Walter Breen's Numismatic Legacy
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Part of the research for my current long-term project includes studying Breen's early research. While very dated, it demonstrates keen intelligence and good basic research skills. His consistent failure to provide accurate (or any) source and archive data/metadata is a serious efficiency, which also suggests to me that his college education was deficient or missing. Letters from the Newman Estate show he was completely cowed by John Ford, Jr. and that his work for Ford and First Coinvesters was aimed at "proving" pre-concieved opinions rather than understanding and presenting facts. (Much of this damaging attitude remains in the hobby/business.) As time progresses from the early 1950s Breen's published and manuscript materials point to an increase in assumption, embellishment, invented "data," and outright lies.

I agree completely with Mr. Lange in stating that R.W. Julian was the primary - possibly only - person doing fact-based numismatic research during that period, and he continue to be the premier numismatic researcher of today. This makes it doubly important that Julian's articles in Numismatic Scrapbook be made publicly available.

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On 1/6/2022 at 2:20 PM, RWB said:

Part of the research for my current long-term project includes studying Breen's early research. While very dated, it demonstrates keen intelligence and good basic research skills. His consistent failure to provide accurate (or any) source and archive data/metadata is a serious efficiency, which also suggests to me that his college education was deficient or missing.

Don't forget, in his defense, he didn't have computers and the Internet for the bulk or all of his research days.

On 1/6/2022 at 2:20 PM, RWB said:

Letters from the Newman Estate show he was completely cowed by John Ford, Jr. and that his work for Ford and First Coinvesters was aimed at "proving" pre-concieved opinions rather than understanding and presenting facts. (Much of this damaging attitude remains in the hobby/business.) As time progresses from the early 1950s Breen's published and manuscript materials point to an increase in assumption, embellishment, invented "data," and outright lies.

Any examples come to mind ?  Did he mostly embellish the STORY that went along with the coin...or did he materially misrepresnet coins including countefeits as something they were not ?

The former is excusable, the latter not.

On 1/6/2022 at 2:20 PM, RWB said:

I agree completely with Mr. Lange in stating that R.W. Julian was the primary - possibly only - person doing fact-based numismatic research during that period, and he continue to be the premier numismatic researcher of today. This makes it doubly important that Julian's articles in Numismatic Scrapbook be made publicly available.

I second that.  I also am not happy that many of our books are not available in online formats, whether it is Kindle or the equivalent or PDFs.  It really restricts the ability to reach new audiences and impedes even us old foggies. xD

Saving threads in forums like this is also important.  We're having a nice discussion ATS about the Omega Countefeits and Joe Bonanno and the original thread got deleted by the CU mods so somehow all a few of us have is the posts by the guy who was the son of JB's lawyer.  It's better than nothing, but without the questions and comments from the other folks, it's like listening to 1-side of a phone coveresation.:) 

One project I already did was to put the David Akers comments from the HA database that accompanies the highest-sales or most-famous auctions of various Saint-Gaudens coins into a PDF.  Tons of various comments that don't show up elsewhere.  I also may pay someone down the line to put the comments and data (even if outdated) from his 1907-33 Gold Coin book and Bowers Double Eagle book into Word/PDF format.  There aren't that many books on Saint-Gaudens DE's.  

Of course, I/we really need Roger's Saint-Gaudens book (among others) in online format.  That said, I have already gone through his book and identified which sections have the most interesting data/information that I want copied (mostly the Commentary sections) and just need to find someone willing to do it.  I estimate about 100-125 pages and someone can type it at their leisure with no rush so eventually I hope to find someone who can help me out. 

Unless HA finally relents and gets the book into an online format. xD 

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On 1/8/2022 at 11:22 AM, GoldFinger1969 said:

Any examples come to mind ?  Did he mostly embellish the STORY that went along with the coin...or did he materially misrepresnet coins including countefeits as something they were not ?

Check the Newman biography for a few examples.

Ford simply told Breen the kind of answers he wanted and ordered his servant to find the justification.

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No, the biography of Eric P Newman, published by Heritage. (Authors: Augsberger, Orosz, and me. Book of the year a couple of years ago.)

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On 6/22/2017 at 8:45 PM, t-arc said:

Superceded authority?  OH, I guess that is Walter Breen while the Superceder is RWB?

Forgive me, @Oldhoopster & @zadok, but I find misspellings distracting... the word is SUPERSEDE!!! 

