The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 22, Number 6, February 10, 2019, Article 6


Readers have more to add on Jim Risk. -Editor

Douglas Saville writes:

The History of the Order of the BAth book cover James C. (-harles) Risk (Jim Risk) was involved in Orders and Decorations, mostly, and foreign coins and medals and that's what he did at Coin Galleries, and he was close friends with Howard Linecar, the Head of Books at Spinks in the 1960s - early 1980s, until I took over in the mid-1980s. He was a closer friend with Douglas Liddell (DGL to everyone one at Spinks, and to all who knew him well). The reason for that was that Howard (HL) never travelled to the US - he would not fly - and DGL did go there - very often, and he had numerous good customers in the US; he did business with Stacks and with Jim Risk, of course, and Jim visited London frequently, as well.

Jim headed Stacks' "Coin Galleries" in NY. He often visited London - and socialised with people connected with the Royal Household- I am sure he knew the Librarian at Windsor Castle quite well. Of course, Spink had three Royal Warrants then - HRH The Queen, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh and HRH The Prince of Wales. Spink were in King Street then, around the corner literally from St. James's Palace, and a 10 minutes' walk from Buckingham Palace.

He was a known expert on British Orders, and he wrote the ANS' Numismatic Notes & Monographs 106 on British orders and decorations (1945). His speciality was the history of the Order of the Bath and he wrote the book on that subject for Spink who published it in the late 1960s. I recall him as charming, but with a bit of a quick temper - he did not suffer fools at all- and a bit of a hard task master. I liked him, and I respected him a good deal.

Peter van Alfen of the American Numismatic Society writes:

When the ANS was preparing to move from Washington Heights down to the financial district in 2003-2004 we discovered in one of the old building's cavernous basements two rather large tightly wrapped tube-like bundles that bore tags identifying the owner: James Risk. Commander Risk, as we all knew him at the ANS (he'd been discharged from the Navy at the end of WWII with the rank of Lt. Commander), was a man of a different age, always quite formal and polite, yet very charming. He was, of course, still alive at the time although quite advanced in age.

Stalin poster ANS collection We called and he came by to see what these long forgotten bundles were all about. Upon seeing them he remembered. There were over 100 Russian propaganda posters in the bundles dating to 1946–1948. He had collected these while in Moscow in the years immediately after WWII ended while working for the State Department, buying them directly from the printers, but feared because of growing McCarthyism, that he would risk his job and much else if he were caught with them after returning to the US. Having served in the USSR, he was a prime target for suspicion.

The solution to his dilemma, he decided, was to arrange to store them at the ANS, where he had been a member since 1939, until he felt it was safe to retrieve them. For over half a century they collected dust. Commander Risk very generously donated the posters to the ANS, which were featured in an ANS Magazine  article I wrote for the summer 2005 issue ("Long Live Our Glorious Motherland! Posters and Medals from the Birth of the Cold War," vol. 4.2, pp. 16–33). You will note, however, that Commander Risk is not mentioned by name in the article. He wished to remain anonymous at the time because he still felt that any association with these instruments of communist propaganda might jeopardize his reputation, especially with the Queen.

He died on October 23, 2005, a few months after the article appeared. We still have the posters, hoping someday to find a buyer since obviously they don't quite fit in with the rest of the ANS's collection!

Here is a link to a digital version of the ANS Magazine article with many of the posters illustrated. (Note that we're having to use the Internet Archive Wayback Machine link since we're currently rebuilding parts of the ANS Magazine site):

And here is a link to his obituary in the Spring 2006 issue of the ANS Magazine:

David Thomason Alexander writes:

Thanks for your remembrance of the late Lt. Commander James C, Risk, USN Ret. Jim was a true original, whose knowledge of world Orders and decorations was second to none. He was an expert witness in court actions involving spurious Orders, but found educating lawyers and judges in the intricacies of false decorations to be beyond mortal capability. With cataloging questions, I learned after joining Stack's-Coin Galleries in 1990, that one had to find him in a good mood! If he was not, one quickly found that a conversation with the Egyptian sphinx would be about as fulfilling.

Jim's ties to the Royal Family were genuine. He told me once of a visit to Arthur Durke of Connaught, who displayed his pre-1914 uniform as a Prussian Field Marshal and lamented the abandonment of the family's ancestral German titles during World War I.

As a State Department officer, it was his task to oversee the successful transfer of Embassy files back to the U.S. despite the avid attention of the Soviet intelligence services. His reward upon returning to America was to be placed on the "A List" of Wisconsin Senator Joseph R. McCarthy.

We are unlikely to see his like again, to paraphrase Shakespeare.

McCarthyism was ugly, and it's understandable that Risk would want to keep a low profile and avoid any appearance of a Russian connection. It must have left a scar to be felt so many years afterwards.

Thanks, everyone. -Editor

To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:

Garrett Mid-American E-Sylum ad03

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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