The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 17, Number 3, January 19, 2014, Article 9


The outpouring of tributes to literature dealer John H. Burns has been overwhelming. There are many more out in various internet forums; here are one that have come in to The E-Sylum in the past week. -Editor

Howard A. Daniel III writes:

John and I have had many long talks about numismatics and life at shows! I last saw him at a Baltimore show. I will miss him!

Bob Metzger of Lakeville, MN writes:

I'm glad I got to spend time with John last May at EAC in Columbus. Chris (my wife) had also met him twice: in NYC a few years back, at the January NY International show, and once in Milwaukee at another International type show. She liked him, and (of course) he liked her.

Sam Deep writes:

I will sorely miss my weekly conversations with John. Our lively banter covered the political, coin show, friends, food, guns, and faith waterfronts. Our agreement on these topics is what drove us to dial up each other so often.

John was as good a person as I know. And my family felt that, too. At ANA and PAN conventions my son David and grandsons Josh and Nick would spend as much time at his table as I did. He never hung up without sending his best to Dianne.

Men with the honor, principal, and integrity of John Burns do not enter our lives often enough. He has left a big hole.

Bruce Perdue writes:

I am saddened to hear about John Burns. I helped John unload and load his books numerous times at the Central States Anniversary Convention. John was a gentleman and a scholar. I will miss him!

Robert Zavos writes:

I spent a few hours with John at FUN on Thursday and Friday as I do almost every year. He was larger than life as usual and in good spirits with many great stories. He reminded me of our great trips to Cincinnati and St Louis and to special group visits with Armand Champa and Eric Newman. He was an amazing character in our numismatic world. I am truly saddened and shocked.

Pennsylvania Association of Numismatists President Tom Uram writes:

Pat McBride and I helped John close up on Friday evening at the FUN show. He told me when putting the tarp on the boxes that I needed to learn the "Burn's twist" on how to secure the ends to the boxes! He also let us use his table at this show for PAN info including our banner. He certainly was a real ready wit and a great person to debrief with at a show.

David Gladfelter writes:

The Big Guy got his physical workout by lugging his book inventory back and forth to the shows, and he brought substantial tonnage of them. You could almost always find items you wanted, and new issues were on hand in multiple copies. If a book seemed interesting but you weren’t familiar with the topic or the author, John would give you a verbal review of the book warts and all, which opened many a new horizon. On a good day he would only have to take 95% back to his home.

It was not financially remunerative work, but even so, you could see that he enjoyed it although he would always be grumbling about something. Both his buying and selling prices were fair. He was a regular at the annual Garden State Numismatic Association show in Somerset where he would set up in the lobby where everyone would go past, browse and visit.

He was usually placid and good natured, but when he waxed enthusiastic he would use picturesque expressions such as “I would kiss (him/her) on all four cheeks to … “ (you finish the sentence). If you hear me use that or similar expressions you will know where it came from. John will be remembered in song and story.

Ginger Rapsus writes:

I was sorry to hear about John Burns. I had spoken with him many times at shows, and made a point of visiting his table. Or should I say, tables and shelves! He always had lots of good stuff to look through.

Byron Weston writes [in the Colonial Numismatics Yahoo Forum]:

I was shocked to have read about John's passing in last night's E-Sylum. I got to know John quite well at PAN shows and saw and talked with him at several others. He had a wealth of knowledge, perhaps even more than most people realized; he was THE numismatic trivia master, hands down. What most people don't know is that John didn't just deal in and read numismatic books, he was also a collector - of porcelain notgeld - now there's a trivia question for the ages - in John's honor, of course...

David T. Alexander writes:

I was shocked at the sudden death of John Burns. He was a truly remarkable man and numismatist, with whom I once had a somewhat unusual interaction. In 1991 the American Numismatic Association launched a brilliant new attraction for its major convention, the World Series of Numismatics. Designed by James Taylor, this was an elaborate and challenging numismatic version of the TV show Jeopardy, complete with a $30,000 electronic game board and competing teams of notable numismatists.

The first game featured a cast of numismatic leaders and glitterati who generally did poorly. Celebrity was not the same as depth of knowledge, fast thinking and faster footwork! Anthony Swiatek and I formed a team called "Minerva's Conquerors" and won, if I recall correctly, five times. John Burns and John Kraljevich nearly beat us when John K was only 14! They did beat us when John K was 17. The late bibliophile Ken Lowe recorded in his "Money Tree" column that he was seated next to John K's mother Gail Baker for their winning game, "Gail is punching my left arm... they're gaining, Gail is punching my arm... They did it, they won, but my pitching career is definitely over!!!"

"Big John" Burns was a contrast to his more mercurial team mate, but made a solid, ongoing contribution to their victory. Players had to have three basic things: LUCK (questions on the board that they could answer); SPEED (push the button to block out opponents, FAST); then and only then KNOWLEDGE to answer the questions correctly! Perhaps helped by their contrasting personalities, the two Johns had all three. "Big John" will be missed.

Fred Lake writes:

John Henry Burns was a giant of a man, both in size and intellect. His unwavering friendship and dedication to the craft of a bibliopole were attributes that I noted often in our weekly telephone chats. John was a firm believer in doing things the American way and had little welcome for those that were not on that path. He worked hard schlepping books around the country to the different venues and he dispensed information like a modern-day Johnny Appleseed. He will be missed.

John and Nancy Wilson write:

We took this photo at the Chicago ANA World's Fair of Money in 2013. Richard Mantia and family were helping John at his table. They were close friends of John Burns and helped him the entire show.

