Joel Orosz writes:
Vol 8, No 31, July 17, 2005 , "John J. Ford, Jr.—Information Hoarder?" and
Vol 8, No 29, July 10, 2005, "Q. David Bowers on John J. Ford"
Glimpses of two very different sides of the personality of one America's foremost—and most controversial—numismatists.
As noted previously in The E-Sylum, Kleeberg and Prof.
T. V. Buttrey, Jr. maintain a website about western gold bars
and Mexican gold bars. On the site Kleeberg has published
his viewpoint on Ford and the gold bars. With permission
I've excerpted a couple sections from his most recent piece
mentioning the dearth of Ford's published writing on numismatics,
which Dick Johnson and others have lamented.
Kleeberg writes: "Yet his career resulted in him being
remembered not for the work he did, but for his notorious
habit of hoarding information and never publishing it;"
"From Olga Raymond he bought the rights to Wayte Raymond's
publications. Unfortunately, since Ford had a phobia about
publishing, this resulted in the deep sixing of many useful
numismatic series, such as the Standard Catalogue and the
Coin Collector's Journal."
"Ford's coin collection and his library were auctioned
beginning in 2003. Collectors were astonished. Here were
coins, paper money, books, and research papers that they
had not seen for half a century. Many researchers were deeply
angered by Ford's dog in the manger attitude, which had hidden
away from them items that were vital for their research."
[Aside from his auction cataloging, Ford published relatively
few articles and nothing of book length, with the exception
of his 1967 report to a committee of the Professional Numismatists
Guild investigating allegations of false USAOG coins; "The
Franklin Hoard of United States Assay Office of Gold Coins:
An Answer to Eric P. Newman." Ford tightly controlled the
distribution of these, making originals very rare today
(although photocopies have been made over the years).
I can't speak for other research efforts, but when I was
involved in the research that came together in Fred Reed's
book on U.S. Encased Postage Stamps, Ford made available
an inventory of his collection and contributed information on
how EPS could be altered or switched. Certainly, from other
accounts I've heard or read Ford was selective about what
information he would disclose and to whom. Just as certainly,
no one is ever obligated to share their information with others.
I'm sure our readers have thoughts on the subject. It must
be frustrating to work on a research project knowing that
information that would be useful is not being made available.
To read the complete original E-Sylum article, see:
JOHN J. FORD, JR. - INFORMATION HOARDER?
Ford has been THE #1 most controversial topic in the history of The E-Sylum, and that tradition continues after his death.
"Briefly, JJF is one of the most important, most influential
figures in American numismatics. It is an irony that John has
not been inducted into the ANA Hall of Fame, nor did he
appear on the list of "Numismatists of the Century" compiled
by COINage magazine, from a survey conducted a few years
back. While the COINage survey is history, I herewith nominate
JJF to the ANA Board of Directors for inclusion in the Hall
of Fame. And yet, JJF has had his share of controversy. The
"situation" concerning certain Western ingots and assay bars is
still a matter of study and debate—and must be mentioned here,
lest readers overlook the main thrust of this article and wonder
why I didn't mention it. So there! John might be but a footnote
in numismatics today, had he not miraculously walked away
from an airplane crash in the late 1940s.
Returning to the "most influential" part, JJF single-handedly
revolutionized the techniques of American coin catalogues—
introducing, with the help of Walter Breen, many comments
about history, mintage techniques, numismatic tradition, and
more. If you are in the slightest doubt of this, take a New
Netherlands catalogue from, say, 1955, and compare it with
the catalogues of anyone else. There is no comparison in
readability or the transmitting of information."
"In the 1950s, basic information about rare coins was difficult
to locate easily, apart from what might be found in the current
edition of the Guide Book. Building a library of old books
(there were not many new ones) was not an option, it was a
necessity for anyone interested in gaining knowledge and
expertise. Most dealers were not interested in such things,
which provided great advantages for those who were."
"John was a virtual walking encyclopedia of numismatic
knowledge. It would be very difficult to mention anything in
the American or Canadian series for which he did not have
"I made it a point to attend most of the New Netherlands sales
in New York City in the mid-1950s. At one particular event
there was a marvelous collection of Hard Times tokens,
anchored by multiple examples of the rare variety known as
Low-1, with the portrait of Andrew Jackson. John Ford was
after some of these for his own account, and so was Donald
Miller, the latter also being a fine friend of mine, and an attorney
from Indiana, Pennsylvania.
This particular sale was held high on the penthouse terrace of a
New York City hotel, in which there were meeting rooms and
also a bar, a setting ideal for a wedding reception or some other
event. Don had a few drinks too many, and while passing a
$500 bill around to the bar patrons to whet their interest and
curiosity, found to his consternation that it had disappeared—
nowhere in sight, no one knew where it was. To this day it is
probably still missing.
Miller was after one of the rarer sub-varieties of Low-1, as
was Ford. I don't remember all the details, but whatever
happened, the two became involved in a vicious argument and
shouting match on the open terrace outside of the bar. Miller
grabbed Ford and pushed him against a low wall at the side
of the terrace, with the street visible many floors below. A
great struggle took place, and it seemed that Ford was about
to be thrown to eternity, when a bunch of bystanders, including
me, rushed to the scene and pulled Miller away, in effect saving
Ford. If Ford had nine lives and used one up in the airplane
accident, a second was used here! Luckily, calmness soon
prevailed and the auction continued as planned. "
To read the complete original E-Sylum article, see:
Q. DAVID BOWERS ON JOHN J. FORD
THE BOOK BAZARRE
RENAISSANCE OF AMERICAN COINAGE
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