The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 12, Number 31, August 2, 2009, Article 22


E-Sylum readers are a wealth of information, and this week we have further reminiscences about dealers Henry and William Christensen. Art Friedberg and others asked about the original source of information about Bill Christensen's death - the reader who submitted the original item told me he learned about it from a recent column by Kerry Rodgers in Bank Note Reporter. -Editor

Jeffery Zarit writes:
I knew Bill (and his father) from many years ago. I last saw Bill at the last New York ANA convention. There are fewer and fewer numismatists from the period of the 1970's when I started - only a few of us left. I could only think of three people that I told about this. Others in the industry now would have no idea of who he was.

George Kolbe writes:
I did not know Bill Christensen well, but he was a good customer (as was his dad) early on and he loved his library. Later on, at IAPN assemblies, I met his mother; both of them seemed to attend every year and both were unfailingly polite, friendly, and charming.

I am disappointed that one of last week's correspondents, in a veiled tribute to Henry Christensen, took the opportunity to grind once more a very old axe.

Howard A Daniel III writes:
When I returned to the USA in January 1973 after being overseas for ten years (six of them in the Vietnam War), I was sent to Indianapolis, Indiana for some advanced training. After graduation, I was stationed in Reston, Virginia in April 1973 at a Defense Communications Agency laboratory where we used an IBM 370-155 to test future satellite communications needs of the military. In 1973, my monthly pay as a senior NCO was about $500 after taxes, deductions and allotments. My wife and I were very newly married and she quickly learned I was a numismatist. She did not like to owe anyone so were sleeping on the floor of our apartment and saving money to buy furniture one piece at a time. But she must have seen the desperation in my eyes and allowed me $50 per month as my first numismatic budget.

Over the years it went up with my pay until my last allowance was $200 per month and then we took off my limits when our savings and investments hit a particular point, but I was not supposed to break the bank. Right after my "no allowance" was started, I was offered many excellent items I needed in one group for $10,000, but I talked the seller down to $5,000 to my wife's great relief.

With my specialty covering Southeast Asia, Henry and William Christensen were one of my few sources in the 1970s. When I first wrote to the Christensens, I asked them to add me to their mailing list. When I saw they had many items of interest to me, I wrote to them again and asked if I could please pay them monthly for my purchases. I received an immediate "yes" and they really did not know me from Adam. My $15 per month to them went on for several years.

When I received something from them, I accessioned it into my logbook and printed "HC" and the cost on the 2x2 or note holder. Looking through my Sarawak, Borneo, Malaya, Brunei, Singapore and other pieces, there are many HC's on the holders. I am sure there are dealers today who will allow payments but likely only after a credit or background check. Within a few years after being back in the USA, there were many other dealers who also allowed me to pay them monthly, so my budget rarely had any "free" money. With such a tight budget, I had to carefully evaluate every piece purchased to make sure I got "good" stuff for my collection. Looking back over those purchases, those pieces are the most valuable in my collections based on current rarities and values. Budgeting was good for me!

Fred Schwan writes:
I knew Henry Christensen a little. I knew Bill much better. They are both greatly missed. I have a cute story about Bill. It could sound critical, but that was not the tone at the time nor my intent in telling it now.

A friend and I were involved with some transactions will Bill. In spite of the passage of several years and great attempts, Bill did not resolve the matter nor communicate with us about it. The communication was the worst part.

Eventually, the friend and I stopped in Madison, NJ during a road trip that we were on. I do not know what we thought, but Bill was not easy to find. The business address had been a post office box for a very long time. Madison is a charming town. We started by having breakfast in a diner and studying the phone book. No luck there.

I went to the post office. In a casual chat, an employee told me that he did still come in once in awhile to empty his box. Good news, but not great unless I wanted to have a month long stake out. We tried the Internet (not nearly as useful then as now) and made cold inquiries in various establishments that I thought he might frequent.

Finally, we got a great break. A merchant mentioned that there was a coin shop in town. It had not been in the phone book that I had studied earlier. The coin shop was interesting. My associate and I bought a few things, and the proprietor told us where the Christensen offices were. Bing. By this time it was shortly before noon.

The building showed no sign of occupancy by the Christensen firm, but the fellow at the coin shop had said that the office was upstairs so up the stairs we went. Half way up the stairs, Bill came around the corner to go down the stairs. Momentarily he was surprised (shocked), but responded quickly and invited us to go to lunch with him.

He led us to a tavern just half a block away. The bartender and server obviously knew Bill. The three of us, actually the five of us spent the afternoon there. If there were any more customers, I do not remember it. Mostly we talked sports, but talked a little bit of numismatics. We did not discuss the errant deal.

When I returned to the table after a two minute necessity break, Bill and my friend had their coats on, were standing, and clearly ready to depart. One or the other said that they had worked out the details of our deal! Wow. This must say something about me, but it was good news.

We went back to the Christensen offices, and this is the very best part of the story. The office was a maze and a treasure warehouse. We spent the balance of the afternoon and early evening there. Bill showed us several of his collections and we looked at some old inventory and literature--lots of literature. He had a nice library of books, but what he had in great quantity were auction catalogs. Tons--literally.

Bill gave us the required documents and we continued on our trip. Well, it did not work out--again.

Fast forward a few years. My friend and I are in Madison again. The Christensen office seems to be closed. The tavern had the same bartender, but he stated that he did not know who Bill Christen was. We ordered lunch and waited. As anticipated, Bill came in shortly before noon. He had that same look of surprise and the same fast recovery. Again we talked sports for hours.

Eventually, we went to the office again. Bill told us that he was planning a move to smaller offices. One of the problems was the aforementioned auction catalogs. I put him in touch with a well-known literature dealer who wound up buying the catalogs. That dealer later told me a good story about buying the catalogs. It involves the same tavern. Hopefully, he will jump in and tell that story (hint, hint). Possibly he even still has some of the catalogs.

Back to the office. Once again, Bill gave us material to resolve our problem. This time it worked out. Unfortunately, I never saw (or communicated with) Bill again.

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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