Corrections on Margo Russell Coverage
Former Coin World editor Beth Deisher offered the details of be predecessor Margo Russell's birth and death dates. She was born Oct. 17,
1919, and died Monday, Jan. 26, 2015. I got the math wrong in writing the headline for last week's E-Sylum article; we'll correct our
David Ganz Remembers Margo Russell
Margo Russell, who died last week at age 95, served as Coin World’s editor for 23 of its first 25 years. I knew her well, and had extensive,
professional interactions with her, from about 1970 until she retired in 1985, around the same time that I decided to run for the American Numismatic
Association (ANA) Board. We worked on a number of items of mutual interest, particularly in Washington between 1970 and 1973, while I was in college
attending the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.
In those days, congressional hearings on coin matters would usually be scheduled for Thursdays at 930a.m. My job was to take notes and call the
story in to Coin World News Editor Ron Keysor in this pre-internet era – a 16 to 20 paragraph story (four typewriter lines to the paragraph) that was
tight on deadline.
Margo always had the final word, but at 11:30 sharp – whether or not the hearing was over– my job was to call Keysor and dictate the story so that
it was complete by 11:45; the paper had to still be plated and on the press at 12 noon. There was never time to type it before hand, but clear
dictation and an occasional editorial query gave me a lifetime appreciation for precision in speech.
For some of the years (1969-1973), I was the Washington correspondent for Krause Publications (Numismatic News– that’s right, I was Burnett
Anderson before he was) – and by 1974 (my first year in law school), I was a stringer writing for Coin World as well as Numismatic News
and COINage Magazine – all at the same time. I freelanced More than 300 articles That Year, using my column “Under the Glass” which had been
running weekly in Numismatic News since 1969, “Insider’s Report” for COINAge together with feature articles under my own name and several
pseudonyms (Charles Logan and Brendan Thorpe among them). There was also “Coin Market Perspective” for Coins Magazine, and freelanced stories
– most of them page one items– for Coin World, to which I also added a weekly (and later monthly) column, “Law & Collectibles” [Krause was
proprietary about them using “Under the Glass”, which I started writing in 1965).
Mostly working with Coin World’s editorial staff, and eventually the news editor on a regular basis, Margo and I occasionally spoke by
phone or saw each other at events. She frequently testified before the Senate or House Banking subcommittees that dealt with coinage, and, starting
in 1974, so did I – but she testified and wrote about the event, and so did I (for Numismatic News and COINage generally). Usually,
though we never compared our testimony beforehand, we were on the same page.
It is fair to say that she viewed the two of us as competitors – in that respect, we could never be really close friends – though we had a
friendly competition despite three decades age difference). She knew she was the better editor and reporter, and tolerated my occasional scoop as
well as friendly competition.
She was generous in making sure that I was well fed (often her treat) and that I was able to attend functions of the Numismatic Literary Guild as
well as press conferences.; she did the same for Paul Whitnah, a lifelong friend of mine (who was two years older than me).
But she was an aggressive newspaper editor, reporter, and – she herself was an occasional government official who testified before Congress, was
vice chair of the Bicentennial Commission’s Coins & Medals Advisory Panel, and a well-known person to run interference if she thought the ANA
ought to take a position that was diametrically opposed to her opinion. (She often suggested names to the ANA board for medals of merit and other
I look back at my notes to the bicentennial period and think, with hindsight, Margo was under-rated. I know that she pushed Mary Brooks on the
issue of a gold bicentennial coin and medal (the medal was produced) and felt that the use of the 50 cent piece and dollar just wasn’t appropriate
for the 200th anniversary of American independence.
The minutes of the Coins & Medals Advisory Panel in or around 1972-3 show how she operated behind the scenes, first advocating a change across
the board of US coinage for the bicentennnial and secondly, a gold medal for the event and, possibly a gold coin. (Though not a collector herself,
she understood that collectors want to collect and that in and of itself this was sufficient basis to break precedent and have a gold coin issue,
My book 14 Bits which appeared in 1976 and later serialized in The Numismatist, briefly recalls some of her positions:
"It has been recommended by this Panel that there be a commemorative coin," commented Dr. Lynn Carroll, a staff member of the ARBC, but
in what turned out to be a characteristic understatement, he added "we don't have any expertise in the area you have seen recently,... the
number of suggestions coming out in terms of paper currency as well as in terms of coins... we had suggested at the staff level, as a kind of
amendment to your recommendation, that it would be appropriate to have a two-dollar coin, one cent for each year of the Nation's
Independence," he said.
Advisory Panel Vice Chairman Margo Russell recognized that this was the panel's first major accomplishment, but also knew that it was long
overdue. "We must never let such ineptness or apathy creep into this important program again," she complained in a Feb. 15, 1972 letter to
Chairman Lang(photocopy on file, ARBA, p. 4).
She scooped me plenty of times, but it was my story as an outsider that broke the news that there was a Coin & Medal Advisory Panel and that
its members had called for and backed circulating bicentennial coins (in January, 1970, in Numismatic News).
The number of players who remember what happened are dwindling. Eric P., Newman, an advisory committee chair, will turn 104 years of age on May
25th; Mary Brooks, then the mint director, died in 2002 at age 95. (I’m a babe in all this at 63). Margo Russell witnessed history, and the
rather-long footnote that I’ve mentioned above is one side of it that most do not know.
Thanks, everyone. What a great lady. -Editor
To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
MARGO RUSSELL 1919-2015 (corrected) (www.coinbooks.org/esylum_v18n05a08.html)
Wayne Homren, Editor
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