Monthly Archives: April 2013

Another Executive Director, Gone.

I just returned from the Central States convention, and it was there at about noon on Friday that I found out that the ANA has again let an Executive Director go.  Jeff Shevlin’s contract will not be renewed in June.  I was stunned.

Several times at the convention, someone asked me if I knew anything about the reasons, and I had to tell them (truthfully) that I don’t know.  I may be a candidate for the Board of Governors, but that doesn’t make me privy to the decision making process.  Only actually being on the BoG would give me that access.

Here is the extent of my knowledge–if you can consider rumors to be knowledge (I wouldn’t):  Rumor has it that it wasn’t anything remotely scandalous or criminal, it really was just a case of ‘poor fit for the job’ and/or ‘didn’t see eye to eye with the Board on what the ANA should be doing.’ (Those phrasings are mine, not someone else’s; I used the single quotes to delimit them from the rest of the sentence.)

There have been demands from some quarters that the ANA explain in more detail why Jeff Shevlin was let go.  Good luck with that.  Unfortunately for concepts of openness, employment law in the US is in such a state that vague generalities are all we are likely to get; anything more leaves the ANA open to lawsuits for defamation of character on top of the almost ritualistic wrongful termination lawsuit.

Alas, this means that I cannot promise that if I am elected to the Board, and we have to let someone go, that I will be open about the real reasons.  Sorry.  By the same token, though, anyone who does make such a promise doesn’t know what they are talking about.

Unfortunately you, as an ANA member, have to be satisfied with electing Board members that you trust to make the right decision, even when they can’t tell you everything they know.

I know enough of the people on this board to give them that trust.  I doubt that they blundered specifically in letting Mr. Shevlin go.  There was a real problem here.  On the other hand, it’s certainly possible that the problem was the board’s responsibility.  Perhaps they didn’t define the job well enough; perhaps they didn’t define policy well enough.  Or any of a dozen other possibilities.  Or (going back to the first hand), perhaps none of them.  At this point we simply don’t know.  But I do know that I can’t see the BoG doing this for capricious reasons.

One argument I’ve heard that doesn’t hold water, is that because Jeff Shevlin is a stellar individual dedicated to the hobby, the Board was wrong to dismiss him.  I will without reservation grant the premise; I don’t know Mr. Shevlin that well, but I’ve heard nothing but good about him on all those measures.  But the conclusion doesn’t follow; those qualities do not mean he’s cut out to be an executive director.

So let’s cut out all the posturing–blaming Mr. Shevlin, blaming the Board, blaming the organizational structure, even blaming the ANA Staff–and do the only rational thing.  Let’s figure out what actually happened, and take steps to prevent it from happening again.  This will require an ANA Board full of people dedicated to the good of the ANA, willing to face some potentially unpleasant truths, so long as doing so will help the ANA.

Something went wrong. And whatever that something is, it needs to be fixed.  And I, as an ANA Governor, won’t be satisfied with a band-aid.  I will want a fix that stays fixed.  We have seen too many executive directors come and go; this has to end.  That means a thorough understanding of what the problem is.  Not just with this instance, but the previous executive director.  And the one before him.  And the one before him.  And I don’t have that yet.  If elected I will to talk to absolutely everyone with so much as a shred of insight into any organizational “inside” problems the ANA has, to try to figure out what they are.  Or any mistakes we made in recruiting the Executive Directors in the past.  Or… well, whatever it may be.  The possibilities are legion; I could list a few (and I did, and then I deleted them) and it would be a stroke of luck if I actually named a genuine issue (which is why I deleted them).

Whatever it is, we must fix the root cause.  Or causes.  Even if the next Executive Director is chosen before the new Board takes office, this will be useful information; depending on what it is, perhaps we can make needed (and likely painful) changes and save a directorship that would otherwise fail.




The Barber Coins Guy

John H. Bunge
9 November 1929 – 15 April 2013

I knew John Bunge longer than any other coin collector, bar none.

I knew John Bunge first as a teacher.  He taught my ninth grade geometry class, at a school that was closed a few years ago, in 1978-79.  By all accounts he was a good teacher.  Even though I was in his class I really can’t judge.  I was a math whiz and the mark of a good teacher is how well he teaches the students who would otherwise struggle with the subject.

