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"The John J. Ford, Jr. Experience" by Jon Hanson
PostPosted: Tue Mar 06, 2018 5:34 pm Reply with quote
Chapter President
Joined: 02 Dec 2002
Posts: 25615
Location: Boston, Ma

I wrote this for George Kolbe as an introduction to his John Ford Numismatic book sale in 2005.

I have had many, many requests for this over the years, and especially lately along with requests about my many experiences over 65 years in collectibles. For some reason it is not found on google, although bits and pieces are found here and there including a headliner in the NY Times.

In any event, enjoy!

Double click or widen page for easier reading.

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 07, 2018 8:29 am Reply with quote
Chapter President
Joined: 02 Dec 2002
Posts: 25615
Location: Boston, Ma


By Jon Hanson

As a pre-teen-and crazy about coins, especially early American ones-I started attending California coin shows in the mid i95os. While attending a PNG pre-show at the old Statler Hilton with my Dad, I was drawn to this individual "conducting court" behind the New Netherlands Coin Co. bourse table. Now, I had heard of the great JJF (as he liked to be called) but I had no idea what he looked like. I remember to this day the very first time I set eyes on him-a tall, dominating figure surrounded by dealers and collectors: talking, answering questions, and generally barking orders to folks counting stack upon stack of currency behind the table. It seemed that everyone wanted to talk to and schmooze with this person who was the absolute center of attraction. This loud and gregarious man simply stood out, yet I had no idea who he was. I asked someone (I think it was Walter Breen), "Who is this?" and Breen or someone else replied, THAT'S JOHN FORD! l couldn't take my eyes off him, and I hung around, captivated by his style, expertise, pontifications, and "gift of gab!" It immediately became obvious that this guy was special and that he had knowledge and expertise well beyond that of the general coin dealer and collector, on just about all American numismatic subjects. While 1 was well aware of NN sales, I quickly understood the connection- IT WAS OBVIOUS. Even Walter Breen lighted up at the mention of Ford, his employer, sponsor, and occasional adversary.
Anyway, I was introduced to John and I found him to be very friendly and incredibly interesting. We got on famously and after a year or so I attended coins shows not only to hunt for rare coins and sleepers but particularly to "hang around" the great Ford, to get first shot at NN coins being offered, and to "carry his bags." This "bag carrying" might sound strange to some, but being around him- hanging on every word- was a constant source of information and knowledge, insight, and fun (and, yes, I used to actually carry his bags when the occasion arose). For good reason, John and my Dad also became friendly, and I was in. I also remember once running into him in the late i95os between connections, after he had left a coin show and was flying to Las Vegas: the non-stop chatter never stopped. JOHN WAS SIMPLY THE MOST ENTERTAJNING PERSON I HAD EVER MET. Shortly thereafter he nicked named me "Kid," which later became "Junior," or occasionally "Boy Wonder." Soon he became my mentor.

