It's been a long while since we've run a profile of one of our subscribers. Here's a great one provided by Richard Lobel of Coincraft in London.
I arrived in London, England on the 2nd of October 1968. I came 3rd class by ship from New York to Southampton and then by boat train to London.
I was born in Cambridge but grew up in Newton and Boston, Massachusetts.
I went to Boston University, I dropped out once and was asked to leave twice before I got my degree in International Business and Macro Economics. I was going for my MBA when I realised that I would rather go to India and sit at the foot of a guru. London was just a stopover on the way to India. But it would be more than 40 years until I actually made it to India.
London in the 1960's and 1970's was a wonderful place to live, the nightlife was outstanding. Most of my awake time was when it was dark. I had total assets of $4,000 of which I owed my aunt and the bank $7,000 so I guess I was technically broke. I was young and fearless and if you worked hard you could make a living. The bonus is London is a magical place to live. Before going to London I had spent a little time in Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco, I was, I admit, quite wild in my youth. I grew up in the 1960's. I travelled all over the world buying and selling rare coins and banknotes, I used to do 250,000 kilometre's a year. I flew to Los Angeles from London almost once a month, because that was where the money was and the young ladies were so Californian. In those days they even had coin groupies and I was young and the world was a different place at that time!
I am proud to have attended with a bourse table at the first all foreign show ever held in the United States: C.O.I.N. (Convention of International Numismatists) Los Angeles. That was the show where Clyde Hubbard broke out the Guatemala colonial coin hoard. Outstanding quality, just dazzling coins. I have also attended the first coin fair held in Japan, as well as the first German coin fairs held in Hamburg, Berlin, Munich and Hanover and of course not forgetting Singapore. The legendary M. Oka from Japan ran one hell of a show in Singapore, let me tell you. The coin fair was, as his daughter's wedding which I had the honour of attending, was first class. He is one of my real heroes, despite the age difference, he always treated me as an adult, even occasionally when he had to correct me.
It was not unusual for me to visit three different countries in Europe in a single weekend, while swinging a 20 kilo bag so it looked light enough to be classed as hand luggage. I made it my business to get to know and talk to coin dealers from all over the world and become friends with many of them to this day. It was a wild and hectic time, until I woke up one morning and didn't know what country I was in, let alone which city. It was time to slow down and concentrate on my British business. I cut back on the travel and started to publish rare coin lists.
I am not a regular joiner of organizations, but in January of 2022 I celebrated my 50th anniversary of being a life member of the ANA (LM 1038). I remember John Pittman convincing me to convert from a regular to a life membership of the ANA. Those who knew John may find this next part hard to believe. That night he bought the champagne! I am also member 229 of the PNG and have been a member since 1974. I have known some of the most interesting, intriguing and exotic coin dealers from all over the world. I could tell you some stories… I have had many wonderful experiences all over the world. Even when in 1963 they arrested me in Honduras as a suspected Castroite all because I had a beard. All I wanted to do was buy and sell coins. I wasn't all that interested in politics.
In the coin business I have been up and down, but finally figured it out with help from my fantastic wife Claire. As of January we have been married 42 years. She is a Saint to put up with me and my antics. Remember that we live and work together. Claire is a worldwide expert on banknotes and heads our banknote department. One day in 1982 my old company (Museum Galleries) finally went broke. At that time and as a good client of our bank, we were only being charged 24% interest per annum. I personally lost £4,000,000 the day Museum Galleries went bust. But Claire and I started up again. We bought some empty coin boxes to put on the shelves, letting people think we had something in stock. It was one of the most important times in my life my, when I realized I had to grow up. We learned who our real friends were and who wanted to kick you when you are down, I have a very long memory. We worked seven days a week to re-build the business and I am so proud of the company we have built: Coincraft – Britain's Coin Shop – the coin shop you used to remember.
