July 23, 1999
Shultz handled many outstanding rarities through the years. Once, for example, he acquired an uncirculated 1870-S silver dollar from an Idaho man who claimed to have obtained it while working at the San Francisco Mint. The mintage of that coin is unknown, but it's thought that just a handful were produced-most likely for employees at the mint-and only about a dozen are known today. Shultz put the coin in an auction sale, got no bids higher than $300, and ended up selling it for $500 to Mehl. Today, the same piece undoubtedly would command a strong six-figure price.
On another occasion, in the early 1950s, Shultz purchased seven $50 gold slugs from an elderly man who had found them in the sand while walking his dog on a California beach. They appeared to have been buried for many years-perhaps for close to a century. And far from being damaged, they emerged with lovely sandblast-like surfaces. Shultz bought those for roughly $650 apiece-a fair price at the time-and traded off the last one several decades later for the equivalent of about $10,000 in $20 gold pieces. Today, they would be worth a great deal more (and so, for that matter, would the double eagles Shultz obtained in the trade).
Had he followed in his father's footsteps, Shultz would have spent his life behind a plow. His forebears had been farmers for a span of generations. It was on his father's farm, in fact-near King City, Mo.-that he got his introduction to numismatics as a young man of 19 or 20.
"I was crossing a plowed field," he remembered, "and as I turned the ground over, I found a two-cent piece lying right on top. It was all washed off nice and clean and probably would have been in fine condition except that it was corroded.
"I sold it for 15 cents and used the money to buy a half cent from a mail-order dealer in Illinois. Then, when the half cent came, I hardly got it out of the envelope before a fellow said he'd give me 50 cents for it-so I sold him the coin, bought three more and sold those for a dollar. And not long after that, I ran my first coin ad."
Starting in 1915, he ran regular ads in Popular Mechanics for more than 60 years-a record for that publication. He finally discontinued them in the late 1970s because ad rates-like coin prices-were skyrocketing. Shultz sold his interest in the family farm to a younger brother in 1920 and made coins his full-time concern. And he moved not only off the farm but out of town-and out of state-as well, relocating first in Colorado Springs and then, five years later, in Salt Lake City.
"I've always been strictly a mail-order dealer," he related, "and in this type of business it really doesn't matter where you live. So I figured I'd move until I found a place I really liked.
"People used to want me to start a store," he added, "but I always felt this way: Why get in a store and work all the time when I can work two or three hours a day and enjoy myself the rest of the day." By taking this approach, he not only helped prolong his business career, but also found time to master golf and bowling. At various times, he won Utah state amateur championships in both those sports.
Shultz enjoyed the hobby's esteem for reasons that went deeper than longevity. Chief among these was his lifelong adherence to high standards of conduct in his business.
In October 1980, more than 150 friends turned out to honor him when the Utah Numismatic Society held a special banquet to mark his completion of 65 years as a dealer. And, at that time, the society announced the establishment of a Norman Shultz Award, to be given annually to an individual who has made outstanding contributions toward advancing numismatics in the state. At the same banquet, Krause Publications of Iola, Wisconsin, bestowed upon Shultz its Numismatic Ambassador Award.
While he marveled at the changes that had taken place with coins, Shultz was somewhat worried at the prices being realized in the modern marketplace.
"Some of these coins have gotten awful high," he declared. "After seeing them priced so low for all those years, I can hardly believe what's taking place. But I'm really not too sure if the change is for the better or the worse. I only hope the whole thing won't blow up and leave a lot of people holding the sack."
Norman Shultz never left his customers "holding the sack." But then, he didn't mind holding the sack himself now and then-at least not in the case of those 1931-S Lincoln cents.
To read Part 1 of this article, click here.