Our History

A Collector’s Beginning – By Joseph O’Connor

In many ways, the events that led me to a career in numismatics were somewhat accidental. At seven years old, my father’s partially filled set of the ubiquitous blue Whitman coin folders and an old copy of Yeoman’s “A Guide Book of United States Coins” were passed down to me, along with a coffee can full of miscellaneous coins. Flipping through those Whitman folders the empty spaces seemed begging to be filled, while the few spaces where the cardboard plugs had been left in were Whitman’s way of saying “don’t bother with this one, kid”.

As I entered my teenage years, my interest in numismatics became a passion. My teenage years also brought more mobility which allowed me to venture out to a few of the local coin dealers and to a monthly coin show nearby.

Mike Marx of M & R Coins in Oak Lawn, Illinois was one of my favorite local dealers. Mike introduced me to ancient coinage of the Greeks and Romans, his specialty, and he seemed to truly enjoy showing me his new purchases whenever I came to visit. I bought whatever my budget would allow, in addition to buying every book on classical numismatics that Mike had for sale. Mike lit a fire in a young collector that stills burns today, as I continue to collect Greek, Roman and Byzantine coins casually, and my library is filled with books on classical art and numismatics.

The local monthly coin show gave me an opportunity to meet many more Chicago area dealers, including Don Urchel of Daru Coins in southwest Chicago. Don supplied many of the local dealers with coin supplies, and he also carried an extensive inventory of coin reference books. While it took me a few years, I eventually bought a copy of every book that Don offered, no matter how obscure. Don instilled a habit that continues to this day, as my library is peppered with books, catalogues and periodicals that I rarely use, but simply can’t do without such as Briggs Buchanan’s indispensable “Early Near Eastern Seals in the Yale Babylonian Collection” – surely a classic!

Professional Numismatist Since 1977

The local coin show also gave me the opportunity to meet Hillary Harrison of Kedzie Koins in Chicago. Hillary was politically vocal, and a strong advocate of hard assets, particularly gold and silver bullion. Hillary and I talked regularly and got to know each other quite well. In January 1977, I graduated high school early and had some time before college started in August, so I accepted Hillary’s offer to do some odd jobs in his store on a temporary basis.

My first assignment was to make sense of a large can full of Chinese “cash” coinage that Hillary had accumulated over many years. Armed with the latest Krause “World Coins” catalogue, that task was quickly completed, followed by others. A few days later, the temporary position became a full time job, at least until I could finish my accounting degree at the University of Illinois – Chicago. I also began collecting Chinese coins, some of which I still have today.

I left Kedzie Koins in 1979 to start my own coin business, traveling to regional and national shows, attending auctions, and servicing clients. Over thirty years later, I’m still working at the temporary job I took back in 1977, and Chicago has one less CPA. In the intervening years, I have twice worked for Larry Whitlow of Larry Whitlow, Ltd., and twice for Ed Milas of RARCOA, as well as started several companies both solely and with partners.

It has often been said that as numismatists, we stand upon the shoulders of those who have come before us. From my perspective, that is absolutely the case. My successes both as a collector and as a dealer are a direct result of the mentorship of Mike Marx, Don Urchel, Hillary Harrison, Larry Whitlow, and Ed Milas, as well as the camaraderie of fellow dealers and collectors which continues today. However, of these names, one stands above the rest.

I first became acquainted with Ed Milas of RARCOA in the early 1980s while attending the Chicago International Coin Fair, which was owned by RARCOA at that time, and while participating in what were informally known as the “Apostrophe” sales. For twelve years beginning in 1979, Paramount, Stack’s, Superior and RARCOA held an annual joint auction prior to the American Numismatic Association convention. Strictly limited to 2,000 lots, 500 from each auction house, these were powerful sales yet simply named “Auction’79” through “Auction’90”, hence the “Apostrophe” sale moniker. Many of the great rarities of American Numismatics were offered through these sales, and the “who’s who” of dealers and collectors were always in attendance.

I kept in contact with Ed over the years, and in late 1994 I offered to work for RARCOA, which they accepted. I continued there until mid-1998, and returned for two more years from 2000 through 2001.

Working for RARCOA was my dream job. The company has a long and accomplished history, and Ed Milas simply commanded respect. Even after he had long retired, Ed’s appearance at an ANA or FUN convention continued to draw a crowd of the “who’s who” among both dealers and accomplished collectors. During my years there, I assimilated Ed’s view of numismatics, his tastes, his preferences. I also became closer to David Akers, one of Ed’s best friends. I spent a lot of time with David while I worked at RARCOA, buying coins from him, and talking coins. My “eye”, how I look at coins, my grading standards, were locked in stone during this time. All of my numismatic activities today — the coins that I deal in, how I approach the market, my client relationships — are based upon what I learned from Ed Milas while working at RARCOA, fine tuned by my discussions over the years with David Akers.

(We lost Ed Milas in December 2011. He was described by many that knew him as a numismatic “giant” due to his accomplishments as both a professional and as a person.)

O’Connor Numismatics Today

O’Connor Numismatics was organized in 2002 as a continuation of the work that I started at RARCOA beginning in late 1994. O’Connor Numismatics is focused on the truly great American coins, coins that stand out due to their rarity, condition, or historical importance. Condition census Early American Coins, Finest Known Liberty Seated and Barber Silver, and the best Rare Date and Proof Gold, preferably in uncompromisingly original condition. In a few words, “Coins That Matter”.

My client relationships are completely discreet. I work in an advisory role with every client, together as a team, focusing on long term collecting objectives. Many of my client relationships have lasted for over a decade, some nearly two, including collections that are multi-generational in duration.

I have personally attended and have been an active bidder in nearly every major American coin auction over the past two plus decades. I have also attended nearly every major numismatic convention over that same time period.

However, while I have been a dealer for over thirty years, more importantly, I’ve been a collector for over forty. To me, the coins and their collectors come first. And every day, I strive to use all of my efforts, knowledge and experience to the benefit of my collector clients.