Greg Bennick's latest interview for the Newman Numismatic Portal is with counterstamp researcher Bill Groom. Here's the first of four parts.
Greg Bennick Introduction
Hi, everybody. I'm Greg Bennick with the Newman Numismatic Portal. You're either about
to listen to, or watch, an interview with Bill Groom. Bill decided that he wanted to do an
audio-only interview. And as is the case when I do an audio-only interview, I ask the
interviewee to send some images so that the visual version of this can have some images
to go along with it. It's pretty customary that somebody sends me ten or fifteen images
over the course of the interview for people to watch as they listen to what the interviewee
has to say. Bill Groom sent me 1200 images. Now, all 1200 didn't fit in the interview, but I
did place, by my estimation, about 500 images of counterstamps and things related to
counterstamps that he talked about. Those images just show in order, except when Bill is
talking about a specific counterstamp. At those points, you'll see on screen the specific
counterstamp that he's talking about. With no further ado, let's dive into that interview. Bill
Groom on counterstamps.
Hi, everybody. My name is Greg Bennick. I am with the Newman Numismatic Portal. I do
interviews for them and today I'm going to be interviewing Bill Groom. Bill is an expert on
counter stamps. We're going to dive right into a conversation about this area of
numismatics. Bill, Hi, how are you doing today?
Hi, Greg. I don't know if it's fair to call me an expert. I might have some expertise though.
That that works for me and that works for all of our listeners too. So that's perfect. I was
going to ask, what is a counterstamp? How were they used and when were they most
popular in terms of their production?
Well, counterstamping actually goes back to ancient times. Coins were re-denominated
with different rulers. And anyway, I focus mainly on U.S. merchant counterstamps and they
were….coins were stamped for a great variety of reasons, some as little billboards as Greg
Brunk noted to advertise their business or service, their products. Sometimes coins were
counterstamped by inventors testing their patent stamps. Coins were stamped for, gosh,
dozens of reasons. I made a long list of why coins were stamped at one time, and I don't
know if I broached that or not. I don't recall. But then to answer the second part of your
question, in the 1850s counterstamping kind of exploded on the scene there - gunsmiths
silversmiths, were the most commonly seen, but also there were taverns, all number of
occupations. Early photography was starting and people taking pictures and framing them
and selling them. And oftentimes many of them stamped their frames. Gunsmiths stamped
their guns, and cutlers stamped their knives. So the list goes on and on. And the coins
sometimes were made for family members or friends or customers that have a coin. And
the merchant would stamp it for them and they would have it in their pocket. And to show
Hey, look, so-and-so gave me and he did some work on one of my guns or
made some silver spoons for my wife and I. And a lot of times coins were stamped by
Masons and a great many of the people who stamped coins back then were Masons, and
they were trained in special trades and many of them made their own stamps or they had
fellow Masons create a stamp for them. Some on the collectors have probably seen
Masonic pennies that were made, but even before that time, people would carry
merchants might carry a stamp in their pocket as a form of introduction, as a card, almost
like a business card. Say,
Hey, I stamped this and I'm in such and such a Masonic order.
So it was a way of introducing yourself or creating conversation. And sometimes they
would give them to a family member as a keepsake. This past year I picked up the only
known specimen of a Derringer counter stamp. It's on an 1826 half cent and interestingly
in addition to the Derringer and Philada short for Philadelphia counterstamps on the coin,
there are some initials on there. Well, one of the set one set of initials was TTD. So it
occurred to me that that might be a family member. Well sure enough Derringer. Henry
Derringer Junior there in the 1830's = he had a son named Theopolis T. Derringer. So he
probably created that coin probably for his son with his son's initials on it.
This is amazing. So basically, you're describing a situation where counterstamps are used
as business cards, as calling cards, as souvenirs or as essentially gifts sometimes. And
you mention, of course, there being merchant counterstamps. There's others as well. And I
know you mentioned going back throughout history, others and just for a moment, I figured
we touch on, soldier ID tags. Were there other things that they were used for as well? And
also, overall, what are the populations like per piece? Meaning if it was just a merchant, a
gunsmith, say, or a photographer, how many of these were made?
