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The E-Sylum: Volume 25, Number 29, July 17, 2022, Article 17

FRED WEINBERG INTERVIEW, PART TWO

Published in Errorscope earlier this year, Greg Bennick's interview with dealer and longtime E-Sylum supporter Fred Weinberg is a wonderful look at the hobby and business of error coin collecting over the last half century. With permission from the Combined Organization of Numismatic Error Collectors of America (CONECA), we're republishing it here. Here's part two of four, where Fred discusses some of the famous error collectors and dealers he's known. -Editor

Greg Bennick: Wow, what do you remember about him? I think most people only know his name...and his effect.

Fred Weinberg Head Shot Fred Weinberg: You know what, Mort Goodman once told me his first name and I forgot it. I believe he only went by Blakesley, because he didn't like his first name. Whether it was Reginald or something corny-sounding, I'm not sure, but he was known as Blakesley. He was very tall and lanky, balding. I can picture him like I saw him yesterday. He was very soft spoken, very analytical and he's the one that noticed the weakness of the rim on most clips opposite the clip that's become known as The Blakesley Effect. But he also diagnosed and wrote about in great detail the other two methods of authenticating clipped planchets, which is number one, the metal flow towards the clip, and number two, what we call the cut and tear marks, which you can see on a curved clip and a straight end clip. You won't see these on a ragged or end of sheet clip.

I can remember the diagrams he drew of the planchet going through the upsetting mill and why with the lack of metal at this point it would cause a weakness in the rim opposite to that, because there wasn't enough corresponding pressure. So it was fascinating because people had noticed this effect, but nobody had put two and two together until Blakesley had written his papers. It opened up methods of authentication for the common coin collector to be able to authenticate their own coins anywhere in the country which they'd found without having to send those pieces into Collector's Clearinghouse.

Greg Bennick: So fascinating! My dad tells stories of finding errors in change in the 1950's. And that when he was finding clipped planchets and also laminations, that he didn't know what to do with him. He said he had bags of them and eventually just spent them because they weren't worth anything. At the time, is that where most people were finding their errors, their double strikes, and slightly more even major errors at the time? Were people pulling them out of change?

Fred Weinberg: I can tell you, believe it or not, that in 1967, ‘68, ‘69, there were not a lot of major off center or even double struck Lincoln pennies around. And if you look today at dates in the 1950s and ‘60s, you'll see that they're kind of scarce. Yeah, there might have been more after 1965 when they took out silver from our coins and started ramping up production in higher mintage figures. This produced a few more errors, but we rarely saw very expensive or rare error coins at all at the club meetings. At the Error-A-Ramas people would exhibit, so you'd see some great examples like a clock of off-center buffalo nickels, or a clock of double struck pennies. But at the regular monthly meetings it was things that most people found, which would have been - like you said - clips, laminations, die cracks and those sorts of things. I had a little mail order business when I was probably 15, 16 selling BIE's and die cracks for 15, 20, and 30 cents apiece plus a few postage stamps.

That was my first actual dealing in coins as a business, and it was fairly successful. You can't get rich selling coins for 25 cents apiece, but you meet a lot of friends and learn a lot that way.

Greg Bennick: So, you've mentioned that first Error-A-Rama, June 1967. What do you remember about that first error convention? That must have been really exciting!

Fred Weinberg: Well to be honest, it was actually the weekend before my high school graduation and prom night, and I made sure I had enough money for a corsage for my date and that was it! I saved the rest of my money to spend the following week at the Error-A-Rama in Hollywood. The show was put on by Mort Goodman, who I consider one of the grandfathers of the error hobby. Mort and other people were starting to get a club together in Hollywood. Error-A-Rama was at this beautiful hotel, and they had a room with bourse tables, and showcases and everything. There were dealers that I had just read about or seen their ads in the NECA - it was NECA at the time, not CONECA - the NECA Errorscope. I would see names of people I recognized and got to meet them in person. A lot of them became members of the Error Club of Hollywood, but some people had flown from back east. It was the first time I ever met Arnie Margolis who came in from New York. There was also a gentleman there named Philip Spier from the south who had an incredible collection of coins.

