Born in San Antonio, TX, possibly as James Douglas Headrick; abandoned and adopted. (It is likely that Breen could not confirm his birthdate.) He entered the Air Force in 1946. (In P-W he stated that he used a phony birth certificate to join the Air Force.) He suffered a beating and was left for dead with loss of memory in December 1946. He spent time in various Veterans Administration hospitals and other treatment facilities.
In 1950 Breen met Wayte Raymond who hired him to do numismatic research in the National Archives. In 1952 after 18 months study and competency examinations he received an A.B. from Johns Hopkins University. He conducted the "Cent Collectors' Forum" as a regular feature in The Numismatist beginning in January 1957.
He enrolled in graduate school in Berkeley in September 1960. Breen married Marion Zimmer Bradley [MZB] February 14, 1964. (She died 9/28/1999) They had a son and a daughter. He received his M.A. degree in 1966. In 1963 he joined Don Taxay to form the Institute of Numismatic Authenticators.
Breen and MZB are considered founding members of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) and credited with naming the group about 1966.
Breen was a student of languages including Classical Greek, Latin, French, German, Italian, Spanish as well as his native English. He was also a student of classical music and science fiction literature.
Breen dressed like a "hippy" who refused to grow up. At coin shows he appeared wearing open sandals, flower print shorts and colorful tie dyed tee shirts.
Breen worked for a number of numismatic firms: Wayte Raymond hired him to do research in the National Archives January 1952.
The Numismatist, acting editor in 1951
American Numismatic Society briefly in 1951 Stack's briefly in 1951 New Netherlands from September 1952 to 1960 Metropolitan Coin Company in 1961 as editor of The Metropolitan Numismatic Journal Coin World as a columnist beginning in 1962. His “Bristles and Barbs” column was discontinued in 1965 when he could not keep up with mail requests for authentication. Some coins were not returned until Leo Young provided clerical assistance in 1967.
Lester Merkin as a cataloger 1963 to 1972
First Coinvestors as vice president in 1973. He cataloged parts of the Pine Tree sales. Pine Tree named a number of their sales for Breen. He has stated that he did not own any of the coins offered in those sales. In 1983 FCI announced the creation of "The Walter Breen Inner Circle" for 500 exclusive members. Breen's only contribution to the "Inner Circle" was his name. He left FCI in 1988.
Free lance writer, researcher and authenticator 1988 to 1993.
Breen was one of the most prolific writers in the numismatic field. He was a member of the Rittenhouse Society.
He wrote the following books and monographs:
Proof Coins Struck by the United States Mint 1817-1921 in 1953. It was published by Wayte Raymond as a monograph for CCJ # 148.
United States Pattern Coins of 1792 monograph for CCJ #154 in 1954.
United States Minor Coinages 1793-1916 for CCJ #155 in 1954.
The Secret History of the Gobrecht Coinages 1836-1840 monograph for CCJ #157-158 in 1954.
Silver Coinages of the Philadelphia Mint for CCJ #159 in 1958.
Valentine's U. S. Half Dimes; A Supplement for CCJ #160 in 1958.
Dies and Coinage in 1962. Major Varieties of U.S. Gold Dollars in 1964 @ $.50 reprinted from Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine.
Varieties of United States Quarter Eagles in 1964.
Major Varieties of the United States Three-Dollar Gold Pieces, 1965.
Early United States Half Eagles, 1795-1838 in 1966 @ $ 1.
Varieties of United States Half Eagles 1839-1929 in 1967.
New Varieties of U. S. Gold Coins in 1968.
United States Eagles 1795-1933 in 1968 @ $2.00.
A Coiner's Caviar: Walter Breen's Encyclopedia of United States and Colonial Proof Coins, 1722-1977 in 1977
Encyclopedia of United States Gold and Silver Commemorative Coins with Anthony Swiatek in 1981.
California Pioneer Fractional Gold with Ron Gillio in 1983.
Walter Breen's Encyclopedia of United States Half Cents in 1984.
Walter Breen's Complete Encyclopedia of U. S. and Colonial Coins in 1988 @ $75.00.
In 1977 F.C.I. Press released a "Talking Book Record" The Care and Preservation of Rare Coins by Walter Breen.
In 1954 he was charged with lewd behavior in Atlantic City and received probation. In 1990 he pled guilty to a charge of child molestation and was placed on probation. In 1991 he was arrested again on similar charges and with violating the conditions of his probation. The ANA learned of the charges and expelled him. He died in a prison hospital in Chino, California.
bio: Penny-Wise 1/15/78 (*gives DOB as 9/5/1930); WWA 92-93; WWWest 92 (*gives DOB as 9/5/1928) profile: Legacy I/4; NN 6/8/93 Interviewed 5/9/91 obit: CW 5/17/93 (*DOD 4/28); NN 5/11/93 (*DOD 4/27); NUM 106 Jun 93 page 837 (*DOD 4/27)
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Negative copy of manuscript for "United States Half Cents" by Walter Breen, circa 1980. The final work was published in 1983. This is an in-copyright publication. "Snippet" results will appear in the Newman Portal search results.