Welcome to Steve's blog, sharing stories of his professional coin career, 1963 to date. Enjoy stories of Steve's numismatic journey.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Buffalo Bill Rides Again

In 1973 I was working in a large mail order business in San Diego.  One day I had a call from Continental Coin in Van Nuys, describing a big collection of Buffalo Nickels they had just acquired and thought we could use.  Was I interested?  Of course I was!  Our inventory was always short of Buffalos.

I raced up to LA to see what they had bought: 100 complete sets of Buffalo Nickels.  No, that is not a typo – one hundred sets.  Each set was complete and sets had been assembled in a variety of grades.

As I remember the sets broke down by grade approximately like this:
  • 20 sets VG to Fine
  • 20 Sets Fine to XF
  • 40 Sets XF to AU
  • 20 Sets AU to BU
Where in the world was this herd of Buffalos assembled?  Here's the story:

William M. Harper was a dentist and orthodontist in Van Nuys, in practice with his brother Thomas.  He had been a Navy dentist during World War II and was active in his southern California community.

Dr. Harper loved coins.  In his spare time he had a pretty substantial mail order business, advertising regularly in “Coin World” to buy and sell only two different issues – Indian Cents and Buffalo Nickels.   He had a couple of nicknames within the trade:  Buffalo Bill, for obvious reasons; and other times we simply called him Doc.

Doc Harper attended the Long Beach and other shows in the LA area.  He’d walk in and start buying, especially his favored Buffalos.  He’d come to a dealer’s table and buy any Buffalo that was good for its grade, as long as the price was fair.  He put plenty of capital into coins.

In 1973 the country was falling into recession.  Like many other Americans, Doc found himself caught by declining markets, his finances seriously compromised.  He had taken out loans for some of his business ventures, using coins as collateral.  He couldn’t meet terms of current loans, so he lost his collateral - the Buffalo sets. 

Yes, I purchased the entire lot of 100 sets of Buffalo Nickels and spent about 2 years working through the material.  But the story doesn’t end here . . . .

As Doc Harper recovered from the recession, he continued to buy and sell coins.  He often came down to San Diego to see me, buying back many of the really high grade coins from the Buffalo sets. 

This was a win-win situation:  he was pleased to renew his acquaintance with these old friends and our clientele preferred the mid to lower grade coins.

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