The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 17, Number 2, January 12, 2014, Article 2

JOHN H. BURNS 1958-2014

John Burns at PAN show table
John Burns at his PAN show table (Credit: Pat McBride)

My phone and in-box lit up last evening with word that numismatic literature dealer John Burns had passed away at the F.U.N. show in Florida. Dennis Tucker of Whitman Publishing posted an announcement and tribute on the Collector's Universe forum. I soon heard from Tom DeLorey, Wayne Herndon, Andy Singer, Pete Smith Michael Sullivan, Myron Xenos, David Sklow and others.

John was a regular fixture at several major coin shows, setting up with thousands of numismatic books for sale. He was a fellow student at the University of Pittsburgh, and he was among the first to respond to my flyers announcing the formation of a student coin club. There wasn't one on campus and I'd decided to start one.

It was John who helped introduce me to numismatic literature. Later he introduced me to numismatic bibliophile Armand Champa, who became another lifelong friend. And through Armand's famous "Invasion of Louisville" library tour, I in turn met John J. Ford, Jules Reiver, Ken Lowe, Myron Xenos and a host of other bibliophiles, many of whom also became lifelong friends. Those friends and our mutual interest led me to found The E-Sylum, and here we are today. Thanks, John - may you rest in peace.

Our mutual friend Pat McBride of the Pennsylvania Association of Numismatists (PAN) helped John load his van before the FUN show, and later hopped a plane to Florida. He again helped John set up his display at the show. Although John had travelled with Paul Cunningham (as they often did), they ended up in separate hotels on this trip.

From what I've been able to gather from various reports, John attended a dinner Friday night with companions including Charlie Horning, Steve Crain, Richard Meaney, Glenn Peterson and Brad Karoleff. Pat McBride called John on the phone about 11pm, and he seemed fine; he was in his hotel room and looking forward to the rest of the show, which is typically a big one for book sales. Pat may be the last person to speak with him. John didn't appear at the show Saturday and was found in his hotel room about 3pm Saturday.

Here's the text of Dennis Tucker's announcement:

"I just received some sad news from a reliable source at the FUN show: numismatic literature dealer John Burns passed away in his hotel room last night.

John was one of the most knowledgeable numismatists of our generation, a great enthusiast for the hobby, a longtime contributor to the Red Book, and advisor to Whitman Publishing. In order to represent the books he sold, and to best assist his customers, he read every single volume and studied them carefully, making him one of the most well-read people in the field. Always a gentleman, with interesting insights, unique perspective, and friendly concern for others, John was a credit to the hobby community. I always enjoyed our conversations and looked forward to catching up with him in person at shows.

John Burns will be sorely missed."

Commentary included:

  • So sad to hear the news - talked with John earlier this week at FUN and he just didn't seem to be feeling well.
  • Omg!
  • Oh this is so sad. He will be missed. (Rick Snow)
  • That is very sad news. John was a real gentleman and a great person! My condolences to his family.
  • Oh, this is a shock. John is from my area and he was one of the first people I met when I got back into coins. Not long after that I ran into him at an ANA and wondered why he traveled all that way (I had no idea he did anything more than Western PA area shows - what did I know). I was happy to sit and chat at that ANA since he was the only person I knew there - then when authors I recognized kept stopping to say hello to John it dawned on me he was far from the local book guy. Although we generally crossed paths only a couple times a year, he always greeted me by name and we always had great conversations. He even drafted me to help move his books in one time at a show, a task that taught me coins weren't as heavy as I once thought. Last I got to talk to him was in October at the PAN show, where I picked up a couple of books from him like always.
  • I heard this news late in the day here at the show and was just shocked. John was one of the nicest, most considerate, most intelligent, most articulate people I've ever met, and as noted previously a true credit to the hobby. I'm really going to miss him. (John Agre)

To read the complete discussion thread, see: Rest in Peace, John Burns (

Brad Karoleff writes:

Charlie Davis and I were in shock at the news. We got together Saturday night to have a drink and raise our glasses to our old friend. His last night on earth was spent doing what he loved - having a nice meal, some drinks, and conversation with friends. He was a good man, and I'm sorry to see him go.

Michael Sullivan writes:

John was a wealth of information, always willing to engage in conversation, and always had interesting stories to share. He will be missed by many.

