The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 22, Number 11, March 17, 2019, Article 8


On March 14, 2019 Fred Holabird published the following tribute to his friend Dr. Robert Chandler, longtime historian of Wells Fargo Bank. -Editor

Robert Chandler

One of my best friends in life, Bob Chandler, died last night. I felt it in my sleep.

Dr. Robert Chandler, "Bob" to everybody, was a historian for the Wells Fargo Bank History Department for decades. I met Bob about 1980 through Doug McDonald, and we were best friends forever more.

Bob was a unique historian - one with a tremendous sense of humor, wit and an uncanny ability to tell stories. His specialties were certainly the Express business, but also Gold Rush monetary systems and California in the Civil War.

Our first mutual project was going to be a Wells Fargo display in Reno in 1983. We built cases, got everything ready, then the economy tanked, and we shelved the project.

My own passion for collecting rare western documents led to many discussions, as we learned things together about the western financial systems during and just after the Gold Rush and the Comstock rush. We wrote a number of short papers together on these matters, perhaps best summarized in one of our sales catalogs where we typed and listed western exchanges, and more. We got on a big roll with the Totheroh catalog, where Bob wrote several papers, including an important one that got left out for no reason by the company owner at the time.

Meanwhile, Bob had papers published in nearly every western historical journal, and gave well over 100 talks to various groups -maybe even 200!

At Wells Fargo, he shined. He constantly worked on advertising campaigns to be sure the information was well written (he wrote much of it himself), and properly well illustrated. He was a consummate historian, helping any of us who needed quality research that only he had access to. He was also a die-hard supporter of Bank President Anderson's "NO TRADE" policy of items within the Collection, of which some collectors were always after.

At home, I have a rubber cockroach named "Archie". I don't remember how in the heck it started, but Bob started talking about his pet cockroach Archie, and I adopted him ever since.

Bob and I shared a tremendous passion for western history. He, and he alone, was unarguably my biggest supporter through time, always pushing me, always encouraging me to make moves never done before. He was one of several people that were on my permanent "Peer Review" committee for my papers, and I on his.

When I ran mines, we often compared the historical systems of gold and money flow in antiquaria to today's systems. This led to a rather unique experience for me that in turn led Bob to recommend me for work on the SS Central America Project, for which I am forever grateful.

Just a month ago, he encouraged me to continue his work on GT Brown and write a paper on the competition between Brown and Britton & Rey, which I will do. Back in the early 1980's, it was Chandler who introduced me to Brown and I proceeded to find more Brown stuff for him and other collectors than is known today.

In later years, I visited Bob every chance I got in San Francisco. As I worked for various banks there and law firms on important historical projects, we'd share secrets, and of course lunch. Bob walked the streets of the financial district in his black top hat and bright red vest, a true "E Clampus Vitus" outfit!. He was so well known that local comic strip writers often included his persona in the comics of the Examiner.

In my world of western history, no other person had a greater impact on my life than Bob Chandler. God Bless Him!

We all - all of us - owe a great debt of gratitude to Bob. Never forget his humor. Never forget his depth of knowledge. Never forget his wit and charm. Never forget his love and charity.

RIP friend Bob!
Fred N. Holabird

To read the complete article, see:
On the Passing of Dr. Robert Chandler 2019 (

I'm sorry to hear the news. Thanks to Bob Evans, Harry Waterson and others who alerted me to this.

I believe I corresponded with Chandler once or twice over the years, probably concerning San Francisco eccentric emperor Norton and his scrip notes. Here's an excerpt from a March 12th, 2014 profile of Chandler from the Lamorina Weekly. -Editor

Bob Chandler Walking into the back rooms of Bob and Sue Chandler's lovely Lafayette home, you're not sure if you've entered a museum or a library. There are books, papers and artifacts everywhere. It's hard to know where to look first.

Chandler describes himself as a historian and a "pack rat." He's also an author, having just published "San Francisco Lithographer: African American Artist Grafton Tyler Brown," in addition to numerous magazine articles. His business card states "Dr. Robert J. Chandler, Western American History, Stagecoaching, Mining, Banking." None of that begins to describe this extraordinary man, who, according to, "is acclaimed by many California historians to be the premier authority on California in the Civil War and, in particular, San Francisco."

A trip to an antique shop in Port Costa in the '70s introduced Chandler to the world of historical items. "I found a letter having to do with the California State Telegraph Company from 1864 and it was $10. My first article was on the Overland Telegraph, so of course I had to buy the letter," he noted. "I suddenly realized that history wasn't found only in books." And the rest, as they say, is history. Chandler admits that while he still buys books, "I spend more money on photographs, pieces of paper, letters, something that will tell me a story. I'm on a first name basis with booksellers, antique and paper dealers everywhere."

To say Chandler is proud of his collections doesn't accurately express it. Spending an hour with him was like an historical show and tell. He showed off his collection of coral, decoys, mining equipment, crucibles for assays, Chinese ginger jars, candlesticks, tea pots, license plates, election posters, miniature German soldiers, lithographs, billheads, historical postcards and posted envelopes. He has a slide viewer from 1900 and San Francisco city directories dating back to the 1870s. And then there are his books - 9,000 of them, according to his wife.

Chandler is a longtime member of The Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus, a fraternal organization dedicated to preserving the American West heritage. The group often honors historical structures with one of its bronze plaques. However, as Chandler explained, "no one knows for sure if it's a drinking society interested in history or a historical society interested in drinking. And no one has ever been in any condition to resolve this debate."

Chandler spent 32 years as senior historian for Wells Fargo Bank, retiring in 2010. In that role, he said, he was "essentially the answer man" within the bank, dealing with both employees and consumers. He also wrote numerous articles on Wells Fargo's history.

He sits on the Board of the San Ramon Valley Museum and has loaned the organization items from his gold rush collection.

The family moved from Concord to Lafayette 16 years ago. "We had to find a house that could accommodate Bob's mistress - California history in all its forms," Susan Chandler said.

Describing her husband, she said, "When we first started dating, mutual friends told me Bob was eccentric; fortunately, I didn't know what that meant. Bob is constantly making history new. It's fascinating to watch him find something old and get excited about it. It is such a gift."

To read the complete article, see:
The Man of History (


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Wayne Homren, Editor

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