Dave Schenkman notified me that our good friend Gene Brandenburg has passed. Born May 5, 1942, he was 81.
"I was saddened to learn that my friend of many years, Gene Brandenburg, died on January 31 at the age of 81, following a battle with cancer. I met Gene shortly after moving to Maryland in 1970, and we became good friends. We both eventually became coin dealers, and although we were never in business together, we shared tables at many Washington area conventions. I have fond memories of collections we purchased jointly, but the most memorable of them had nothing to do with coins; it was a group of 68 old slot machines we bought and sold the same day.
"Gene was a very generous person. I recall one year when he pulled up to my garage unexpectedly, honked his horn and told me to open the door. I did so, and he unloaded a dozen cases of Christian Moerlein, a Cincinnati beer that he knew I liked. The beer wasn't sold locally, but somehow he found it; he really enjoyed surprising friends with gifts.
"Old Town Coin and Jewelry Exchange, Gene's shop was a fixture of Alexandria, Virginia for decades. He loved to buy unusual items, so there was always something new when I stopped by. He loved the business, and even after closing his shop he maintained a presence in Alexandria by renting space in an antique mall, where he could be found a couple of days a week.
"Gene was a member of Nummis Nova, a dinner group that meets monthly, and we always drove to the restaurants together. The return trips usually included conversations about the items passed around by members, and no matter whether they were U.S. and foreign coins, or tokens, medals, and obsolete currency, if they were unusual or rare Gene was interested in them.
"My wife, Joanne, and I were often guests at his home for his family's Thanksgiving dinner, and we treasure these memories. Gene was a very special person, and he will be missed."
So sorry to hear the news. Gene was indeed generous and gregarious. We always had interesting conversations at our dinner meetings about numismatics and any other topic under the sun. Here are some selected photos from our meetings.
Gene and Amelia Brandenburg, December 2019
Gene Brandenburg offers Joe Levine Velvet Devil Merlot
In August 2015 Eric Schena wrote about Gene as his numismatic mentor.
Gene Brandenburg, Dave Schenkman, Eric Schena, March 2018
"I have been in numismatics ever since I was four years old. I have been especially fortunate in that I have had some outstanding mentors throughout much of that time. When my family moved to Northern Virginia in 1984, I met Gene Brandenburg at his shop at 211 King Street in Alexandria and quickly became a regular. He took me under his wing and I learned an enormous amount about the coin business and, rather importantly, awoke a passion in me to research the less traveled paths in numismatics.
"At the time, Gorbachev and glastnost helped to open new avenues of research regarding early and medieval Russian coins and thanks to Gene I was able to start assembling a nice collection of "wire" coins. I also took an interest in ancient coins and in particular the mysterious coins of ancient and medieval Central Asia. When I started to work part time for Gene, he helped me learn how to attribute the coins with barely any starting information. I cut my teeth on these coins using Michael Mitchiner's Oriental Coins and Their Values (which he recently gave to me) and enjoyed every minute of it.
"In college in the early 1990s, I minored in Russian Studies (though when I started it was called Soviet Studies) and used my interest in wire coins to write my senior thesis on them. His location in Alexandria also meant a number of great local items came through his shop and with one obsolete note in particular, a 12 1/2 cent note from A. Henkel & Son, I began my journey into the world of tokens and paper money of the Mid Atlantic.
"He also introduced me to Nummis Nova and the tremendous fun of that as well as another person whom I consider one of my most influential mentors as well as great friend, Dave Schenkman.
"I am forever grateful to Gene for taking the time to mentor me into what has proven to be an essential part of my life. I'm a firm believer in the power of mentoring and that it really never ends. Gene and Dave have really helped to hone my researching skills and keep my passion and interest in numismatics constant and continue to do so. If I become even one-tenth the numismatist they are then I will consider my career a success. I certainly hope to be a mentor myself and help a young numismatist's interests flourish and give back to the hobby that has given so much to me."
"I have always maintained that working for Gene was the most rewarding and best employment experience I ever had. Not only was I able to be exposed to a wide range of numismatic material every day I was there and learn something new, Gene was about as best a boss anyone could have. When he had his shop down on Alexandria's waterfront on S. Union St., every Saturday night, we'd close up the shop and put everything away, then he'd insist we go down to the lower level in the shop where he kept a desk by the front window. There, he'd find some stunning bottle of wine (and we're not talking 2 Buck Chuck here) and we'd empty that bottle talking about everything and anything.
