Jim Bisognani: A Salt-of-the-Earth Coindexter
Posted on 6/30/2022
My friend from Henderson, Kentucky has been a coin collector and dealer since before I was born. Doug Schuessler has been an ardent numismatist for the majority of his 83 years. Doug is what I affectionately refer to as a class one coindexter. His time in numismatics speaks volumes for his longevity, staying power and passion.
I met Doug through his weekly listings on eBay about 13 years ago. By always having nine eclectic lots up for bid (which ended around 8 p.m. on Sunday nights), Doug’s sales kept bringing me back each week to scan the newest offerings. After receiving my first few lot wins, Doug would always include a personal note of thanks and humorous asides in addition to my coins. This led to us schmoozing via email seemingly every week. Several years later, when Doug discovered my fondness for cartooning, he came up with an interesting offer.
|Drawing by Jim Bisognani. ("Woody Woodpecker" is the property of NBCUniversal.)
Click image to enlarge.
Cartoons for Coins
Eight years ago, after I had won a small lot of foreign coins, Doug asked that, instead of a cash payment for my win, if I would be so kind as to draw Woody Woodpecker. Wow! My cartoons for coins! I gleefully complied and sent artwork to him. To this day, he has my little drawing mounted on the wall in his home office. So, Woody is just perched to the left of his shoulder when he is sitting.
It all began in 1955
Doug started collecting coins in 1955. His journey began one fortuitous day in high school.
“I was in history class and the teacher brought in some coins from his collection and talked about them for a while,” said Doug. “Boy, I was struck; I became a fervent collector right then.”
His first acquisitions were found in circulation because, as he puts it, “I was so dang poor, I couldn’t afford any coins from the coin shop.” Having acquired a couple of the old blue Whitman albums, he started to pull coins from circulation to fill the various slots. “You know, when I first started, you could still pull high-grade Standing Liberty Quarters and Barber coins from circulation.”
My friend fondly recalled the first coin he ever bought, one he actually paid money for from a coin shop. He bought a copper-nickel 1864 Indian Head Cent from a dealer in 1958. “I cherished that coin; I think I paid 50 cents for it.”
Doug then recounted a special story. “After I bought that coin, I started talking to the dealer. On that particular day, the local Kroger grocery store had an ad stating: Bring your oldest penny into the store and you may win a sack of free groceries.” The dealer told Doug that he had already taken his coin down to get it registered for the contest. Then, the dealer surmised that Doug could use some extra groceries, and he pulled a coin out from his inventory and handed it to the young lad.
“Let me give you this coin, and you take it down to the Kroger store, register it and bring it back,” said the dealer. Doug exclaimed, “He gave me a 1795 Large Cent! He allowed me to take it to the Kroger store to get it registered and take it back. I can’t imagine trusting me with that coin, but he did! Then a week later, I got a notice from Kroger’s that I won a free sack of groceries as I had one of the oldest pennies registered!”
At the beginning of his numismatic journey, Doug was strictly a general US coin collector and didn’t branch out to world coins for about 20 years. “I didn’t start collecting any foreign coins until I had my own coin shop in Evansville, Indiana, in 1979.”
“I taught English for five years at a Henderson, Kentucky high school in 1963. Then, about 1970, I moved to Ohio because I got a job at Ohio Northern University teaching speech and theater.”
The desire and passion for coins changed his trajectory. “My philosophy has always been, if you’re not happy in your job, quit it and get a better job. I’ve done that several times in my lifetime and have not had any regrets.”
Coin shop and coin dealer
While there was nothing spectacular about his purchases, collections and other transactions, Doug’s introduction into the coin business did come at an opportune time. It was late 1979, and it seemed that silver and gold prices were skyrocketing almost daily. According to Doug, “That was when silver hit $50 per ounce, and I remember people being lined up outside my shop door so they could sell their silver.”
It was great to have all the traffic and business. However, Doug says, “I started off with a shoestring budget. Almost every day after the shop closed, I would have to travel almost 30 miles to sell my silver to a dealer friend who would give me a little profit so that I would have cash on hand for the next business day. It was kind of an exciting time. I had always been kind of frugal and didn’t want to go into debt unless I really had to. This allowed me to build on my savings so I could still stand financially, in case I’m between jobs.”
One of his biggest deals was during his eBay selling days. “It was a Victorian British Three Pence from a Maundy set. I paid $75 for it. I put it on eBay, and I got $1,200 for it!”
The world is my oyster
That venture into the numismatic business, with his own coin shop, swung the pendulum toward world coins. “World coins became my main interest after becoming more involved with them because they’re so much more interesting than the average US coins in circulation.”
“I’ve enjoyed all the coins I have handled over the years. I’ve made decent profits,” says Doug. “However, I think I’ve always been very kind and giving. I remember back when I owned my own shop. This woman called me and said that she wanted to sell a silver dollar but couldn’t get to the shop. So I said after the shop closes, I’ll drive over and pick it up.
“I drove over to a little old house that wasn’t too run down. The coin was a common-date Morgan Silver Dollar, and she asked me how much she could get for this. I looked around, and I could see that she was very poor. So, I gave her exactly what I could sell it. I didn’t lose any money. I didn’t make any money but felt good about treating her right.”
Today, Doug spends the majority of his time with his wife of 52 years Shirley and their little Yorkie, Dexter. Doug is still an active member of the Evansville, Indiana coin club and occasionally will give sage talks and advice to the club’s membership. My friend’s best advice to anyone beginning their numismatic journey is: “Buy the book before you buy the coin. Knowledge is all-important when you’re buying coins.”
Sharing knowledge and the unbridled joy of the hobby is what numismatics is about. I commend you, the great souls like Doug, who have spent a lifetime imparting knowledge, joy and fervent passion for helping perpetuate the hobby.
‘Mama, all gone’
Doug certainly came from humble beginnings and has always had respect for family, friends, coin collectors and a bed. After his parents passed some years ago, Doug was able to retrieve, repair and become reacquainted with the four-poster bed in which he was born 83 years ago today. “Jim, I still sleep in the same bed I was born in. Looking back in my baby book, I read that my first words were ‘mama’ and ‘all gone.’ So, right before I die, I intend to jump into bed and utter, ‘Mama, all gone.’ I hope I am smiling.”
Me too, my friend… and happy birthday!
Until next time, be safe and happy collecting!
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