Walter Breen's Numismatic Legacy
1 1

229 posts in this topic

10,738 posts
4 hours ago, Afterword said:

As he is dead, I do not see anything constructive about bringing up his personal transgressions. It certainly contributes nothing of relative interest concerning his ability to research and write about coins.

I can't and will never defend what he did in his private life, but as a collector from the early 1960s and onward, Breen enhanced my enjoyment of the hobby. Comments about him like this always degenerate into what we have here. The man is dead and what he did was very wrong, but running him through the ringer like this every time like this does not prove anything  any more.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
12,821 posts
17 hours ago, disme said:

You mention “controversial attributions which so far have not been substantiated outside of Wally Breen’s mind.” Please name some of these controversial attributions. A half dozen would be nice.

You didn't ask me and I can't give you the specifics, but over the years, I have seen a number of such coins, in hand. They were alleged Proof examples of  1917 T-1 Standing Liberty Quarters, 1916 and/or 1917 Walking Liberty Half Dollars, and various classic Silver Commemoratives and Capped Bust pieces of different denominations. 

I am aware that, even today and even among experts,  there are disagreements regarding the Proof vs. business strike attributions of many Capped Bust coins. And to a lesser extent, some of the other types I mentioned.

Edited to add: To be fair, I have seen various coins in PCGS and/or NGC holders which were initially labeled business strikes, but subsequently attributed as Proofs. Likewise, Proofs that were later attributed as business strikes. So Breen's attributions weren't the only controversial ones.

Edited by MarkFeld

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1,314 posts
3 hours ago, coinman_23885 said:

It is very much relevant to his numismatic legacy.  A propensity for lying affects his credibility.  If he would lie about something important, he would have no reservation about fudging on something related to coins, especially given some of his more controversial attributions which so far have not been substantiated outside of Wally Breen's mind.

Everyone lies, but that fact alone does not prove they are lying again.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
12,821 posts
2 minutes ago, Afterword said:

Everyone lies, but that fact alone does not prove they are lying again.

 

True, but it's reasonable to take those lies into consideration.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
9,083 posts
11 hours ago, disme said:

 Please name some of these controversial attributions. A half dozen would be nice.

Breen's Liberty Cap "specimen" cent
1935 Specimen Buffalo Nickel
1917 Matte Proof Wheat Cent
1917 Matte Proof Buffalo Nickel
1917 Matte Proof or Specimen Walking Liberty Half Dollar
1906-D Proof Barber Head Dime


None of these have been legitimated or recognized by either PCGS or NGC, and coins of this rarity and caliber certainly would if there was any evidence to support the existence of the piece.  Breen made these attributions several decades ago and still nothing. The putative 1917 matte proof Lincoln had a good strike going for it, but not much else.  It didn't have any of the diagnostics you would expect to see on matte proof coins.  Business strike coins of the era often come with exceptional strike and detail and somewhere during that period the dies were reworked to strengthen the details.  The 1906-D dime was putatively double struck which Breen stated was characteristic of Philadelphia proofs.  Proof coins of the era were struck only once on a medal press with high pressure, not twice as with modern coins.
 

Edited by coinman_23885
typos

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1,314 posts
18 hours ago, MarkFeld said:

True, but it's reasonable to take those lies into consideration.

True as well, but I think it has gone a little beyond that in a few posts.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
8,489 posts
19 hours ago, BillJones said:

Dr. Sheldon's early date large cent book was the only one that was easy to get in the 1960s.

And Dr Sheldon had his own skeletons in his closet.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2,217 posts
19 hours ago, BillJones said:

Collectors don't know how great they have it today.

I'll second that. Reading the popular coin publications of the 1960s proves that no one had a clue as to how coins were made and how errors/varieties occurred. Readers would send in damaged coins and pieces with simple strike doubling and get all sorts of mis-information from the editors and columnists.

Whenever I have some idle reading time at the office I pull out the book Fair to Very Fine by Jim Johnson. This is a thick, collective volume of his Coin World columns from the 1960s-early '70s, and it covers any hobby topic imaginable. Johnson had an "everyman" approach to the hobby and was well-intentioned by often ill-informed. When he called upon guest contributors such as Breen and Taxay, they would clarify things a bit yet still betray an incomplete understanding. It really wasn't until the mid-1970s that the Mint began to be forthcoming with information and allow a closer examination of its operations, and only then were hobby figures able to acquire an accurate understanding of how both normal and abnormal coins were produced. This information is now in print, though NOT ALL OF IT IS ONLINE. I emphasize these words, because too many collectors are proud of the fact that they can learn anything they need to know from the internet and are reluctant to buy books.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
11,990 posts

In retrospect, and with better information available today, most of the "old time" coin dealers were shady characters with limited positive ethical views. If they could make money, that was all that mattered.  Interesting, however, that Burdette G. Johnson was a notable exception. He appears to have been frustratingly honest to other dealers and collectors - I write "frustratingly" because he would not play the games the other major dealers did and he did not bias coin condition/rarity, etc. The notable Abe Kosoff destroyed all his business papers before his death, so that his many unethical deals could not be traced.

