The Coin Club Renaissance Years, 1960-1980
By Dr. Sol Taylor
Earlier in 1960, Coin World came on the numismatic scene, which rapidly increased the general interest in coin collecting. When I joined the Whittier Coin Club, I was member No. 64, and within a year, they had already signed up member No. 100.
At the same time, new clubs were sprouting up in almost every Southern California community. In addition to the venerable Los Angeles Coin Club, founded around 1927 the oldest in Southern California clubs arose in Pico Rivera, La Mirada, Santa Ana, Riverside, Downey, Upland, Fontana, Verdugo Hills, Glendale, and by the mid 1960s there were more than 75 coin clubs in Southern California.
Back in 1955, a coalition of some of these clubs formed the Numismatic Association of Southern California and in 1958 hosted the American Numismatic Association's annual summer convention. Each year, the ANA chose a difference city for its summer convention; the last ANA summer convention in Los Angeles was in 1975 at the newly opened Airport Marriott Hotel.
Most of the newer clubs operated on a membership from 50 to more than 100 on their mailing list and held monthly meetings. The standard format included a numismatic program usually a guest speaker but sometimes a film or slide program; business matters, an auction, and a refreshment break. Dues varied from a modest $2 per year to no more than $5. Door prizes ran from a single coin, such as a silver dollar (the favorite at the Downey Coin Club for many years), to proof sets, a Mexican 2-peso gold piece (when they were under $5), a new Red Book, and similar prizes. The raffle helped the club treasury. In addition, a kitty was provided at the refreshments counter which added some funds to the budget.
Some clubs relied more on donations early to get the treasury in the black. By the late 1960s, most clubs were still in a growing mode, with new members more than replacing dropped-out members. At a typical Downey Coin Club meeting in the 1960s, more than 150 people filled the Downey Women's Club every month. It was the largest club in terms of regular attendance.
In 1964, I became president of the Whittier Coin Club and served three terms. At the time, we met at the Whittier Recreation Center. Our largest meeting was in 1967, when WCC member Walt Holzworth, one the "treasure salvors," brought some of the treasures he found on the sunken treasure ship, the Atocha. Our standing-room-only meeting forced our bourse dealers to use a room down the hall, and guests stood in the hallway as our 75 seats were filled well before the meeting.
Among our star speakers in that era were Herb Bergen (president the of ANA), Maurice M. Gould, Q. David Bowers (whose son became a member), a Secret Service agent who spoke on counterfeiting, Bill Wisslead, and several of the past presidents of NASC
The WCC often had one or more bourse dealers set up during the meeting. Many members brought in back issues of Coin World and other publications for the members, especially for the newer members and youngsters. I often would drive one or more youngsters to each meeting from my high school classes or from my wife's fourth-grade classes. Each meeting had a theme, and the anniversary meeting in September featured an outdoor display at the Oak Tree Festival held under a giant oak tree on Whittier Boulevard. In April, the club also held a week-long exhibit and information table at the local National Bank of Whittier in conjunction with National Coin Week. Many other clubs held similar events in their communities.
As the silver and gold craze boiled over in 1979-1980, attendance at local coin clubs began to decline. Youngsters had found more newer interests.
Older members moved on or died. Veteran coin club visitors such as Bill and Elizabeth Wisslead who belonged to almost every club in a 50-mile radius passed away. Murray and Syd Singer passed away, and the Los Angeles Coin Club faded away recently after more than 75 years. The Downey Coin Club is a shadow of its former self; I spoke there a few years ago, and the total in attendance was 10 persons. The largest coin club in the west San Fernando Valley for many years was the West Valley Coin Club. It, too, has gone.
As president of the NASC in 1975 still at the height of coin collecting there were more than 100 clubs on the NASC membership roster and more than 500 individual members. Today the numbers are minor fractions of both. At the NASC's 25th anniversary banquet, held at the old Ambassador Hotel, there were 350 guests in the room. At the 50th anniversary banquet in a local restaurant, there were 35 people in the room. I happened to be the master of ceremonies at both events; I strongly doubt if I can be there for the 75th anniversary, and if the numbers continue to decline, maybe the NASC will not be there, either.
A few coin clubs still survive to this day, and even fewer are still growing. As long as they can meet the need, they will continue to serve their communities.
Dr. Sol Taylor of Sherman Oaks is president of the Society of Lincoln Cent Collectors and author of The Standard Guide to the Lincoln Cent. Click here for ordering information.
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