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What Is a Spondulix? In Memoriam: Tom Culhane


By Pete Smith for CoinWeek.com….
New Jersey coin dealer Tom Culhane died on October 29, 2015, at age 58. His whimsical business name was The Elusive Spondulix. So, what is a spondulix?

Tom attempted to explain on his website:

The company name, The Elusive Spondulix, may have raised your sesquipedalian curiosity. No don’t run for your Funk & Wagner, let me elucidate. Obviously, Elusive means hard to find or locate; Spondulix, the word people always question me about at coin shows, is neither Latin nor Greek. I can’t speak any language other than English. Spondulix is a word which entered the English language from American slang of the 1800s. During this time African and West Indies Cowry-Shell money, made of gold, was on display at the Philadelphia Mint. Referred to as Spondu, the slang, Spondulix, eventually entered the English language as another word for coin or money. The word has also been spelled ending both with Lics and Licks, but the Lix ending is the more generally accepted spelling.”

There is another explanation. In the W. C. Fields’ movie My Little Chickadee (1940), Fields as gambler and con man Cuthbert J. Twillie says to his partner, “Have you any of the elusive spondulixs on you?” Culhane admitted this was the inspiration for the company name.

Spondulix is one of many slang terms for money. It generally refers to some quantity of money and not just a single coin. Other such terms include bread, cabbage, dough, lucre, moola or scratch.

The slang term comes from Spondylus shells that were used as a form of coinage dating back about 5,000 years. They were harvested from the Aegean Sea and formed into bracelets and ornaments. Their name in Greek is Spondulox.

Thomas S. Culhane was born on July 12, 1957, in Hoboken, New Jersey. He was a graduate of St. Peters College in Jersey City, New Jersey. He worked as a full-time coin dealer with various firms after 1979. His firm, The Elusive Spondulix, located in Union, New Jersey, was founded in 1986.

Culhane was an accomplished coin grader. He worked as a grading consultant for Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) and Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS). He was also hired by Stack’s to do grading for auction lots.

His knowledge was recognized outside the profession. When the TV quiz show Jeopardy wanted to verify the answer for contestants’ questions, they sometimes called Culhane.

He was a contributor to the Guidebook of United States Coins (Red Book). Later he contributed articles for the introduction to the Official Blackbook Price Guide to U. S. Coins after 1997.

One of his specialties was Philippines coinage. He revised the book U. S./Philippine Coins, originally written by Lyman Allen, for the 6th edition. Another of his specialties was Irish coins and tokens.

Culhane also had an impact on the hobby of philately. He actively campaigned for the issue of stamps to honor James Cagney and Irish Immigration in 1999. He served as a Director for the Irish Celtic U. S. Stamp Committee.

Often people involved with numismatics also have other outside interests. For Culhane it was arm wrestling. He competed in professional tournaments for the sport.

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  1. Tom was a humble man. He often would open his shop for my son and I .. I didn t find out until recently. Thank you for what you did. My sincere condolences to his family,
    Dennis and Andrew

  2. Did someone take over Tom’s business. Tom was a friend of mine and I tried to reach him via telephone bu it had been disconnected. Thank you. RIP Tom

    • Hello Tom,
      No one took over the business after Tommy (my brother passed away) Thank you for your kind words.


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