The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 18, Number 37, September 13, 2015, Article 11


Jim Downey writes:

Bernard Bernstein Regarding the mention of Colonel Bernard Bernstein in Volume 18 Number 36 of The E-Sylum, Bernstein was Eisenhower’s chief financial advisor in WWII the occupation. He had his hand in any number of numismatic related activities during the war including the use of yellow seal notes and Allied Military Currency. The transcript of an oral history interview he gave can be found on the website of the Truman Library. (The web address has his last name spelled incorrectly.)

Many documents associated with him including reports for the Merkers Mine, the Monuments Men, etc. as well as thousands of other pages dealing with wartime finance operations can be found in the records of the Foreign Exchange Depository under the Holocaust Collection at

Thanks for two great resources for researchers! -Editor

To read the oral history transcript, see:
Oral History Interview with Bernard Bernstein (/

Harvey Stack was inspired to submit the following essay on Bernard Bernstein, his contemporary Leland Howard and their influence in the world of numismatics. Thanks! -Editor

I was amazed with the story of Col. Bernard Bernstein, and his part in repatriating the gold and art to their rightful owners after World War II. It is surely a fantastic story to be revealed again. I have some memories and additions to tell our readers about which affected many collectors and their numismatic life.

The find in the mine was an historical one. If not found it could still be buried within a mine, or possibly, after the war was over be stolen and never returned. Things like this did happen and to this day there are restitution claims being litigated.

Col. Berstein was Eisenhower's representative at the discovery. Other departments of government also were represented. The U.S. Treasury was represented by Leland Howard who had training in gold and other precious metals, and held himself out as someone who had some numismatic training, which qualified him to work on the inventorying and examination of this find, as well as others.

According from the stories I had heard he was very efficient and careful in preparing the inventories, and the value of each coin found. I heard this from Secret Service members, who used to visit Stack's so we could assist them in identifying counterfeit coins. We were many a time the experts they needed for this sort of identification.

When he returned to the United States, Leland Howard came by to learn more about counterfeits, and he was one of the officers who chased down the 1933 Double Eagles still in collectors hands. He became a senior member of the Secret Service for all the work he did.

When in the early 1950's the value of a gold coin was more valuable than the face value stamped on it, because gold started to rise early in that period, their sprung up in Europe, the Far East and Near East a surge in counterfeiting which was very profitable to the minters and strikers.

Complaints were received from all over, and sent to Treasury for resolution and detection , for if this gained at a rapid rate,(which did at a time ) their could be an effect on the value of World Currency. After all, Gold Certificates could still be redeemed by Foreign Government for Gold, which they profited from, and it was weakening our Dollar. Later on in the 1970's to the early 1980's Silver Certificates could be redeemed in SILVER. THIS caused havoc in the currency, exchange and precious metal markets.

In 1954 the Treasury stopped redeeming Gold Certificates, with the reasoning that since 20 Years had passed since the Gold Acts of 1933-4, THE INTENT OF THE LAW WAS SATISFIED AND GOLD CERTIFICATES AND INSTRUMENTS WOULD NO LONGER BE DONE. Silver could be still converted from Certificate to Silver (but that is another story).

There was in the Treasury Department an agency known as the OFFICE OF GOLD AND SILVER OPERATIONS, Leland Howard was placed in charge (as he was the oldest one in the Treasury who worked directly on all the gold that was plundered by the Axis powers.)

Under his direction, Secret Service agents went from jeweler to jeweler, refiner to refiner, coin dealer to coin dealer, asking to see their gold coins to determine if they were counterfeits, and confiscate all false ones they encountered. Jewelers were not numismatists, but they knew that the gold in coins was more valuable than the face value that was stamped on it, so they bought it, stocked it, melted it and made money from the trades. (A simple example: a Double Eagle ($20,00 Gold) when originally issued had just under $20.00 gold in it; after the gold act the same Double Eagle had approximately $33.60 gold in it. If someone bought it for somewhere above $20.00 (it's face value) but below $33.60 (its melt value) a tidy profit could be gained. So the Secret Service seized what they could, both good as well as counterfeit, and a profit went to the Treasury.