When the Guinness Book of Records listed rare coins and banknotes, I was listed 14 separate times. I have handled some of the rarest British and world coins and banknotes in existence. The Central Bank of the Philippines built a room onto their museum to house a collection of Philippines banknotes under Spanish rule I sold them. Previously these banknotes were only thought to exist. But I grew tired of that way of doing business and wanted a change.
I love buying, yes everyone likes to buy, but I LOVE buying. I love buying a hoard of 1,000 coins and selling them one by one to collectors. Think of how many collectors I can make happy. Today we only deal with collectors and most of the items we sell are under £5,000, many under £200. In fact I think the most expensive coin we sold last year was £70,000. My memory is too long for some of today's ‘so-called rarities'. Today they talk in hush terms about the British gold £5 of 1839 – the so-called Una and the Lion gold coin. Examples have sold for up to a million dollars at auction. But I remember the fabled coin dealer Geoffrey Hearn taking 3 of them out of his pocket and saying he wanted £1,800 for them. Not each, but £1,800 for the three Una and the Lions, but then again who had £1,800 in those days… How rare a coin is it really?
Today we carry the largest stock of coins and banknotes in Britain and each year we publish more than 40 catalogues. We have 25 staff and last year opened a new mail order facility of 5,000 square feet in the centre of Covent Garden, that is Not open to the public. If you like numbers we handle about 35-40,000 orders a year. We do not borrow any money and are totally self-financing. The first coin I struck was the 1965 Cuban Souvenir Peso, along with the late Richard Margolis and Paul Weinstein. Since then, in Colin Bruce's Unusual World Coins, I believe there are more than 125 listings of coins that I have issued.
I am perhaps best known for handling the partial set of Edward VIII coins three times, I should have stopped after two. My personal collection of Edward VIII memorabilia is the second finest in the world, the Royal Family of course has the finest. But my collection of Edward VIII medallions is the finest in the world. In addition I have struck somewhere between 250-350 different medallions on many themes and in many metals, including of course Edward VIII pieces. I am trying to remember all the medals I have had struck, but it is difficult and I keep finding ones I had forgotten.
My Father went to university with Maurice ‘Murry' Gould of Copley Coin Co, who wrote the first catalogues on Hawaiian, Alaskan and Puerto Rican coins for the Whitman series of black books. He was one of my early mentors. I am also proud to say that Mike Berton, formerly of J. J. Teaparty and David Laties of Educational Coin Co. have been my friends for more than 60 years. In this country my great mentor was Peter Gerald ‘Maundy' Allen. There were many very kind dealers all over the world who would try and help this reprobate, to all of them I say ‘Thank you, we didn't do too bad'.
Coincraft is a family owned and family run business that has been around in one form or other for 66 years. I had my first paid subscription to a coin publication, The Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine, in 1955. I consider this to be the finest coin publication ever printed, its owners were most fantastic. I have handled more hoards of coins and banknotes than most dealers can shake a stick at, most you will never hear about. I may well have been involved with one of the hoards listed at the front of The Red Book, but then again, maybe not. After 54 years of living in England, I have learned to try and be somewhat discreet. Of course over the years I have seen and heard a lot of interesting things.
I love numismatics and consider myself a numismatist as well as a coin dealer. The coin business has been very good to me, I could never have done it without the help of my long suffering wife and my excellent staff. Anyone who has seen how I work, has never used the words ‘organized' or ‘neat', when describing me. A friend once said to Claire that if he owned the business ‘he would fire me'. I told Claire to tell him ‘he wouldn't'. He asked ‘why?' and I replied ‘because I make the company too much money'. Well at least I am good at something…
To read earlier E-Sylum articles, see:
WACKS AND LOBEL ON COLIN R. BRUCE II
INTERVIEW: RICHARD LOBEL OF COINCRAFT
MORE ON EDDIE ‘J.J. TEAPARTY' LEVENTHAL
RICHARD LOBEL ON HANS AND JACQUES SCHULMAN
To visit the website of Richard's CoinCraft, see:
Wayne Homren, Editor
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