The Michigan State Numismatic Society
Chet Krause, How I Began Collecting Coins
How I Started Collecting Coins
Spring 2011 By Dany Rothfeld
Featuring Chet Krause
When I was at the Central States big show in Milwaukee in 2010, I stopped by the video producer David Lisot’s table. To my surprise, Chet Krause was also there chatting with with David. I joined the conversation and had a great time hearing great stories. I have tried numerous times before to interview Chet, with no luck. Chet agreed this time to sit with me that afternoon for a short interview. Little did I know that the usual 15 minute interview will turn into more than an hour filled with tremendous stories.
Here is his story: Chet was born in north central Wisconsin, on a farm just six miles east of a town named Iola, which was just coming out of the frontier stages when he was born, in 1923. He went to a country school. Chet has only lived in two places. He now lives in an assisted living center in Iola, and feels fortunate to live there.
Chet was nine or ten when he began collecting coins. His mother had four sisters. They brought some coin boards with them when they came to visit. They gave Chet one and he started filling in the nickels and pennies. He says he never found the 1909S -VDB or the 1914D pennies. According to Chet, a lot of the coins came from his dad’s pocket change. That included a relatively new looking 1931S. The two coins that were missing were filled through a purchase from his neighbor that was lucky to find them in circulation. Filling this board gave Chet great satisfaction, as it symbolized his start in collecting.
Because Chet and his family lived in “the middle of the woods,” they rarely saw a same-day newspaper. When they did receive a newspaper in the mail, it was always a day old.
In 1943, he was drafted into the army as one of the first nineteen-year-olds. He spent the first six months in stateside training camp and maneuvers, spending six months in Europe at the end of the war. Fortunately, he was not involved in the invasion of Europe. They were green troops in at the Battle of the Bulge. Anti-aircraft units were not intended to be front line units. According to Chet, there were twelve men behind the front for every one man on the front. He was one of the twelve...
Upon his return from the army, Chet began collecting more US coin denominations than he had as a child. The Liberty head dimes, quarters and half dollars soon disappeared from circulation, but the Liberty nickels stayed in circulation for a long time, perhaps because so many were made. Chet discovered when he came home from the army that because of all the disappearance of coins from circulation, many people began collecting coins. He was able to help some of them to complete their boards, because he began his collecting before the coins began disappearing.
One thing that made him different from other collectors is that he bought books to educate himself in the field. Jim Dimmock, a friend of Chet, was a very good target shooter. Jim, Chet, and Chet’s brother would shoot together. Chet mentioned that he wasn’t as good as the other two, but was better than many others.
Jim and Chet noticed that there was only one periodical about guns at that time, Shotgun News. Chet felt that if there could be a periodical about coins with a tabloid format, it would allow one collector to trade with another. Up to that point there were the Numismatist and Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine. Jim and Chet “kicked that idea around” for two and a half years. Finally Jim told Chet that if he was going to do that, he’d have to do it alone. Jim’s children were about to go to college, and he didn’t want to take time away from them. Later in writing about this period of time, Chet recalled the old adage, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”
He said that’s exactly what happened. He knew nothing about publishing back in the early 50s. Chet went to the local printer, talked with him about printing, and he was very willing to take the job. In 1952, he published his first issue. Numismatic News Magazine was launched. An annual subscription was $2. One could take out a 20-word classified ad free in every issue. They were copying the format of Shotgun News. He doesn’t remember who the first subscriber was, but he remembers keeping a ledger of where the subscribers were. Back then he didn’t have a computer or even a typewriter. Eventually, he learned how to prepare things for the Post Office. Once he had 500-600 subscribers, rather than address the publications by hand, he discovered there were a couple of makes of addressing equipment on the market. He found an old one, started making his own plates, and was in the publishing business. The publication was only a few pages back then, and was all done out of his home.
The 1955P half dollars came out, but weren’t released until mid-1956. Upon their release, everyone was advertising to sell them. Chet’s paper jumped from 8 pages to 24 pages. He says “I thought hog heaven had just arrived.”
