David Alexander published a nice article on the life of coin dealer dealer Art Kagin in CoinWeek on October 8, 2015. Here's an
excerpt, but be sure to read the complete version online. -Editor
For generations he was among America’s best-known professional numismatists and was widely eulogized upon his death on July 18, 2005.
Arthur Meyer Kagin was born in Minneapolis on Nov. 25, 1919. His mother was widowed after the birth of his brother and long-time numismatic
partner Paul in 1921. His parents had made the trans-Atlantic voyage from Russia with thousands of other Russian Jews during the great
flood tide of immigration before the First World War.
Most Jewish immigrants in that busy era settled in the East, notably in New York, but a number of more adventurous families settled in
the Midwest, in cities such as Chicago and Milwaukee. Art’s mother went even further west, marrying a man named Schreiber in Omaha,
Nebraska and presenting Art with two half-brothers later associated with the coin dealership to which he devoted his life. Since their last
name was not Kagin, the Schreibers were not easily identified on the show circuit as family, often a useful situation.
Art was fond of telling the story of his introduction to the world of coins in 1928. He and each of his four brothers had separate
corners where they each sold newspapers and magazines. Art told the story that once an older lady paid him with an 1883 No Cents Liberty
head “V” nickel with instructions to keep it safe as it would one day be worth far more than five cents, since it lacked the word ‘cents’.
This anecdote was the origin of the cryptic “Art Kagin – since 1928” that appeared for decades under his photograph in Kagin ads in The
Numismatist and Numismatic Scrapbook magazines.
Art took a momentous step at age 13, going to work for R.O. Hollinbeck Stamp & Coin in Minneapolis in 1933. Starting as a weekend and
summer worker, he went full time in 1935. He rose with amazing speed, assuming heavy responsibilities for a teenager, opening Hollinbeck
stores in Omaha and in 1936 in Des Moines, Iowa, where he would remain for a lifetime.
Des Moines was a city of good size, a state capital and railroad hub. It was also a growing business and financial center, home to so
many insurance companies that it drew the nickname “the Hartford of the West.” Cost of living was more reasonable than New York and in
short order, Art Kagin placed it on the numismatic map.
The Great Depression launched thousands of Americans into coin collecting, especially after J.K. Post of Neenah, Wisconsin, created the
first “penny boards” later acquired and perfected by Whitman Publishing of Racine. However dismal the economy might be, nearly everyone
could set aside a few Lincoln cents to fill the holes in these inexpensive boards and resell the filled boards to local coin dealers.
Art’s Des Moines store sold more than 50,000 boards annually and distributed thousands more through five-and-ten-cent stores, even
barber shops and drug stores. Iowa coin clubs now proliferated from zero in the 1920’s to 20 in 1938, when the Iowa Numismatic Association
was formed as the first state organization in the U.S. In 1940 the Central States Numismatic Society was created with Art’s active
Art’s younger brother Paul joined the firm in 1940, but the name Hollinbeck Stamp and Coin Company continued to be used for decades
after sale of the firm to the Kagins. In part this name was preserved for its familiarity to customers, but there was a second reason
relating to a dark reality in American life at that time: it didn’t “sound Jewish.” Anti-Semitism was a pervasive undercurrent in pre-war
America and there were many businesses whose names were chosen with this in mind.
Art’s youngest son Don joined the firm full time in 1972. The year 1973 saw far-reaching change. What was billed as the “Ter-Centenary
Sale, Part I” in April included a set of pale red U.S. gold dollar photos on the front cover. The firm name is given as Hollinbeck KAGIN
Coin Company and “Meet the Catalogers” now includes a third photo, Don Kagin. There are still no lot photos inside the 64 page catalog.
The Nov. 2-3, 1973 [sale] introduced a revolution, billed as Kagin’s Sale of the 70’s, Public Auction with three-color cover bearing
halftones of five U.S. rarities. The text now explodes with a variety of typefaces, light- and boldface, plain and italic, liberally sprinkled with
exclamation points like buckshot for added emphasis.
The November sale was held in Harrisburg, Pa., at the convention of the Middle Atlantic Numismatic Association (MANA). For the first
time, seven black and white plates of exceptionally poor visual quality were included along with a very few dropped-in photos “of the
actual items sold.”
Highlights included a rare 1841 No Drapery dime, 1792 Birch Cent and an 1894-S Barber Dime and a silver plated copper electrotype 1804
Silver Dollar made in the Philadelphia mint by W.E. DuBois.
To read the complete article, see:
A Life in Numismatics – Arthur Meyer Kagin
Wayne Homren, Editor
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