fuld were an
awakening. In the same year in Great Britain, David Edmunds,
issued the first of many “John Drury” catalogues featuring
antiquarian numismatic books and setting new bibliographical
standards; ones which remain unsurpassed. In 1969, Douglas Saville
joined the book department of the venerable London numismatic firm
of Spink & Son Ltd. Soon rare and out of print numismatic books
became a focal point and Spink was (and is) at the forefront of
the market.

This flowering of interest became apparent to me when, after a
brief hiatus, I issued a fixed price list in the early 1970s and
received multiple orders for most everything in it. This led to
our first auction sale, held on February 28, 1976. It too, was
a success. In less than a decade, what seemed a pleasant diversion
had become the vehicle for a career."

By George Kolbe: "In the early 1980s, after a stint running the East
Coast headquarters of the family business, Alan moved to Laguna
Hills, California. This was shortly after I moved my offices to
Mission Viejo. We were practically next door neighbors! During this
period I was regularly buying libraries and scarcely would a day
pass without multiple parcels of individual books arriving at 23881
Via Fabricante, Suite 511. AB Bookmans Weekly was the internet of
the day and our advertisements there and elsewhere soon gained us
a loyal cadre of book scouts who were constantly “quoting” desirable
numismatic books of all kinds. A number of important libraries were
also purchased outright in the early 80s, including those of Charles
M. Johnson, Stewart P. Witham, and Dr. Kenneth Sartoris.

Into this maelstrom (at least it seemed so to us, particularly in
retrospect), Alan Meghrig leaped with undisguised glee. Sometimes
he would visit two or three times a week."

By Joel Orosz: "It is hard to overstate the impact of Kolbe’s Ninth
Sale. The publicity it garnered drew new collectors to the literature
hobby as nothing before it had. This influx gave a critically important
and preternaturally timely boost to the infant Numismatic Bibliomania
Society, co-founded just the year before by Jack Collins, the man who
paid the long dollar for the Chapman Catalogue in that sale, and by
George Kolbe. And Kolbe nurtured those new members by serving as
President of the infant society and editor of its whimsically-christened
journal, The Asylum. The success of the Ninth Sale also broadened the
marketplace, providing openings for dealers such as Cal Wilson,
Charles Davis, and John Bergman to hang out their shingles... It is
not an overstatement to say that the modern history of U. S numismatic
literature began on June 12th, 1981, in Los Angeles when the hammers
fell on the Essex Institute’s literary holdings."

By Joel Orosz: "Numismatists love hierarchies, as anyone who has ever
pored over a grading scale or a condition census can attest. It is
not only coins, however, that they rate in rank order; they even
turn such judgments on themselves. Mere “hoarders” are at the bottom
of coindom’s caste system, with “investors” a notch above, and
“collectors” one rank higher. The air becomes more rarified as we
ascend to the level of “numismatist,” for this title combines
learnedness with acquisitiveness.  The apex of the pyramid is
usually reserved for “connoisseurs” who fold a strong aesthetic
sense into their scholarship. John W. Adams, however, rates an
appellation that hovers above the apex, that of “tastemaker.”

A tastemaker is that rare combination of discerning eye, avid heart,
scientific brain, and speculator’s stomach, a person who sees beauty
others ignored, falls in love with the shunned, unlocks the secrets
of the obscured, and boldly leads knowing full well he may not be
followed. Robert Adam was such a tastemaker 250 years ago, when he
taught the English speaking world the glories of Greek and Roman forms
in architecture and interior design. Bernard Berenson was the art
world’s tastemaker a century ago when he transformed the way in which
paintings are collected. John W. Adams has been a numismatic tastemaker
in three fields: numismatic literature, provenance, and medals. And,
like Adam and Berenson, he has freely shared his knowledge with the

[Congratulations to George on his 100th sale, and many, many thanks
as well.  -Editor]

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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