Greg Bennick's latest interview for the Newman Numismatic Portal is with counterstamp researcher Bill Groom. Here's the fourth and final part, where Bill discusses his counterstamp database.
Well, you know what would be fascinating, I'm just thinking of this as an aside almost
would be a new edition. I don't know where the rights remain for Gregory Brunk's book, but
a new and updated edition with new information would be pretty fascinating. The book
itself is quite incredible. So I think that to have it as accurate as possible would be really
important. But even as it stands now, it's a wealth of information about the history of
individual merchants and why the stamps and where the stamps were made and whatnot.
But your caution to readers is very important, and I think that's true across the board.
Right? We need to be able to do our own research and be our own numismatic sleuths in
a way just to make sure that what we're finding out is as accurate as possible.
Right. One of the things I did in my database I have for each counterstamp about twenty
fields of information. And I am hoping that eventually that'll end up on the Newman
Numismatic Portal there. One of the fields I call a proof scale. And in other words, this
regards attribution. If I have a 0 in that box, it means there's probably no way this piece is
ever going to get attributed. If I have a 1, it means, well, this one could probably be
attributed, but there are so many people that this could be. We're just at that level. If it's a
2, I've narrowed it down to maybe two good candidates that could have might have
stamped that piece. Now, it's not either or, but it is probably one of these two. And if it's a
3, then I have narrowed it down pretty much by - most of the evidence points to the stamp
having been produced by one person, and it may not be correct, but the evidence
suggests same. And then a 4 would be this is a slam dunk attribution with absolute proof.
I've got a, let's say, an invention with stamped by the same fellow a photograph, a
gun, a coin, a silver piece of silverware, whatever - the same mark exists elsewhere. And
we can nail it down. Say, this is the guy that's a 4.
What I love about your detective work, about these pieces is that it makes coin collecting,
counterstamp collecting an active rather than passive process. Meaning I could certainly
go on eBay right now or find an auction house and start buying counterstamps and just fill
drawers with them. But I love the active engagement that you have put into this work and
the idea that you are not just buying the coin, but then researching the history of it and
connecting it to actual history and then trying to authenticate that attribution. Would you
say that's the most important aspect of collecting counterstamps, the attribution process?
Well, sure, because that's where all the meaning is that's the
meaning of the piece, the history behind it. How can you say that the history is valid if you
can't prove that this is the guy? I wrote an article on a slave named Louis Temple. I have
two of his counterstamps. L Temple. For years I struggled with being able to say that he
was the actual person who stamped these coins because I found two L. Temples. But one
of the important things is to have a lot of research material at your hands. One of the
books - the early directories that I find most helpful because counterstamping was at its
peak in the 1850s was a New England directory from 1856 that covers the New England
states. Well, there are two Temples listed in the 1856 directory. One of them was a Levi
Temple and he was a blacksmith in a little town in Maine, and the other was Louis Temple,
and he was also a blacksmith, but he was in New Bedford, Massachusetts. And my
suspicion was that Louis was the fellow who stamped those two coins that I was able to
acquire over a period of time. I got I think I got them about five years apart. I was always
looking for one thing. When I find one specimen of a counter stamp, I always look for a
second. I try to keep in mind that this counterstamp, is on more than one coin. You know, it
might have been a business connection or it substantiates the attribution, maybe. But
anyway, getting back to the Louis Temple, I found out that he was not just a simple
blacksmith, but he produced harpoons for the whaling industry and he was a black man.
He escaped slavery, got the found his way in to New England in about 1829, married,
opened a blacksmith shop. He had blacksmith skills that he learned while he was a slave.
Probably Temple came from the plantation he was on. He was from the Temple Plantation.
Well, Louis had heard about talking with whalers, about harpoons that had a toggle head,
and he started producing them, showing a harpoon when it got into the whale it would
snap a little wooden pin and the end of the spear and would flip 90 degrees. And they
could reel the whale in that. Well, his harpoon doubled the whaling rate. So for years I was
looking for one of those harpoons to see if he stamped it. And sure enough, there are a
couple of harpoons that are stamped and I had to get close up pictures of the stamp and I
show in my articles, the close up pictures and how they match. If you look at the letters, a
couple of the letters are very distinctive and you can see the points that match in the
This is incredible. And for anyone listening, if that story just on its own didn't inspire you to
read Bill's articles, I'll tell you personally that before we did this interview that Bill sent me
some articles and in some email said, Hey, you know, would you like to read some
articles? Well, I flew to England last week and then flew back the other day and while on
the plane read a dozen or so of your articles, all of them entertaining all of them engaging
all of them with a story behind them. I would highly recommend that listeners seek out
Bill's articles and just read them and enjoy these historical stories or analysis of different
counter stamps. Its just fascinating. I love the harpoon story. I think that's it's quite
incredible and really ties into what we were speaking about before, about connecting
history with the coin itself. So what advice would you offer to other counterstamp
Well, I think find as many resources as you can. Authenticate the stamps. I have an online
library that I use through Google that I've established. You have that ability to do that
online and you can put in links to different directories or early directories. One of the
problems is that I found over the years the genealogy websites have cornered the market
on these resources because they can make money by giving you access to them.