Confusion reigned for close to a decade and eventually in 1961 new rules were established about importing of gold coins. The Office of Gold and Silver became the Czars on gold imports, (the greatest source of gold coins were imported into the United States). Besides restricting gold coins, good and bad, they hampered numismatic items being found and imported for collectors. Difficult applications for import were imposed. A long time from the application and possible approval existed. .

How did this effect the Coin Business??? For example, Stack's was offered an extensive collection of Gold Coins of the World, over 900 different pieces. Harvey went to the Netherlands, where the coins were stored, reviewed the inventory which the collector forwarded them to the firm, and all were correctly catalogued. Harvey called Norman at their office in New York, said all was in order, and that we should file immediately.

Knowing that it took time to get a license, Harvey stayed in Europe for 10 more days , visiting collectors and dealers who Stack's worked with for years, and hoping the license was forthcoming. We checked every day with the Office of Gold and Silver Operations and never got a satisfactory response. Harvey went back home, with a promise that the collection would be theirs, and the owner was willing to wait for a license.

A month and one half later, Stack's sent James C.Risk, head of their foreign department back to Europe, to work with some other collections, work on cataloging a huge silver collection, and help Her Majesty, Queen of England to re-catalog the Royal Collection which hadn't been done for decades. He also would have, if a license was forthcoming, go to the Netherlands, pack and ship the gold collection home.

Just before Jim was scheduled to leave for home, a license was issued, but instead of the full collection of some 900 coins, only 789 were licensed. The collector felt he collection should not be broken up because the Treasury thought it should, and would not permit the allowable ones to be shipped. We were told that this was a final decree.

Stack's hired a Washington Attorney's office, and they went forward to start a suit against the Treasury for being Arbitrary and Capricious, especially since they denied a group, without any given reasons, they should be taken to task.

Since it is virtually impossible to sue a Federal Agency, we agreed to a Departmental Hearing to fight the case in the open. (Oddly enough the Treasury did not a Hearing Board , so they borrowed from the Commerce Department such a judge.)

Stack's asked but could not get an answer why the denial. Besides Harvey who was a qualified Numismatist, active already in the business for over two decades, Stack's asked and got Henry Grunthal, curator of the American Numismatic Society, both Stefanelli's, also curators, who were from the Smithsonian, several prominent collectors and also experts.

We testified in the hearing, as in a regular court, and from the evidence we heard we could readily win our case. However, the Hearing Judge took the matter under consideration and we waited some more. About a month or more later the ruling came down, LICENSE SHOULD BE ISSUED FOR THIS COLLECTION AS IT QUALIFIES AS NUMISMATIC.

We were excited that we won, and set a precedent for future licensing. However a few days after the ruling was given, the Treasury Department's attorney notified our attorney,

"NOT WITHSTANDING THE RESULTS OF THE HEARING, LICENSING IS DENIED." The Treasury knew we would Appeal, but that would take months or maybe years, and they felt that that ruling would wear us down. We instructed our Attorney to file the appeal. While this was happening, our attorneys received word, privately, that we should not pursue our Appeal, as things could change shortly.

The next we heard that Leland Howard retired, with bells and whistles, as he had served the Treasury for close to 40 years and all the meritorious work he did after World War II, and subsequently.

Within six months after his retirement, a Treasury official became a guest speaker at a PNG meeting in New York. He advised the gathering, that the "intent of the regulations on importation has been satisfied, proper restraints limited the importation of Counterfeit Coins, and there was no further need for licensing. WE FINALLY WON OUR CASE, for ourselves as well as the coin industry.

HOWEVER, though we WON THE BATTLE, WE LOST THE WAR. During the entire time, (over 5 years ) that our client held the collection for us, he became deathly sick, and sold the collection in Europe.

It only proves the famous proverb "NO GOOD DEED GOES UNPUNISHED"

To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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