Some of the big-name collectors would happily steal from one another, or create false appraisals so they could buy check from Estates. With coin knowledge tightly held, it was a simple matter to take advantage of widows, non-collectors and "boobies" as Ford so commonly called collectors. The Norwebs were among the more prominent targets of dealer-crooks, as were Dupont, Lilly, and a host of others. Complicity went all the way to the Smithsonian curator Vladimir Clain-Stefanelli  who refused to fully investigate the fake "Western Bars" donated to SI.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3,303 posts

I'd like to see a thorough catalogue of the rogues gallery of swindlers, con-artists, and low lifes (and the few honorable people) that were running the collector/dealer world at that time.  It reminds me a little of the shady operators in the realty world that have held sway in some areas.  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
203 posts
On 6/4/2017 at 10:48 AM, RWB said:

In the minor bits of research I've done, the approach is to summarize existing material as a background, then start from the beginning in locating original sources plus previously unknown sources. This is not so much of a problem as it might seem since Breen, Taxay and others rarely present any useful sources, and quotations are commonly incomplete or sometimes contain transcription mistakes. Once the sources have told their story, I can go back and see what prior authors have written.

From my research perspective four categories of "issues" occur in Wally Breen's publications: 1) in-fill and extrapolation errors; 2) incomplete data when referenced sources contain much more material; 3) falsehoods and baseless assumptions; and 4) ignorance of Mint, Treasury and economic operations and technology.

The result is that for me, everything Breen wrote has to be "fact checked," much like the present cabal in Washington. Much of Breen's work is exemplary, but "you must know enough to know what to be skeptical of before you can know what he knew." Ya' know what I mean....?

 

I still think it is improper to refer to Walter Breen as “Wally Breen” which is a sad attempt to demean him.  RWB has been doing this for a long time.  And it should stop

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
203 posts
On 6/7/2017 at 2:47 PM, MarkFeld said:

You didn't ask me and I can't give you the specifics, but over the years, I have seen a number of such coins, in hand. They were alleged Proof examples of  1917 T-1 Standing Liberty Quarters, 1916 and/or 1917 Walking Liberty Half Dollars, and various classic Silver Commemoratives and Capped Bust pieces of different denominations. 

I am aware that, even today and even among experts,  there are disagreements regarding the Proof vs. business strike attributions of many Capped Bust coins. And to a lesser extent, some of the other types I mentioned.

Edited to add: To be fair, I have seen various coins in PCGS and/or NGC holders which were initially labeled business strikes, but subsequently attributed as Proofs. Likewise, Proofs that were later attributed as business strikes. So Breen's attributions weren't the only controversial ones.

Many years ago I say a 1917 type one standing liberty quarter in a matte proof-63 holder.  It had been cleaned but was a no doubt matte proof.  really incredible piece. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
11,990 posts

RE: " I still think it is improper to refer to Walter Breen as “Wally Breen” which is a sad attempt to demean him.  RWB has been doing this for a long time.  And it should stop."

:) Just being kind to Wally. There are a host of accurate terms that can be applied to Wally Breen that are far more expressive than "Wally." Maybe 't-arc-' could publish a loving memorial to Wally describing all his noble, humanitarian qualities and attributes? Then follow it up with praise of John Ford, Jr. and his metal-making minions?

Wally Breen was exactly what he was.

Edited by RWB

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
12,821 posts
1 hour ago, RWB said:

RE: " I still think it is improper to refer to Walter Breen as “Wally Breen” which is a sad attempt to demean him.  RWB has been doing this for a long time.  And it should stop."

:) Just being kind to Wally. There are a host of accurate terms that can be applied to Wally Breen that are far more expressive than "Wally." Maybe 't-arc-' could publish a loving memorial to Wally describing all his noble, humanitarian qualities and attributes? Then follow it up with praise of John Ford, Jr. and his metal-making minions?

Wally Breen was exactly what he was.

