By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek …..
Truly a giant in the professional ranks of rare coin dealers.
—Jeff Garrett, President of the American Numismatic Association (ANA) and owner of Mid-American Rare Coin Galleries
Icon of the rare coin industry and all-around gentleman Leon Hendrickson passed away on Sunday, July 23, 2017. His Winchester, Indiana coin business SilverTowne served for generations as one of the true epicenters of American numismatics. A full-time professional dealer since 1967, and a part-time dealer for almost 20 years before that, Hendrickson mentored generations of coin dealers and numismatists over his 50+ year career. He was 90 years old.
Hendrickson was born on October 5, 1926 in Union City, Indiana, about an 18-minute drive away from Winchester. Born into a Quaker family and raised on a farm, Hendrickson was loyal to his family, his friends, and his country. Before his 18th birthday, he enlisted in the United States Navy and served in World War Two aboard USS Caldwell, a destroyer operating in the South Pacific.
On his first leave home, he married the love of his life, high-school sweetheart Ruhama “Hamie” Rhoades. After the war, she bore their first son, David, and later daughters Kathy and Tanda. Before becoming a silver baron, Leon farmed, operated two skating rinks, and served as a rural route mailman. He gave back to the community, serving on the local school board for almost two decades and promoting good sportsmanship as a high-school basketball referee.
Leon’s lifelong love of coins took shape after he and his wife became part-owners of the Rainbow Restaurant, which belonged to his in-laws. The cash- and coin-heavy business offered Leon the chance to come in contact with a wide variety of U.S. coins both old and new. Inspired by his coin collecting brother-in-law Dick Rhoades, Leon pulled the pieces he liked and kept them in a cigar box under the counter. He then began to sell some of the coins to customers for more than their face value when giving change to Rainbow patrons.
The lure of coins and their potential for profit was so great, that Leon and his son David began attending coin shows. The second story of the Rainbow became the Winchester Coin Shop. When interest in $1,000 silver dollar bags took root in the early 1960s, Leon and David would travel weekly to Washington, DC to buy bags, taking all that they could carry with them onto a plane heading back to Indiana. These bags contained Morgan, Peace and occasionally Liberty Seated dollars.
Leon was a giant in the field of numismatics. He will be missed.
—Rich Uhrich, Owner/Operator of Rich Uhrich Coins
The Winchester Coin Shop soon became Silvertowne, a business at first run out of the Hendrickson family’s basement. By the time the Treasury’s stockpile in face value silver dollars had diminished, SilverTowne had become one of the largest Midwest buyers and sellers of silver coins. The company scoured the upper Midwest, looking for silver certificate notes at banks in order to redeem for silver dollars, silver ingots or tubes of silver pellets.
While other dealers saw the Treasury’s decision to market millions of Carson City Morgan dollars as a threat to the industry, Leon saw opportunity and bought eight bags. The GSA sales brought a whole new generation of collectors into the hobby, cementing the Morgan dollar’s place as the most collected classic coin in American numismatics.
Leon’s success led to a raised public profile. This proved good for business, but it also came at a cost. On July 25, 1973, two men drove a grey Cadillac from Chicago to Winchester with the aim of robbing SilverTowne and killing the owners. The murderous plot failed spectacularly, leaving one of the plotters dead from his injuries. Jan Chalfant’s biography of the Hendricksons, Rare Coins, Rare People (2011), describes the incident in great detail.
As the Hendrickson family recouped from the incident, Leon’s attention returned to the acquisition and marketing of silver dollars. The LaVere Redfield and Continental Illinois Bank of Chicago Hoards of Morgan dollars kept public enthusiasm for the large cartwheel silver coin at a fever pitch, and SilverTowne remained one of the leading market makers.
When the Hunt Brothers drove up the cost of silver in 1979 and 1980, SilverTowne cashed in and used the capital to expand the business, building a new company building dubbed the “Mighty Fortress” in 1982. In 1985, they expanded operations by installing a smelting and custom minting operation into a second building.
Leon’s love for dollars culminated with his purchase of the “Dexter” 1804 dollar. He purchased the coin, which recently sold in the fifth session of the Pogue Sale, for $500,000 USD. He would sell it four years later for $990,000.
But while he owned the coin, Leon would take it to shows and share it with anyone who asked. He was a great ambassador for the hobby and its coins.
When I was just getting into coins, I would wander past SilverTowne’s table and peek into the showcases full of stacks of gold and rarities. Leon would always volunteer to show me whatever I wanted, knowing I couldn’t possibly afford any of it.
—Mark Salzberg, Chairman of Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC)
Throughout the 1980s, SilverTowne’s business continued to thrive and Leon gave of his time to help grow the hobby, serving as president of both the Central States Numismatic Society (CSNS) from 1985 to 1988 and the Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG) from 1985 to 1989.
