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The E-Sylum (6/15/2008)

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One reader writes:
I don't think you should have published Denis Loring's comments on Ted Naftzger. The American Numismatic Society knew that there were big problems, ever since a young Richard Doty did an inventory of their cents in the early 1970's, an inventory of which they sold copies, wherein many coins are noted "Not the Clapp coin." They apparently did nothing at that time, and anything more is conjecture.

There are many sides to every story, and I do my best to stay happily neutral and publish whatever interests our readers. In our ten years I can recall only two or three submissions I declined to publish. The E-Sylum is an open forum, and reader comments are always welcome. -Editor
John W. Adams writes:
The comments on Ted Naftzger - first those by Alan Weinberg and then those by Denis Loring - contrast so starkly that I feel compelled to add my two cents worth.

Denis is an honorable man and, when he said that Ted lied, I accept his word. However, Ted's actions in the cited instance have to be taken in context: Ted was locked in a take-no-prisoners contest with the ANS, with both sides believing devoutly in their respective causes. The court actions were close, with Naftzger winning Round #1 and the losing the appeals of Round #2 and Round #3.

It is a shame that a compromise settlement was never reached - the parties came close - but all can agree that the origins of the disagreement, i.e. the switching of 100 plus large cents, occurred long before Ted ended up owning many of the coins.

My experiences with Ted Naftzger were very much akin to Alan's. He sent me valuable large cents with no security. He shared his treasures openly at EAC meetings where he was known as "God" because he had by far and away the best collation of large cents ever formed. And he was fun to be with. I used to take the "red eye" back to Boston in order to have the pleasure of dinner with Ted after business meetings during the day.

I believe that the man's considerable wealth derived from cattle ranching with a twist. Ted owned large land holdings in Eastern Oregon and on an island (thousands and thousands of acres) off Santa Barbara which he combined with even larger federal leases. This diversification of pasture land gave him the ability to move cattle by rail to wherever the grass was greenest. He collected actively and intelligently for 40 years. It's a shame that his relations with the hobby did not end on a far better note.

John Kleeberg submitted the following recollections of Ted Naftzger. He writes, "I knew him quite well, although my acquaintance was acquired in an unusual manner - as one of his adversaries in ten years of litigation." -Editor

Roy Edgar (Ted) Naftzger, Jr. was born into two wealthy families of Southern California, the Naftzgers and the Vickers. Naftzger grew up surrounded 360 degrees by rules, which he rebelled against to such an extent that he got packed off to military school.

Naftzger started college at Stanford, but finished up at the University of Southern California in 1948, where he was elected president of his fraternity, Beta Theta Pi. After graduation Naftzger sold insurance.

In 1952 his father died and Naftzger inherited a huge fortune. He never needed to work for a living again, and he didnt - professional managers operated his ranches. Naftzger's life was filled with hobbies: playing tennis, growing roses, deep sea fishing, and flying his private airplane, as well as collecting coins.

Naftzger began by filling a penny board with Lincoln cents. In 1938 a maiden aunt in Freeport, Illinois sent him a box of coins, including large cents.

Naftzger was a secretive man. In March 1938 he joined the American Numismatic Association, although his name and number (6809) were concealed from the membership; the membership list in the Numismatist jumps from 6808 to 6810.

On Saturdays Naftzger worked in the coin shop of Sam M. Koeppel at Eighth Street and Broadway in downtown Los Angeles. Insofar as Naftzger had a mentor, it was Koeppel. In Koeppels shop Naftzger met Howard Rounds Newcomb. Later Naftzger would obtain, via Koeppel, Newcombs library and inventory cards, although he kept his ownership a secret. (The cover of the first Robbie Brown sale by Superior may have photographs of books from Newcombs library.) Naftzger also obtained Koeppels collection of colonial notes; he consigned this to New Netherlands in 1976.

Besides large cents, Naftzger also collected U.S. gold and New Jersey coppers the latter collection was sold to William ODonnell via Tony Terranova, and auctioned by Stacks in January 2001. Naftzger beat out Harry Bass in a competition for an 1815 half eagle. The dealer who bought the coin had obligations to both Naftzger and Bass, and the dealer chose to sell to Naftzger. This would have important consequences.

In the 1990s, when the American Numismatic Society was considering whether to embark on litigation with Naftzger, the board of trustees, dominated by collectors, was dragging its heels until Harry Bass weighed in.

Naftzgers big acquisitions in large cents occurred from 1954 onwards, when he bought the collections of T. James Clarke, James Sloss, Edward Schwartz, Emanuel Taylor, and Ray Gallo. Naftzger would combine the better pieces with his collection and sell off the duplicates under the name of the former owner.