His name is his name, regardless of what he did or what you think of him.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
203 posts
19 hours ago, MarkFeld said:

His name is his name, regardless of what he did or what you think of him.

Right on, and RWB is the one who tagged him with “Wally".  Thats why I refer to RWB as “Birddie”. ( We miss him ATS)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
11,990 posts
2 hours ago, t-arc said:

Right on, and RWB is the one who tagged him with “Wally".  Thats why I refer to RWB as “Birddie”. ( We miss him ATS)

:)  Thanks! Never had a nickname before; although a good nickname is a diminutive of the person's real name, not to be confused with and epithet.

But, yes, you are correct that Walter Breen should not be referred to as "Walt," "Wally," or even "Wall-E....." Maybe we should take a line from Homer and refer to him as " "Walter 'the nymph with lovely braids' Breen?"  (Sorry, Calypso and Circe , that's unfair to goddesses.)

We should not make fun at him -- pity, might be more appropriate -- or maybe forget about him as one would any other perverse, misguided personality who accomplished much good work. Keep the good and discard the rest.

A serious question: Breen's independent biography says he had a graduate degree in sociology from USC Berkeley. Did his work for John Ford, Jr. suppress what Breen should have learned of research integrity?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
355 posts
4 hours ago, RWB said:

:)  Thanks! Never had a nickname before; although a good nickname is a diminutive of the person's real name, not to be confused with and epithet.

But, yes, you are correct that Walter Breen should not be referred to as "Walt," "Wally," or even "Wall-E....." Maybe we should take a line from Homer and refer to him as " "Walter 'the nymph with lovely braids' Breen?"  (Sorry, Calypso and Circe , that's unfair to goddesses.)

We should not make fun at him -- pity, might be more appropriate -- or maybe forget about him as one would any other perverse, misguided personality who accomplished much good work. Keep the good and discard the rest.

A serious question: Breen's independent biography says he had a graduate degree in sociology from USC Berkeley. Did his work for John Ford, Jr. suppress what Breen should have learned of research integrity?

Perhaps "Walter-the vile pedophile-Breen", and pity is not the word I would choose.  

Funny story (or not), I lived in Berkeley in the mid 80s and at one time in the pre-Internet era looked up his wife in the phone book as I knew she lived around there (or perhaps it was right across the border with Oakland...I can't quite remember).  I was about 20 and house-sitting one Spring break and was literally a mile from the address and being the Sci-Fi nerd that I was I walked by the house.  I used to kick myself for not having the nerve to bring a book and knock on the door for an autograph (yea, I know,  that would be pretty stalker-y but it wasn't really a word then).  But I didn't.  Years later when I found out what was going on there I wondered what would have happened...other than getting yelled at for bothering them in such a rude (and stalker-y) way.  Might I have figured out there was something awful going on?  Of course not, but there has been a tiny part of me that wondered if I missed the opportunity to intervene/call the authorities--and I think part of my gut deep virulent response to all this partly has to do with a not-logical 'maybe I could have done something' feeling.  

Anyway, I ended up passing on the auctions with his books even though that was a gut-response (and an over budget one) as they were not autographed or anything.  I did pick up the other books on 1/2 cents, large cents and 2 cents so perhaps I'll learn something anyway--perhaps enough to see if it's a collecting direction I might want to take.  IIRC it was an internet bidder who picked up one of the other large cent book lots that included a Green book, and the single Breen book lot was passed (starting bid $50, and the auctioneer was not cutting the bids lower than the start).

Oh, and as a Berkeley grad I must point out it's UC Berkeley.  USC is some minor school further south  ;) (:baiting: for any USC grads...unless it's a University of South Carolina person who is merely an innocent bystander...and am I the only one who would dearly love to see the two USC schools battle it out in a bowl game???).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
192 posts

I attended the ANA Convention in Chicago in 1991. While out for dinner one night, I think at Garibaldi's near the convention center, I saw Breen at a table with several young boys. I thought that was a little strange. This was sometime around the time that he was charged with child molestation involving a 13-year-old boy which resulted in a conviction and his incarceration. What a sick person he was.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
203 posts
On 6/7/2017 at 10:04 PM, coinman_23885 said:

Breen's Liberty Cap "specimen" cent
1935 Specimen Buffalo Nickel
1917 Matte Proof Wheat Cent
1917 Matte Proof Buffalo Nickel
1917 Matte Proof or Specimen Walking Liberty Half Dollar
1906-D Proof Barber Head Dime


None of these have been legitimated or recognized by either PCGS or NGC, and coins of this rarity and caliber certainly would if there was any evidence to support the existence of the piece.  Breen made these attributions several decades ago and still nothing. The putative 1917 matte proof Lincoln had a good strike going for it, but not much else.  It didn't have any of the diagnostics you would expect to see on matte proof coins.  Business strike coins of the era often come with exceptional strike and detail and somewhere during that period the dies were reworked to strengthen the details.  The 1906-D dime was putatively double struck which Breen stated was characteristic of Philadelphia proofs.  Proof coins of the era were struck only once on a medal press with high pressure, not twice as with modern coins.
 

