The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 26, Number 37, September 10, 2023, Article 10


Also with permission, here's another excerpt from MPCGram Series 24 No. 2586 2 Sep 2023. Here, Editor Fred Schwan discusses meeting, befriending and working with Neil over the years. Thank you! -Editor

The great one was standing there talking to another gentleman. It was the annual convention of the Association in Boston (my second, 1973). Neil Shafer had just released the sixth edition of his catalog on United States small size paper money. He had done something very unusual. He had included military payment certificates (MPC)! That was the first time that these notes had been in a book with United States paper money. This was one of many innovations introduced by Neil Shafer, but the first one known to me.

I had some questions, so I took a deep breath and walked right up to the great one. "Mr. Shafer, may I ask you a few questions?"

That was the start of a long friendship. Neil was very gracious. He introduced me to the other gentleman, Amon Carter, Jr.--one of the great collectors--who turned out to also be an MPC collector. The three of us had a very nice chat. I remember the conversation very well. What Neil remembers--he mentions it often--is that I called him Mr. Shafer!

In the world of paper money collecting "Mr. Shafer" is a one name person. "Neil" is known to everyone. Name a specialty and the collectors know and respect Neil. In the world of coins, he is not as well known, but do not underestimate his knowledge, experience, and influence there too!

Neil's life was changed around 1943 when his mother gave him a beautiful, extremely fine 1896 quarter. It was the first coin in his collection. He was fascinated, and hooked. Of course Neil still has the quarter. His father had several Russian coins, among them a copper 5 kopek piece of 1879. He says that he took great delight in buffing that piece in dad's dental office until it was bright red--in VG! He says that he buffed it so much that he "killed it," as it never toned down and still shows the effects of that buffing today. He also fought with his older brother Mort for a Canadian quarter of 1907 that was received by his parents as change. Of course Neil won the fight.

In Phoenix during 1947-55, Neil says that he was able to spend a goodly amount of time learning about many different kinds of U.S. coins and notes through past ANA President V. Leon Belt and Don Sherer (later to become ANA General Secretary). Neil joined the Phoenix Coin Club around 1949 and ANA by 1952.

Another coin that Neil has had for a long time is the 1964 Kennedy half dollar that he obtained on the day that it was released. He has carried it in his pocket every day since then. Very possibly it is the worst Kennedy half in any collection. Furthermore, this half dollar is the plate coin used in the 1965 Handbook of United States Coins--blue book! I often ask to examine it when I see Neil.

He started collecting with coins out of circulation by date, then by purchase, then world coins with concentration on Philippines and Latin America but including much of the rest of the world, some ancients and medals, Civil War and hard times tokens. Then he moved into U. S., Confederate, and world paper money, then into U. S. and world local paper issues, depression and panic scrip, military payment certificates and other military money, checks, stocks and bonds. He not only collected each of these areas, he studied them, researched them, and wrote about them. In most cases the work turned into books that are used by collectors around the world today.

Beyond numismatics, Neil's his skills are also broad. I am sure that Neil would like for me to say that he is a good comedian, an accomplished humorist. Well, he is, but he is a punster and I really do not want to encourage him! Do not get him started, trust me on this. He had a weekly radio show in Milwaukee to spread his version of humor and he will fire puns off at a punishing rate if you give him a chance.

  Neil Shafer photo 1956 with viola

Neil is an accomplished musician. He played in the Air Force band 1955-59. Believe it or not, this was a numismatic opportunity that he seized. The band was stationed at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C. The band practiced once each day. The rest of the day, Neil dug for notes and coins and he found treasures. Boy oh boy did he find great stuff. He found great coins and notes everywhere--in circulation, in shops, and in junk boxes--that he still has today. Junk box digging is a skill that he has refined and still pursues with amazing success. His eyes sparkle when he tells the story of finding this or that item.

Many years later he conducted a Milwaukee orchestra. Of course he still appreciates music but has retired from playing and conducting.

Neil's big break in numismatics came came in 1961 when he landed a position at Whitman Publications. There he was the right hand man of Ken Bressett and both of them had the opportunity to work for Richard Yeo, known as Dick Yeoman, creator of the Red Book.

Neil loves notes and coins of the Philippines. He began studying, researching, and writing about them in the 1960s. Shortly after joining Whitman he created United States Territorial Coinage for the Philippine Islands. That book was his first book. I counted thirteen different titles and I might have missed some. If you add the multiple editions, Neil is responsible for something like thirty books.