You know, it really wasn't until I bought in 1974, the Bolt collection, the Dr. Conway Bolt collection of errors, that I realized that there were very few collectors that understood or had any interest in error coins in the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s. It picked up a little bit probably in the mid to late ‘50s to some degree. But Mort and Arnie really got it going in the mid 1960s. That was what I would call, the first new wave of error collecting. It was because of Mort and Arnie and the club and NECA in the mid 1960s.

Greg Bennick: And do you think that upswing was caused by them spreading education about the minting process, or was it info about particularly interesting error types?

Fred Weinberg: It was both of those things. Mort, just before I met him at the Error Club of Hollywood, literally drove around the United States during 1965 and 1966 giving coin club talks about the minting process and about error coins to any club in the country that would listen to him. He had this old two door car and drove it all over the country with his wife Jane, and they gave talks on the minting process. That motivated a lot of people. I think when Mort saw how interested people were to come to these meetings, that's when he started thinking about maybe an Error Club up in Hollywood, and the Error-A-Rama. They got going around the same time.

Greg Bennick: I remember hearing about Mort Goodman driving around the country. I think it was something you mentioned to me at a coin show. But hearing you describe it in that way is so astounding, because that truly is groundbreaking, especially at that time. It's sort of like The Red Book and Jack Kerouac all in one.

Fred Weinberg: That's very good! You're right. And Arnie was the one who came up with the graphics. If you look around in older issues of error magazines, there was something called Margood, which was Margolis and Goodman. They came up with a little company where you could get a picture of a Lincoln penny on a two-by- two piece of cardboard. Arnie did most of the printing, And the hole, instead of being in the center was off to the left, or to the right, and there was a diagram of a penny. You could staple the coin into that two-by-two holder and then draw on the diagram of Lincoln where the BIE was, where the die crack was, where the lamination was, and so on. That was ground breaking. It was pretty popular for a couple of years, though it lost interest over time.

But Arnie and Mort, were from both extremes across the country and they were good friends. You had Arnie in New York and Mort here in California. They were without a doubt the two people who most motivated me. Probably 80%, if not 90% of the coin collectors back in the 1960s who ended up collecting errors, were motivated and inspired by them as well.

Greg Bennick: That's fascinating. I'm actually curious about some of those names from back in the day because there's so many iconic, not just publications, but books such as The Design Cud or even Error Trends Coin Magazine and these helped form the foundation of the hobby. I was really fortunate to have met Arnie when I was a teenager. My dad took me to a coin club meeting on Long Island when I was 14 or 15 years old. And I met Arnie and Rich Schemmer and their friends. Arnie was certainly a character.

Fred Weinberg: Yes, he certainly was.

Greg Bennick: What do you remember about Arnie specifically? Because of course since his passing, he isn't here to speak for himself, but certainly Error Trends Coin Magazine as far back into its origins the 1960's, seemed to be hugely instrumental in bringing information and education to the hobby.

Fred Weinberg: Arnie started his first issue of Error Trends in early 1968. He had done a sample copy after the Error-A-Rama, and the Error Club of Hollywood started. There's a sample copy which says sample copy on it that I think is from the fall or winter of 1967. But I believe the first official issue was 1968. When I met Arnie in 1967 at the Error-A-Rama here in Hollywood, we for some reason just hit it off and became very good friends.

Up until the end I would visit him at his house. He invited me to West Point, and I took my very first tour of the West Point Mint with him. He was definitely a character. I was born and raised in Los Angeles and I'm more of a laid-back California-type person. Arnie was very, very New York-ish type person. Normally one would expect that we would have been like oil and water, but for some reason we always hit it off. It was like a son / father relationship. It always fascinated people to see how well he and I got along when it was hard sometimes for Arnie to get along with other people. Arnie was opinionated.

Greg Bennick: He certainly was! Those opinions were the basis of so many articles throughout the ETCM years. Why don't we talk about a couple of other iconic names, and people most of us never got a chance to meet. What could you tell us about Natalie Halpern? The hobby seemed male dominated, and as a woman so highly involved, she seemed rare.

