Aaron Feldman: Buy the Book Before You Buy the Coin

Discussion in 'Coin Chat' started by mmarotta, Sep 13, 2010.

  1. mmarotta

    mmarotta Perpetual Newbie

    (This article originally appeared in the Winter 2008 issue of the MSNS Mich-Matist.)

    Aaron Feldman by Mike Marotta, MSNS 7935.

    BUY THE BOOK BEFORE THE COIN reads the advertisement in the March 1966 issue of The Numismatist. Aaron R. Feldman offered 25 titles, some of which were classics then as now: Sheldon, Beistle, and Bolender. Don Taxay’s book on counterfeits (1964) was a new addition to our knowledge base. The Friedberg family was still in its first generation with Paper Money of the United States. In 1991, the Numismatic Bibliomania Society raised $3,000 for an endowment for the ANA convention exhibit awards. The Aaron R. Feldman award has been given to MSNS members Larry Sekulich (three times) and Steven Roach, as well as to Kalamazoo native Joel Orosz. Today, Feldman easily bears the title “literature dealer.” He said, “I’ve always thought that if a man doesn’t own one coin, but has the knowledge that is in the books, then he’s a real numismatist.” However, Feldman himself owned many coins.

    After returning from World War I with a mustard gas injury, he worked in his uncle’s millinery business. As an astute businessman, his serious collecting began during the 1930s. Like most, he began with standard U.S. issues but soon discovered the untapped markets in Civil War Tokens, Hard Times Tokens, and Presidential Inaugural Medals. He bought whole collections and became known to the dealers. Feldman then moved into paper money, assembling an admirable inventory of U.S. Large Size notes under the tutelage of George Herbert Blake (1858-1955) who was called “the dean of American paper money.” The depth of Feldman’s interest can be gauged by the fact that he wrote an article for Coin World (Dec. 22, 1961), “Irish Revolutionists Issue Freedom Bonds.” The sidebar called him an “avid paper student.” Whatever his other interests, this is the only article attributed directly to Feldman.

    His influence was personal. He lugged his books to ANA conventions. He entertained customers at “the world’s smallest coin shop” amid the diamond merchants at 1220 Avenue of the Americas (which natives always have called “Sixth Avenue”).
    Aaron Feldman was a member of the ANA, the ANS, the Empire State Numismatic Association and many other coin clubs over the years. Successful in business, Feldman could afford to indulge his passions. He was known to sell books at cost to beginning collectors.

    Feldman endured Parkinson’s disease in his declining years. He closed his shop and did business by mail. When it came time to sell off his literature collection to meet his medical expenses, he was caught by bad timing. His own favorite literature dealer was Frank Katen (1903-2001) who has been called “the pathfinder of American Numismatic Bibliomania” and the “Moses” of numismatic literature. However, Katen could not handle Feldman’s collection. So, Feldman consigned it to Swann Galleries, another specialist in books. However, Feldman was not impressed with Swann’s appreciation of numismatics as a specialty. They had, in fact, considered coin books to be “throwaways.” Nonetheless, George S. Lowry, president of Swann’s was happy with the results: the sale grossed $13,000 (November 29, 1973), which, relative to the price of gold or gasoline today would be like a quarter of a million dollars.

    However, for Feldman, it was a disaster. Boxes of 19th century catalogues, back issues of ANS and ANA publications, cartons from Wayte Raymond, James Kelly, Stacks, and Mehl all went for fractions of the pre-sale estimates. The two-volume Saxonia Numismatica by Wilhelm Ernst Tentzel, written in German and Latin and published in 1708, sold for $275.

    Writing this in February 2008, I found the same books for sale from a German dealer for €350 (about $510-$520). Compared to gold and gasoline, these books remain greatly undervalued. Literature is a tough sell.

