The evening of Tuesday, December 17, 2019 brought a special event - the annual holiday dinner of my Northern Virginia numismatic social group, Nummis Nova. Dave Schenkman was
our host, and he'd arranged for a room at Gadsby's Tavern in Alexandria, VA. John Gadsby operated the hotel and tavern from 1796 to 1808. His establishment was a center of
political, business, and social life in early Alexandria. The tavern was the setting for dancing, theatrical and musical performances, and meetings of local organizations. George
Washington twice attended the annual Birthnight Ball held there in his honor. Other prominent patrons included John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and the Marquis de
I'd left work early to go home and pick up my wife Dee. We fought D.C. rush hour traffic and the dark rainy night to arrive shortly after 6:30pm. Most of our regular
members and their spouses were already there, including: (at the back table) Gene and Amelia Brandenburg, Tom Kays, Eric Schena, and Dave and Joanne Schenkman; (at the center
table) Steve Bishop, Joe and Hope Esposito, Robert Hoppensteadt and his wife Laura Gerhard, and Jon Radel; (at the front table) Wayne Herndon.
Dee and I sat across from Wayne. His wife Karin was sick and unable to attend. We were soon joined by Julian Leidman and Joe and Alice Levine.
The room was candlelit and our servers were wearing late 1700s garb. Tom Kays distributed chocolate coins, and Gene Brandenburg presented custom Christmas tree ornaments to
mark the occasion. Thanks! But there were more surprises in store. Partway through the evening a group of strangers in Santa hats squeezed into the room. it was the Alexandria
Men's Chorus promoting their upcoming concert. They sang three wonderful Christmas carols for us.
And present at intervals throughout the evening was the restaurant's resident Colonial Man, who stayed in character while teasing everyone, flirting with the ladies,
telling jokes and even performing a couple songs. I think the biggest laugh came from his reference to plans for building a wall along the Potomac River to keep out immigrants
LEFT: Colonial Man playing. Photo by Wayne Homren
RIGHT: Gene Brandenburg and Wayne Homren. Photo by Tom Kays
Front table. Seated from left: Dee Homren, Julian, Wayne Herndon. Alice and Joe (back to camera) Levine. Standing: Joanne Schenkman. Photo by Wayne Homren
LEFT: Center table. Seated from left: Hope Esposito, Robert Hoppensteadt, Laura Gerhard, Joe Esposito, Steve Bishop, Jon Radal. Standing with camera: Tom Kays
RIGHT: Our colonial server with Gene Brandenburg (seated)
Photos by Wayne Homren
Gene and Amelia Brandenburg. Photo by Wayne Homren
Joe Esposito Eric Schena. Photo by Wayne Homren
Colonial man at center table. Photo by Wayne Homren
Eric Schena and Dave Schenkman. Photo by Gene Brandenburg
Colonial Man playing. Photo by Tom Kays
Alexandria Men's Chorus. Tom Kays in foreground. Photo by Gene Brandenburg
It was a delightful and special evening. Many thanks to Dave Schenkman and the staff at Gadsby's.
Holiday Theft at Nummis Nova
Probably the most delightful surprise of the night was when Joe Esposito distributed to everyone a copy of a booklet he'd written and printed for the event. The inside jokes
should be at least somewhat familiar to regular readers of my diary. Thanks, Joe! It's a delight, and with permission I'm republishing it here.
Ferran Z. Fezziwig
I had run into Wayne Homren a few times at coin shows. I had known him only slightly but enjoyed our conversations. I also read his weekly quotidian wrap-up of all
things numismatic in the E-Sylum online newsletter. I learned something about him reading his periodic updates—monthly, I believe—about some mysterious dinner gathering of
numismatists known as Nummis Nova. I learned, for example, that he frequently had to battle traffic to get to the meals and that he usually spotted Eric Schena or David Schenkman
after parking his car.
But I was somewhat surprised when he called and invited me to be a guest at the group's holiday dinner in Alexandria. I was all in, especially as I thought he was paying for
the meal. Still, when I learned that was not the case, I agreed anyway. The dinner was being held at Gadsby's Tavern, a quaint and historic old restaurant right there in Old
My wife would not be accompanying me. She ditched me years ago over my coin addiction; she seemed to tolerate the thousands that I paid for gold coins—although I only told her
about half of them—but became incensed to learn that I went overboard on a Virginia token. "Five thousand for a tiny coin from a defunct funeral parlor in Roanoke? Are you crazy?"
Actually, it was rather practical: a "good for" a speedy burial ("Quickest Casket in Town"). I was guided by Schenkman's book, but that meant nothing to her. She is now collecting
Faroe Island stamps at her new house in San Diego.
Well, I pulled into the garage (spot 2A), next to a 1995 Cadillac and a new model Porsche. I turned off the ignition and thought about what the night would bring. It would be
more about crime than coins.
I soon met a few of the numismatists. I knew them because they were slightly older than the other clientele at the tavern. Some carrying pouches, apparently holding on—with
great security—to the treasures that they were bringing to pass around.
That's a tradition at these dinners, I'm told, but less so at the annual holiday event. However, some may have forgotten it was a special dinner and others carry their coins
around all the time (when not in the vault) so they were on autopilot. Some had wives with them, but I fear that I will not remember their names.
I was seated next to Homren and someone named Esposito, who I was told had recently written some second-rate book about a Nummis Nova dinner or something like that. Esposito
seemed to immediately take umbrage when I told him he looked like Yogi Berra. No matter, I was there to have a good time.
The room was dark and the people who started to pass around their collections were frustrated by the poor light. The wives ignored the shop talk; they hear it all the time.
