E-Sylum Feature Writer and
American Numismatic Biographies author Pete Smith submitted this
article on researcher, author and Money Museum curator Gene Hessler. Thanks. Happy Birthday, Gene!
Gene Hessler Turns 95
I have some great memories from the 1991 Centennial ANA Convention. At the time I was
conducting interviews for American Numismatic Biographies. On the morning of August 15, I
sat outside before the bourse opened. For about an hour I sat with John J. Ford and heard some
great stories. A few of them I was able to print.
As the show was winding down, I walked through the exhibit area. Gene Hessler was there
packing up his exhibit. I knew Gene from an interview I had done in May. At his side was the
Howland Wood Memorial Award that he had won for his
Best of Show exhibit. This was the
first time I really thought about the award. Five years later I received the same award.
Gene celebrated his 95th birthday last week. Wayne Homren suggested I write something about
Gene in honor of the occasion.
Eugene Joseph Hessler was born on July 13, 1928, in Mount Healthy, Ohio, a Cincinnati suburb.
He showed an early interest in music and began taking music lessons in the second grade. He
began playing with various bands while in high school.
During the 1951-53 Korean war era, he played with an Army band and performed with
Cannonball Adderley. In 1953-54 he performed around Cincinnati with the Gene Hessler
Orchestra. He graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 1955 with a B. A. in music
Gene moved to New York in 1955 and received a master's degree from the Manhattan School of
Music in 1957. He got a job playing in the pit orchestra for various Broadway shows including
Annie, Camelot, How to Succeed in Business and The Music Man. He also played with the Radio
City Music Hall orchestra. When the Bolshoi Ballet Orchestra and the Leningrad Philharmonic
came to New York, Hessler played with them.
In 1964 he joined a band sponsored by the State Department on a tour of Africa. In 1966 he
toured the world with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. On each of these tours he gathered
large quantities of coins from local dealers and money changers. He also gathered examples of
world currency. He was interested in their designs and engraving.
Lester Merkin was a navy veteran and professional saxophone player who opened a coin
business in Manhattan in 1958. Gene Hessler visited the store and Merkin became a mentor. In
1967, Hessler joined the ANA as member #58664.
With a recommendation from Lester Merkin, Gene applied for the job as curator of the Chase
Manhattan Bank Money Museum in Rockefeller Center. He was hired to replace someone named
Zerbe who had the position there before him. He worked there from 1967 to 1977 while
continuing to work as a musician. Later from 1986 to 1988, he was curator of the Mercantile
Money Museum in St. Louis. That museum was formed by someone named Newman.
After 1988 he worked as a free-lance writer contributing 350 articles to numismatic publications.
He served as editor of Paper Money, the journal of the SPMC from 1984 to 1998. He contributed
Notes on Paper column to The Numismatist and is a contributing editor.
Hessler wrote a script for the ANA
Money Talks series broadcast on National Public Radio
that was nominated for a Peabody Broadcasting Award. He made an appearance on the TV show
What's my Line. He also appeared on the NBC
Today show twice and was listed in Who's
Who in the East. He is frequently quoted in newspaper articles as an expert on paper money.
Hessler has written five books on paper money topics.
The Comprehensive Catalog of U. S. Paper Money (1974)
An Illustrated History of U. S. Loans 1775- 1898.(1988)
U. S. Essay, Proof and Specimen Notes (1979)
The Engraver's Line: An Encyclopedia of Paper Money and Postage Stamp Art (1993)
The International Engraver's Line: Paper Money and Postage Stamp Engravers and Their Work
from the 1700s to the Euro. (2005)
He also wrote his memoir, Hey, Mister Horn Blower: Memoirs of a Life in Music and
Numismatics, published in 2009.
He has received many awards and honors over the years.
Howland Wood Memorial Award for Best-of-Show Exhibit (1991) for the complete works of
Czech banknote designer Max Svabinsky.
ANA Glenn Smedley Memorial Award (1993)
Named Numismatic News Numismatic Ambassador (1993)
Professional Numismatists Guild Outstanding Achievement Award (1994)
ANA Medal of Merit (1995)
ANA Presidential Award (1998)
International Bank Note Society (IBNS) Silver Medal for Service (2001)
Middle Atlantic Numismatic Association Numismatist of the Year (2001)
Numismatic Literary Guild Clemy Award (2007)
ANA Farran Zerbe Memorial Award (2008)
Inducted into the IBNS Hall of Fame (2011)
ANA Lifetime Achievement Award (2014)
Inducted into the SPMC Hall of Fame (2014)
Gene Hessler recieving ANA's Lifetime Achievement Award from Walt Ostromecki
In 2022, the Cincinnati Numismatic Association authorized a literary award named for Hessler.
They were struck in silver and bronze by the Osborn Mint.
- - - - -
I spent hours trying to find Hessler in Census records to identify his parents. Well, you might
ask, how many Hessler's can there be in Mount Healthy, Ohio. I found 33 in the 1940 Census.
Eventually I found Jean Hessler in the 1930 and 1940 census. His parents were Joseph (1899-
1986) and Clara (1899-1973) living on Elizabeth Street. Joseph was proprietor of a tailor shop.
That fits with other sources.
Actually, it was John Parker who reminded me of Gene's recent birthday. Thanks to him as well as Pete for the great article.
For those who may not catch Pete's references, the Chase Manhattan Money Museum in New York was founded and run by Farran Zerbe, and the Mercantile Money Museum in St. Louis was founded and supported by Eric P. Newman, founder and namesake of the Newman Numismatic Portal.
Happy Birthday, Gene!
Recently Gene kindly gave the Newman Numismatic Portal permission to digitize his books.
To read earlier E-Sylum articles, see:
U.S. ESSAY, PROOF AND SPECIMEN NOTES, 2ND EDITION
INTERNATIONAL ENGRAVER'S LINE
NEW BOOK: HEY! MISTER HORN BLOWER BY GENE HESSLER
BOOK REVIEW: U.S. FEDERAL LARGE-SIZE NOTES
Wayne Homren, Editor
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