Fred Weinberg: Natalie was not only unusual for being a female coin dealer, much less an error dealer, but also just as a woman collecting coins. Even this was very unusual back even in the 1960's. I would see Natalie every time I went to a New Jersey or New York coin show. She was always very friendly, always gregarious, smart, sharp. Everybody loved dealing with her. Back in those days back east, you'd deal with Natalie Halpern, or you'd deal with Pete Bishal. There was a crew of people on each coast. People didn't travel as much to shows. Because of my job at a company called Numismatics Limited at which I worked, I would fly to the bigger shows around the country. So I'd always go to shows in New York, New Jersey, or sometimes even Connecticut. Natalie didn't go to Chicago or to the south or out west, but I would always see her in New York.

She was always great to deal with. She had a great sense of humor was a sharp dealer.

Greg Bennick: While we're on the subject, you mentioned Pete Bishal. The error hobby - because it deals with unusual and strange coins - attracts some unusual and strange people. Pete Bishal was certainly another one of those. I know that I bought coins on a number of occasions from Pete. I had came up as a punk rock kid and was singing in punk rock bands and when I first met Pete Bishal, I thought, wow, here's a guy who seems as bizarre as I feel! I always enjoyed seeing him at coin shows. What do you recall about him?

Fred Weinberg: Well, Pete was an absolute trip. He was gregarious and very energetic and outgoing. He was also very knowledgeable. His main area of study and claim to fame was that he studied all the different die varieties of the 1878 dollar and using the Van Allen book - the VAM book - Pete was the first person who made the argument that one of these VAMs, and I cannot remember it was VAM 18 or VAM 27, was actually one of the first coins struck at the mint when they first struck 1878 silver dollars. He did that for both the Philadelphia and San Francisco issues. So he was a true student or errors and of coins and he really studied this stuff. At shows he was always entertaining. He had a crazy personality, and everyone liked him. But like you said the error hobby attracted people who were attracted to strange coins and everybody involved had a quirk or two.

Greg Bennick: One more classic name. I want to ask about Lonesome John Devine. He was another character we haven't discussed. Can you tell us a bit about him and the role he played in the hobby?

Fred Weinberg: I would say after people like Mort Goodman and Arnie Margolis, John was probably the third or fourth most influential person in the error hobby, because he was a big promoter as well as a dealer. He had his publications, he had a publishing company called HiHo Printing where he would publish his own little price list. And for a while I think he printed the Errorscope too. John was a great guy, very knowledgeable, very smart, very friendly. And I used to go out and visit him in Newbury Park, which is coincidentally, maybe 20 minutes at the most, from where I am right now here in the Valley. John was great, and had a very, very positive effect on the error hobby. He didn't travel to coin shows. I don't even think he went to the Long Beach shows. But his promotion of coins and errors and his price lists were very, very instrumental in making errors more popular.

Greg Bennick: I love it. So how did you move from being a collector to becoming a dealer? You mentioned selling BIE pennies and things like that, and later Numismatics Limited. Was Numismatics Limited your company?

Fred Weinberg: No, and actually what I probably should tell you, and I've told this story before but it's important to me is that I had the paper route, and I had that little mail order business selling 25 cent, 30 cent error coins. But there was also a coin shop in Los Angeles called Jonathan's Coins on Manchester in Inglewood, close to Randy's Donuts. I would go in there, especially on Tuesday nights, but also on Saturdays in about 1967, ‘68, ‘69 when I could drive. It was maybe 20 minutes away from where I lived. Jonathan's Coins in Inglewood had probably the largest if not the second largest bid board in the country. There would be hundreds of people every Tuesday night fighting each other to put that last bid on the little card on the bid board and I would go there and get worked up if there was an error coin I wanted to buy. Then you'd hang around and make friends. I kind of got to be known as an error guy at Jonathan's.

Well, fast forward a couple of years later. This is now 1971. I'm now 21 years old and at my parents house in Cheviot Hills. I'm with my girlfriend at the time and she was baking chocolate chip cookies during Christmas break. I got a call from Jonathan's, and they said, Fred, there's a guy here with a bunch of error coins. He wants to sell them. I don't know anything about them. I want you to come out here and buy this deal for me.