    Coins are shiny; gold and silver are hard money. When you hold a 20¢ piece you can imagine what it bought back then. But if coins are “history you can hold in your hand” then without the history, all you have is a melted rock. Coin collectors come to the bourse floor armed with Greysheets and Red Books and printouts. They want the best prices – and rightfully so. It is an immutable law of economics that price is a matter of supply and demand. With old coins, the supplies are more or less fixed. All that changes is the demand. Demand begins with literature.

    One collector writes an article for a magazine. Another collector creates an exhibit. Someone else gives a talk at an ANA convention. Eventually a book comes out. At every step, from original research, to the sharing of information, to the reading of good books, each aficionado enjoys profits not available to later buyers and sellers. The people with the price sheets are the last in line.

    They pay for the profits not realized in the sales of rare books. It is perhaps unfair that collectible books are not prized more highly. The advantage is that almost any book at almost any price is a bargain. You cannot buy them much cheaper. The profits come from knowing what is between the covers. The best collections are built on knowledge, not price sheets.

    Sources
    • Bowers, Dave, email to author, Wednesday, December 26, 2007 11:13 pm
    • Feldman, Aaron, “Irish Revolutionists Issue Freedom Bonds,” Coin World, December 22, 1961, page 56.
    • “Frank Katen, 1903-2001” The E-Sylum: Volume 4, Number 5, January 28, 2001, Article 2. http://www.coinbooks.org/esylum_v04n05a02.html
    • Smith, Pete, “Names in Numisatics: Feldman Promoted Numismatic Literature,” The Numismatist, December 1998, page 1373.
    • “Aaron Feldman dead at 81; famous for book advocacy,” Coin World, April 7, 1976, pg. 3.
    • Hamburger Antiquariat Keip GmbH, Grindelhof 48, 20146 Hamburg, Germany http://www.antiqbook.de/boox/ham/266999.shtml
     
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  3. coinman0456

    coinman0456 Coin Collector

    You might want to think about copy right infringement . Worthwhile Article though.
     
  4. mmarotta

    mmarotta Perpetual Newbie

    (I don't remember where this appeared first.)
    Buy The Book by Michael E. Marotta

    "Buy the book before you buy the coin." This advice originally came from coin dealer Aaron R. Feldman (1894-1976). Feldman promoted numismatic literature as the gateway to collecting. Today, thousands of collectors follow his advice, building numismatic libraries one volume at a time.

    Most collectors of American coins start with Guide Book to United States Coins by R. S. Yeoman and Kenneth Bressett. Commonly called “The Red Book,” this annual provides basic information about mintage figures (including Proofs). It also gives short verbal descriptions for grading coins. At the end of each section, you will find a bibliography. Those works are the ones that a collector should consider seriously when deciding which book to buy before acquiring the next coin.
    Two other authoritative references for the general collector of American coins are The U.S. Mint and Coinage by Donald Taxay and Walter Breen’s Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coinage.

    Of course, numismatists do more than “collect coins.” We collect tokens, banknotes, stocks and bonds, medals, and more. Associations such as the Seated Liberty Collector Society, and the Token and Medal Society, publish periodicals that report research years, sometimes decades, before it makes the rounds of generalist publications.

    Auction catalogs can be another important source of information. Major marketers employ skilled researchers who delve into archives to provide authentication and attributions. Authoritative books often rest on the research published in auction catalogs. Probably the best-known example is The Fantastic 1804 Dollar by Kenneth Bressett and Eric Newman. Without that book and the research behind it, those famous coins would only be novodels, fantasies, and knock-offs.

    Numismatists do more than collect. Mere possession of a physical object is often meaningless without knowing the history behind it. Reading about the Jacksonian Era sheds light on Hard Times Tokens, for instance. Even the Sacagawea Dollar represents a long – and sometimes tangled – thread colored with anthropology and psychology, as well as American frontier legend. History can add value your inventories.

    It is a common quip that dealers sell stories: If you “buy” the story, the dealer “gives” you the coin.
     
  5. chip

    chip Novice collector

    Thanks for writing this, being very new I had not heard of Feldman before.

    We all hear the advice, buy the book before the coin, it is good to know where it originated.
     
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