Schenkman, the king of tokens, commented on his very rare—perhaps unique—time traveler token from the 1920s. He said that the cell phone on the obverse and the image of a drone on
the reverse was inconsistent with the twenties—but the date stamped on it was 1927! He is going to do an article about it for The Numismatist.
Tom Kays proceeded to circulate a massive tray of colonial coins. I liked them, but some included a foreign language; I now only collect what I can read. I once bought a
colonial coin that said "Facsimile" and I didn't learn until later that it was not describing a historical event.
An even bigger exhibit was Steve Bishop's slabbed tie-dyed shirt. It is amazing how slabbing has expanded in scope and size. This beauty is VF 35 and nicely toned—an early die
variety. All I can say is that it was both far out and groovy.
I spoke briefly to Wayne Herndon, who was seated across from me at a long table. Someone said he was a wizard or that he owned a wizard store and he had a warehouse full of
that stuff. I guess that's a branch of numismatics that I've not encountered before. He seemed quite knowledgeable about what he was discussing but I kept looking for a wand.
The food was now being delivered along with the apparition of James Madison. He was better than Elvis, of course, but the guy kept talking about horses and General Washington.
When Jemmie mentioned his wife, Dolley, the ears of several of the collectors perked up: They were already contemplating ice crème (this is a crowd noted for their appetite).
Throughout his cameo appearance, I was struck by how short Madison was—almost as short as Esposito—and that caused me to wonder whether he bought his clothes in the kid's
department. He also needed a haircut.
Now just as the colonial-style appetizers were being served, I saw that Julian Leidman, a legendary coin dealer, was presented with a massive bowl of whipped crème. I was told
that Julian likes whipped crème. Also, that he was thinking of using whipped crème as a security device in his store in Silver Spring. I didn't know what that meant, but I sure
was envious about his dish.
As I mentioned, this is an older crowd. This was reinforced when one of them—I probably shouldn't tell—spoke longingly about Lawrence Welk and his Champagne music makers.
Somebody mentioned that Topo Gigio from the Ed Sullivan Show was his hero. Another, incredibly, talked about once babysitting a young Eric Newman. One guy began collecting coins
during the Spanish- American War. But, boy did they have the numismatic experience.
One award was given out: Eric Schena was honored for travelling 500,000 miles to and from Nummis Nova dinners over seven years. The award was an obscure—nigh, unique—store
scrip from an apothecary in southwestern Virginia. Most gave him a standing ovation while a few continued eating.
But the highlight of the evening was the circulation of an 1895 Morgan silver dollar in proof. Wow! It was worth multiples more than my car, which was in spot 2A. But that's
when a peculiar thing happened. Everyone was oohing and aahing about the coin, but it never made it around to me. Somewhere between Robert Hoppensteadt and Steve Bishop—they were
a long half-table apart—the coin disappeared. Well, when that was discovered, there was considerable mayhem.
Wayne Homren mentioned that a valuable coin had once been lost at a Sphinx Club dinner but that it was simply mistaken for pocket change. Hoppensteadt, who writes novels, said
that maybe something untoward had occurred. I take whatever a writer says with a few grains of salt, but still it was missing. Almost immediately, everyone stood up, checked their
seats and most of them started looking around the old hardwood floor for the pricey treasure.
Steve Bishop and Jon Radel offered to frisk other diners, but Homren said that we might want to keep it quiet for now. One of them asked the server whether any of the other
guests were known criminals. She was puzzled by the question. Still, someone volunteered that a person in the other room looked a lot like Jacob Marley.
We searched and searched but to no avail. Finally, a call was placed to Gene Brandenburg, a mainstay of Nummis Nova but lately unavailable for the dinners after he became a
wine consultant for a major grower in Napa Valley. Gene, who I know slightly, said that we should ask everyone to take off their shoes. I did notice that some seemed to be wearing
odd footwear, but who would put this coin in their shoe?
The one thing that some hadn't known was whose coin was missing. It was being circulated, but who owned it? It was another guest at the dinner whose name that I didn't get
until later; it was Bill. And it was a poor way to treat a guest. Bill was apoplectic.
Some of the diners continued to eat while others were horrified. Everyone checked their envelopes to make sure that a further heist hadn't taking place. One person said it
might be a broader conspiracy aimed at numismatists and that the republic might be in peril. Several immediately clutched their coins. Joe Levine, an exonumia stalwart who knows a
few things about presidential lore, pronounced the heist in the tradition of the Teapot Dome scandal.
When the principal server returned, we explained what happened. She was a helpful woman, also in colonial garb, and seemed to be genuinely shocked. Schenkman has called servers
in the past Transylvanians, but this one was a Virginian. She said such a crime had never happened at the tavern—at least not since the Civil War--and that she would immediately
speak to the manager.
Well, it was an odd evening, but I will skip ahead and tell you that the culprit was caught. A scrawny man in his thirties who had slipped into the dark room and pretended to
be a server was unmasked as a fraud and the perpetrator of a sleight of hand. What gave him away to the eagle eye of Schena was that he was not wearing period britches. "I'll bet
a kopek that something is amiss," he said.
It was hectic that night, and everyone—diners and staff—assumed that he was extra help. It turned out that he was from a rival numismatic group, Nummis Columbia, which was
looking to embarrass their largely Virginia brethren—and, get this, bankroll a clubhouse in D.C. Soon the police were on the scene and he was on his way to the slammer and the
coin was back in Bill's hands. Fist bumps reigned.
It was an eventful evening as I walked briskly the 213 steps to the parking garage and began the trek home to upper Connecticut Avenue. I was able to get away unscathed; they
never knew that I was a behind-the-scenes part of the botched job. But I guess that I'm unlikely to become a member of Nummis Nova.
Wayne Homren, Editor
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