Dr. Sol Taylor

Q. David Bowers, America's No. 1 Numismatist

QDB By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
Saturday, April 11, 2009


    A title as "No. 1" is hard to bestow unless the holder has done more than anyone else in the field, and has done it longer than almost anyone else in the field. In the case of Q. David Bowers, he fits the bill from top to bottom.
    Born in 1937, he became a collector at an early age, and by his teenage years, he was an active part-time dealer. In the 1950s he had the opportunity to deal personally with many of the legends in the field — Maurice Gould, Abe Kosoff, Abner Kreisberg, Superior Coin Company, Littleton Coin Company, the Kagins, and probably most of 100 or so active dealers at the time.
    Bowers has logged more than 50 years as a coin dealer with several partners and firms, starting out in Johnson City with James Ruddy as Empire Coin Co. Empire later merged with Paramount Coin Company and James Kelly in Ohio, then entered the automatic music machine business as Hathaway & Bowers in Whittier, then reunited with James Ruddy as Bowers & Ruddy in Hollywood.
    Still later he emerged as Bowers & Merena and then American Numismatic Rarities in Wolfeboro, N.H, and most recently with the venerable Stack's Bros. firm in New York City.
    At each level, Bowers established himself and his firm as a top-tier numismatic auction house, retail coin firm and publishing organ.
    A prolific author, Bowers also holds the title of numismatic director for Whitman, the major coin book publisher.
    A recent addition to his personal library of several dozen book titles is "American Numismatics Before the Civil War, 1760-1860." Last year he published his version of the ultimate Lincoln Cent guide.
    His auction catalogs also rate as qualified numismatic research and valued reading. His Garrett Sale of the Johns Hopkins coin collection grossed some $25 million from 1979-1981.
    In a meeting with Hopkins' top leaders, including personal friend Hopkins provost Richard Longacre in 1978, I conveyed the idea that Bowers was not only capable of handling the fabulous Garrett collection, but would create a historic legacy volume to accompany the sale. This pushed Bowers to the top of candidates for the sale.
    Other notable sales included the estates of Virgil Band, Abe Kosoff, Emery May Norweb, and a portion of the famed Luois Eliasbeg collection.
    His collateral book for the Hopkins sale was "The History of United States Coinage as Illustrated by the Garrett Collection."
    Not only has Bowers covered many specific series of United States coins, but he also has an enduring interest in United States tokens and counterstamped coins.
    His service to numismatics includes his presidency of the American Numismatic Association (1983-1985), board of governors ANA for six years, and authorship of the "ANA Centennial History, 1891-1991." He holds almost every numismatic award.
    Hardly a year passes when Bowers is not authoring several new books and monographs, as well as regular columns for various numismatic publications.
    Several articles have been published on this icon including a detailed resume by columnist Ed Reiter in May 1998.
    As with many others of his early years, Bowers admits that numismatics has changed greatly over the five decades he has been collecting — sometime for the better and sometimes not.
    At first he opposed numerical grading in the early 1970s. Later he joined in the efforts to standardize grading and supported reputable firms that performed the service.
    He admits that technology has helped with research, storage of data such as auction results, and support writing for publications.
    He believes more numismatic books have been published in the past three decades than in all of the previous numismatic history.
    He should know. He wrote many of them.