These coin show encounters became more frequent and were high points of the year for me. I was almost always the first person at the NN tables; however John always had his own way of doing things, much to the aggravation of Charles M. Wormser, (principal of NN) who always wanted JJF to dig out the goods and to make sales. John always seemed to be doing "other" things at these shows-reading, inspecting some coin or historical medal, proofreading something, researching or taking notes, writing in that damned Day-Timer of his (where he kept track of everything costing over 10 cents), and, as usual, getting constantly interrupted and answering hundreds of questions from friends, rivals or "newbies." One of the problems is that JJF was unable to give short answers. He would bark out to Wormser, "I'm in no hurry; we can always sell this stuff"; or, "I'm too busy right now, I'll get started after lunch when the bourse quiets down"; or "Patience, Maillert (Charles's middle name), can't you see I'm busy?" John lived for the action, but only on his own terms, and he could be very blunt, aggressive and sarcastic (as in addressing Charles by his middle name). The interesting thing was that people always seemed to be bringing him something to grade, authenticate or buy. John always remarked to me that I was the spitting image of him as a youngster, that I lacked patience (he often referred to it as "impetuous youth"), and how he, too-so wound up the night before a coin show that he couldn't sleep always was the first one at the bourse door, panting before it opened and then racing in to hunt for bargains. A funny thing is that as he got older he changed his tactics and often remarked, "These boobs don't know what the good stuff is-it will still be there after the opening"; or "why kill myself in this rat race, 'the boys' usually bring it to me anyway because they don't know what the hell it is!" As the shows quieted down I usually got my first shot at the new material dug out of NN's vaults and, after lunch and "cleaning up" on great buys, downtime was spent answering questions from John. After several years at conventions, the New Netherlands bourse table became the classroom: John asking the questions, me answering them. "Homework" was a buzz word of his and I always did mine. John had great difficulty catching or stumping "the kid” as he usually called me, on questions concerning the regular U.S. series. Occasionally, we hotly debated- this was John's style. He loved playing the role of teacher but I really got to him once on another matter. While buying a group of United States coins f admitted to him that I had decoded the NN price and cost codes as a teen-that really got his attention (NN used three levels of codes, including the price they wanted, the minimum for Charles if JJF wasn't around, and their true cost). Wormser was in shock! And, of course, John ran me through the gauntlet, questioning me thoroughly to see if I really had figured out the complete code! At first he thought I was pulling his leg but he soon found out that I wasn't. The code was one which Charles's father, Moritz, longtime A. N. A. President, had devised and l still use it to this day. Although Charles was the principal of the company begun by his father in 1936, John ran things most of the time while Wormser handled the financial details. John Ford brought in the customers, created the business and set the standard for excellence in the rare coin business- he was New Netherlands Coin Company.
As time went on, I began staying with John at some of the coin shows and I cannot tell you what an experience that was! The very first time I stayed in a hotel with him we stayed up until after 3:00 AM comparing notes. He was also doing things in the room I couldn't believe-I had never heard of such things. You see John was a clean fanatic about everything (probably due to living in New York). It ranged from lining the hotel drawers with towels, to wiping off the silverware, seat and table at restaurants, specially folding his clothes, setting up the bath, scrubbing everything down in the "john;' stepping from his shoes into those slippers he carried with him (God forbid he touch the floor with bare feet!). Everything, including his dress, where he walked in the street, how and what he ate, and the home antics (including repair and maintenance)- even money seen lying in the streets of The City. His 1·heory was "never touch a penny or a nickel in the dirty NYC streets"; a dime, "think about it'"; and a quarter, "grab it!" This was unbelievable to me, and as a first-time observer most of it was not only incredible but simply hilarious. It really took some getting used to, as he actually lived his life that way full-time! One of the classic Ford stories occurred on one of the many times that John and l had dinner at an Italian restaurant in Grand Central Station called Trattoria. One night, John, always dapper, decided to wear a brand new smart dark red and black plaid sport coat that he was rather proud of, though his wife Joan didn't particularly like it. John and l sit down to dinner and he proceeds to line the front of himself with linen napkins, tucking them in everywhere to protect his new jacket. We order some Italian dishes and John instantly becomes worried about the red tomato sauce and he, as was his custom, bends way over while eating so as not to splatter. After dinner he asks me, "Junior, did I get anything on the jacket?" "No, John," l reply after inspecting it thoroughly. "Are you sure? "Yes, John- don't worry about it." So what do you think he said the next morning, after I arrived at the NN office? "Junior, you know that new red plaid jacket I wore last night? I couldn't stop worrying all night after our meal, so I took it in to the cleaners this morning just to be sure I didn't get anything on it!" Incredible, I thought, but that was classic JJF. Joan and I had one heck of a laugh about that one! John had his own ways and opinions on just about everything. I used to think that much of this was "crazy" but after the years passed l began to fully understand the significance of many of his ideas and teachings. I remember one day at a coin show how John began lecturing me on Life Saving medals and the importance of history, and how much he loved both. l remember thinking that this was crazy, especially when there were so many great coins out there to be hunted, acquired and collected. But John knew what he was doing and he was usually well ahead of the herd. In the mid-198os, I started collecting Life Saving and presidential watches presented to captains for heroics at sea. John often referred to such unexpected insights as "graduation." John was unique in so many ways, though some of his fans could take only so much. As I get older, many of his sayings, remarks and ideas reverberate in my mind, and other things I thought odd or ridiculous at the time have proven to be absolutely true over 48 years of association with the great Father" Ford (an endearment I started using when addressing John; it caught on and became popular with several other collectors and dealers of my generation). After a while he actually liked it!