1)  I presently own the 1935 specimen buffalo nickel mentioned here by conman_23885.

2)  In 1978 I had on approval from New England Rare Coin Galleries a unique specimen of a 1935 satin finish proof buffalo nickel.  It was in my opinion a no question satin finish proof.  Not to be confused with #1 above.

3)  About 15 years ago I saw a SEGS 1917 type one standing liberty quarter at a show.  It had been cleaned but to my eye was a no questions matte proof.  Details was beyond fantastic and  completely blew away any

     other 1917 type one quarter I had ever seen.   Beautiful fine grained matte surfaces.  

(The 1935 satin finish proof buffalo carried an asking price of $3000 back in the day (1978) and I have always wondered what happened to it.)

4)  There will never be any 1917 proof coinage slabbed by pcgs and/or ngc as this would completley upset the registry set applecart.  Think about that!  One proud registry set owner wakes up one morning to find out that

his record setting number one registry set is now incomplete as the first 1917 matte proof cent, nickel quarter, or half dollar,  has been slabbed!!  never gonna happen!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
9,083 posts
2 minutes ago, t-arc said:

1)  I presently own the 1935 specimen buffalo nickel mentioned here by conman_23885.

2)  In 1978 I had on approval from New England Rare Coin Galleries a unique specimen of a 1935 satin finish proof buffalo nickel.  It was in my opinion a no question satin finish proof.  Not to be confused with #1 above.

3)  About 15 years ago I saw a SEGS 1917 type one standing liberty quarter at a show.  It had been cleaned but to my eye was a no questions matte proof.  Details was beyond fantastic and  completely blew away any

     other 1917 type one quarter I had ever seen.   Beautiful fine grained matte surfaces.  

(The 1935 satin finish proof buffalo carried an asking price of $3000 back in the day (1978) and I have always wondered what happened to it.)

4)  There will never be any 1917 proof coinage slabbed by pcgs and/or ngc as this would completley upset the registry set applecart.  Think about that!  One proud registry set owner wakes up one morning to find out that

his record setting number one registry set is now incomplete as the first 1917 matte proof cent, nickel quarter, or half dollar,  has been slabbed!!  never gonna happen!

I would love to see your 1935 specimen nickel.   I think the coin should speak for itself (no slight or offense meant).

As for SEGS, I don't trust it or Briggs anymore than I trust Breen.  My views changed after SEGS advertised a guarantee on all SEGS coins (without qualification) and then refused to honor its guarantee for people on other forums.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
11,990 posts

Sorry to interrupt the fantasies with facts, but collectors should be dealing with the truth, not inventions and Breen’s illusions.

 

 

1.      1935 “specimen” nickel. Bologna. Only thing that might make a “specimen” 1935 nickel is if it were dropped in the little cup during a visit to the Doctor’s office.

2.      1935 “satin proof.” The idea for restarting proofs was that of Louis McHenry Howe, close friend of President Roosevelt. The first sample proof coin – a quarter – was shown to Howe in April 1936.

3.      No proof coins of any denomination were made in 1917 or any later year until 1936. The first few pieces off a new die pair will often have exceptional sharpness and detail, but they do not have the necessary mechanical artifacts to show they were made on a medal press – as were ALL proof coins at the time. [1921 & 1922 Peace dollars and sandblast proof commemorative halves were made for internal engineering and production approval – not as items for outside use.]

4.      Correct. Not because of some nefarious condition, but because they don’t exist.

All of this and much more has been documented and is available in references published over the past 15 years. Overall, Breen’s authentications and attributions are largely fictitious. The sad fellow did not even know the basics of how proof coins were made in the teens....and did not do the basic research to find out!

Edited by RWB

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
872 posts
57 minutes ago, RWB said:

Sorry to interrupt the fantasies with facts, but collectors should be dealing with the truth, not inventions and Breen’s illusions.