I don't care how old the thread is.  It's never too late to learn.  🐓 

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On 1/5/2022 at 3:19 PM, GoldFinger1969 said:

I am familiar with one example where Breen "jumped the gun" -- a supposed hoard of 40 or so Saints for a very rare year/mint found in England.  I can't remember the Saint, though I am sure I have it in my research files.  Whether Breen initiated or helped spread the rumour I can not say.  Whether he said it once or five times or twenty times, I can not say.  If he was told it by someone reliable and ASSUMED it to be true, I can not say.  

So while the information on a long-lost hoard found in England turned out to be false, how much blame Breen should get is debatable.  Also, just talking about something is different than WRITING about it permanently -- if this was mentioned in any of his books or columns, I don't know.

Found the details while doing some research in the HA archives:

"Clarification of a false rumor of a hoard was first published in Stack's Eldorado Sale (5/2009). That correction bears repeating, as the story has made its way into the numismatic media on several occasions as truth.

One false rumor was seized upon by the numismatic press through the prolific writings of Walter Breen. Back in 1984 noted English dealer Steve Fenton sold a 1929 double eagle to Ron Gillio. Steve then played a little joke on Ron by telling him he had found a small hoard of 40 1929 double eagles and was unloading them as quickly as possible. Ron told this to Walter Breen and the English Hoard of 40 pieces was born."

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On 6/3/2017 at 1:52 PM, BillJones said:

Breen's pronouncements about some items and his testimonial letters were sometimes motivated more by the fees he received than the truth.

Yikes. Where else have I read about that? Hmmm. 

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On 2/6/2022 at 9:08 PM, VKurtB said:

Yikes. Where else have I read about that? Hmmm. 

Well, in the 1929 Saint Hoard Hoax, it appears he might be blameless as Fenton told Gillio who told Breen.  If anything, Fenton and Gillio started it. (thumbsu 

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On 2/7/2022 at 1:43 PM, RWB said:

...and who was involved in the "Wells Fargo" 1908s? More "little jokes" ?

I’ve heard of VERY recent Wells Fargo cons, like opening accounts unknown to the account holder. You can spit shine their Old West reputation all you want. Wells Fargo has proven themselves to be criminals in MY experience. 

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On 2/7/2022 at 2:43 PM, RWB said:

...and who was involved in the "Wells Fargo" 1908s? More "little jokes" ?

Yeah, but that was a legit hoard.  Not sure I get what you are saying.  ???

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On 2/7/2022 at 3:35 PM, VKurtB said:

I’ve heard of VERY recent Wells Fargo cons, like opening accounts unknown to the account holder. You can spit shine their Old West reputation all you want. Wells Fargo has proven themselves to be criminals in MY experience. 

A bad marketing item and certainly other financial shenanigans take place all the time.  However, I will put the private sector up against the government any day of the week.

Private sector is accountable through the free market and government regulatory and legal attacks.  NOBODY holds the government accountable for bad policies.:mad:

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Yeah, but that was a legit hoard.  Not sure I get what you are saying.  ???

This may have been a reference to the fact that Ron Gillio likewise brought the Wells Fargo Nevada Hoard to the market.

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How much can be believed with the same person involved in a hoax and a hoard with few facts disclosed. Public info on the "Wells Fargo" stuff was incomplete and misleading (see the DE book info). Suspicious.

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On 2/7/2022 at 7:38 PM, RWB said:

How much can be believed with the same person involved in a hoax and a hoard with few facts disclosed. Public info on the "Wells Fargo" stuff was incomplete and misleading (see the DE book info). Suspicious.

I wonder what you think of the Saddle Ridge Hoard then !! xD

Yeah, I could understand not talking at first because maybe he didn't want to "crash" the market for certain conditions of the 1908 NM, or maybe the entire coin pricing structure.

Has anybody here ever spoken to Gillio ?  I am surprised that 25 years later he hasn't really told the story....in an article...or a book.

Unless there were some questionable actions in obtaining the coins, with the passage of time, he really has no reason to not tell more details.  The 19,900 coins have long been absorbed into the market.  Probably the case since the early-2000's. (thumbsu

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On 2/7/2022 at 7:03 PM, GoldFinger1969 said:

I wonder what you think of the Saddle Ridge Hoard then !! xD

Yeah, I could understand not talking at first because maybe he didn't want to "crash" the market for certain conditions of the 1908 NM, or maybe the entire coin pricing structure.

