Ron Guth writes:
The identification of Grover Criswell brings back many memories. My family moved from Manchester, New Hampshire to St. Petersburg, Florida in 1960, back when it was a sleepy town with a few hotels/motels on the beach and just about nothing else (condos did not exist back then, just tiny beach cottages). Pass-A-Grille Beach was one of our favorite haunts and I can remember driving by Grover's place on several occasions as we headed to the beach.
I got to know him well in both of our later years when he was active in the Florida United Numismatists. I knew him as "Colonel" Criswell and every time we met, he would have a new off-color joke for me. Coincidentally, my wife, youngest daughter and I just vacationed in Sunset Beach, FL, right before the F.U.N. show. Sunset Beach is just north of St. Pete Beach (where Grover's business was located), which is just north of Pass-A-Grille Beach.
Here's a link to a People magazine article about Grover: "the richest man in the world."
I always have at least $25 million to $30 million lying around," says Grover Cleveland Criswell, pausing to light a stogie with a $20 bill. "I definitely am the richest man in the world." The richest, that is, in Confederate money. Criswell, 44, is the most active dealer in the world in the paper currency issued by Southern states during the Civil War.
Monopoly money it isn't. Although most Confederate notes have little value, there are exceptions. The $5 bill with slaves loading cotton in the lower left corner and an Indian princess in the upper right is priced as high as $20,000, depending upon condition. Collectors' demand for such keepsakes earns Criswell about $100,000 a year and has made him a millionaire.
Born in Oak Park, Ill., Criswell began squirreling away bottle caps, match covers, coins and stamps when he was 6. One day his father gave him some Confederate money that had belonged to Criswell's great-uncles, both Civil War veterans. "At the time," he recalls, "Dad thought it was worthless. It turned out the bills were much more valuable than the coins he kept for himself."
Criswell later attended the Florida Military Academy and then the Citadel in Charleston, S.C., where he majored in history and met his wife, Nellie. He continued trading in old currency through two years in the Air Force and two years as mayor of St. Petersburg Beach. An active supporter of John F. Kennedy, he turned down an appointment in that Administration to make an unsuccessful bid for Congress.
Criswell eventually opened a money museum in St. Petersburg, but moved to Salt Springs, Fla. after thieves cut a hole in the roof and took off with $298,000 worth of coins and paper. Criswell, who packs a .38 on the road and carries his merchandise in a nondescript gray briefcase, sometimes thinks back to the job he was offered by JFK—director of the U.S. Mint. Laughs the money merchant: "I sure would have liked those keys to Fort Knox!"
To read the complete article, see:
Money Merchant Grover Criswell Ain't Just Whistlin' Dixie
I added a photo of Criswell and Kennedy found on eBay.
Criswell's one of the hobby's colorful characters that I never had a chance to meet. Surely some other E-Sylum regulars have some stories to share.
To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
GEORGE WALTON PHOTO IDENTIFICATION
Wayne Homren, Editor
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