"This time of year was port season on his wine calendar and one evening he grabbed a bottle of 1977 Warre's Vintage Port and he poured it through a coin silver strainer made in the 1790s in Baltimore specifically for this purpose. That was just one of many such special memories that I will carry for the rest of my life. I will get a nice vintage bottle of port and salute my dear friend. Bon voyage et laissez les bon temps rouler, mon ami."
Bookplate and inscription in Eric's copy of Mitchiner's Oriental Coins and Their Values
In an October 2014 profile, we learned more.
"[Eric] spent many hours researching and attributing Greek and Roman coins at Gene Brandenburg's store.. Brandenburg was a mentor who taught Schena about some of the less-traveled paths in numismatics. Schena says, "It is through him that I developed my lifelong passion for collecting tokens and obsoletes from Virginia, starting with a ‘good for' token from the Southern Operating Company of Norfolk, a piece still in my collection.""
Lorne LaVertu writes:
"I've only been with the group two (2) years, and so, never had the pleasure of personally meeting Gene at a Nummis Nova dinner; that said, I was a big collector of wine paraphernalia in the 1980's/1990's, and visited his shop on a number of occasions. On one occasion, he had a stack of five (5) silver tastevins to the side of his counter. I asked him for a price, to which he said that he'd paid spot silver and would sell them to me at a 10% markup. I told him what they were, and that they were worth considerably more, to which he replied, "spot, plus ten percent." OK, I said, and the deal was consummated.
"These tastevins still reside in my collection of silver wine tastevins. For me, his legacy lives on in a very tangible form.
"May he truly rest in peace."
For more information, see:
What is the tastevin?
Mike Packard writes:
"Sad news. After Gene stopped attending our dinners, I often asked Dave how Gene was doing and asked him to pass along a greeting from me. I always liked Gene and enjoyed our dinners with him. He always had good stories and something to say about the items being circulated. When it was my turn to host, he always let me know if I'd done well--not by praising the quality of the food he ate but by evaluating the quality of the wine he drank. I received mostly thumbs up and even a couple of "HUZZAH"s, which made me feel good. Farewell good Sir."
In September 2011 Gene brought as his guest Alex Clain-Stefanelli, son of National Numismatic Collection curators Vladimir and Elvira Clain-Stefanelli. Alex worked in Gene's coin shop for a time.
I can attest to Gene's generosity and love of wine - he always insisted on buying a bottle and sharing it with me and others at our dinners. I learned a few things but always leaned on his suggestions and felt lost ordering wine without him.
Gene had been ill and unable to join us for dinners in about four years. It hasn't been quite the same since. He is greatly missed.
Wayne Homren and Gene Brandenburg, October 2018
Tom Kays writes:
"Here is my friend Gene at his most content, ensconced in a cozy restaurant, surrounded by old friends of Nummis Nova, and fully approving of this red wine choice, with our fabulous dinner. Ready to talk about coins, about vacations, about his children and grandchildren, what I especially enjoyed were his observations about dealing with odd characters like me who came into the Olde Town Coin Exchange with obscure relics and sometimes true tales of numismatic treasures of long ago, now set on his counter for his perusal, divination, and perhaps purchase.
"I would buy anything from this man from rusty nails to old shingles, regardless of whether the stories he spun about where they came from and how they came into his possession were even mildly factual. Historic objects that came from Gene had great stories worth knowing. It was my very great pleasure to sit across from Gene Brandenburg and swap tales at Nummis Nova dinners."
To read online obituaries, see:
To read the earlier E-Sylum articles, see:
THE NUMISMATIST PROFILES ERIC SCHENA
WAYNE'S NUMISMATIC DIARY: SEPTEMBER 18, 2016
ALEXANDER A. CLAIN-STEFANELLI, 1943 - 2014
WAYNE'S NUMISMATIC DIARY: OCTOBER 14, 2018
WAYNE'S NUMISMATIC DIARY: DECEMBER 22, 2019
Wayne Homren, Editor
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