Greg Bennick's interview with dealer and longtime E-Sylum supporter Fred Weinberg was a wonderful look at the hobby and business of error coin collecting over the last half century.
Greg has now embarked on a new series of interviews for the Newman Numismatic Portal, starting with Redbook Editor Jeff Garrett. Here's the first part, where Jeff tells how he got started in the hobby.
Greg Bennick: My name is Greg Bennick, and I'm here today with Jeff Garrett. We're going
to answer a few questions about his career and whatnot. And Jeff, let's just dive right in.
Thanks so much for taking the time. I really appreciate it.
Jeff Garrett: Well thanks Greg for having me today.
Greg Bennick: Absolutely. So tell me, how did you get your start in coins? You know, your
bio is online, many people know the things that you have done. I'm almost always more
curious about the human element behind the bio. So how did you get your start in coins and
what year was that and how did that go about?
Jeff Garrett: Well, in the late sixties I got started like millions of other people did. A friend
of my family gave me a Lincoln Penny book from 1941 to date at that time, I guess in the
sixties, and they told me about coin collecting. A friend of my family's, he was an amateur
collector. He gave me the book and then I started filling the album. And we all know the
magic of Whitman folders: it's an addictive behavior. And I was a perfect sucker for that
because I'm really kind of anal about everything anyway. I like everything in its order and
complete. So, I started putting it together and then I've started realizing that some of these are
actually kind of hard to find. And I would look and my mom and dad would take me to the
bank and I would get a couple dollars' worth of pennies and I'd go back and I'd go through
them. And fairly soon I had it pretty complete. And then I made my first numismatic
purchase. I lived in the Clearwater, Florida area and I couldn't find 1941-S. I'm sure I could
have found one eventually, but I was impatient, so I'm not sure in those days how we did it,
was probably a newspaper ad I saw, but I bought a 1941-S penny from Littleton Coin
Company. So that was my first numismatic purchase. For me, the thing that helped me get
started in coins and going actually fairly young as a professional, probably 16 or 17, I was a
professional, but I grew up in Clearwater Tampa area and that was really key to me being
able to get into coins and being able to have the opportunities that I did.
In Clearwater, Florida, back in the late sixties, early seventies, there were a lot of coin clubs.
There were probably five or six in the area. So, basically every week there was a coin club
meeting somewhere in one of the towns. And I was really lucky that I had some mentors that
I guess they saw tin me hat I really love coins and I was a young kid and by the time I was 14
or 15, I was considered like a whiz kid with it. So, they would come and pick me up. My dad
traveled out for work so he was never home, but they would pick me up and take me to the
coin club meetings. And then afterwards they'd all meet at Denny's and I'd get to talk coins
with them and things like that. And then also in that area was a Clearwater coin show, which
was kind of famous in Florida, it used to be a really big deal and we would go to that once a
year. And so, it was my luck of growing up in the Clearwater, Tampa area that I was able to
have some mentors that really kind of got me into it, amd gave me opportunities to learn. I
would ride my bike to a coin shop in Dunedin, Florida that a guy named Ed French ran. And
I would help him flip coins and do things you do in a coin shop. And it was a typical hole in
the wall place. But I was just really in the right place at the right time to be exposed to coins,
so it was really a lucky time.
Greg Bennick: That's amazing. Now what do you think it is that defines a whiz kid at 14 or
15? What was it about you that made you stand out from all the other kids? Was it your
ability to memorize, was it your grading ability at the time? What do you think it was?
Jeff Garrett: That's a good question. You know, it was really kind of a combination of
those. So grading, I was really good at grading, like really quickly. I had a really good
memory for coins. I still do. I can't remember what I had for lunch yesterday, but I can
remember a coin that I sold a year ago. Somehow, I have like a photographic memory for
coins, but it doesn't imply to anything else, so it's really a strange thing. And also, I was
really good with counterfeit detection, for some reason I could identify counterfeit gold. So,
by the time I was 15, people were asking me for advice. It was kind of funny. And also fairly
soon I became a pretty good trader. I could see a coin and figure out what it was worth. And I
kind of kid people because now I'm editor of Red Book and back in the seventies, the Red
Book was really an important thing. And so I did everything I could and memorized the Red
Book. And then another thing, I started understanding early on that information was really
key. And I don't know if education's the right word for it then, but I was like, the more you
know, the more you can make, kind of thing. I figured that out really fast. And I remember
when David Aker's books came out in the seventies and I was like, wow, this is really great
information. You could look at and memorize the Red Book, but that was mintages and
prices, but Dave Aker's books were the first one that had a narrative about this coin, maybe
it's listed in the Red Book, but it's actually known in mint state and that kind of stuff. So
early on I just realized the more you know the more you can make. And I kind of made that a
staple of how I did business.
Greg Bennick: I'm not Gregsplaining this to you, as you know this already, but those little
pieces of information make the difference. If you know that the Red Book says this, but this
coin is unknown in Mint State and that coin comes up for auction and it happens to be in
Mint State, that little piece of information is huge. I mean it's absolutely immense.
