I once remarked to a coin collecting friend that our hobby doesn't need a book-of-the-month club -- it has Q. David Bowers.
That comment was made in jest, but it also contained more than a kernel of truth: Dave Bowers is undoubtedly the most prolific author the numismatic field has ever known. And what makes him so amazing is that after all these years, and all these books, the vast quantity of his output continues to be matched by such high quality. His books are invariably interesting, informative -- and, best of all, fun to read.
Bowers' latest book, "American Numismatics Before the Civil War 1760-1860," is due to reach readers shortly --and from all indications, it's yet another blockbuster. Although I haven't seen a review copy yet, I have every expectation that it lives up to the blurb in a current Coin World ad: "One of the most interesting books you'll ever read!" That phrase describes just about every book authored by Q. David Bowers.
Perhaps this would be a good time to pause and examine the "book" on Dave Bowers himself -- to skim the "table of contents," so to speak, of the author's impressive career.
Quentin David Bowers achieves two major milestones this year: his 60th birthday and his 45th anniversary in the coin business, a period he calculates from the time he first became a vest-pocket dealer in 1953 -- when he was not quite 15 years of age.
He had begun collecting coins just a few months earlier, and soon found he had an aptitude for buying and selling them advantageously.
"I've always considered myself to be very blessed," Bowers says, "because at the age of 14, I picked my life's work. I've been in coins ever since, and I still enjoy them just as much as I ever did. I've never, ever tired of what I do."
In his very early years as a coin dealer, he often had to rely on public -- or parental -- transportation.
"At first," he recalls, "I had to take the bus when I went to see customers on the other side of town. Or my father had to drive me. I wasn't old enough to drive; you had to be 16."
By his senior year in high school in Forty Fort, Pa., the business was flourishing and coin dealing had become the young entrepreneur's principal extracurricular activity. True to form, however, he still found time to hit the books: He was a finalist in the first National Merit Scholarship competition in 1956, and went on to win further academic distinction at Penn State University, graduating with honors in 1960.
In 1958, while still in college, Bowers teamed up with James F. Ruddy -- the first of several partners to figure in his career -- to form the Empire Coin Co. in Johnson City, N.Y. The company rode the crest of the mail-order boom in the early 1960s to become one of the nation's leading coin dealerships.
In 1965, Paramount International Coin Corp. acquired Empire -- and after a brief association with Paramount, Bowers left the coin business to indulge one of his other great passions: automatic musical instruments. He and Terry Hathaway established Hathaway and Bowers Inc., and almost overnight it became the world's largest music-box dealer.
But the lure of coins proved irresistible, and in 1969 Bowers and Ruddy teamed up again, this time in Hollywood, Calif. Bowers and Ruddy Galleries duplicated the success of Bowers' previous ventures, capped by its staging of the $25-million Garrett Sale from 1979 through 1981 and the $11- million Eliasberg Sale (aka the United States Gold Collection Sale) in 1982. Bowers would later play a pivotal role in selling the remainder of the Louis E. Eliasberg Sr. Collection, including two coins -- a 1913 Liberty Head nickel and an 1804 silver dollar -- that brought a combined total of more than $3 million at public auction.
In 1980, Bowers relocated to Wolfeboro, N.H., and soon he had a new partner: Raymond N. Merena. Since joining forces nearly two decades ago, they have conducted a string of blockbuster auctions featuring the collections of such famous hobby figures as Virgil M. Brand, Abe Kosoff and Emery May Norweb, in addition to the remaining Eliasberg coins.
Cleverly combining salesmanship with scholarship, Bowers has written landmark books to accompany landmark auctions. These books -- starting with "The History of United States Coinage as Illustrated by the Garrett Collection" -- have not only stimulated interest in the sales, and thereby boosted the prices realized, but also greatly enriched the body of numismatic knowledge.
Bowers has written more than three dozen books -- not counting monographs of fewer than 100 pages. His favorite, rather surprisingly, is one that some might view as one of his lesser works: "The Waterford Water Cure," a book about counterstamped coins.
"In writing a book," he explains, "you usually build upon the work of others. But in this case, there had been virtually no prior research. Everything had to be done from scratch; everything was a new discovery. And that was very interesting."
"Really," he adds, "I've liked every book I've done. It's probably like an artist: You try to give every canvas something better than the preceding one. With every major book I've done, there's been some finessing -- something that was better than any book I ever did before."
In addition to writing those dozens of books -- plus regular columns in Coin World and The Numismatist -- and running one of the biggest coin dealerships in the world, Bowers also found time to serve on the Board of Governors of the American Numismatic Association for six years, culminating with a two-year term as ANA president from 1983- 85. He later served the national coin club as author of the massive "ANA Centennial History."
Many long for the "good old days." But after 45 years in the coin business, Q. David Bowers -- not at all inclined toward retirement -- is quite content to live in the here and now.
"Coin collectors today have many great advantages over their predecessors," he declares. "Research-wise, we have computers where we can access an encyclopedia just by pushing a button. And so much more information is available today: More good numismatic books have been written in the past 30 years than in all the previous years of American numismatic history combined."
Dave Bowers himself has written quite a few of those "good numismatic books," including some of the biggest and the best. And, if we're lucky, he'll write a whole lot more before his own biography is complete.