The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 26, Number 53, December 31, 2023, Article 4

JOHN P. BURNHAM (1940-2023)

George Cuhaj and Tony Terranova alerted me to the passing of John P. Burnham on December 16th. -Editor

John P. Burnham Born to George R. Burnham and Kaarin (Maki) Burnham, John began his life of uncommon learning and accomplishment on July 20, 1940 in Portland, Oregon. There, with his beloved parents and sister Kaarin (Burnham) Cargill, John spent near every weekend of his childhood exploring the Columbia River Gorge and the numerous parks along the old highway - picnicking at Wahkeena Falls, tromping through the forest, intrepidly leading adventures up Oneonta Gorge, a lifelong favorite. Innumerable family road trips to Wecoma Beach and San Francisco further fueled the travel and exploration bugs. Those formative years were also the beginning of John's lifelong passions for trains and for coins and collecting (his first coin, a gift from his mother, a 1912 Liberty Head dime from the Denver Mint).

After graduating, as valedictorian, from Jefferson High in 1958, John attended the University of Oregon where he starred for the University's College Bowl team before graduating Phi Beta Kappa. John then left his beloved Oregon to attend graduate school at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. Connecticut would become his home for the ensuing six decades. After earning his degree (in part paid for by his winnings playing Gin) John joined the faculty at Connecticut College as a professor of economics. At Connecticut College, he met Christina, the love of his life. The couple married in 1967 and would raise four sons together, primarily in their book-filled (oh so very, very book-filled!) and historic home in Old Saybrook.

In addition to teaching at Connecticut College John gave his considerable efforts and talents to many other roles: he served on the Governor's Council of Economic Advisors of Connecticut; was Curator of the Yale Numismatic Collection for 30+ years; a numismatic consultant to Stack's/ Coin Galleries in New York; a financial consultant and columnist; director of the Connecticut Central Railroad; President of the Valley Railroad; on the Board of Directors of the Providence and Worcester Railroad; a fellow of the American Numismatic Society and founding member of its Augustus B. Sage Society; chairman of the Waterford, CT Board of Finance; and many more too numerous to list, though he undoubtedly would have liked them to be.

His curious nature always meant there were new and more books being added to the collection, books on near any subject one could imagine (This Was Logging anybody?). Luckily, the many visits to bookstores, be it Powell's in Portland (on summer trips out west) or the Yale Co-Op, meant a new book for each son to pick out as well. Time was always made in his busy schedule to support his sons...

John's intellectual curiosity was reflected in his hobbies, of which there were a great many. He loved collecting coins; reading (always a pile of books in various progress); collecting medals; playing chess; collecting paper money; playing cards (gin, cribbage, pinochle); collecting railroadiana; ensuring his children had strong cardio by making them sprint through the labyrinthian New York subway system or risk being left behind; collecting political memorabilia; crosswords; collecting books; dining with friends and family; and, it can't be stressed enough; collecting.

His entry in the 2009 An Island of Civility: The Centennial History of the New York Numismatic Club reads as follows. George Cuhaj supplied the photo of John at his Coin Galleries cube in the early 1990s. -Editor

Stacks John P Burnham

John P. Burnham. Member: 1992-Present
Educated at the University of Oregon and at Yale. Cataloguer for Stack's. Part-time curator of the Yale numismatic collection for nearly thirty years. An avid collector of medals, he led one of the first medals-only auction houses, Collectors Auctions Ltd. He is a member of the ANA, the Russian Numismatic Society, the Medal Collectors of America, Phi Beta Kappa, Delta Chi, the Elizabethan Club and the Mory's Association. He is the former chairman of the Connecticut Central Railroad and the Valley Railroad Company, and served on the board of directors of the Providence and Worcester Railroad Company and the Mutual Shares Corp.

The entry for Collectors Auctions Ltd of Danbury, CT in Martin Gengerke's 2009 American Numismatic Auctions lists sales dated 9/13/1987 through 5/4/1991. -Editor

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  calauctioncatalo1987coll_i5h9_0000 calauctioncatalo1988coll_0000

Catalog numbers are continued from the Johnson & Jensen series.

After sale number 35 the firm moved to Old Saybrook, CT, and the next catalog was number 8, reflecting the desire of the owner to separate the firm from the Johnson & Jensen catalogs. The Newman Numismatic Portal includes Collectors Auctions as a continuation of the Johnson & Jensen series.

Alan V. Weinberg writes:

"I knew John fairly well when he worked upstairs for Stack's on 57th Street. A quiet and seemingly humble, soft-spoken man, I'd heard he was well connected and accomplished but I had no idea just how prominent he was. He never portrayed himself as being so accomplished.

"I have at least two unique medals in my collection acquired privately from John, after much pleading. One a hand tooled silver 1835 American shooting award, and one a large high quality gold, originally cased, 1840's completely hand engraved life saving medal from Alabama depicting a paddle wheel afire and sinking.Acquired perhaps 30 yrs ago from John at a very firm non-negotiable $10K. Very high then but I had to have it. John would not have sold it but for my intense interest."

  Tuscaloosa Steamship Lifesaving Medal Tuscaloosa Steamship Lifesaving Medal reverse
Tuscaloosa Steamship Lifesaving Medal

Great medal! Amazing work. Thanks, everyone. -Editor

To read the complete obituary, see:
John Printz Burnham (


KENNETH W. RENDELL has traveled the world tracking down, buying, and selling the most significant, iconic historical letters and documents from the ancient world through the Renaissance to today. Read about his early start as a rare-coin dealer in the 1950s—and much more—in his thrilling new memoir, Safeguarding History. Order your copy online (including at ), or call 1-800-546-2995.

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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