So I said, Okay! And I left the chocolate chip cookies, which is probably the only time in my life I have and ever will leave freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. I ran over to Inglewood to the coin shop, walked in and Jonathan told me that guy was in the conference room. I said, Jonathan, I don't know how to do any of this…what do I do? He said, It's real simple. Buy them so that I can put them in the showcase and sell them and make a profit. It's that easy.

I went into the room and it turns out that the person who was selling these coins was another error dealer named Jim Layman. He was from Parma, Ohio and he was driving out to Northern California to relocate and knew Jonathan's had a bid board and a coin shop and he thought, Well, I'll sell my error inventory there. I had heard of him. He was intimidating only in the sense that he was older than me, probably in his 30's I'm guessing at the time, maybe a touch older than that, and I'd seen his name. I thought, He's a dealer. Well, what the hell am I doing?

Well, the short version of the story is, I ended up buying the deal from him. Jim Layman is still, to this day, my life insurance agent, because that's what his main job was in Parma Ohio. He's still a life insurance agent in Modesto, California. I ended up buying the deal from him. He left and I recall it was about $2,200, which was a lot of money for error coins for a collection at the time. I can't remember any of the coins in the deal, but I remember the rough total amount. We gave him a check, and he left.

Jonathan came up to me and said, I like the way you handled yourself, do you want a job here? Until that second I had never ever considered being a coin dealer. I was happy to just be a collector. But the second he asked me that question, I knew that's what I wanted to do. I told him, Yes I do! I said that I'd start in a couple of weeks at the beginning of the year. We agreed that I would start at the beginning of February which is exactly 50 years ago. And I then went home and told my girlfriend, but it took me about four days to come up with the nerve to tell my middle class Jewish parents that I was dropping out of college to become a coin dealer!

Greg Bennick: That's amazing.

Fred Weinberg: It was terrifying! And surprisingly, they were pretty, pretty supportive as I recall. I finished my college tests and started the beginning of February, and worked there for a little over a year and that was my job until I got hired at Numismatics Limited, which is another story.

Greg Bennick: Well, let's jump into that. But just as a quick aside, you know I've made my living as a speaker and performer for my entire life and I've mentioned to you that I started out as a juggler when I was a kid and still use juggling and various comedic tricks in my shows. But I had the moment too, where I had to tell my parents, Guess what? I know you went to an Ivy League school, but I'm going to be a professional juggler for the rest of my life! So I know that feeling of dread and wonder and awe and hope!

Fred Weinberg: Exactly, the dread! And you know what looking back, I probably would have done better with my parents if I told them I wanted to be a juggler than a coin dealer. [laughter] But actually, they were fine with it. So what ended up happening was that Jonathan, though he had a big coin shop and was successful, was taking too much money out of the business himself. He never had enough cash flow. So every time somebody would come in and he would buy a coin, he had to cover the checks. So, two or three times a week I would have to drive up to Beverly Hills from Inglewood with whatever gold or rare coins we had bought in the shop that week to sell to this company called Numismatics Limited to get enough to cover the checks for everything else that he had written checks for in the prior few days.

After doing this for about a year and meeting the three owners of Numismatics Limited, I was in there one day and the two owners started asking me questions. We were in their office and they asked me, So, how do you like working at Jonathan's? I replied, Oh it's great. I love it. It's exciting. They asked, Really…you really, really enjoy it? Are you happy there? Are you learning? And I said, Oh yeah, I'm learning a lot! It's great. I'm buying and selling. It's wonderful!

They went on and on for at least twenty minutes asking me if I was happy there. I must have been naïve and not realized what was happening. But finally, out of exasperation, one of them said to me, Hey idiot we're trying to offer you a job!

Greg Bennick: Laughs] And how many years were you with Numismatics Limited?

Fred Weinberg: I was at Numismatics Limited for thirteen and a half, maybe fourteen years.

Greg Bennick: And I'm assuming you did a lot of traveling for them?

Fred Weinberg: Oh, I traveled. While I was at Numismatics Limited, I went to coin shows probably an average of three times a month for 10 months. No traveling in December, maybe one coin show in November but the rest of the year it probably averaged two and half times a month for at least 10 months. I went to a couple of dozen shows a year. Central States, FUN, all sorts of different shows across the country. I've been to a lot of different cities, everywhere. It was fun.