Naftzgers own name never appeared. He concealed himself behind Abe Kosoff, and only emerged more into the open after he and Kosoff got into an argument concerning a prooflike USAOG $20 of 1853, and their friendship ruptured. (But thats a scandal for another day)

Naftzger was perplexed by a problem with the T. James Clarke collection, which he had bought for $30,000 during the 1954 Christmas week. The Clarke collection was in little coin boxes, with the pedigrees marked on the back. When matched against the plates of the auctions, the coins didnt match. Naftzger would puzzle over this question for decades.

At the end of July 1967, Robert S. Carter, a large cent collector and toy dealer, introduced Naftzger to Dr. William Herbert Sheldon, Jr. in Portland, Oregon, where Sheldon spent his summers. As Naftzger got to know Sheldon and his collection, he realized where the missing coins from the Clarke collection had ended up Sheldon had switched out the coins.

In a visit to New York, Sheldon, Dorothy Iselin Paschal and Naftzger visited the ANS and looked at its large cent collection. In the litigation, Naftzger filed affidavit after affidavit denying such a visit, until I searched through decades worth of visitors books and discovered his signature.

On April 19, 1972 Sheldon sold his collection to Naftzger for $300,000. Naftzger figured the collection was really worth $456,000. The collection was cheap because the coins were hot. Sheldon had built up his collection by theft.

Sheldon switched coins from the Williams collection (offered by Abe Kosoff), from the Anderson-Dupont consignment at Stacks, from the T. James Clarke collection, and from the Gaskill collection, as well as his large scale plundering of the ANS collection.

And when Naftzger got the coins back to California, he discovered that Sheldon had fooled him again. Six of the top coins in the collection had been switched out.

He combined the collection with his own and sold off the duplicates in the New Netherlands sale of November 14-15, 1973. Although Naftzger would later claim that this sale was made without any reserves, He bought in pieces he thought were going too cheap. Naftzger netted $281,000, but his cost basis was so low that he still showed a profit. In effect, Naftzger had substantially improved the quality of his collection for a net cost of only $19,000.

Naftzger kept his ownership secret until 1991. In that year Bill Noyes published a photo book of the finest large cents, built around Naftzgers collection. Now the ANS could plate match Naftzgers coins to its own records, and saw that Sheldon/Naftzger possessed many of the Clapp/ANS coins.

The ANS proposed to Naftzger to discuss how the matter could be resolved with fairness and dignity. Naftzger refused all overtures and did his best to squelch any attempts by the ANS to reach out to the large cent collecting fraternity, EAC, with similar offers.

Naftzger sold his frontline collection of early date large cents in February 1992 in a transaction that netted him $6.8 million, and bought another ranch with the money. Shortly after that he commenced a lawsuit against the ANS in California. Early in 1996 the California Court of Appeals ruled against Naftzger on his statute of limitations argument. With neither the facts nor the law in his favor, Naftzger should have settled then; but this was not a normal lawsuit, and Naftzger was not a normal litigant. Extensive discovery ensued, followed by a trial, followed by appeals. Litigation continued into the twenty-first century until Naftzger finally returned the cents.

Naftzger always wrote in green ink, using green Pentel pens. I dont know why he chose green perhaps a reaction to Walter Breens use of purple ink. Even his stationery was printed in green. It is true that he would send valuable coins through the regular mails. He would wrap a cent between two pieces of cardboard, put it into an envelope marked PHOTOS DO NOT BEND in green ink and drop the envelope in a mailbox. He did not send coins registered mail because that would require a trip to the Beverly Hills Post Office, where there was insufficient parking space.

Many people in EAC were referred to by nicknames invented by C. Douglas Smith Jaws East, Jaws West, the Mad Monarch. Naftzgers nickname was God; Naftzger reveled in this nickname, partly because he lived in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Mount Olympus. Occasionally Naftzger would sign letters with his nickname spelt backwards DOG.

Litigation with Naftzger was a bizarre experience. He scrawled all over the deposition transcript that was sent to him for correction, changing a number of answers that read yes to no, each time in that strange green ink. (Deposition testimony and the corrections are provided under penalty of perjury, so changing the answer yes to no can have serious legal consequences.)

His memory lapses in his deposition (which lasted three days) and in the 1997 trial (which lasted a month) were more convenient than credible. His denials on the witness stand were so bizarre that the judge put her head in her hands. But as the years went on not all his memory lapses were strategic. It was Alzheimers, or a closely related form of mental degeneration, that brought about his death.

It will be interesting to see if Naftzgers numismatic library (including the items from Newcomb) comes on the market. And Id love to see the coin boxes that originally held the T. James Clarke Collection.

Many thanks to Alan Weinberg, Pete Smith, Denis Loring, John Adams, John Kleeberg and our anonymous reader for providing such detailed information and opinion on Naftzger and his coins. The litigation between Naftzger and the ANS is on public record. It's a long, strange tale indeed. Our hobby is filled with many interesting tales, parts of which may not or cannot ever be verified. The next article is another one of them.

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