John Burns with Richard Mantia family Chicago ANA 2013

When we were informed at the NYInc by Kerry Wetterstrom that John Burns had passed away at the FUN show we were deeply saddened. We have known John for a long time and it would be hard to find a better person anywhere in our hobby. Over the years I even helped him with his displays, either setting them up or breaking them down. He worked very hard lugging many boxes of numismatic books from convention to convention. We always made sure to stop and talk to him during the shows that our paths crossed. At times we even purchased a book from him. His knowledge of numismatics covering just about any area was bordering genius. He knew the books he was selling and what was between the pages of many of them.

Some years back John participated in the ANA World Series of Numismatics. At one of them we think his team might have won the championship. John Burns had a heart the size of his body. As a literature dealer his service to the numismatic hobby was extremely important. He set up at dozens of conventions every year - large and small. He was friendly to everyone who stopped by his table. If he didn't have the reference a customer was looking for he would try to find it for them. We don't think anyone can replace John Burns and the service he did for the hobby.

Like most of the readers of The E-Sylum we always worried about his weight. It was a constant battle for John to try to take a few pounds off. We thought the world of John and now he is no longer with us. We are sure that this honest, friendly and generous person and numismatist is helping the Lord with the library in heaven. Our sincere condolences to the John Burns family. Rest in Peace John - you will always be in the thoughts and prayers of your thousands of friends here on earth.

Brad Karoleff writes:

On Friday January 10, 2014 numismatics lost one of its’ greatest supporters and many of us lost a great friend. John Burns passed away in his sleep after enjoying his final night on this earth in the company of five of his friends participating in one of his favorite pastimes- dinner at a good restaurant!

John chose the place for our annual Friday night FUN dinner this year, a Brazilian steak house on International Drive. The party consisted of a cadre of John Reich Collector's Society (JRCS) members Charlie Horning, Richard Meaney, Steve Crain, Glenn Peterson, and I. The evening was full of the usual dinner banter, jokes and other lies. The waiters were constantly tempting us with delicious cuts of meat. Wine flowed and desert followed. We all left satisfied and ignorant of the event that would change the way we view Orlando forever……

Saturday morning dawned as the other days at FUN had with breakfast at Denny’s. Charlie and I had roomed together and we were joined by the rest of our dinner companions sans John for a farewell breakfast. After opening my table at the convention I noticed that John had not made the opening bell that morning. I thought that the food and alcohol had taken its toll and that he decided to sleep a little late.

After a while I began calling him attempting to find out why he was not there. I left the convention early that day to play a round of golf with Charlie and the calls to John continued. I finally got ahold of Paul Cunningham as I knew he was close to John and was staying at the same place as John. He gave me the terrible news just before dinner time on Saturday.

I realize that you all know that sinking sick-to-your-stomach feeling that you get when you receive bad news, but this was one of the worst pangs I have felt. Charlie and I soon retired to the hotel restaurant for our personal wake in John’s honor.

Everyone who knew John realized his depth of character. His friendship was without reserve. His numismatic knowledge was second to none. He could converse with you on many topics seamlessly. Education was John’s greatest pleasure. Books came easily to John; he never met one he did not want to read. He was a genius that had a difficult time transferring knowledge into a livelihood. All of us who knew him received much more from him than he did from any of us.

John is gone now, but his memory will be with us forever. There will not be a coin show where he will not be remembered by someone. I will have a hard time reaching for a book from my library without a remembrance of him. He was a giant in our hobby in more ways than one.

We all have favorite stories we tell about our friends once they are gone. I’m sure there will be more about John than the average person. I remember a couple of years ago at FUN when John, Steve Roach and I went to dinner. John drove and that was the subject of much amusement. John had a large white van, (which he named Shamu), that had metal grates on the windows in the back. There were no back seats so he could load more boxes of books for his trips.

I sat in the passenger side seat and Steve climbed into the back for the short trip. I can’t remember who started it but we thought that if a policeman saw us riding with Steve in the back of this van we may be stopped for kidnapping. Steve and John traded one liners back and forth and I was reduced to a fit of laughter. I could hardly breathe I was laughing so hard. It will be a night I will cherish forever.

Another time John came to Cincinnati for a coin show. We had decided to go to the local shooting range after setup. John brought his 45 with him and I brought a few items from home. We had a great time shooting with a few other dealers before going to dinner. John would often refer to me as “Annie Oakley” after this experience. I only remember the joy in seeing John flinch when he used my 357 snubby with HOT loads! He laughed about it and even brought it up during this last trip.

There are a couple of old sayings about death I would like to share. One is the hope that the deceased is in Heaven before the Devil knows you are dead. In this case I think it was a good thing that the Devil was busy elsewhere when John sauntered by on his way to the Pearly Gates. The other is that a life has not been wasted if only one tear is shed at its passing. If this is the case I know John’s life was very meaningful as we all have shed our share of tears in his memory already.

Rest in Peace, my big buddy. We will not see the likes of you again in our lifetimes.

Pat McBride supplied the only picture I have so far where John is truly smiling. Wouldn't anyone? John had emailed him the picture; he met the trio while traveling at a coin show. -Editor

John Burns with Patricia Chrissy and Chelsa 20130425

Trivia, Burns, beardless c1987 We'll close with this shot of a beardless John Burns circa 1987, provided by Pat McBride.

Over 100 people responded to John Kraljevich's call for participants in the Coin World memorial ad for John. JK writes: "I inserted two in-jokes into the signatures that I think John would get a kick out of." QUICK QUIZ: when the ad comes out, who can identify the fake names? Bonus Points: why are the names significant to John? -Editor

To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see: JOHN H. BURNS 1958-2014 (


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