At Whitman he created the first catalogs of Philippine paper money. It was innovative, way ahead of its time. Delivery dates and quantities printed were included for many issues and important new discoveries were published for the first time. The most exciting to me of the discoveries was information about Bureau of Engraving and Printing war time printings of pre war notes for operational use in World War II. Some of these notes were carefully printed then aged to look like circulated notes in order to avoid detection by the Japanese. I still use this book today.

As innovative as his first two Philippine books were, they were nothing compared to the next project--Philippine Emergency and Guerrilla Currency of World War ll. This book all but defines innovation. It is a comprehensive catalog of material that was--and is--little known to collectors! During the war guerillas in the field created an astonishing array of notes for their own use. They printed notes on end leaves from old books, shopping bags, and any other paper that they could find with whatever ink they could find (or make) with any kind of duplicating machine available in facilities that might have to be abandoned at a moment's notice. Remarkable. More remarkable is that Neil gathered the information and organized it in a way that was useful to collectors. By the way, the book is scarce and in high demand! [2023 update: Neil was working on the second edition of this book in his last days. He had a collaborator and I believe that the book will be published in 2023 or 24--Schwan]

Not much later (1985), Neil reached a new innovation high. He created (with Ralph "Curly" Mitchell) Standard Catalog of Depression Scrip of the United States the 1930s including Canada and Mexico. This book too dissected an area virtually unknown to most collectors, and yes, now the book is scarce and sought by collectors.

I believe that some bright business graduate student should study Whitman Publishing Company in the 1960s. It would make a great case study. The company gathered talented people with vision then nurtured them. The company also took chance with books like Neil's. Today, professors would say that Neil and the company were thinking outside the box.

Eventually, the company lost the vision. That too is worthy of study, but the important point is that Neil (and Ken too) left the company. With a young family Neil went out on his own. He became a freelance numismatic author. A few collectors have tried this, but none as successfully as Neil! [get date from Neil].

On his own he continued to innovate. He has created two additional unique catalogs: College Currency (with Herb and Martha Schingoethe), and Panic Scrip of 1893, 1907 and 1914, An Illustrated Catalog of Emergency Monetary Issues, 2013 (with Tom Sheehan). That is quite a slate of innovative work, but I know that he has more ideas. How can he even continue to think of things that other people do not know about, much less master and catalog them? Local paper money of the world, and world stamp money are two topics that he loves and might become books. Believe it or not, he is working on a "short snorter" book. This is also an example of mentorship. I can remember the conversation about thirty years ago when Neil taught me what a short snorter is!

You will like this one. Food coupons. Neil likes them from a collector's point of view, but few other collectors even notice them. To Neil, while food coupons are interesting, the are too mundane for him. Instead he has focused on food coupon change! Yes, in the 1970s (mostly), thousands of merchants produced expedient chits to be given as change in food coupon transactions. Neil collected thousands (probably tens of thousands) of these. He is the king of food coupon change. To tell you the truth, I cannot imagine a catalog of food coupon change. However, if anyone could figure out a way, it would be Neil Shafer.

In spite of all of the above accomplishments, Neil is best known around the world for his work for thirty years on the Standard Catalog of World Paper Money. His work and picture are in the library of nearly every paper money collector in the world. Officially he was "special consultant" 1975-81 then co-editor 1981-2005.

Continuing with world paper money, Neil held every elective office of the International Bank Note Society (IBNS, the largest international numismatic organization) of which he was a founding member in 1960. He was its president at a critical time. One of his accomplishments as president was to promote worldwide chapters of the IBNS. In that spirit he helped found and nurtured a local chapter in Milwaukee.

Neil is a great mentor. Mentorship is a slippery thing to measure. Often it is done without either party perceiving it. In addition to being my hero, Neil has been my mentor. Mostly it has been by example, but he has done it on other ways too and I am certainly not his only disciple. Of course these facts make it a bit daunting to write this story about Neil. At the Summer Seminar, he has taught classes on world paper money. That would seem to be a routine accomplishment for someone who is receiving the Farran Zerbe award. One time he cotaught a class on world paper money. His co instructor was thirteen years old! You will not be surprised that Neil had taught the young man most of what he knew.

Neil is a devoted family man. He has been married to Edith for [many] years, but it was not promising from the start. They went out on a blind date. Neil thought it was wonderful. Edith told her mother that she would not see Neil again. Well, when Neil wants something he can be persistent. Still, on their honeymoon, Neil took Edith to a coin show! Oh my. Edith and Neil raised three children

Of course numismatics played a large part in the Shafer household with shows, club meetings, and book projects as common family affairs. Did you know that Neil also collected marbles? Not really. "Marbles" was the family code word for notes when in public as in marble collecting. Son Joel has followed Neil into paper money as a career. He works for Lyn Knight Auctions.