Well, there were some people who stamped coins almost endlessly. And like one of them,
Dave Bowers wrote about Dr. George Wilkins in Pittsfield, New Hampshire, and he just
stamped a great number of coins. I highly recommend that book to anyone – it's about the
mysterious Dr. Wilkins. He was a dentist, but he had some other interests, too. He liked to
tip the bottle a bit. But Dave has some interesting observations about this fellow. But to
answer your question, we had discussed beforehand, and I looked at my database about
the populations of counterstamps. I checked out my database last night, and as of last
night, I had 2753 counterstamps listed in my database. Now, some of them, many of them,
are multiple pieces of the same individual who issued them. But out of that 2753, I counted
2058 pieces that there were less than 15 or fewer specimens known of that particular
counterstamp. Huge numbers of people stamped coins, but very limited numbers of coins
So other than merchants, I mentioned soldier ID tags. Were they used for other things as
well? Or was it mainly merchant use throughout the - you said the 1850s - and beyond.
Okay. All right. For the soldier I.D. tags I've only ever seen and owned one of those.
Soldier I.D. tags were produced by sutlers on medallion pieces, not really on coins. So it
wasn't it wasn't really a counterstamp per se. A counter stamp would be stamping upon a
coin. But these were stamped medals that were carried by soldiers. But as far as the coins
go, there's only one that I've ever known. There are a couple that look similar that could
possibly be soldiers counterstamps, but I only own one that actually resembles the die
struck ones. There were stamping kits that they had to do on those. I wrote the author of a
book on those, and he never gave me a reply on it, but I was trying to investigate if he had
seen any. But he has none listed in his book. So that really wasn't a common occurrence.
Very uncommon. Very rare.
Now, you've referred to counterstamps in your emails with me as,
the final frontier of
numismatics. There are thousands of counterstamps that have yet to be identified or
connected with merchants or individuals. Is that what you meant by a final frontier?
Oh, yes, pretty much. And what I also meant was this is a frontier that really bears
exploration and discovery. And it's wide open because there are thousands and thousands
of counterstamps out there that have yet to be researched and identified. And that is the
frontier – its really is getting to those pieces. And I know one of the things concerns me is
that people will look at a book and they'll take a book once something is in print as gospel,
or if it's on a slab and says such and such on a slab. Well, that's it. That's what it is. Well,
that's not the case. Many pieces have been misattributed. And that's a problem. The
Rudolph counterstamps is probably the one that bothers me the most. That causes me
the most concern because that whole attribution is based on a single advertisement of a
druggist named Rudolph. and I wrote an article on that, and it was published in Talkin'
Tokens on the National Token Collectors Association. And I believe it's a jeweler from
Delaware, and I found a similar spoon of his that has a very similar counterstamp, with the
same style of letters. Not exactly the same. Well, it's not uncommon for silversmiths to
have more than one counterstamp in their drawers.
So this is interesting. It's like the adage of
buy the coin, not the holder that people hear
all their lives.
Yes, that's that's very true. And do you do your research on these before you
buy them. And one of the things that's nice about coins and buying coins at auction is you
have days to actually research the pieces. And I bought many counterstamps at auction.
And the best buys are often in bulk lots because the auction houses just throw a number of
pieces in there and they're not really - there's no attention or very little of any attention
given to attribution of the pieces. And I got some tremendous bargains buying in bulk lots.
A couple in the Patrick auction that was held not long ago. And some from Stacks. And it's
just it's a way to get counterstamps is to buy a whole deal of a group of them. And that's
something your collectors should look for. I don't need the competition, but that's the way it
is. I've got more than enough of the counterstamps so… share the wealth.
About the Interviewer
Greg Bennick (www.gregbennick.com) is a keynote speaker and long time coin collector with a focus on major mint error coins. Have ideas for other interviewees? Contact him anytime on the web or via instagram @minterrors.
To watch the complete video, see:
Bill Groom on Counterstamps
To read the complete transcript, see:
Bill Groom Interview (Transcript)
To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
VIDEO: BILL GROOM ON COUNTERSTAMPS
Wayne Homren, Editor
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