Jeff Garrett: Yeah, it was big. And then long later on, I actually learned that there were
ways of finding information too. You know, many years later John Dannreuther and I started
compiling auction records. We were one of the first ones that did that. We would go in, we
started a database and we eventually sold it to PCGS. And now it's part of what everyone
uses. Now people use auction records for pricing pretty much more than price guides. So
yeah, I remember we had started that project, we hired college students to take auction
catalogs and put them in an Excel file. And then later we had to use more sophisticated
databases. But I remember buying an 1841 Quarter Eagle, and I saw the auction records that
they were all bringing twice what they were bringing in the catalog and I capitalized on that
at a coin show. I was like, wow, we gotta really amp it up. So we hired more people and it
ended that even today, now it's the way most people price coins; prices realized.
Greg Bennick: How many auction records did these college students type in, do you think?
Jeff Garrett: Oh, it was tens of thousands. I remember we eventually got beyond Excel, and
I have to ask John which database we went to next, but he was more the tech guy and we
ended up having to buy something else that was bigger, that could control more data. And up
until about 10 years or so ago, a lot of it was done by hand. It's in the last 10 years that now
the auction companies, they download it into databases and it goes up to the Collector's
Universe who gets it, and then Greysheet gets it. And so that information now is consolidated
and you can get it at your fingertips.
Greg Bennick: You know that you've taken on a large coin task when you go past the
capability of Microsoft. When Excel just isn't enough and you're like,
your silly small
company? I'm sorry, we're gonna have to deal with somebody bigger for the project that
we're doing. That's pretty remarkable. So you mentioned the Red Book and of course
growing up the Red Book was everything. And I would look forward to it coming out and of
course, comparing old prices to new and whatnot. What was it like getting involved in the
Red Book? I mean sure, I'd be happy to talk about what you do for the Red Book right now,
and please feel free to mention that in case people don't know. But what did it feel like going
from growing up reading the Red Book to then working on the Red Book?
Jeff Garrett: You know, it's kinda like a slow boil, like you put a frog in a boiling water
and he doesn't know it because it goes so slowly. So, my exposure to Red Book was really a
slow process. I was a coin trader for most of my career until about 15 or 20 years ago. And I
had this idea about the 100 Greatest Coins. Everybody's like,
Wow, what's the most
expensive coin? I said, that's would be an interesting book: what's the greatest coins? So,
Ron Guth and I, one of my great friends in the business, we worked together on it and we put
together the The 100 Greatest Coins. And I went to the idea with Whitman Publishing and I
guess it was Whitman, it might have been a different company at that time. And we told
them about the idea and they liked it and so we published this book and then we had prices in
there. ,So they kind of established my relationship with Whitman, the company, and then I
would help them. You know, that book became very popular, it won Book of the Year. And
it's in this fifth edition and it's still really a useful book that a lot of people like. But it kinda
got me working with them, they would call up and say oh, there's a guy doing a book on
Buffalo nickels, but we need pricing for it. So, I would help him with the pricing for it. And
then eventually, they wanted me to help them with the gold coins because I eventually did a
book Encyclopedia of US Gold with Ron Guth as well and that was a multi-year adventure.
It took a long time to get it done. And then that book had pricing in it, so I created a database
to do pricing for that. And then they asked me to help with the pricing for gold coins for Red
Then I started working with Ken Bressett and so we worked on that. And I would do every
year for a few years, I would do the pricing for gold, kinda what they call finalizing, where
they have contributors, but someone has to take the contributors prices and put in the final
final price. And even then, I was putting in the prices, but Ken Bressett would overlook it
and he would be the ultimate finalizer, but I did 95% of the work. So, we did that and then
eventually Ken was wanting to slow down a little bit, I guess he was getting in his late
eighties, and he said he wanted to finally slow down a little bit. So I started doing more of
the book, and then eventually I was doing sort of like an apprenticeship. I was doing the
entire book, but it was still as I guess a pricing editor, I think what they called me was a
valuation editor is what I was called so I did that. And I love the Red Book and I've used it as
a tool for my whole life, so it's been something I really care about. And so eventually worked
on it some more. And then at some point I got the big honor of having my name moved to
the front of the book as a valuation editor with Dave Bowers as research editor and Ken
Bressett as editor. That was a big achievement for me numismatically, so I was pretty happy
And then I guess 2019 I think it was, so it's about three or four years ago now, Ken Bressett
was 91 or 92 and still walking four miles a day, but he was wanting to actually really retire.
So I took on the job of doing the entire Red Book as a senior editor. So now I'm senior
editor, Ken Bressett is still fairly active as far as you know, we have a question if something
comes up, or if someone questions a mintage on a coin, we'll still be like,
Well Ken, where
did that number come from? And he'll say
Oh, in 1962, we did this, this, and this.
So, he still has an amazing memory, and he'll turn 95 this year and that's pretty amazing. So,
my involvement with Red Book was an evolving process and it's been enjoyable. I like it. I
like everything except for the last month where I have to really put it all together, which is
like a big giant amount of work. We have a good contributor system. Someone told me a
quote once that I really like from Mark Twain. Someone asked Mark Twain if he enjoys
writing, and he said,
I enjoy having written. So that's kinda how I am. Once I get it done,
Phew, I'm glad that's done, I can wait till next year.
About the Interviewer
Greg Bennick (www.gregbennick.com) is a keynote speaker and long time coin collector with a focus on major mint error coins. Have ideas for other interviewees? Contact him anytime on the web or via instagram @minterrors.
To watch the complete interview on NNP, see:
Jeff Garrett, Interviewed by Greg Bennick
To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
FRED WEINBERG INTERVIEW, PART FOUR
Wayne Homren, Editor
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