Dave Lange writes:

I left the FUN show Saturday afternoon around 3:30 for the two-hour drive home, and I did not learn of John's passing until reading the email announcement Sunday morning. I am so deeply saddened for this gentle giant with whom I spent many a pleasant hour over books or beer, the latter usually at a favorite Baltimore bar and grill. John worked so hard to get up his display of books at show after show, and he always kept a good attitude at even the slowest of them. His wit was wry but never mean spirited, and I truly admired him for that. I also, however, feared for his health and suspected that we would lose him too soon.

Joel Orosz writes:

John was, of course, larger than life in so many ways--his girth (I weigh as much as a young grizzly!), his physical strength (I believe he tossed the caber in Highland Games), his exceptional numismatic knowledge (he all but singlehandedly won the World Series of Numismatics some years ago), and his appetite (as witnessed by the giant Del Frisco's meatball he consumed when visiting Armand Champa)--were all out-sized by any mortal measurement.

It was a ritual for me at ANA conventions to approach his table, have him pick up an empty chair one-handed (and in John's hand, a full-sized chair appeared to be doll-house furniture), and admonish me to "Have a seat so we can shoot some s--t!" John was as fearless in conversation as he was physically, regularly eviscerating anyone he considered to be a fool or a shady operator, and in terms that would qualify as libelous by any legal definition, but he also possessed a generosity of spirit that led him to spontaneously help people--not necessarily just his friends--without seeking public applause for doing so.

He made his daily bread the hard way, hauling what was literally tons of inventory over thousands of miles of highway to get to the main stops on the show circuit. Over the years, I found a few gems lurking within that inventory, most recently, at the 2013 ANA, a copy of Don Taxay's Counterfeit, Mis-Struck and Unofficial U.S. Coins with the Fuld blurb pasted over the Pittman blurb on the dust jacket.

Whether you knew John, heard him speak, benefited from his numismatic knowledge, or just saw him across the bourse floor, you knew that he was a genuine American original. In his case, the hackneyed expression is completely true: we will never gaze upon his like again.

Paul Cunningham writes:

John Henry Burns was a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma!

If he was your friend, he would do anything for you. If you had an enemy, he had the same enemy. He had your back.

John was a movie buff of the highest order. I know something of the movies but he could put me to shame with little effort.

He loved women, all of them. Young or old, thicker or thicker, he wanted to get acquainted with them all.

Books or coins, paper money, old, new, value? He could debate these ideas for hours.

He liked guns, all size, all calibre: he feared for an uprising of the unwashed, the politically liberal, the unschooled.

He would brag about the 25,000 books be had read, the 1000s of movies he'd seen; I ask him: "If you're so smart, why are you still peddling books? Why don't you get a job by which you can lead, at least, a sub-standard life?"

I would pester him about that and his heath, but he would argue that he was fine and he was going to live to be 90.

John Henry Burns was a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma! God speed you, John Burns.

Ray Williams writes:

That is sad news! I've known John for years. Every Spring the Garden State Numismatic Association holds a convention here in New Jersey. As an officer, I was given a complimentary room in the hotel. For 10 years or more, I let John share my room for free. being a book dealer, and not making tons of money on books, I felt this was an added incentive to participate in our conventions. What is a convention without a book dealer?

The discussions we had for hours... He had an excellent knowledge across the board in numismatics. He cared for his elderly Mother well into her 90's. She passed away last year I believe. I will miss John, his hulking frame, his booming voice, his knowledge, his strong political viewpoints, and his smiling face. I won't miss helping lug books into the convention from his van! He'll be missed!

Cindy Wibker of the Florida United Numismatists (FUN) writes:

The decorating company carefully put John's book stock onto three pallets and shrink-wrapped them today. FUN is leasing a climate-controlled storage facility for the books until we know what to do with them. He also had two cases chained to his table. The chains were cut and two FUN officers (VP Bob Hurst and Treasurer Carrie Best) inventoried the cases. There was a laptop computer, a phone charger and a checkbook.

I've been in touch with Cindy since I heard the news. Many thanks to FUN for securing John's inventory. -Editor

John Burns Memorial Ad
John Kralvevich is organizing a memorial ad for John in an upcoming issue of Coin World. The cost per person will vary with the number of signers. If you'd like to participate, contact John at .

John Burns holding the 1804 dollar and the 1913 nickel
John Burns holding an 1804 dollar and a 1913 nickel (Credit: Pat McBride)

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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