Greg Bennick's latest interview for the Newman Numismatic Portal is with counterstamp researcher Bill Groom. Here's the third of four parts, where Bill discusses his collection and working with other researchers and catalogers.
How large is your counterstamp collection and how did you acquire so many of them -
you had mentioned before 2700 pieces, I think you said.
That's right. Most of them I got at shows, auctions - dealers would set them aside for me,
that I made purchases from. One of the things I would do if a dealer showed me a piece on
let's say I had a dealer friend sold me a piece for $15. It was a counter stamped large cent.
He only wanted $15. So I handed him $75 and said,
This coin to me is worth $125 to
$150 I'll split the difference with you.
And then he would come back and sell me more. So I you know, by getting dealers
interested in finding them for me, that was a way to get that they would keep coming my
way. And some people have seen my articles and contacted me, so. But I would say most
of the pieces I got came from shows. I used to be able to come home from shows
in the eighties with a dozen, 15, 20, 30 at a time. Like I say, that one bag from Richard
Rossa was, I think around 30 or 40 pieces in that bag. But nowadays I go to a big show
and if I come home with one or two in my pocket, I'm lucky.
What are your personal favorite counterstamps and why?
Well, I like certain occupations. Silversmiths. And I have hundreds of silversmith pieces.
And those are very identifiable. My favorites tend to be ones that I can get a slam dunk
attribution. This I can say with absolute certainty this is the stamp. The stamp that came on
this coin was produced by so-and-so. And how do I know that? Well, if I have a spoon with
a silversmith hallmark, I try to find a piece of silverware with the same hallmark. I tend to
do it with spoons mostly. They seem to be most prevalent silversmith items. And one of
the least expensive. And I'd match. I'd find a piece of silverware or spoon in particular that
had the matching mark on it as a go along. Or if it's a knife, it's a cutler. I find a knife that
has the same stamp on the knife. I can't afford to buy all the guns. But the early firearms I
specialize mostly I like civil war and earlier pieces in my collection. When I say there's
2700, probably 90% or more or are pre-Civil War. Now the guns. I can't afford to buy
those. All those expensive guns - some of them are $100,000 for a gun - but I can afford
the counterstamp. So, I get a picture of the mark on the stamp on the gun as kind of a go
along. I have photos of that in my database.
It's fascinating that you brought this up because I was going to mention and ask about the
ways that people collect counterstamps. My counterstamp collection consists of a grand
total of two pieces. A counterstamp by JL Polhemus, who was a druggist during the Gold
Rush era from Sacramento, California. And I'm fascinated by the idea that maybe I would
find a bottle, an empty bottle of a tincture that he produced or something related to his
store. And I never thought about that until you were just mentioning connecting a
counterstamped coin with a firearm, perhaps that was stamped by the same person who
stamped the coin. It's a really fascinating way to collect. Do you think that there's a lot of
people who collect that way with that historical approach to collecting counterstamps?
For sure. Another one that I particularly like is the early photographers. I look for
ambrotypes, daguerrotypes, these early tintype photographs. They're in little frames and
people probably see them in antique shops. Some of those frames are stamped. So I've
been matching up finding coins with the same stamp and then buying a photograph
stamped by that same photographer. It's kind of interesting. You look at the coin, you see
the stamp and you look at the photograph. We're looking at the guy who stamped this
One of my favorite aspects of coin collecting is when a coin tells a story above and beyond
just what the coin is. I collect error coins. So every error in terms of major error coins
certainly has some story behind it, even if the story is just the manufacture of that coin.
And in terms of a counterstamp, a large cent, for example, might not tell the story of its
manufacture, but with a counterstamp on it, it certainly does in a way tell the story of why
that coin exists with that counterstamp. So I'm fascinated by the idea of connecting the
history of that counterstamp with the actual history of the person who made it. I love that
Well, it's more it's even more than that, Greg, when you think about it, because many of
the articles that I've written have back stories, and that's what I find fascinating. A
gunsmith who committed suicide. He was depressed. He used a gun. He died by his own
hand with the items that he made - great guns. A guy named Ramsdell. I just wrote an
article on him last year. He made top notch guns. He just did away with himself.
Gunslingers who were on the frontier moving out from the Midwest. I have been able to get
so many discovery pieces like that. Its like Christmas keeps happening over and over
again. It's like you open these packages but all of a sudden and they almost explode in
your face and you just find so much information on them.
That's fantastic. Now, tell me, did you personally know Russ Rulau and you mentioned
Greg before, and listeners might have caught that. My name is Greg and you mentioned a
Greg, but Greg or Gregory Brunk, did you personally know Russ Rulau and Greg Brunk?
Yes, I did. And I never met them in person. What happened was I started writing to them
when I found their books about counterstamps and I guess they both credited me with
providing information for their books and I am among the many contributors. And I wrote
letters to them and they replied. I made a trip to Wisconsin to visit a friend and I tried
looking up Russ Rulau. He was up there in years and I think it was not long before,
not long after that he passed away. But I couldn't get hold of him. As for Greg Brunk, he
kind of went underground for some years. His books are very successful. We used to talk
on the phone. Greg couldn't talk very long. He suffered from as asthmatic condition and
allergies. In his later years, he was legally blind. And it was so sad because he had eight
manuscripts. It just breaks my heart when I think about it. I was having health issues, too,
We wanted to make a trip. But I never did go up there. And Greg didn't seem too
enthusiastic about me visiting for whatever reasons, I'm not sure. But we would talk often
on the phone and he actually was able to do some emails but sometimes they were
garbled. He couldn't see that well and he would have a black screen with white print so he
could see better. But it was it was just so sad. We had some great conversations. And
Greg and I actually we both have a background in criminal justice, me being a probation
officer again, and he taught criminal justice at the college level and he had a doctorate, of
course. And so we had a lot in common. We did a lot of online and informal friendship. And
Greg was always enthusiastic to the end about the counterstamps.
And for listeners who are curious about the titles that we're discussing, Gregory Brunk's
book is Merchant and Privately Countermarked Coins: Advertising on the World's Smallest
Billboards. That was put out by World Exonumia Press. And then Russ Rulao's book is
The Standard Catalog of United States Tokens: 1700 to 1900. That was put out by Krause
Publications. And both of these are highly, highly recommended. I bought both of these
before I owned a counterstamp and I found them and continue to find both books
fascinating so I highly recommend both. They're sort of the definitive works on
counterstamps wouldn't you agree?
Oh for sure. But I would caution readers that there were a lot of erroneous listings and on
both catalogs. They were dependent upon numerous contributors. And one of the
problems that Greg related to me in our conversations was that there were people who
were actually hounding him to some degree, wanting to get certain pieces listed and such
and such. I think there were times that either Greg or Russ relented and did list as such
and such, but later on found out that was incorrect. And there are still pieces that were
never corrected that were listed and published. So collectors need to be aware of that and
do their own research. And that's where I hope the Newman Portal will help future
collectors more and provide more resources to actually attribute and update listings on
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 video, see:
Bill Groom on Counterstamps
To read the complete transcript, see:
Bill Groom Interview (Transcript)
To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
VIDEO: BILL GROOM ON COUNTERSTAMPS
BILL GROOM INTERVIEW, PART ONE
BILL GROOM INTERVIEW, PART TWO
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