The Truman Library Snyder Coin Collection Robbery and Other Recollections

By Victor Bozarth for PCGS ……
 

In March 1962, Treasury Secretary John Snyder donated his 450-piece complete coin collection to the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library. In November of that year, the entire collection was stolen by burglars who struck during the night. Some 60 years later, not a single verifiable specimen from the original collection has ever been recovered.

Despite plenty of news coverage and police investigations, there was never any additional information about the coins after the robbery. Snyder and John Stack, part of the New York Stack coin family, reassembled a comparable collection soliciting donations. At least 167 collectors donated to the replacement collection. On May 6, 1967, this new collection was presented to President Truman at his library and was placed on display once more.

Currently, this 450-piece Truman/Snyder collection is being displayed at the American Numismatic Association (ANA) Money Museum in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

From the end of his presidency in 1953 until the completion of the Truman Library in 1957, Truman kept an office on the 11th floor of the Kansas City Federal Reserve building at 925 Grand Avenue in Kansas City, Missouri. The Truman home and presidential library are both located in Independence, Missouri. Independence is the county seat for Jackson County, Missouri, of which Kansas City is a part. Truman was very active in Jackson County politics and served as the presiding judge for the county for two terms prior to his successful run for U.S. Senate in 1936.

My Reflections on Truman & His Kansas City Connections

I’ve always been curious about our nation’s 33rd president. I was born in Kansas City at the end of 1960. My folks lived in several homes in Kansas City and Independence during my elementary school years. For about a year before I began kindergarten, we lived about five blocks from the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum in Independence. My dad worked at Dial Finance on the courthouse square nearby. I turned five and learned to ride my bike in Independence.

Two of the most unique experiences of my young life occurred in Independence.

My family had one vehicle. During the day, if we wanted to go anywhere – the grocery store, pharmacy, shoe store, etc. – we walked. The courthouse square and my dad’s office were six or seven blocks away from home, but on nice days we often walked it to meet my dad when he got off work.

Truman walked too. In fact, he was very well known for his daily “constitutional” walk. One of my most unique memories is of President Truman walking with no visible Secret Service “minders” or anyone else accompanying him. Seeing President Truman walking back then was no big deal, but it sure made an impression on a five-year-old kid. I remember asking my mom, “That man was president?”

My younger brother Jeff and I were typical boys. Always into stuff and ornery, too, my mom had her hands full 24/7. As politically incorrect as this might sound, my brother and I were SO ornery, my mom and dad came up with a plan. They bought a small chalkboard and hung it in our kitchen. They wrote “Vic” and “Jeff” on the top of the chalkboard and split the board into two columns. We didn’t have a name for the chalkboard, but Jeff and I quickly figured out that we didn’t want to run up a big score!

The Frying Pan Came in Through the Storm Door Window

One time I remember my dad being particularly angry over a broken window on the back storm door. He made us cut switches off some bushes in the backyard!

During nice weather when we played in our backyard, my mom would often lock the back storm door to keep us from constantly coming in and going out like typical kids might do (any psychologists reading this now are cringing, I’m sure). One day, I had done something to Jeff that made him angry. I was laughing and he was not! The argument progressed and I probably smacked him like a big brother does. He didn’t like that and picked up an old frying pan we used to play with in our sandbox. I really didn’t feel like being brained by a frying pan, so I took off running.

Oops, I ran to the back storm door, which was locked. When my brother swung the frying pan to whack me, I ducked. The door did not.

Yes, we got paddled. I don’t know what a child psychologist would say about all of this, but it worked. It wasn’t long before we realized “staying off the board” was a good thing! Of course, we continued to misbehave, but both of us realized (maybe for the first time in our young lives) that there were consequences to our actions.

Parents quickly learn to parent or not. My folks, God bless them, really had their hands full. One of my mom’s best parenting tools was food–we were easily bribed!

Sometime in 1965 or 1966, there was a national event at the Truman Library. We had heard about the ceremony taking place at the library and knew about the date and time. My folks were great parents. My mom still is. They were constantly trying to expose us to new, exciting, and educational events. Before we were both 10, there wasn’t a gallery, museum, park, or entertainment venue in Kansas City we hadn’t seen or visited. If it was a free event, even better.

The ceremony was in the middle of the day. Although I’ve asked my mom about the event, all she could remember were some of the dignitaries attending, including Truman himself, the then-current President Lyndon B. Johnson, former President Dwight W. Eisenhower, and Hubert Humprey, among others. Of course, Secret Service protection was present because of two former presidents and the sitting commander-in-chief being present.

“What’s He Want With Our Popcorn, Mom?”

One of mom’s most successful food bribes was popcorn. Even at five years old, we were both bottomless pits. Popcorn was cheap. Mom would pop corn for lots of events. She would generally half-fill a normal brown paper grocery bag with popcorn. Yes, that’s a lot of popcorn. Imagine two dogs standing on their hind feet waiting for a treat… Pretty accurate.

On the day of the event, Mom started popping corn after breakfast. She got us dressed up (it was a big event, of course) and we probably had on matching outfits (yes, the pics are embarrassing). I remember us taking off and walking toward the library with her in the middle holding both of our hands. I got to carry the popcorn bag because I was the oldest – or was it because mom only had two hands?

Once we got closer to the event, we could hear the noise and feel the excitement in the air. The area was somewhat cordoned off, but nothing like one would expect at a presidential event today. We approached the back of the crowd of several hundred spectators on the lawn facing the front steps of the library itself. There was a podium set up on the front steps and a bunch of old men talking.

Imagine our surprise when this well-dressed young man walks up and demands to look at our bag. “What’s he want with our popcorn, Mom?”, I remember asking. This was my first introduction to a real Secret Service agent. Of course, he needed to see what we had in the bag. When he realized it was “just popcorn,” he let us be. For a five-year-old kid, it was the event of the year!

Recently, while doing some research on the Truman library, I decided to research the Snyder Coin Collection stolen in 1962. Just eight months after the collection’s exhibit was installed, thieves broke into the library at night and stole the collection.

Little is known about the original collection. The replacement collection was formed to duplicate the coins in the original cabinet, and even the displays were quite similar. Original photos of the exhibit show a large backboard holding smaller boards (from each individual president). This larger backboard was discarded at the time of the robbery and was left just outside the exit door the robbers fled through.

In the original display, the sign at the top of the board reads “COINS” followed with “ISSUED BY THE” and then “PRESIDENTS” underneath on a third line. The coins each president was responsible for were housed in the smaller boards, from President George Washington on the upper-left corner and so on. Curiously, the replacement collection display differs only slightly with the same heading using just two lines, “COINS/ISSUED BY THE PRESIDENTS.”

The replacement collection was presented to Truman at his presidential library on May 6, 1967, and once more displayed.

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