You must understand that John was a great showman and that he had a great sense of humor-even when he was serious he was funny-sometimes incredibly funny either with his antics or remarks. One of these Fordisms occurred at his home when the late Freddie Werner brought some "boob" (a favorite term of John's) over to show John a coin. At John's house on Hendrickson Avenue in Rockville Centre you would have remove your shoes in the mudroom before proceeding into the family room area (above his famous bomb shelter). So this "boob" removes his shoes per John's instructions but there is a hole in his sock and John promptly sprays the guy's foot with a disinfectant! John was serious, though most people who hear the story for the first time either roll on the floor or cannot believe such behavior.

John's stories never seemed to cease. He could discuss just about any subject, including politics, economics, history, building construction, medicine, health, the military, government, business, the stock market, famous people- you name it. Often well into the night, in person or via the telephone. John loved to yak on the one and it got so bad in 1966 at New Netherlands, after he hired me to take over for Breen and then Taxay, that Wormser put a time limit on the company phone as well as John's home phone (by this time he worked at me about 80% of the time since I was handling things at the office). John and I literally spent months on the telephone, fine-tuning the style and phraseology of New Netherlands Coin Co. catalogues, beginning with the 59th sale, my first. It culminated with the 60th sale which he always considered his finest. John was always so occupied with detail that he simply did not have the time to write the many books and monographs he had planned. His personal correspondence and letters reflect his many interests. He occasionally commented that, of all his possessions, his library was the most prized among his vast collections. Knowledge was king and he practiced what he preached. John simply loved books and catalogues, and was a prolific researcher. His memory was second to none and he often quoted famous people such as Teddy Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, or his numismatic friends and mentors such as Wayte Raymond, Fred Boyd, and even his father. John had a number of favorite sayings, including "He couldn't sell a hungry man a sandwich"; " I'm buried up to his eyeballs"; "I'm working around the clock"; and 'I’m fighting against time." John often spoke about "when the coin business was fun" (and still is). But he was responsible for all the fun!

One of the greatest JJF stories occurred when John and I went out to dinner in the early i97os after working late at NN. John was always a fastidious dresser. On this particular early fall night, he was all dressed up: suit, tie, overcoat, etc., and he took me to a very fancy restaurant in the theater district. As we walked to the restaurant John picked up a newspaper and, in his usual manner, selected one from the middle of the stack in the newspaper pay rack, in order to get a "mint, clean one" to read on the train ride home. When we arrived, the maître d’ seated us in a booth and we began looking through the menu. John was seated across from me and the booth was a large one with plenty of room, which he always requested. As we began reading the menu, accompanied by the usual Fordisms (comments about the menu, the clean lines of the restaurant, the crowd, etc.), I casually looked over at him, and as I did, you will never believe what l saw-a giant cockroach over two and a half inches long and fat, slowly crawling up the wall above the table and toward) John's side of the booth. I couldn't believe it, especially in this high class restaurant with many couples dressed "to the nines" in evening gowns and tuxedoes. I shouted, "John, look, there's a cockroach!" as I began to bust a gut, not having any idea what John might do. John looks up from the menu and starts to stare at the cockroach- speechless-and the damned cockroach stops dead in his tracks, as if John had hypnotized it. With that, John yells out: "This place is infested with cockroaches!" and the tuxedo-clad maître d' rushes over and says, "What's the matter, what's the trouble;' and John yells at him: "Look, there's a cockroach!" l start laughing, really laughing, while John continues to stare down the cockroach as the maître d' reaches down beside John and picks up his "minty, unused" newspaper and smacks the cockroach, splat, on the wall. At this point I am laughing uncontrollably, doubled over sideways in the booth. Ford is bewildered, the restaurant is bedlam, some lady in an evening gown falls to the floor, and one of those flaming dinners nearly sets off the place. John is screaming about his newspaper and by this time I am laughing so hard that my sides hurt. The final comment from the maître d' was: "We usually get some of these this time of year!" We left and my sides ached all night from laughing so hard. John was irate and this story spread like wildfire. l still tell this story (it's funnier in person) and still laugh at it myself. It has become so famous that even my college buddies, other numismatists and Ford fans, as well as my watch collector pals, often ask me to retell it. And, I am sure, John is still in disbelief! As the stories and his fame spread, friends of mine, even non-coin people, began to ask about "Father" Ford. I could tell hundreds of Ford stories and his antics. But many of the very best Ford stories were ones John himself told- he is one of the best story tellers of all time. John should have written a book on his life-it probably would have been a best seller. Besides being a great numismatist, the guy was just plain funny.