 

 

 

1.      1935 “specimen” nickel. Bologna. Only thing that might make a “specimen” 1935 nickel is if it were dropped in the little cup during a visit to the Doctor’s office.

 

2.      1935 “satin proof.” The idea for restarting proofs was that of Louis McHenry Howe, close friend of President Roosevelt. The first sample proof coin – a quarter – was shown to Howe in April 1936.

 

3.      No proof coins of any denomination were made in 1917 or any later year until 1936. The first few pieces off a new die pair will often have exceptional sharpness and detail, but they do not have the necessary mechanical artifacts to show they were made on a medal press – as were ALL proof coins at the time. [1921 & 1922 Peace dollars and sandblast proof commemorative halves were made for internal engineering and production approval – not as items for outside use.]

 

4.      Correct. Not because of some nefarious condition, but because they don’t exist.

 

 

 

All of this and much more has been documented and in available in published references over the past 15 years. Overall, Breen’s authentications and attributions are largely fictitious. The sad fellow did not even know the basics of how proof coins were made in the teens.

 

Roger your commentary is always factual and to the point. Earlier comments that current day collectors don't know how good they have it obviously refers to your writings of late. Your recent book on '36 to '42 proofs blows me away every time I open the cover. Anybody that doesn't have the Renaissance volumes should make that purchase immediately in order to be informed on these subjects.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
203 posts
8 hours ago, numisport said:

Roger your commentary is always factual and to the point. Earlier comments that current day collectors don't know how good they have it obviously refers to your writings of late. Your recent book on '36 to '42 proofs blows me away every time I open the cover. Anybody that doesn't have the Renaissance volumes should make that purchase immediately in order to be informed on these subjects.

I would never own anything written by rub

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
203 posts

NUMISPORT said ....

"1935 “specimen” nickel. Bologna. Only thing that might make a “specimen” 1935 nickel is if it were dropped in the little cup during a visit to the Doctor’s office"

just shows his ignorance, what does this contribute to the thread?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
10,738 posts

Breen's personal life was obviously reprehensible, but in terms of numismatics, Breen was a saint compared to the likes of John Ford.

I didn't know much about what Ford was up to in his day before I read the Eric P. Newman biography. I knew from the collectors that were my father's age that he was shady, but I didn’t know how shady.

The only time I ever laid eyes on the man was when the Massachusetts Historical Society held an event with Boston Numismatic Society at the unveiling of numismatic display. Most collectors gave him a cordial reception, a few of them rolled their eyes and said that “He’d steal your eye teeth if they weren’t attached to your head.”

Another well know collector and coin magazine columnist was not on the up and up either. One Boston dealer told me about $100,000 collection that a widow had in 10 double row boxes. Back in those days $100,000 collection would be a $1 million or more today.

At any rate, this person took the collection for appraisal, made up one box and paid the widow $10,000 with a promise to buy more. The trouble was he cherry picked the good stuff and left the widow with all of the common pieces. That was the end of the deal for him.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
24,958 posts
4 hours ago, t-arc said:

NUMISPORT RWB said ....

"1935 “specimen” nickel. Bologna. Only thing that might make a “specimen” 1935 nickel is if it were dropped in the little cup during a visit to the Doctor’s office"

just shows his ignorance, what does this contribute to the thread?

There, I fixed that for ya...I think Roger was the one disagreeing. Oh and here's the accompanying letter to the so-called 'specimen'

WALTER BREEN
Box 352, Berkley CA 94701
August 12, 1989
TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN
This certifies that I have examined the accompanying coin and that I unhesitatingly declare it genuine and as described below.
It is a 1935 buffalo nickel described as a "specimen striking". It has extraordinary sharpness, obviously and visible from two blows from the dies. This extra impression has imparted not only extra design detail as on a proof, but extra sharpness on the inner and outer rims, again as on proofs. Surfaces are satiny, though unlike the 1916, 1917, 1927 or 1936 type one proofs; it is uncertain if any special treatment was don to the surfaces as normally with proofs. This is the first such piece I have seen.

Respectfully submitted, Walter Breen
 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
11,990 posts

The entire burden of proof lies on those who claim such special items exist. If they are real and not imaginary, as "t-arc" seems to claim, then present the original documents related to each item.

Of course, that kind of hard evidence cannot be presented because it does not exist, not do any contemporary references or inferences exist. "Wishful thinking" and faulty logic are powerful human crutches for the perpetuation of ignorance, and repetition only sustains the failure.  It's unfortunate that some cling to ignorance when modern researchers have long since buried so many numismyths.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
1 1