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Q. David Bowers: Abraham “Abe” Kosoff

Q. David Bowers: Abraham "Abe" Kosoff - Stack's Bowers Galleries

By Q. David BowersCo-Founder, Stack’s Bowers …..
Abraham Kosoff, born in New York City in 1912, gave his name in print as A. Kosoff, and was known to his friends as “Abe“.

In September 1929 in New York City, he was hired as a clerk by A. Celender to trade in antique jewelry and old coins. Although he had planned to become an accountant, old coins proved to be remunerative, and in 1937 he went full-time into professional numismatics, trading as the Numismatic Gallery. Helping him along was Julius Guttag, who during the previous decade had been a partner in Guttag Brothers, stockbrokers, exchange brokers, and rare coin dealers. The Guttags had fallen upon hard financial times, and much of the partnership’s inventory was consigned piecemeal to Kosoff. In 1940, his business was conducted in the rear of Alfred Rich & Sons Antique Shop, 122 East 57th Street, New York City.

1940 was an important year for Kosoff.

In the spring he met Sol Kaplan, a Cincinnati stamp dealer who was just beginning to become involved in coins. Kaplan had many business connections, and during the next quarter century, he and his associates provided financing and helped with many of Kosoff’s transactions. On June 8 of the same year, Abe Kosoff had his first auction, which featured numismatic books consigned by Julius Guttag and coins consigned by Wayte Raymond and James G. Macallister. The venue was the Hotel New Yorker at 34th Street and 8th Avenue, New York City. O. Rundle Gilbert called the sale. The realization was slightly over $2,500, with one man in the audience buying about half of this total.

Other auctions were held, including the Michael Higgy Collection in 1943, which he owned outright. The Higgy coins came on the market just as America was getting deeply involved in World War II, cash was plentiful and hard goods were scarce, and coins seemed to be a logical place to put money. Many pieces brought multiples of pre-sale expectations, and the coin market soared.

Abner Kreisberg was taken as a partner in the Numismatic Gallery in 1944. Important auctions included the F.C.C. Boyd Collection (“World’s Greatest Collection”), the holdings of Charles M. Williams, and others. Also notable was the 1944 fixed-priced offering, The Outstanding Collection of U.S. Large Cents, the [Oscar] Pearl Collection.

Although Abe Kosoff seemed to enjoy the New York scene, lived in a fine home in nearby Mount Vernon, and enjoyed lunches on a regular basis with the likes of Wayte Raymond and F.C.C. Boyd, he cast his eye on the Golden West, and in early 1948 headed for Beverly Hills. After a time, partner Kreisberg, who had remained behind in New York, moved west as well. The New York City auction market was largely left to Stack’s, who had been in business since 1933, and New Netherlands, which had set up shop on September 15, 1936.

In 1954 Abe Kosoff and his wife Mollie, along with daughter Sondra (“Sonnie”) headed across the Atlantic to participate in the Farouk sale, joining other American numismatists such as Sol Kaplan, Ambassador and Mrs. R. Henry Norweb, Hans M.F. Schulman, John J. Pittman, James P. Randall, Robert Schermerhorn, Paul Wittlin, Gaston DiBello, and Maurice Storck. The event was a saga in itself, and years later both Kosoff and Schulman devoted many columns of print to what happened – including much mystery and intrigue. In the summer of that same year, Kosoff sold his interest in Numismatic Gallery to Abner Kreisberg, who maintained the beautiful store on North Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills, trading under the slightly changed name of Coin Gallery.

Also in 1954, Abe Kosoff was named the first president of the Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG). Years later, the correct date was forgotten, and for a time the PNG itself advertised that it had been formed in 1955.

Kossoff also continued in the coin trade, at first doing business from post office box 456 in Encino, California, later moving to Palm Springs, where he remained for the rest of his life. Later successes included handling the Dr. J. Hewitt Judd Collection, the sale of the Hydeman Collection (which included a 1913 Liberty Head nickel and an 1804 dollar), and more. In the 1950s he encouraged his friend and customer, J. Hewitt Judd, M.D., to create the text for a new reference work on pattern coins, which Kosoff supervised and saw through several editions. In 1973, he was a leading force in persuading the American Numismatic Association (ANA) to adopt the Sheldon numerical grading scale, which that organization did a few years later.

In May 1983, this appeared in The Numismatist:

“The career of a widely known and highly respected numismatist ended when Abe Kosoff died of a malignant brain tumor on March 19. Seventy-year-old Abe had been a professional numismatist for more than 53 years and an ANA member for 48 years. Born in New York City on the last day of 1912, Abe lived there until moving to California in 1948 … A respected dealer, Abe conducted many famous auction sales and handled numerous top numismatic rarities in private transactions. He made several appearances before congressional committees as a numismatic expert and published or aided in a number of research works. Merely enumerating the projects in the United States and abroad in which Abe played major roles would take excessive space. Of great satisfaction to him was the success of the Professional Numismatists Guild which he originated in 1954 and guided through its founding years. He was chosen to conduct eight ANA convention auction sales, more than any other dealer. One of his recent and notable services to the ANA was as co-compiler and editor of The Official ANA Grading Standards for United States Coins, published in 1977. Many were the awards and honors he received, including the ANA Farran Zerbe Memorial Award and election to the Numismatic Hall of Fame, the PNG Founders Award, the International Association of Professional Numismatists gold honor medal, and numerous others from lesser organizations. The people with whom he came in contact knew Abe as a kindly yet candid man, generous in personal matters and an astute businessman—a gentleman. Survivors include his widow Molly, to whom he was married 49 years; his daughter Sonnie Frowein; four grandchildren; two brothers; and two sisters. The numismatic world will not be the same without Abe Kosoff, whose influence on the hobby will be everlasting.”

His personal collection and business inventory were consigned by his family to Auctions by Bowers and Merena, Inc., and presented in 1984. Included were many rarities, highlighted by an MCMVII (1907) Ultra High Relief $20.

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