The E-Sylum:  Volume 11, Number 8, February 24, 2008, Article 33


The regularly scheduled meeting of my Northern Virginia
numismatic social group was to be held Tuesday the 12th,
but due to weather and road conditions we decided to cancel.
An ice storm reduced traffic to a crawl.  I reached Roger
Burdette on his cell phone and he was stuck in gridlocked
traffic just blocks from his office.  Joe Levine, our host
for the evening couldn't get out of his own driveway because
of the ice.  Tom Kays made it home and stayed there.  Dave
Schenkman, who was already on the road from Maryland,
pulled off and went back home.  Chris Neuzil was the only
one who actually reached the restaurant, but he headed home,
too.  I ended up staying in my office until 8pm before
heading home myself.

The weather on the 19th was beautiful and we reconvened.
As I drove to the restaurant I had a nice conversation with
Tom Fort on my cell phone.  Tom's a good friend from
Pittsburgh who lived within blocks of me at one time.  For
several years he served as editor of The Asylum, our quarterly
print publication.

The restaurant had been picked by our host, Joe Levine.
Vespucci's was a great choice - their Italian food and
desserts were marvelous.  Fueled with wine and other drinks
me, Roger, Joe, Dave and Tom had a great evening sharing
numismatic jokes and stories.

Dave and Joe go way back in the coin business, and you can
tell by listening to their banter.  Dave loves to "rub it
in" with the story of one of the most famous counterstamped
U.S. coins, the J.H. Polhemus stamp on a $20 gold piece.
The Sacramento, CA pharmacist stamped a number of U.S. coins,
but only one gold piece.  Counterstamps on gold coins are
rare.  The numismatic trail of this piece began when Joe
Levine purchased it decades ago from another dealer for a
little over the spot price of gold at the time.

Joe sold it to Dave at a small profit.  Dave and Joe were
starting a column on exonumia for The Numismatist and they
decided to write up this piece in the very first column.
Dave liked the piece quite a bit and had no plans to sell
it.  At a coin show one day a gentleman walked up to Dave's
table and asked if he still had the coin.  It was Ray Byrne
of Pittsburgh, a regular customer, and he wanted to buy the
piece.  Dave kept insisting it wasn't for sale, but Byrne
persisted.   Overhearing the conversation Joe leaned over
and told Dave, "put a price on the damn thing, will you!?"

So Dave looked at Ray and said "$15,000".  Ray said "OK."
Joe nearly spit out his dentures, and I don't think he had any.

Long story short, Dave sold the coin to Ray.  Ray's
counterstamp collection was later bought by Dave and Roy H.
Van Ormer of Washington, PA.  So the coin returned once
again to Dave's hands.  The better pieces, including the
Polhemus gold piece, were consigned to a Bowers auction.
The Polhemus brought $11,200.

Dave Schenkman later got a phone call from a man asking
about the Polhemus piece.  It turned out to be the buyer
of the coin.  Dave learned that the man didn't collect
counterstamps and didn't collect gold coins.  He had nothing
else like the Polhemus gold piece in his collection.  So why
did he buy it?  He thought the catalog description (written
by Q. David Bowers) was interesting, and said he had been
willing to bid as high as $20,000 - such is the power of
good cataloging.

By now I was into my second glass of wine and my memory of
stories is fuzzy.  But in keeping with the theme of Lincoln's
birthday from our originally scheduled date, everyone
passed around something numismatically related to Lincoln.

Tom Kays, the class act of our group, pulled a Lincolnesque
black top hat from a bag and put it on, offering a toast to
our 16th President.  Our glassed clinked.  Tom passed around
a small display of Lincoln tokens.  He also asked if any of
us had seen a 'Torpedo Club' bill, but none of us had even
heard of one.  I encouraged Tom to submit a query for The
E-Sylum, and a very interesting submission appears below.

Roger passed around a sheet with an image and description
of James Fraser's Lincoln pattern, designed in the 1940s
and struck and dated in 1952.  Nothing came of the proposal,
although 150 patterns were struck.   Joe had with him a
large-size Brenner plaque of Lincoln and several other
Lincoln tokens and medals including a choice 1860 Rail
Splitter token, an 1860 Lincoln-Hamlin "Donut" Ferrotype
campaign portrait, and an undated 115mm Bois Durci plaque
of Abraham Lincoln.  Joe provided a link to a nice set of
web pages on Bois Durci maintained by E-Sylum regular
Harold Mernick of London:

David Schenkman passed around an inscribed Civil War dog
tag with Lincolnís bust on reverse, a Lincoln token by
Merriam made from copper taken from the ruins of the
Turpentine Works, Newbern, NC, a Lincoln relic piece by
Bolen which says, on the reverse, A PIECE OF COPPER TAKEN
PRATT A.A. SURG. U.S.A. ONLY TEN STRUCK, and a mint medal
from the Northwest Sanitary Fair, 1865, with Lincoln on the
reverse.   I hadn't seen any of these pieces before.  All
were impressive, but I found the Bolen Merrimac relic by
far the most significant, for both the connection to the
Union ship and its rarity.  Dave told us the piece was
struck in 1868.

When my turn came I passed around my copy of the 1966 King
book on Lincoln and Numismatics, a copy of the book "The
Lincoln Centennial Medal" (published in 1908 by Robert Hewitt
and containing a bronze Lincoln medal by Jules Edouard Roine)
and a binder of pamphlets on political items including the
rare 1873 Andrew Zabriskie monograph.

It was a lovely evening but all too soon it was time to
break up and head home.  Numismatics is huge in terms of
the diversity of material, but a small world in terms of
people - I've had meals with Harry Mernick and visited his
home in London.  I knew Roy Van Ormer in Pittsburgh; it was
one of his talks at a meeting of the Western Pennsylvania
Numismatic Society that inspired me to collect counterstamps,
and I later purchased some from that Bowers sale. And although
I never met Ray Byrne I own his set of WPNS medals.  Although
they didn't realize it, all of us present that night owe a
debt to Ray Byrne, for the inspiration for our monthly
gathering was The Sphinx Society (of which I am also a member),
which was started in Pittsburgh in 1960 by none other than
Ray Byrne.

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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