Some time after John hired me as his chief cataloguer (upon graduation from the University of Southern California in i966) some of the younger crowd and I began referring to John as "Father." Being Catholic, he rather liked the term and I addressed him as such for many years. Long nightly conversations with him were a highpoint for many numismatists, especially after the usual "Father" Ford commentaries on personal and current events were delivered, which generally took up to 35-45 minutes. Then came the lectures-he was truly a teacher at heart. John had great ideas and interesting angles on many issues, and he was also tough, but if he liked you he would advise you to the nth degree; others not so fortunate, he would "straighten out" as he used to put it. John was very generous with his time, information, and counsel, almost to a fault. I particularly remember a famous coin deal he secured-the machinations he employed were pure genius. Upon learning about the ramifications, I remember thinking-this is unbelievable strategy! John was a great influence on me, but the one thing that sticks out is that he had a particular set of ideals and that he lived by them. He loved the coin business and the action, but he steadfastly believed in making money with items in which he believed. He was fanatical about correct attributions, descriptions, and grading. His idea was to paint a word picture for those who could not examine or view the items to be sold and he often remarked that it is expensive to sell a coin twice. My first effort, the 59th sale, produced absolutely no returns and he was quite pleased. The company handled huge hoards of "Guidebook" material, as he called it, including proof sets, dollar bags, gold, commemoratives, rolls of m1circulated Lincoln cents, bags of large cents, even uncirculated early American coins by the roll- some of which were left over from the old Frossard, Wayte Raymond inventories. Continuing to handle the "crap or garbage," as he referred to it, was not his style. John loved to deal in history; Betts and other American medals were a favorite. I also remember speaking to him about pioneer gold collecting and he advised: "Buy the key coins of a sexy historical series, because you can always buy the common stuff. Own the key coins and you have the series!" He possessed a particular collecting philosophy, which he adhered to for decades. His incredible success and sense of timing have been proved right.