Even here, his generosity to his fellow dealers and the organization is notable. Stack’s Bowers founder Harvey Stack was chosen to succeed Leon as PNG president after a two-year term but couldn’t due to a health issue.
“Leon contacted me and said that he would stay of for two more years, while I gathered my strength,” Stack told us. “It was a sacrifice for him, but an example of a true friend. It showed his dedication to the PNG and I will always remember Leon’s work for the expansion and development of the hobby.”
In the 1990s, SilverTowne expanded the reach of its business nationally by producing The Coin Vault, a shop-at-home coin show on cable TV. Buoyed by SilverTowne’s relationship with Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC), the show popularized the collecting of American Silver Eagle bullion coins as well as created a new market for certified modern coins.
It was at the same time that Leon’s career faced its most challenging moment.
In 1993, a series of sales to certain bullion and rare coin businesses raised suspicions that SilverTowne was engaged in laundering money for a Columbian drug cartel. SilverTowne’s attorneys argued that the total amount of money involved in the transaction was insignificant and that the company’s failure to report it correctly was an oversight, not a sign of intent. A district court found that the Hendrickson family’s efforts to pay the entire $742,555 mandatory forfeiture before the plea agreement displayed an “extraordinary acceptance of responsibility”, which resulted in a much lighter sentence. Yet the United States Government appealed the sentencing in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals and won. Nevertheless, the court handed Leon a lenient sentence of five months in federal prison.
SilverTowne survived the ordeal and continued to grow. When Leon reemerged, he was surrounded by friends and colleagues in the trade, many of whom felt that he was treated unfairly and maliciously prosecuted. The industry took stock in the way it reported its own transactions and worked to educate other dealers so that they could avoid the same issue.
Leon never sidestepped his responsibilities and continued his business undiminished. At the time of this writing, SilverTowne employs more than 100 people.
Over the course of many years as a leader in the industry, Leon’s work garnered him a lot of praise. In 1978 he was bestowed the National Silver Dollar Roundtable’s President’s Award, and in 1989 he was awarded their Man of the Year Award. Leon also lead that organization from 1991 to 1992.
He was named a Numismatic Ambassador by Numismatic News in 1993 and earned the PNG’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003. The American Numismatic Association (ANA) named Leon its Numismatist of the Year in 2008 and in 2012 entered him into the exclusive rolls of the PCGS Coin Dealer Hall of Fame.
In the past few days, as word of Leon’s passing circulated among his friends and colleagues, CoinWeek reached out to some of the industry’s leading figures for their memories and recollections. These are just a sampling of the kind words that have come pouring in.
He defined the term ‘old school’, as in your word is your bond and cash is king. Along the way, he helped a lot of other dealers, young and old.
—David Hall, Founder of Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS)
Leon was the sort of dealer who understood that the industry was big enough for others to thrive.
Scott Travers, author of the Coin Collector’s Survival Manual called Leon a “tough elder statesman, who consistently displayed strong will and charisma through good times and bad. His eternal optimism and kind demeanor served as an inspiration to numismatic enthusiasts from every walk of life.”
Coin dealer Ron Drzewucki was a longtime friend of the Hendrickson family. He called to tell us how much he will miss being around Leon and shared a humorous but startling (at the time) experience he had when the two of them were working at the shop on Sunday unbeknownst to one another. When both men went to investigate the noises that the other was causing, it gave them a real shock.
“I knew that I shouldn’t be in a coin shop on a Sunday!” Ron told us.
Cointelevision video producer David Lisot called Leon “the most consummate gentleman I ever met. He was bigger than life but always gracious. He never lorded over people or made people feel that they were less than him. He always offered fair prices when people wanted to sell him coins, and he always gave people a chance.”
Leon is survived by his son David and his son’s wife Debbie; his daughter Kathy Baker and her husband Steve; his daughter Tandy Abel and her husband Tony; eight grandchildren; 21 great grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren. Not to mention the legion of friends, dealers and coin collectors whose lives were touched by this faithful family man and business icon.
A celebration of the life of Leon Hendrickson will be held on Friday, July 28, 2017 at 10am at the Winchester Towne Square Community Centre at 123 W. Franklin Street, Winchester, Indiana 47394.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks for donations to the Leon & Ruhama Hendrickson & Family Scholarship Fund at 213 S. Main Street Winchester, or to the Hendrickson Trust Fund for Local Outreach at 1212 East 100 Street, Winchester.
Online condolences can be posted at www.walkerswinchester.com.
Leon will be missed by all.
—Selby Ungar, Monaco Rare Coins
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