Greg Bennick's latest interview for the Newman Numismatic Portal is with counterstamp researcher Bill Groom. Here's the second of four parts, where Bill talks about how he got involved in numismatics, and how counterstamps are produced.
Well, how did you happen to start collecting coins and exonomia?
My dad was a Teamster. And one day he came home. He was a moving man. And one
day he came home and he had found a couple of coins in a trunk that someone had
abandoned. And he gave them to me. One of them was a 1795 silver dollar. It was very
worn, but it was identifiable. And the other one was a 1918 half dollar, which I later found
out was a lead counterfeit. I still have that one. The 1795 dollar, it got me curious and I
started researching coins, and my mom had bought me a sort of encyclopedia, which was
a big expense at the time. Back in the mid 50's. $300. That set of encyclopedia. But I
used to pout through it. And whether it was homework or just I saw something on TV and
wanted to look it up and I guess that's what got me in the habit of researching coins and
that. But with those coins I ended up trading the 1795 dollar to a minister who was a coin
collector and he gave me a whole bunch of coins for that. Now that 1795 dollar at the time
was worth about $40 we figured, back in the mid 50's in that low grade, and that started
me on coin collecting. Then I got a newspaper route when I used to get old coins and I'd
look for them. I told my customers I was looking for old coins - some of them would give
me old coins that they had in their drawers at home. And eventually I got into a coin club
where I lived in western New York, it was the Jamestown Coin Club, and started to meet
dealers. I should have mentioned, my first Civil War token I bought was when I was a
teenager at a mall on Long Island. It was on a Gimbel's store in the mall and they had a
coin counter and I saw a token there with Lincoln on it, and it was dated 1864. And I
Wow, that's curious. So I asked to see it. And the reverse was okay. It was
$12.50. And at the time, minimum wage, which I was earning, was a buck and a quarter.
So that was 10 hours of work for me. But I had to have that piece. And the reason I wanted
it was, I thought it was amazing that it was a coin that Lincoln was still alive in 64. I knew
that as a teenager and he got to see his own image on a cent - a circulating civil war
token. So I just thought that was so cool. I had to have it.
And it's very cool. It's very cool. Now did your collecting interests evolve over the past 60
plus years? Where did you go after that time?
Well, I went to college, spent five years in school, and I taught school after that - middle
school - and I got into civil service. I became a probation officer for 25 years in New York.
And then I retired in 2001. So about 20 years ago I retired. But after I graduated
college and finally got out where I was making a little money, I got back interested in the
coins and started going to the shows. And going to auctions and participating in auctions.
And so it just evolved from there. And I had gotten into collecting Lincoln cents quarters,
and Buffalo nickels. I had to put together a full horn set of Buffalo nickels, that was a fun
thing to do. So I got in matching condition coins and I created sets that had coins with the
same condition. And I got into type coin collecting, which I loved and had a beautiful
typeset, but the tokens always called out to me. And then I got a counter stamp, my first
one with a counter stamp I bought for five bucks at a local show and it was an Erie store
card. At the time, I didn't realize it was cataloged as a civil war token and I didn't have the
big store card book I think came out in 75, but this was about 77. I didn't have the book at
that time and that was stamped with a merchant. It had his name, his address, selling dry
goods, and it was on an 1859 Indian cent. That was my first counterstamp. And I thought,
That's neat. And I started wondering if there were any more. And I started looking and I
started buying more gradually. And then as I started going to some of the bigger shows in
the eighties, when I was a little more affluent and I can recall being able to buy groups
counterstamp coins. Richard Rossa. Some people I know him, Rossa and Tannenbaum were
big into tokens and Richard Rossa at one show, I think it was Pittsburgh ANA in about 1988,
maybe sold me a bag - 30, 40 pieces for a little over ten bucks apiece. And when I got to
researching those counterstamps in that bag, I mean, I pulled out three gunsmiths, a
silversmith. It was just an incredible group of pieces. And that one really got me intrigued.
In fact, I spent a week in Philadelphia at the library. This was before they had the
computers there. I spent a week at the Philadelphia Library researching because
Philadelphia was really a hub of counterstamps. I went to Chicago for a week and spent a
weekend in the library there. I didn't do any sightseeing. I just sat the library all the time
looking up these counterstamps. It became something of an obsession, I guess you'd say.
Now, you mentioned an Erie store card. For those who know what that is, for those who
don't, could you describe real quick what an Erie store card is?
Well, the Erie store card - there are two types of civil war tokens, two major varieties, ones
is patriotic ones that have don't have any merchant advertising on them. Store cards are
tokens produced during the Civil War that have advertising, whether it's a goods or service
on them. And there are 10,000 different varieties of civil war tokens and the Erie store card
was issued. It's the only one from Erie, Pennsylvania, and that's not far from where I lived,
about 50 miles from where I lived at the time. So I was able to do some research on it. And
I think I recall writing an article for the Civil War Token Society called The Erie Store Card
and so on. If someone looks in your early journals they will find that article.
What sort of coin and exonumia articles have you written? You mentioned your research.
Where have those articles been published?
For about the past six years I've been writing a series of articles. I call it Punch Lines. For
counter stamps, strictly about counter stamps. And they've been published in the journal
of the National Token Collectors Association, and the journal is called Talkin' Tokens. I
believe they're even offering a free subscription, temporary subscription. So you can go in
and research the journals. And I think it's a very modest cost online. I think it's $18 a year.
And I've also written with the Civil War Token Society a number of articles starting about
40 years ago now, I started writing articles for them on Civil War tokens and actually more
recently on some counterstamps and a few of the counterstamps that I wrote about were
actually produced during the Civil War period.
Counter stamps were produced punched letter by letter, meaning the name of a merchant.
I just thought to ask this just now - or were they done with some sort of punch that that
struck all of the merchants name at once? I mean, I've seen examples of both, but what
was more common?
Okay. That's an excellent distinction to make. With individual letter punches you have to
really be careful about those because anyone with a set of punches can produce a
counterstamp coin. This is one of the reasons pictures are so important of known
counterstamps. There have been some fabrications of counterstamps and individual ones
can easily be fabricated. There's one of the popular counterstamps which is called Vote
the Land Free, and that's a prepared counterstamp. Now that counterstamp still exists in
the Kansas State Historical Society. But there are some people who have created their
own Vote the Land Free with individual letter punches. And they are not contemporary to
the time, which was the 1840s. Now generally collectors should look for stamps that were
created with one punch - it might have the whole name. All the letters are evenly aligned,
they might be in a box or serrated box or a shape - some sort of almost like a little billboard
to use Greg's term. Counterstamps that have initials, names, towns, occupations stamped
not with individual misaligned letters but with a prepared punch. Because for someone
nowadays to get a prepared punch done it could be costly and they are less likely to be
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
BILL GROOM INTERVIEW, PART ONE
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