Then I knew him as a collector.  Very early in my time as a member of the two local clubs in Colorado Springs, he gave a short talk on the Liberty Head or “Barber” coins that were issued from 1892-1916, and for that reason I had him “tagged” in my mind as a collector of Barber coinage from that point on.  With one thing or another he stopped going to the meetings for a few years, then I did, but we started seeing each other at the meetings fairly regularly this past year.  I really don’t know firsthand what else he collected though I remember him giving talks and showing off other items at meetings of the Colorado Springs Numismatic Society.  I did one day last year bring my three Barber type coins to a Numismatic Society meeting in the hopes that he would be there, and he was.  (Twenty years later he was still the Barber Coins guy.)  He pronounced them “gems.”

Those who knew him much better than I did said he had many interests and went after all of them with an intense passion, which is exactly as it should be.

He attended the Numismatic Society meeting this last Sunday, and I did not go.  He passed away the next day in his sleep, having just done some work on the kitchen.  Just that suddenly he was gone, leaving behind Claire, his wife of 62 years, and a large number of children, grandchildren, and even a few great-grandchildren (one on the way as I write this).

So long, old friend.

The Barber Coins

Another way for me to pay a tribute to John would be to talk about the Barber series of coins a bit.  Perhaps the reason John’s interest in the Barber coins stuck in my mind so thoroughly is that it’s a bit unusual.  The designs that came after 1916 are widely regarded as beautiful artwork:  The “Mercury” dime, the standing liberty quarter and the walking liberty half are artistic classics, and the walking liberty half design got recycled onto our present “silver eagle” bullion coin. By comparison the Barber series (which is sometimes considered to include the “V” nickel, which was designed by Barber but is a bit different from the dime, quarter and half dollar) are considered staid and dull and hardly seem like they could be interesting at all.  Even the portrait of Liberty on the coins seems lacking in much detail, with a broad flat cheek and a liberty cap with almost no detail in it, rather than bare hair (which would tend to have a lot).  This, I believe, was a deliberate decision on the part of Charles Barber (I’ll explain below).  In any case, the US Mint waited the statutory 25 years between design changes, and once that time period was up they dumped this design.

One look at a lustrous gem uncirculated Barber quarter or half dollar, though, and you will be surprised.  These coins look fantastic in a lustrous uncirculated grade.  I have uncirculated examples in each denomination but I won’t show my photographs here, because my photographs don’t do them justice and in this case it’s vital that justice be done.  But if you are reading this and don’t know what the Barber design looks like, see here.  (You’ll note that in many cases the coins pictured there are a bit worn or weakly struck–I wish I could get decent pictures of mine, but I simply haven’t learned how to handle luster when photographing.)

One of the most beautiful coins I ever saw was a Barber quarter, where the reverse field had toned an electric blue.  Picture that eagle and the stars against a vibrant blue blackground.  That coin was in an auction clear back in 1996, and bidding opened at three times the Red Book price.  (You get three guesses as to who doesn’t own that coin but wishes he did.)

It turns out that Barber halves are noticeably expensive to obtain in mint state grades though the quarter and dime are much more manageable.  In fact, if anyone has ever managed to assemble a set of mint-state, well struck barber halves, he or she is keeping mum because at least some people claim it has never been done.  Quarters and dimes, though not as expensive, can also be difficult to find in mint state.

So a challenge and surprising beauty when you first see an uncirculated piece.  That’s enough.  People will collect them, passionately enough that there’s an organization devoted to the Barber coinage.  (I’d have joined if I, as a type collector, weren’t already done.)

But I promised to explain my comment on Barber’s motivation for the plain design.  I think he knew he was designing a coin, first and foremost.  Most forms of sculpture do not suffer a lot of wear, but a coin will, and Barber was very cognizant of this and accounted for it when he made his designs.   He wanted to have a design that would wear fairly gracefully, and he succeeded.  If his silver coinage wears a bit, nothing is lost because the high points of the design all have no detail on them.  Even on heavily worn pieces you can tell what the design is supposed to be.  Contrast that with the walking liberty half dollar which has all sorts of detail in the high points.  First off, those details are rarely struck up properly to begin with.  Then consider that on a worn (or really badly struck–and there are a lot of those!) walker half dollar the design quickly comes to resemble a plain vertical bar and it’s hard to appreciate the design then.  I’ll even go so far as to say they look ugly then.  Of the three post-Barber designs, I think the dime holds up best as it wears.  (By contrast, the “walker” design was an excellent choice for the non circulating, and painstakingkly well struck, silver eagle, which allows its strengths to come through and be preserved.)

Apparently Charles Barber went to his grave claiming that the “Mercury” dime, Standing Liberty Quarter, and Walking Liberty Half designs were failures.  By his criteria, I think he was right.

It’s almost a hundred years since the Barber coinage was discontinued, but of course we still have the coins and can, if we take an interest, collect them.  Staid and boring?  Not really but I will admit it is an acquired taste.