Many years ago when I first got on a computer, I was able to buy some disks with early
directories. You can't do that anymore. So get on Google, maybe an open a library, start
your own library there with these early directories. There are occupational listings,
occupational websites for silversmiths, gunsmiths of all sorts, all cutlers, surgical
instrument makers, clock makers, you name it. And there are you can find listings of
people. Then what you do if you find a listing, let's say, of a silversmith and you can match
a hallmark. There are pictures of the hallmarks on there. So you can build your own library
and go to it whenever you see a counterstamp and do your own research. You want to try
to find try to focus on stamps that have a name and probably two initials that go with it or a
first name or town. This is where I hope the Newman website will offer some of these -
possibly build up a library in addition to not just coins, but the focus on resources like early
directories and assist collectors in doing making the connections.
I like that a lot. And I was going to ask about how you envision the Newman Numismatic
Portal helping to advance the study of counterstamps not just providing an interview like
this, but maybe the resources where other or new collectors can go to learn about the
counterstamps that they are finding out in the world.
Right. I was looking online this morning and I've been watching one of the pieces I was
watching online. It's a BR&M counterstamp, and it's in a little curated box with an
ampersand in it. And so it looks very old. Actually, it looks like it's an old silversmith
counter stamp, but it's not. It's from a buddy of mine stamped it in New Jersey a couple of
years ago and the guy has a price tag on it, of $499. And I wrote to him and I told him, I
This is my friend's counter stamp. He lives in New Jersey. He collects
counterstamps. I think you might want to reconsider your price on that. And here's some
background information on it. Its still up there. I don't know whether he saw it or didn't see
it or will do it or not. Who knows? But somebody seeing that might be fooled, thinking, hey,
that looks like a silversmith stamp and I'm going to buy. $499 later. The main reason I
mention that is…just because something has a high price and looks like it might be good,
don't believe it unless you know it is what it is.
Bill, this is so important and so amazing. And the thing that I'm taking away from this
interview is just the idea of do your own research, but not just do your own research
because you might get ripped off, do your own research because history is fascinating.
Coins are incredible, counterstamps are really interesting. And there's a sort of focal point
amongst all those aspects of counterstamps where people can really learn a lot and enjoy
the coins more because they're doing their own historical research. I think that's pretty
And again, even coins in slabs Greg. NGC has been slabbing counterstamps saying they
are such and such. Well, NGC can't prove that. And that Rudolph stamp is one of them.
And then they slab those and they've even got some 1861 date suggesting it's a civil war
issue. Well, it's not.
See, this is really important. And people, you know, everyone always says that, you
know, education is most important for people. And it and it truly is. And I think that there's a
wealth of history to learn. And new collectors shouldn't certainly be discouraged about how
much there is to learn, but rather take this interview as inspiration for just maybe learning
about one aspect of counterstamps. Like I mentioned myself, I own two….I actually own a
third, which is a counterstamp from Great Britain. But the point is, is that I own three and
two of them are my current area of focus, meaning that I just decided on one counterstamp
and learned what I can about that and I'm learning what I can about that, and I'd
recommend that people start there. Just pick one industry, one counterstamp, one name,
maybe, and start there and learn what you can learn and then start developing your
database of information. As you said, I think that's really great advice.
Some people collect also by occupation but they might collect by the location too. I know
with New York, with Civil War tokens, I was very interested in New York Civil War tokens,
but I lived in that state most of my life.
Well, that makes a lot of sense. And I appreciate your time so much today. And you know,
you mentioned resources like the National Token Collectors Association and the Civil War
Token Society. Are there other places that you might send people, both of those being
excellent? I would highly recommend both as well. But are there other places that you'd
recommend, other organizations you'd recommend, or would you have people start with
I'd say go to local coin clubs, local shows, talk with dealers or dealers who specialize in
exonumia. Steve Hayden is one of the top dealers in exonumia in the country. And you
can find him if you go online. Also, I would say there are there are some websites. So one
of my favorites is a COIN Community Forum or CCF and my name on there is ExoGuy
and somebody could contact me there. I go on there. I've made a couple of thousand
postings on there and many of them are about counterstamps. That's a good site to go to .
Another one is Coin Talk. That's a good website. So I would highly recommend both of
those. And you'll find other people, you know, that collect counterstamps. And I actually I
maintain there are three guys that that I contact fairly regularly it's Florida Bob and my
buddy Bruce from New Jersey and Guy Michael in Massachusetts and these guys are all
top collectors and they have hundreds of specimens of counterstamps in their collections
and the reason I just mention those is networking helps because we learn from one
That's fantastic advice and it's certainly been true today. I know that even as we've been
speaking, I'm sitting here with Russ Rulao and Gregory Brunk's books in front of me and
I'm going to dive into them with new energy after our conversation. I'm very excited that we
had a chance to talk today, and I'm very thankful for your time. I'll certainly be posting this
interview along with links that people can reference below the interview so that people can
start their own process of learning about counterstamps.
Great. And I'm hoping to work with the Newman Numismatic Portal, and I'd love to see
something going on there, something that's going to be not just static, but dynamic where
it can be built upon data. In other words, with my database on that, it could be expanded
and other people would contribute to it. There wouldn't be Bill Groom's database. It would
be the, the collector's database.
That's great. I love that. I love that community spirit. Well, Bill, thank you so much for your
time today. I really love that community spirit and the idea that we can all come together
and learn from one another. And I look forward to the Newman Numismatic Portal's
posting of this interview and also the development of counterstamps as a field for
collectors and to have that grow. I'm really excited about that. Thanks so much for your
Thank you very much, Greg.
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
BILL GROOM INTERVIEW, PART TWO
BILL GROOM INTERVIEW, PART THREE
Wayne Homren, Editor
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