The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 26, Number 38, September 17, 2023, Article 18


Greg Bennick's latest interview for the Newman Numismatic Portal is with counterstamp researcher Bill Groom. Here's the third of four parts, where Bill discusses his collection and working with other researchers and catalogers. -Editor

Greg Bennick How large is your counterstamp collection and how did you acquire so many of them - you had mentioned before 2700 pieces, I think you said.

C. M. Berry Saloon counterstamp Bill Groom That's right. Most of them I got at shows, auctions - dealers would set them aside for me, that I made purchases from. One of the things I would do if a dealer showed me a piece on let's say I had a dealer friend sold me a piece for $15. It was a counter stamped large cent. He only wanted $15. So I handed him $75 and said, This coin to me is worth $125 to $150 I'll split the difference with you.

Greg Bennick Amazing.

Bill Groom And then he would come back and sell me more. So I you know, by getting dealers interested in finding them for me, that was a way to get that they would keep coming my way. And some people have seen my articles and contacted me, so. But I would say most of the pieces I got came from shows. I used to be able to come home from shows in the eighties with a dozen, 15, 20, 30 at a time. Like I say, that one bag from Richard Rossa was, I think around 30 or 40 pieces in that bag. But nowadays I go to a big show and if I come home with one or two in my pocket, I'm lucky.

Greg Bennick What are your personal favorite counterstamps and why?

Bill Groom Well, I like certain occupations. Silversmiths. And I have hundreds of silversmith pieces. And those are very identifiable. My favorites tend to be ones that I can get a slam dunk attribution. This I can say with absolute certainty this is the stamp. The stamp that came on this coin was produced by so-and-so. And how do I know that? Well, if I have a spoon with a silversmith hallmark, I try to find a piece of silverware with the same hallmark. I tend to do it with spoons mostly. They seem to be most prevalent silversmith items. And one of the least expensive. And I'd match. I'd find a piece of silverware or spoon in particular that had the matching mark on it as a go along. Or if it's a knife, it's a cutler. I find a knife that has the same stamp on the knife. I can't afford to buy all the guns. But the early firearms I specialize mostly I like civil war and earlier pieces in my collection. When I say there's 2700, probably 90% or more or are pre-Civil War. Now the guns. I can't afford to buy those. All those expensive guns - some of them are $100,000 for a gun - but I can afford the counterstamp. So, I get a picture of the mark on the stamp on the gun as kind of a go along. I have photos of that in my database.

Greg Bennick It's fascinating that you brought this up because I was going to mention and ask about the ways that people collect counterstamps. My counterstamp collection consists of a grand total of two pieces. A counterstamp by JL Polhemus, who was a druggist during the Gold Rush era from Sacramento, California. And I'm fascinated by the idea that maybe I would find a bottle, an empty bottle of a tincture that he produced or something related to his store. And I never thought about that until you were just mentioning connecting a counterstamped coin with a firearm, perhaps that was stamped by the same person who stamped the coin. It's a really fascinating way to collect. Do you think that there's a lot of people who collect that way with that historical approach to collecting counterstamps?

Bill Groom For sure. Another one that I particularly like is the early photographers. I look for ambrotypes, daguerrotypes, these early tintype photographs. They're in little frames and people probably see them in antique shops. Some of those frames are stamped. So I've been matching up finding coins with the same stamp and then buying a photograph stamped by that same photographer. It's kind of interesting. You look at the coin, you see the stamp and you look at the photograph. We're looking at the guy who stamped this coin.

Greg Bennick One of my favorite aspects of coin collecting is when a coin tells a story above and beyond just what the coin is. I collect error coins. So every error in terms of major error coins certainly has some story behind it, even if the story is just the manufacture of that coin. And in terms of a counterstamp, a large cent, for example, might not tell the story of its manufacture, but with a counterstamp on it, it certainly does in a way tell the story of why that coin exists with that counterstamp. So I'm fascinated by the idea of connecting the history of that counterstamp with the actual history of the person who made it. I love that idea.

Bill Groom Well, it's more it's even more than that, Greg, when you think about it, because many of the articles that I've written have back stories, and that's what I find fascinating. A gunsmith who committed suicide. He was depressed. He used a gun. He died by his own hand with the items that he made - great guns. A guy named Ramsdell. I just wrote an article on him last year. He made top notch guns. He just did away with himself. Gunslingers who were on the frontier moving out from the Midwest. I have been able to get so many discovery pieces like that. Its like Christmas keeps happening over and over again. It's like you open these packages but all of a sudden and they almost explode in your face and you just find so much information on them.

Greg Bennick That's fantastic. Now, tell me, did you personally know Russ Rulau and you mentioned Greg before, and listeners might have caught that. My name is Greg and you mentioned a Greg, but Greg or Gregory Brunk, did you personally know Russ Rulau and Greg Brunk?

Bill Groom Yes, I did. And I never met them in person. What happened was I started writing to them when I found their books about counterstamps and I guess they both credited me with providing information for their books and I am among the many contributors. And I wrote letters to them and they replied. I made a trip to Wisconsin to visit a friend and I tried looking up Russ Rulau. He was up there in years and I think it was not long before, not long after that he passed away. But I couldn't get hold of him. As for Greg Brunk, he kind of went underground for some years. His books are very successful. We used to talk on the phone. Greg couldn't talk very long. He suffered from as asthmatic condition and allergies. In his later years, he was legally blind. And it was so sad because he had eight manuscripts. It just breaks my heart when I think about it. I was having health issues, too, We wanted to make a trip. But I never did go up there. And Greg didn't seem too enthusiastic about me visiting for whatever reasons, I'm not sure. But we would talk often on the phone and he actually was able to do some emails but sometimes they were garbled. He couldn't see that well and he would have a black screen with white print so he could see better. But it was it was just so sad. We had some great conversations. And Greg and I actually we both have a background in criminal justice, me being a probation officer again, and he taught criminal justice at the college level and he had a doctorate, of course. And so we had a lot in common. We did a lot of online and informal friendship. And Greg was always enthusiastic to the end about the counterstamps.

Greg Bennick And for listeners who are curious about the titles that we're discussing, Gregory Brunk's book is Merchant and Privately Countermarked Coins: Advertising on the World's Smallest Billboards. That was put out by World Exonumia Press. And then Russ Rulao's book is The Standard Catalog of United States Tokens: 1700 to 1900. That was put out by Krause Publications. And both of these are highly, highly recommended. I bought both of these before I owned a counterstamp and I found them and continue to find both books fascinating so I highly recommend both. They're sort of the definitive works on counterstamps wouldn't you agree?

Bill Groom Oh for sure. But I would caution readers that there were a lot of erroneous listings and on both catalogs. They were dependent upon numerous contributors. And one of the problems that Greg related to me in our conversations was that there were people who were actually hounding him to some degree, wanting to get certain pieces listed and such and such. I think there were times that either Greg or Russ relented and did list as such and such, but later on found out that was incorrect. And there are still pieces that were never corrected that were listed and published. So collectors need to be aware of that and do their own research. And that's where I hope the Newman Portal will help future collectors more and provide more resources to actually attribute and update listings on some counterstamps.

GREG BENNICK - 2023 headshot About the Interviewer
Greg Bennick ( 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:


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