Greg Bennick: That's really cool. Well let's do this. Let's dive into some questions about actual coins themselves because, well, you've seen everything! You mentioned earlier buying the Bolt Collection. Can you tell me about that?

Fred Weinberg: Sure, and that's kind of a unique story too. I was at Numismatics Limited for about two years, and one day a gentleman named John Hammrick who owned a big company called Worldwide Coins in Atlanta Georgia came out for the Long Beach Coin Show. He called me up and said, I've got this collection of errors. Do you want to buy it? And I said, Certainly. He replied that he'd come by the office in a couple of hours.

I talked to Harry Gordon, the owner of the company, and I told him that there was this is a big deal coming in and I said that I thought I could make good money on it. He was so cool, and said, That's fine, no problem whatsoever. So John Hammrick came into the office, and the collection he brought had a little over 2000 major dramatic rare US coins, mostly type coins from 1795 to about 1955. There was nothing after ‘55, maybe 1956. And the man who put together this collection, Dr Conway Bolt, was a famous collector known for his errors. I've found references to his name in some of the early Penny publications and you might see his name too in some of the publications that you have. He had this incredible collection. The family took it in after he died - I'm assuming around 1973 - to Stacks, and Stacks offered them $10,000 for the whole deal. They didn't sell it and instead because Conway Bolt's family was in the south, and Worldwide was in the south, they sold it to Worldwide. I have no idea what Worldwide paid for it. But he came into my office with eight or ten double row stock boxes of two by two coins. Again, remember that it was over 2,000 coins, and there was no way for me to figure out a cost on every single one of these coins.

So what I ended up doing was that I made a decision to start with the first boxes. They were numbered and I just ran a tape of what I would pay for the coins. Worldwide wanted $50,000 for the collection, so to figure out if it would work – without pricing every single coin individually - I started going through the boxes of coins with a calculator typing in their retail value, and when I got to the $50,000 and there was still like a box and a half left, I thought, I own the deal. So we bought the deal for $50,000. To sell it, I told the boss, Look, I don't want to cost 2000 coins. The easiest thing for me to do, with your permission Harry, is to let me sell these coins. The first $50,000 will all be cost and then everything over that will be pure profit and that's just a lot easier to figure. And he said that's fine. Well, to promote the Bolt Collection, I took out ads in Coin World, Arnie Margolis wrote a couple of articles in Error Trends, and between customers I had and flying around to a couple of places in the south with coins to sell at coin shows, I had sold $150,000 worth of error coins in one year and I still had two or three good pieces. I ended up getting, I'm guessing if I can remember correctly, around $165,000 for the collection a year later, selling it one coin at a time. That was a lot of money back in 1974 to make on a coin deal.

Greg Bennick: Do you know if that collection is documented anywhere? Mike Byers seemed to think that he had a copy somewhere of what was in the collection but wasn't sure where his copy of the listings were.

Fred Weinberg: Yes, it's documented in a couple of different areas but unfortunately because I'm retiring I've packed everything away so I don't even have access to it right now. There was an inventory list that somebody typed up from Numismatics Limited of all the coins that I had shipped to Arnie for photographs in Error Trends. And that probably was 40 or 50 coins. Then I came out with a little booklet that was the same size as Error Trends, and it said the Dr Conway Bolt Collection on it. And it didn't list all 2,000 coins because I was busy selling them but it listed a few. It was such an incredible collection that I all I had to do was just take them to any local coin show, or any coin show around the country for that matter and I would easily sell them. Most people had not seen so many type coin errors. I mean there was some spectacular error coins from half cents to US gold coins. It was truly spectacular material.

For more information about CONECA, see:
https://conecaonline.org/

The PCGS Slab Lab series has some video interviews with Fred. Here's the latest. -Editor

  Fred Weinberg

To watch the video, see:
Slab Lab Episode 11 | Fred Weinberg Part 2 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YRyUz3Tt7eU)

To read the earlier articles in this series, see:
Fred Weinberg Interview, Part One (https://www.coinbooks.org/v25/esylum_v25n28a15.html)

Kolbe-Fanning E-Sylum ad 2020-05-17



Wayne Homren, Editor

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