By Tom DeLorey – Harlan J. Berk, Ltd.
Walter Mustain was a numismatist of the old school, collecting coins for the fun of it and not a slave to the slab mentality. He collected large cents, which to a copper collector are meant to be held by the edge, bare fingers on bare metal, and appreciated. Walter appreciated them.
He was a frequent visitor to Harlan J. Berk, Ltd. in the 22+ years I worked there. Sometimes he would come in just to pick up a magazine, and we might chat about coins, or the weather, or the Chicago Blackhawks. The company he worked for owned a skybox at the United Center, and he occasionally shared tickets with my wife and I.
He was very knowledgeable about large cent die varieties, and when I had difficulty attributing one of the vexing late dates he would take it home and attribute it himself. Eventually we arrived at an arrangement whereby I would save all of the new large cents that came in for his review, in a box, in a holder or in a small cloth bag if loose and low grade. In exchange for attributing them he would get first shot at buying anything that he needed, at good prices in recognition of the labor he provided.
This led to one amusing incident when he came in one day while I was busy on the counter, and our office manager, busy with another customer but closer to my desk, picked up the draw-string bag and literally tossed it to Walter on the other side of the counter. He stuck the bag in his jacket pocket and left.
Two days later he came in and said “DO YOU KNOW WHAT WAS IN THAT BAG BOB THREW AT ME???” I said no, of course not. What was it? It turned out to be an AG-3 example of a very rare die variety. I asked him how much he wanted to pay for it, he said $1,000, and I said fine by me. I never doubted that he would give us fair value for what we gave him, uninventoried.
He would return all coins in paper envelopes, with all but the most common or low grade coins attributed by die variety, die state if relevant, rarity factor and two grades, the commercial grade and the Early American Coppers club grade. I never found him wrong on any variety, though I recognized that his grading was old school conservative.
About ten years ago he did sell us a few hundred of his duplicates, basically coins that he had upgraded with nicer specimens. After we owned them and I had finished pricing them, using Walter’s commercial grades, I began preparing trays of them for our show windows facing the street. As was my custom I put a small, hand-written sign that read “NEW TOYS” in the trays, to indicate that these were new purchases and that they were priced as marked until further notice.
I put these out when we opened at 9 AM, and the first three trays of Walter’s “new toys” ended with three examples of the popular 1857 date. I sold the first 1857 at 9:30, the second one around 10:00, and the third one as our lunch rush started around 11:30. At Noon the gentleman who had purchased the first one came back in to buy the other two, and I had to tell him that he was too late, pointing out the many other holes in the three trays. Walter had nice coins. I was sorry to hear from Bob last year that Walter had passed away.
The 1,000 or so coins represented in this and future offerings are Walter’s“good stuff,”the result of a lifetime of collecting. Do not be put off if many of them are not slabbed. The variety numbers are true, and the grades are reliable.They were attributed and graded by a true Coin