Has anybody here ever spoken to Gillio ?  I am surprised that 25 years later he hasn't really told the story....in an article...or a book.

Unless there were some questionable actions in obtaining the coins, with the passage of time, he really has no reason to not tell more details.  The 19,900 coins have long been absorbed into the market.  Probably the case since the early-2000's. (thumbsu

At least we still have Don Kagin alive, well, and with a little prodding, ready to tell all about Saddle Ridge. 
 

My 58 years in this hobby tell me that when the subject is gold, believe none of what you hear or read generally, and only half of what is testimony in court. Yes, I realize what I said. 
 

Gold has a long history of illegality in American terms, and that inhibits truthfulness, lots. 

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On 2/7/2022 at 11:36 PM, VKurtB said:

At least we still have Don Kagin alive, well, and with a little prodding, ready to tell all about Saddle Ridge. My 58 years in this hobby tell me that when the subject is gold, believe none of what you hear or read generally, and only half of what is testimony in court. Yes, I realize what I said. Gold has a long history of illegality in American terms, and that inhibits truthfulness, lots. 

I think the failure to give out details is because (1)  people don't think others are interested in all the details and (2) if there were some questionable dealings with foreign actors or people who "cut corners" in our domestic institutions.....that would explain it.

In the case of the 1908 Wells Fargo NM Hoard, I'd want to know the following:

  • When RG was first contacted about the coins and how (phone, telegram, word-of-mouth).
  • How quickly he followed it up (immediately, within days, weeks, whatever).
  • How he was able to ascertain that the coins were the legal/lawful property of the people who had them.
  • WHO were the people who had them ?  Americans or non-Americans (all the coins are Central/South American in origin).
  • Why the coins were moved to a Wells Fargo branch.  Did they rent out space ?  Did the branch manager not have a problem with it ?  Where in the branch were they held ?  Why not with a private security firm or someone's house ?
  • Did they look at all/most of the coins before agreeing on price ?
  • How did they arrive at a price (gold was ~ $400 ounce during this time I believe) ?  Did the sellers want to go coin-by-coin or check each bag at a glance or did they just price them as if they were all MS65's or MS'63's or whatever ?
  • Was a formal contract drawn up and they had a "closing" or did RG just bring a check/cash and then walked away with 20-40 bags of coins ?
  • When did RG start to inform other dealers of the coins ?  PCGS ?
  • Was there fears of crushing the price for the 1908 NM market ? 

That's just what I came up with in 5 minutes.  I'm sure there are lots of other questions you can all add.

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On 2/7/2022 at 8:03 PM, GoldFinger1969 said:

Unless there were some questionable actions in obtaining the coins,

......

The Saddle Ridge treasure makes sense from both public and private perspectives. The 1908 coins present apparently deliberate omissions, etc. - Again, see my comments in the DE book.

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Now imagine why Abe Kosoff burnt all his old business records before he died. (according to Bowers)

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On 2/8/2022 at 2:45 PM, RWB said:

Now imagine why Abe Kosoff burnt all his old business records before he died. (according to Bowers)

Could be lots of reasons.  Didn't want any of his old friends to see that he flipped a coin they sold to him for 5x the profit they made....selling 2 identical coins at different prices to close friends....etc...etc....etc.

I'm sure there were some nefarious dealings, but it could also just be embarassing to Kosoff and/or his surviving family (esp. if they kept his business alive for a while).

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On 2/8/2022 at 2:44 PM, RWB said:

......

The Saddle Ridge treasure makes sense from both public and private perspectives. The 1908 coins present apparently deliberate omissions, etc. - Again, see my comments in the DE book.

I'm going to re-read that section tonight. (thumbsu

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On 2/8/2022 at 3:35 PM, RWB said:

...or maybe not. ;)

Or not, agreed. ;)   I'm just saying it could be little things and nothing scandalous.

Here's one:  someone comes to him with a coin.  He says he can't give him a good price, maybe $500, because he'll be lucky to sell it for $550 in 6 months to a year and he doesn't want to tie up that much money in 1 coin ($500 was a nice coin in the 1940's or 1950's).  Instead....there's a bill of sale showing that the coin was sold in 2 weeks for $750.

