Abe Kosoff

Abraham Kosoff, born in New York City in 1912, gave his name in print as A. Kosoff, but was known to his friends as Abe. His career was among the longest and most successful in professional numismatics. In 1953 he founded the Professional Numismatists Guild (which had its first official meeting at the American Numismatic Association convention in Omaha two years later in 1955).

In September 1929 he was hired as a clerk by A. Celender to trade in antique jewelry and old coins. These were heady times in the American economy – all was going well in the “Roaring Twenties,” or seemed to be. Then came the stock market crash. The rare coin market was affected, but not dramatically, as the prices of rare coins had remained fairly steady in the 1920s and were not the subject of speculation. The coin trade remained satisfactory, and while doing accounting as a main occupation, dealing in coins was profitable.

In 1937 he decided to go full-time into numismatics. He hung out his own shingle as the Numismatic Gallery. Helping him along with financing and also supplying inventory was Julius Guttag, who during the previous decade had been a partner in Guttag Brothers, stockbrokers, exchange brokers, and rare coin dealers. The Guttags had fallen upon hard financial times, and much of the partnership’s inventory was consigned piecemeal to Kosoff. In 1940 Abe’s business was conducted in the rear of Alfred Rich & Sons Antique Shop, 122 East 57th Street, New York City.

1940 was an important year for Kosoff. In the spring he met Sol Kaplan, a Cincinnati stamp dealer who was just beginning to become involved in coins. Kaplan had many business connections, and during the next quarter century he and his associates provided financing and helped with many of Kosoff’s transactions. On June 8 of the same year Abe Kosoff had his first auction, which featured numismatic books consigned by Julius Guttag and coins consigned by Wayte Raymond and James G. Macallister. The venue was the Hotel New Yorker at 34th Street and 8th Avenue, New York City. O. Rundle Gilbert called the sale. The realization was slightly over $2,500, with one man in the audience buying about half of this total.

The rest is history, as they say. The Numismatic Gallery held many other sales, including the Michael Higgy Collection in 1943, which he owned outright. The Higgy coins came on the market just as America was getting deeply involved in World War II, cash was plentiful and hard goods were scarce, and coins seemed to be a logical place to put money. Many pieces brought multiples of pre-sale expectations, and the coin market soared with this event, per Kosoff’s later accounts, being the linchpin. One of the coins was the same 1802 Restrike offered here.

Abner Kreisberg was taken as a partner in the Numismatic Gallery in 1944 and remained until the two parted company after the Farouk Sale in 1954. In the meantime, important auctions included the F.C.C. Boyd Collection (“World’s Greatest Collection”) and the holdings of Charles M. Williams and others. This was the beginning, and in ensuing years Kosoff cataloged dozens of sales. In 1948 the Numismatic Gallery moved to Beverly Hills. After the Farouk sale he conducted business only by mail and by appointment, while his erstwhile partner Abner Kreisberg continued the Beverly Hills store as sole owner, later joined by Jerry Cohen.

Abe Kosoff became the leading light of the Professional Numismatists Guild, a position he continued into the 1960s, by which time it had grown to be a dynamic organization with a paid director. He also worked closely with the American Numismatic Association on many projects, including the creation of the Official ANA Grading Standards for United States Coins, in cooperation with Kenneth Bressett and Dave Bowers. This was an adaptation of the Sheldon system created in 1949. In the meantime he received nearly every award numismatics had to offer, including enshrinement in the ANA Hall of Fame.

Abe Kosoff passed on March 19, 1983 of a brain tumor. He was widely mourned.

His personal collection and business inventory were consigned to us for auction and presented in 1984 in a sale, which remains one of the most memorable of the era.