The Portal Opens #4: The Coin Dealer St. Nick
It’s been said that there’s “no Santa Claus in numismatics.” This is true, of course. Except when it’s not.
The quote appears to have originated with Lee F. Hewitt , the founder and publisher of Numismatic Scrapbook magazine [ ]. While Hewitt used the phrase to caution against numismatic frauds, Lew Werner and James Kelly introduced Santa Claus into numismatics in a much more festive spirit.
Werner’s Santa cents returned in 1936 and 1937, then disappeared from the pages of The Numismatist.
James Kelly  brought Santa back — in full color! — just months after he introduced his new house organ, Kelly’s Coins and Chatter [ ], in 1948.
Kelly seems to have entered the world of numismatics right about
when Lew Werner was selling his Santa Claus cents. He made his first exhibit at
a Dayton (Ohio) Coin Club meeting in 1937. By 1938, he was hosting the club at
his home and advertising in The Numismatist. His business blossomed by
partnering with B.G. Johnson [
The inaugural issue of Kelly’s Coins and Chatter came just
three months after the beginning of his correspondence with Eric P. Newman
which, unsurprisingly, was inspired by a request to inspect some English
halfpence that were to be offered in an upcoming Kelly auction.
Kelly’s house organ made its debut in June 1948 . “Meet My Baby,” Kelly’s first headline announced, promising a bi-monthly publication that would “bring you news and information on Numismatics, along with coins sensibly priced and honestly graded.” It grew along with his business relationship with Newman, and just over a year after its introduction, Newman and Kelly closed their first trade: a swap of four common date double eagles for a 1786 Immunis Columbia copper with New Jersey reverse, Maris 3-C. Initially acquired for the equivalent of $140, it brought 1000 times as much — $141,000 — when sold in Newman V in November 2014. [ ]
In retrospect, maybe there is a Santa Claus in numismatics, and maybe Jim Kelly was it. Newman’s letters to him show regret that Kelly was practically dropping down people’s chimneys and giving colonial coins away. In a July 1949 letter to Kelly, Newman noted “it is certainly a shame that there are not enough people collecting Colonials to appreciate this lovely material which you are sacrificing. Of course, in due time, they will be craving for these, but in the present they would rather pay the same money for some idiotic mint mark.”
It is only appropriate that the most Kris Kringle-centric publication in the history of numismatics came the year that the relationship between Kelly and Newman first kindled. Printed in red on green paper, with a bold illustration of Santa at center, the December 1948 issue of Kelly’s Coins and Chatter proclaimed wishes of “Merry Christmas to one and all: Here’s hoping Santa fills your stocking with health, happiness, and the many other things needed to make life more pleasant.”
To add to Kelly's best holiday wishes, here's hoping your prized purchase for 2018 is worth 1000 times more in 65 years, and that Santa doesn't fill your stocking with some idiotic mint mark.
John Kraljevich, 2017