Dave Lange passed along this interesting item he found on the PCGS message board.
There’s a new neon sign installed on the Max Mehl Building on Magnolia. Nothing too big or elaborate, but a nice addition nonetheless. Always good to see some interesting neon returning to the streetscape.
B. Max Mehl was the most prolific U.S. coin dealer in the first half of the 20th century. Although he worked in New York for a brief time, he returned to his hometown of Fort Worth and built an empire on prodigious advertising and employed an army of clerks to answer the mail in his very own building, which still stands today. It's nice to see the building is "alive and well".
With the northeastern money centers of New York and Boston being the nexus of U.S. numismatics in the 19th and 20th centuries, Mehl's location was an anomaly. Yet today one of the leading numismatic firms, Heritage, is headquartered in nearby Dallas. I wondered how that came to be - what is it about Dallas/Ft. Worth that led that to happen? So I thought I'd go right to the source and ask Heritage co-founder Jim Halperin what he could tell us about the early history of his firm. I called him this afternoon and had a great conversation. Here's what I learned.
Halperin was born in Boston and was just starting out as a coin dealer when, at the age of 16, he met Steve Ivy at a Boston coin show. At the ripe age of 19, Ivy was already a very successful dealer. The two hit it off and became friendly rivals in the business, often having dinner together at shows around the country. The two stayed close as Jim's business grew.
As a high school student Jim learned computer programming. After college Jim started New England Rare Coin Galleries, also based in Boston. With the help of his father and financing from IBM, NERCG acquired a mainframe computer, and was probably the first coin company to do so. With a hired computer programmer, the machine was soon running inventory and mailing list programs, and hosting a database of coin selling prices.
With the help of this automation and Jim's coin dealing skills, NERCG grew to be the largest coin firm in the U.S. by the late 1970s and Jim turned down a purchase offer of $22 million from Sotheby's in November 1979. Other firms were interested in a deal as well.
Jim said he felt like the Smartest Man in America for not selling after NERCG’s net pretax profit for the first half of 1980 tallied up to over $10 million. But then came the market collapse, bringing a nuclear winter for the previously high-flying coin business. The company limped along, but by 1982 both Halperin and Ivy's firms were in some trouble. Halperin still had business and assets, but not nearly enough to cover debts. In fact, he was insolvent to the tune of $1-2 million, and was advised to file bankruptcy, but instead he resolved to pay all his debts in full.
So here's where the Texas connection comes in. Steve Ivy had been born in Ft. Worth, and was operating his coin business in Dallas. He owned a building and the parking lot across the street. It turns out the parking lot was a godsend. Real estate developers wanted it, and were willing to pay a very good price. Long story short, with funds from that real estate sale, Ivy offered to sell Jim half his company for a non-recourse note if Jim would move to Dallas. Halperin agreed, sold the NERCG name and some of the assets to an employee in Boston, moved to Dallas along with some of his other employees, most notably Marc Emory.
Within ten months their joint coin business had rebounded well enough that Jim was able to pay all his creditors 100 cents on the dollar. Within a year or two he had also paid off the original Heritage note. Thirty years later, Steve and Jim remain equal partners, although now there are seven junior partners (Greg Rohan, Marc Emory, Paul Minshull, Todd Imhof, Ryan Carroll, Cris Bierrenbach and Chris Ivy) at Heritage in addition to the two founders.
And that's the story of how Jim and Steve started Heritage in Dallas.
To read the complete Max Mehl sign article, see:
NEW NEON SIGN AT MAX MEHL BUILDING
Wayne Homren, Editor
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