Chet’s father was a Jack-of-all-trades. While everyone else was in the service, he did freelance carpentry. It was difficult to obtain building materials at that time. After the war, Chet joined him. They were finishing up jobs as materials became available. A few materials that were very scarce at that time were cement for making concrete, and roofing. There hadn’t been any roofs fixed from 1940-about 1946. There were numerous ads for roofs that needed repair. Chet had carpentry experience. He observed that carpenters need to have strong math skills. Chet says he could look at a building from the ground, look at its roof and tell if it had a pitch of 6 inches to the foot or 8 inches to the foot. From that he could tell how many squares of roofing material were needed.
The logic needed in the carpentry and roofing business was useful to Chet in the publication business, as well. In 1957 he had to make a decision--either carpentry or publishing. He “laid the hammer down” and went with publishing, on a full-time basis.
At that time, he only had two employees, running the business out of a small one room location. In 1959, Chet acquired the Flying Eagle Magazine and changed its name in 1960 to Coins Magazine. As the magazine publication grew, in 1963, a young man was hired for the editorial staff of Numismatic News. This young man was from Vandalia, Michigan, named Cliff Mishler. Who would guess that Cliff would be a very important asset to Chet’s organization, and later become the 56th president of the ANA. When Ed Rochette, editor of Numismatic News, left in 1966 to become the editor of the ANA’s Numismatist, Chet promoted Cliff to be the editor of the magazine. This eventually led the way for Cliff to rise to the top of the Krause organization, when later he became the president of Krause Publications.
By the early 1960s, for some reason, a lot of people entered the hobby and were looking for quick profits. They would buy proof sets and uncirculated rolls. As a result, in the mid-60s, the hobby discovered that this wasn’t what coin collecting was all about. Chet suffered some hard times. Having quit carpentry, he was having to fulfill subscriptions. But when you’re losing subscribers, it becomes very difficult. He was doing cash accounting at that time. It wasn’t until the late 60s that things recovered. First, the government released all the silver dollars that it had in the vaults. These were being sold, which brought his publication ads from people who were buying dollars. Silver dollar collecting became very popular. There were so many silver dollars on the market that there were enough for everyone. Everyone wanted to collect them.
Chet discussed the silver certificate currency that existed back then. Its purpose was to redeem at face value for actual silver dollars. At the time, one silver dollar contained about 92 cents worth of silver. But when silver prices started to climb and reached $1.28, silver certificates were worth more than their face value. People turned them in by the millions. The go-between would be the coin dealer, who would purchase them from the public and turn them over to the government. Between the silver dollar and the silver certificate redemption, a lot of money came into the hobby, and dealers began to have money to use as capital. In the 1970s the hobby began to take off, and in 1980, it was “in full swing.” Fortunately, Chet survived the 60s and was able to enjoy the prosperity of this time. He got to know dealers from coast to coast. One year, he was away from Iola for 34 weekends. Chet says he got out into the world but “still [has] hay seeds” on him.
With the advent of the computer, the business of publishing became much easier. Krause became the first user of an IBM computer to maintain names and addresses. At that time, zip codes came into use, and really made distribution easier and delivery faster.
As the business grew, they launched in the early 70s the Standard Catalog of World Coins and the Standard Catalog of World Paper Money. It so happens that I re-did the Hebrew dating page in the Israel section of the 2005 Standard Catalog of World Coins, 1901-present. In the 80s and 90s, Krause Publications expanded into many hobby fields through acquisitions and start-ups. Among them were records, baseball cards, toys, firearms, comic books and more. Chet said that by the year 2000 Krause had around 50 different publications, with about 75,000 subscribers. One of the publications was in the field of firearms. They discovered that people who collected coins also collected cars, as well as guns.
Chet has received too many awards to mention here. He received every major award in the hobby, beginning with the Feran Zerbe, which is the biggest numismatic award. He received the first McGuire award, which is the top award for car collectors. Subsequently, Jay Leno received the third such award. Chet knows Jay Leno, and was acquainted with other top personalities as well, such as President Gerald Ford. He has shaken hands with four different presidents. At one time he knew every director of the Mint and the Treasurer of the U.S., as well as a lot of people on Capitol Hill, from the time he used to lead legislation in favorable of coin collectors.
Chet passed away on June 25, 2016.
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