I believe it was in the spring of 1955 when I first met Abe Kosoff. The occasion was a Metropolitan New York Coin Convention, an event held in the old Park Sheraton Hotel in New York City. I don't recall what we discussed at our first meeting, but I do remember being impressed. Abe was one of the great old-timers of the hobby, and I had known him through his advertisements and a file of his old catalogues.
In particular, I had admired the flair, for want of a better word, with which he and Abner Kreisberg conducted the affairs of the Numismatic Gallery, particularly from the "World's Greatest Collection" days of 1944-1945 through the end of that decade. Rarity after rarity, fine collection after fine collection, had been handled, my only regret was that I was not on the numismatic scene to participate, having begun my own interest in 1953.
Abe Kosoff was a living legend, and I appreciated meeting him. As I attended more and more conventions, mentally I ticked off the people I met, just as one might check off selections on a dance program. While there were several hundred dealers in the trade at the time, some seemed to have greater status than others. The reputation of each, in my eyes, was built upon several factors. First, there were advertisements in The Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine, the leading collectors' publication of the time and The Numismatist. Not only did I subscribe to current issues, I diligently accumulated as many back copies as possible and read them all. Thus, even before I met Abe Kosoff and his contemporaries, I "knew" them. Mention, too, should be made of Numismatic News, which had been founded in 1952. However, by 1955 it was primarily a publication made up of classified advertisements and did not have the - "grand" display advertisements of many of the leading dealers.
Beginning in 1953, I had followed Abe's career through advertisements, had seen the break-up of the Numismatic Gallery, and had read of his new setup in Encino, with his easily-remembered Box 456 address. Abner Kreisberg later joined with Jerry Cohen, who had operated the Old Pueblo Coin Shop in Tucson, to conduct the somewhat similarly named Coin Gallery at the old Numismatic Gallery at 228 North Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills. Secretly, I wished that they had stayed together-if for no other reason than to create more grand auction catalogues. Abner himself was a prince and gentleman, and over the years I have had many fine experiences with him. However, time was to bring many fine auction catalogues from Abe Kosoff on his own, not to mention numerous fine productions created by Abner Kreisberg and Jerry Cohen.
Back in the spring of 1955, the Professional Numismatists Guild was just getting on its feet. The coming summer would see the first PNG Day at the American Numismatic Association convention in Omaha, which I attended-and which furnished the opportunity to meet B. Max Mehl, another story for another time.
At the time, I knew the old-timers primarily through the medium of the printed word. There were some who did not issue fancy catalogues, at least on a regular basis-such individuals as Joseph Adamski, Max Kaplan, Sol Kaplan, and Norman Shultz-so I had to get to know them personally and in a different way. However, those who did issue catalogues-such individuals and firms as Bebee's, French's, Ruth Green (fixed price lists), Holinbeck, Frank Katen, Kosoff, Kreisberg, Mehl, New Netherlands, Schulman, and Stack's seemed to be special in my young eyes.
From the very outset of my own numismatic career I was impressed that old-timers would take time with me, a youngster, to explain the different intricacies of coins and to help a budding young professional numismatist. Morton and Joe Stack were always helpful, John Ford regaled me with stories, Art Kelley and Jim Kelly were helpful, and others did their part. Now, in 1985, when coin collection is characterized by some as an industry, I wonder how many of the leading dealers would take a moment from a busy auction, a busy bourse, or a few minutes from a busy day on the telephone to talk to someone who wanted perhaps to spend $50, or nothing at all? I suppose I really don't want to know the answer.
On the occasion of our first meeting, I told Abe Kosoff how much I enjoyed his past publications, particularly the Numismatic Gallery Monthly. Unfortunately, I did not have a complete file of these. But, the ones I did have had been studied minutely, and I knew just as much about Abe Kosoff's various travels to American Numismatic conventions and other journeys than if I had been sitting in a seat next to him. Abe enjoyed my interest, and soon after he returned to Encino I found in my mailbox an envelope full of old Numismatic Gallery Monthly issues. There was no bill with them-just a nice note thanking me for my interest.
It wasn't too long after that when I met Abe at another convention. We had a talk on various subjects. Even then, I was absorbed with numismatic history and sought to ask him and others many questions. After talking perhaps a half hour, Abe Kosoff gave me a check for $16,500. I asked him what it was for, and he then made a proposal. At the time silver dollars were available through any bank. One could have a thousand of them, a hundred thousand of them, or a million of them-or even far more-simply by asking for them. As it happened, banks in the Northeast, where I was located, were apt to have a different selection of Uncirculated silver dollars than banks in California, where Abe was located. Chances were good that, a California bank would produce San Francisco Mint coins, while a bank in the Northeast would be more apt to turn out Philadelphia coins, although issues from other mints were not unheard of. Abe offered me the chance to make $1,500 by simply going to my bank, asking for 15 bags containing 1,000 Uncirculated dollars each, representing $15,000, and shipping them to California. All told, this would take no more than an hour or two of effort on my part.
To let the present reader appreciate what a large sum of money the check for $16,500 represented back in the mid-1950s, let me state that a Proof 1856 flying eagle cent was worth $300, Uncirculated Barber half dollars sold for about $7 or $8 each, an 1804 silver dollar was valued in the $12,000 range, and a Proof double eagle was apt to cost $250, unless you wanted an 1883 or an 1884, which would cost $1,000. Stated differently, $16,500 back then was probably equal to many hundreds of thousands of dollars 30 years later in 1985!
I asked Abe Kosoff why he would trust me with such a large amount, as he barely knew me. His reply was that he had learned to judge people, he had enjoyed our several meetings, and that if he couldn't trust me, could anyone be trusted? I never forgot that statement nor did I ever forget the confidence that Abe placed in me.
I saw Abe regularly from the 1950s until his passing. He was a frequent attendee at coin conventions, not only the major ones but obscure ones as well. At various shows and conventions during the 1950s and 1960s, Abe rarely spent time at his bourse table. Rather, he was apt to be in a committee meeting, or talking with a collector out in the hall, or just visiting. The idea of rolling up his shirt sleeves and intensely buying and selling at a convention seemed to be foreign to him. Rather, business was conducted in person, perhaps over the dinner table, with specific details left to invoicing. Although Abe had strong opinions and voiced them, they were always done in a gentlemanly manner. I do not recall ever seeing Abe flustered, upset, or argumentative-and this includes seeing him at numerous PNG meetings which can only be characterized as stormy.