Neil nurtured two numismatic periodicals to life. The first was Whitman Numismatic Journal (1961-1969). It had an all-star line up. Richard Yeoman was editor in chief, managing editor was Ken Bressett. Third (and last) in the editorial chain was Associate Editor Neil Shafer. From that position Neil churned out an amazing number of creative--and excellent-- articles. It is fitting that the very first (and last) articles published in WNJ were by Neil Shafer. Neil suggests that he did yeoman work. I cannot believe that he tricked me into a pun!

The first was an article on Mexican coinage. The last (with his boss Bressett) was the most important article ever written on Allied military currency. It is possible that that last article presented more new information in one article than had ever appeared in one article. Along the way Neil researched and wrote ground breaking articles on a wide array of subjects. In 1964 he wrote the definitive article on Morgan dollar varieties. From the Bureau of Engraving and Printing he located then published for the first time the images of the $10 Educational Note (Series 1899 Silver Certificate). That picture appears frequently today in books and periodicals because of Neil's research.

The second periodical led by Neil was New England Journal of Numismatics (1986) as editor in chief. Unfortunately, this journal folded after only two issues when the sponsoring dealership closed. Although both of these magazines had relatively short runs, they were both quality publications.

Having the opportunity to write this article motivated to review many of Neil's books. Most I have in my library, a few I had never even seen before. I had an ideal opportunity to do these reviews at the Dwight Manley Library at the American Numismatic Association during the just-completed (46th annual Summer Seminar). It was great fun indeed. The publications being in alphabetical order, the Journal is in a far corner of the basement. To get the bound copies of the Whitman Numismatic Journal, I had to crawl on my hands a knees with a flashlight! The librarian on duty rescued me at the last moment by finding the light switch. The hunt was worth it.

I went through every issue. I at least looked at all of Neil's articles. That generated a new item on my bucket list. I want to go back and not only read all of Neil's articles, but all of every issue.

As much as I know about Neil's knowledge and skills, I was impressed by the depth and breath of his contributions. Below, by year, are the article titles 1964-1967 with bonus listings of articles by Neil's brother Mort! (1964) A New Mexican Decimal "Mule," Canadian Large Cent "Aging," Specimen Coinage of Outer Mongolia, An 1879 Mexican Presentation Set, Specimen Currency of Outer Mongolia, The Story of Travellers' Checks, The Morgan Silver Dollars of 1878-1921 a Study of Major Die Varieties, The Story of Travellers' Checks. (1965), Commemorative Paper Money, Silver Certificates of Cuba, The Philippine Guerrilla Currency Hoard, The Story of Mexican Paper Money by Mort Shafer! Paper Money of Siam, New Listings Philippine Paper Money, Philippine Guerilla Currency checklist, The Story of Travelers' Checks, Propaganda Notes Old and New. (1966), Modern U. S Paper Money, Money at a Discount, The Epic of Upton Sinclair (Mort Shafer), Mexican Paper Money (Mort Shafer), Money at a Discount (1967) Interest bearing notes, column started here (reincarnated as Paper Money News and Views in the Bank Note Reporter)

In his column in Bank Note Reporter, Neil has reported, described, and analyzed an amazing array of paper money issues. He has done it every month for decades!

To help put things into a little perspective, a subscription to the Journal was $3.50 one year $9.00 3 years! A December 1964 RCOA advertisement offered a complete uncirculated set of Lincoln cents $3250!

Neil has received, many awards in numismatics. Those include the top awards of the International Bank Note Society and the Numismatic Literary Guild

At a major Milwaukee show, Edith held a celebration and roast for Neil on the occasion of a milestone birthday. I was fortunate to be able to speak at that event. In preparation I learned that the typewriter had been invented in Milwaukee in 1868. I told the assembled throng that I had finally learned how Neil had been able to publish so much more than the rest of us. It was because he had been there for the invention of the typewriter.

I then concluded that Neil is many things to many people. Punster, teacher, author, scholar, researcher, writer, musician, and of course husband, father, and now grandfather. Of all of those and more my favorite was and is friend.

The MPC Gram is an email newsletter for collectors of Military Payment Certificates and other military numismatica. To subscribe to the MPC Gram, see: . -Editor

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