There was never a dull moment at the office, located in the old Longines Wittnauer Building at 1 West 47th (corner of 47th & 5th Avenue), #401 (the stories I could tell about that old fashioned office; it was like going back in time). Another famous JJF saying around the New Netherlands office during arguments with CMW was that Charles' contribution to the New Netherlands auction sale catalogues was selecting the color of the cover! The very first time l heard him say this, l remember thinking-how does he get away with it? Mrs. Neary, Charles's longtime secretary, was always appalled by these types of remarks. John was simply blunt and he usually said what he thought. The guy could be rough, but around the ladies and in non-business or mixed company JJF was the model of good manners and was invariably respectful. Another funny episode occurred in France when John took me to Europe for three and a half weeks. I remember thinking: how will I be able to stand being on an airplane for eight hours; then I remembered it would be with the great JJF In no time we arrived, as John entertained me with nonstop talk nearly the entire trip. John loved to smoke big Havana-type cigars, and openly boasted how he at one time had one of his contacts smuggle them in from John! Anyway, one Sunday in 1989 while in Paris, both of us dressed up in suits and seated in a fashionable restaurant. John remarked that quite a few of the patrons in for brunch were smoking cigarettes; so John asks me: "Kid, do you think they would allow me to smoke a cigar? (not wanting to make a stink)." I replied, "I don't know, John, but I'll summon the hostess and ask!" So this great looking 40ish hostess in four inch spike 'high heels with fabulous legs is beckoned over and I ask, "My friend wants to know if he can smoke a cigar?" Irritated, and looking annoyed at such a question from an obvious An1erican, this lady slouches one hip to her side, places both hands on her hips and, in a deep, deep sexy French accent replies: "nus is FRANCE, YOU CAN SMOKE ANYTHING YOU LIKE!" As he lighted up, John was totally flabbergasted and we talked about this gal and her response the rest of the trip! He thoroughly enjoyed himself that morning and often remarked: "that lady was something!" John liked France and the language, and actually took French lessons many years prior to that trip. I'll never forget that Sunday-John spent the rest of the day in the hotel proofreading some numismatic manuscript, while I spent the day out on the town and had a great time, particularly since we were there during the 100th anniversary celebration of the Eiffel Tower. Upon my return, we went to dinner and John quizzed me on my day and added historical flavor to most of the places I visited- he knew them all. Boy, was he well versed.
John had an angle on just about everything from trading to cleanliness. The very first thing JJF gave me upon my arrival in New York City in September of 1966 was a box of handiwipes, which John constantly used throughout the day. He even had the individual packets lettered, "Compliments of clean living from John J. Ford, Jr.': or some such saying. One night in 1973, John took me out to an Italian restaurant on Long Island which he especially liked, and we were discussing the purchase of his house in Long Island, as he eventually wanted to move to Arizona. (What a coin person's dream that house was, with a good sized walk-in vault and safes sunk in the walls beside the separate bomb shelter, which was designed to be encapsulated in water during nuclear attack on the basement! The condition of the house was absolutely immaculate- I know, having lived there in 1966 for nearly a month. John was an expert on construction and maintenance; he actually kept an exact record of every dime spent on the place. I believe it was the only time he lost money, except for a few cheap stocks.) Anyway, we are sitting in this restaurant, and we begin eating a large antipasto salad. John was a particular eater (he hated butter, bread, anything fatty or greasy; and everything had to be prepared just right; occasionally he even inspected the kitchen!} and l am one too, each of us liking certain things in the salad. John (much to the utter disbelief of the waitress) decides to begin trading the ingredients in the salad, something like: I'll trade you these two radishes for three olives but you can give me the mushrooms for half the green peppers, etc., etc. True to form, this continued until the salad was entirely finished. This was classic JJF, but I was used to it and actually liked the "trading" as it was part of the game! Another "deal" occurred in California when John asked me to buy at auction an early walking cane owned by a famous pioneer gold personality. I bought the cane for John and, guess what? It prompted a state sales tax audit! The state board of equalization thought that I had used my resale tax number to buy a collectible for my personal use, when in fact I bought it on commission for JJF and had mailed it to him. Can you imagine explaining to some tax auditor the numismatic significance of an historical cane as an association item? During the audit, while explaining about JJF, producing postage receipts, etc., etc., l suddenly remembered a verbose letter from John (he could write them) and its last sentence was: "And whatever you do, kid, don't break the cane." Letter produced. End of audit!

A life filled with the John J. Ford Jr. Experience- the association, the friendship, the philosophy, the education, the deals, the antics, and the fun- has been an unmatchable one! Where did the time go- it went much too quickly; but l could go on here for days. John is one of a kind, totally unique. There wil l never be another.

March 2005, on JJF's 81st birthday
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"The John J. Ford, Jr. Experience" by Jon Hanson
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