If you were the guy who sold him the coin and felt like he chiseled you out of an extra $50, how would you feel seeing that transaction for that amount of money that quickly after Kosoff's funeral ?

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On 2/8/2022 at 4:15 PM, GoldFinger1969 said:

I'm going to re-read that section tonight. (thumbsu

Done.....

  • I think the MTB Hoad of 1983 was larger, with 49,000 total gold coins pretty well documented and possibly 2-3x that amount unverified because of lost documentation.
  • I had forgotten that the passage in your book and Gillio's only (to my knowledge) detailing of the find was in Bower's 2004 Whitman Red Book.  Hard to believe he hasn't put out anything in the 18 years since.  Has Gillio ever written for coin or numismatic magazines ?  Written a book ?  Posted here at NGC Forums ?  xD
  • Has the Long Ray / Short Ray dichotomy been used other than in RWB's book ?  I don't believe I have seen the split before.  Not in writings, not on TPG labels, not in online price guides.

Roger, have you ever met Gene Bauman, the lead MTB numismatist ?

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On 2/8/2022 at 4:18 PM, GoldFinger1969 said:

Or not, agreed. ;)   I'm just saying it could be little things and nothing scandalous.

Here's one:  someone comes to him with a coin.  He says he can't give him a good price, maybe $500, because he'll be lucky to sell it for $550 in 6 months to a year and he doesn't want to tie up that much money in 1 coin ($500 was a nice coin in the 1940's or 1950's).  Instead....there's a bill of sale showing that the coin was sold in 2 weeks for $750.

If you were the guy who sold him the coin and felt like he chiseled you out of an extra $50, how would you feel seeing that transaction for that amount of money that quickly after Kosoff's funeral ?

Clarification....I am not saying Abe K. did this.  I'm just saying it's the kind of thing people could MISINTERPET without knowing ALL the facts.

In the example above, maybe someone honestly thinks it will take them 6-12 months to sell the coin for an extra 10% but he/she gets lucky as someone comes in flush with cash wanting that specific coin and offers a nice 50% premium.  Something like that.

Years later, folks just look at pieces of paper and someone thinks that the dealer buyer took advantage of the client seller when that wasn't the case.  Sometimes the market rewards you....sometimes it punishes you. xD

My point was, just old fashioned LUCK could be misinterpreted as dishonesty or gouging or taking advantage of one's friends or clients....when that wasn't the case.

Edited by GoldFinger1969
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Luck is not a consistent pattern of operation over many years. Some of the Newman papers are revealing about how Kosoff operated.

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On 2/8/2022 at 9:22 PM, RWB said:

Luck is not a consistent pattern of operation over many years. Some of the Newman papers are revealing about how Kosoff operated.

Maybe....but I'm sure things were cuthroat back then.  I enjoyed your stories about Kosoff and the Oldtimers in the Saints DE book.  Love stuff like that !! (thumbsu

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Another Breen Exaggeration:  I post this not to bash the guy because I realize for many years (decades ?) his was the only source on lots of coins.  But it does appear at times he cut corners.  I'm not sure where Breen's comments were made (at a conference ? In a book ?  In an article ?) so context matters. 

David Akers, on the 1930-S Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle: "...Very few ever went to European banks either and, despite Walter Breen's comments to the contrary, I have never heard of any specific, verifiable hoard or even small groups of 1930-S double eagles that were found in French or Swiss banks, the main source for most of the hoard dates of double eagles that were located in Europe beginning in the early 1950s." 

 

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On 3/22/2022 at 9:48 AM, GoldFinger1969 said:

Another Breen Exaggeration:  I post this not to bash the guy because I realize for many years (decades ?) his was the only source on lots of coins.  But it does appear at times he cut corners.  I'm not sure where Breen's comments were made (at a conference ? In a book ?  In an article ?) so context matters. 

David Akers, on the 1930-S Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle: "...Very few ever went to European banks either and, despite Walter Breen's comments to the contrary, I have never heard of any specific, verifiable hoard or even small groups of 1930-S double eagles that were found in French or Swiss banks, the main source for most of the hoard dates of double eagles that were located in Europe beginning in the early 1950s." 

 

The fundamental problem is that no sources of any kind were presented. Thus, verification was/is impossible. Akers has credentials as a hands-on dealer; Breen is worthless in this regard, and the more I see of his "work" the greater the bologna content. Presently, I trust nothing he wrote unless I can independently verify.

Edited by RWB
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