By John Feigenbaum – David Lawrence Rare Coins….
The story of the book Tales from the Bourse starts around 1998, a couple years after my father, David Lawrence Feigenbaum, was diagnosed with ALS. His doctor warned him that the disease would soon rob him of the ability to use his hands or communicate orally but that he would still retain his full mental capacities. As you can imagine, this was quite a stressful ordeal, so he set out on a writing project to distract him from the agony of his diagnosis.
Dave’s circuitous journey to becoming a coin dealer is a fascinating story in and of itself, and was the product of a lot of fits and starts. A student of the famous Stuyvesant Science and Math High School in the late 1950s, he found himself on a daily subway commute from Brooklyn to Manhattan, where he became fascinated with the various types of “old money” he could find in change. Soon he convinced subway booth operators to hold out the Barbers and Buffalos they picked up from change. Thus a coin collector was born.
He would go on to attend Cornell University, followed by a two-year stint in the Navy, a management career in Puerto Rico, graduate school at the University of Miami and finally a professorship at Old Dominion University. Through it all, Dave never gave up on his love of numismatics.
After a decade teaching at ODU, he was turned down for tenure and forced to start a new career.
With his trusty young son (me) at his side, Dave had already been building a small part-time coin business.
We traveled extensively to regional coin shows on the weekends and started a fledgling mail order operation out of the spare bedroom in the house.
To be honest, it was really quite fun and afforded me lots of opportunities to learn the basics of small business operations. I learned basic business skills like managing expenses, balancing a checkbook, insurance, customer relationships, and so on. My father and I loved this little business more than anyone could imagine.
Originally, we published multi-page price lists of thousands of circulated Barber coins graded from AG to AU, with an average price of about $25.
In the days after the price list was mailed out the orders would come in and we’d delight in every single sale. Daily trips to the post office to look for orders were the highlights of many days.
I recall, for example, a customer that came out of the blue with an order for over 50 individual coins. The total for the order was around $750, but my father was so excited you would’ve thought he’d won the lottery.
A single order like that gave him the motivation to take the business to the next level, and he was the happiest person in the world to be able to turn a life-long hobby into a career.
Sadly, that career was cut short.
In 1996 as the company was growing, Dave’s body was breaking down. I probably don’t have to tell you how terrible ALS is. But seeing it rob my father of the use of his limbs and throat muscles first-hand is something that no words can adequately describe.
My father was brave and undeterred through his horrible “journey” and he adapted to any technology then available to help him cope with the hours of boredom stuck in a useless body.
He eventually lost all use of his arms and legs, so he discovered an eye-gaze device which allowed him to type with eyeball movements, focusing on specific letters on a screen. The time required to write a single word was excruciating but it kept him busy and mentally active.
During the time between 1998 until he passed in 2002, Dave wrote two books entirely with the eye-gaze system. The first, entitled Journeys with ALS, was a compilation of short stories of other ALS victims and the story behind the disease’s effect on the patient and family members.
The second book was Tales from the Bourse: Short Stories from my Life as a Coin Dealer, which he eye-penned in 2001.
The book recounts 19 different vignettes of events that stuck in his mind from thousands of interactions he’d had during his career as a part- and full-time coin dealer.
Some are funny, others are strange and all are personal for me because I bore personal witness to most of them.
Acting as his publisher/editor, I recall cringing while I worked on the final edition. With all respect for a man in his physical state at the time (paralyzed, weak and literally speechless) I came to him with the draft under my arm and tried to break the news to him gently.
I said something like Dad, nobody will read this book. The stories really aren’t that interesting. But he looked at me with the wry, contorted smile that is all an ALS victim can manage and told me in a single glance, “Son, you’re wrong. People will read this book, and… even if they don’t, you’d better publish it anyway.”
How could I say no?
The initial printing of the book was 1,000 copies, a full run for numismatic non-fiction.
The response to the book was beyond our wildest expectations.
We sold out the first printing in 6 months. The outpouring of responses from readers was unlike any other book he’d ever written.
The stories strike a nerve with collectors, dealers and non-coin people, because they provide a slice of life into a world that is foreign to most of us.
Everyone seems to enjoy a different story for various reasons.
My personal favorite, of course, is “Dad, I found an 04-S.” (link) The 1904-S, in this case, is the now famously-rare 1904-S Barber half dollar. Back in the 1980s its rarity was all but unknown, except to my father and he taught me to seek these at coin shows.
Finding a nice, high grade 1904-S half was a major discovery indeed (and I did find one or two over the years!), so it became a sort of code for us.
One day I was house-shopping with my wife and called him to exclaim…. “Dad, I found an 04-S.” Which meant in a single sentence, “I found a great house priced below it’s true worth.” Now, 18 years later, we still live there with our three kids – all born and raised in that “1904-S half.”
I’d like to thank CoinWeek for offering to republish Tales from the Bourse on their web site and I hope you enjoy reading the stories as much as my father enjoyed sharing them.
Raleigh NC used to have some pretty robust coin shows back in the late 80s and early 90s. Your Dad used to always travel with Harry Laibstain and I quickly learned to check their tables first. I have great memories of your Dad. He was always willing to talk and share his expertise. My library includes copies of his books on the Barber coin series that were autographed by him.