Tales from the Bourse is a unique collection of short stories and anecdotes written by David Lawrence about some of more interesting events that took place in his journey to becoming a coin dealer on a national scale. It was originally published in 2001 and has been reprinted numerous times due to popular demand. The book is published online here in its entirely.
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In 1979, I began setting up at Sunday coin shows in Florida. My son, John, came along to keep me company and help me carry everything. Naturally, he wanted to be in business too. To avoid a conflict of interest, I suggested he deal in stamps. He was 10 at the time and had no money of his own. I became his banker and we agreed that he would have to specialize in order to make his presence felt at the shows. After a little thought, John settled on postal stationery.
Many postcards and embossed envelopes could be bought for just a few cents each, even though often a hundred years old or more. A few were valuable of course, but these were so rare you never saw them. With the energy of a 10-year-old, John searched the inventory of all the other stamp dealers and soon had more stationery than any of them. He found out about the Thorp-Bartels catalogue and obtained a copy. Soon he had virtually memorized it.
When we moved to Virginia two years later, John expanded his small enterprise, advertising in stamp newspapers and putting out a monthly mailing list. He also came to know some of the experts in the field and would deal with them on the telephone.
One day he was offered a chance to buy a huge hoard of mint-state postcards from the turn of the century. It was $500 and John pleaded with me to lend him the money. After thinking about it for a few days I agreed, and soon boxes and boxes of postcards arrived. John rushed them to his room and began the long process of searching for interesting varieties. Days went by and, except for school, he never left his room.
About five days later, Lynn and I were enjoying our after-dinner coffee when John burst into the room. “Dad, look at these! Tell me if you can see a watermark.”
Now, John had much better eyesight than I did, but I held the postcard up to the light. “I don’t see any,” I said. “Is it supposed to have one?”
He held out the catalogue and pointed to a line with very small, faint type. It was postcard 107a (or some such number), “identical to 107 except for the lack of a watermark.” Scanning to the right, I saw the value — $2,000. We apparently had two.
I was skeptical. After all, rarities don’t just fall in your lap. “We need verification,” I said. “Who can we send them to?”
John gave me the name of an expert, an older man in Brooklyn, and soon was talking to him on the phone. “I’ve never seen a 107a,” he told John, “but I understand two sheets of them were made at the very end of the print run. A different paper was used. Are you sure you can’t find a watermark?”
John insisted, and the man agreed to look them over himself. The next day the two cards were off by registered mail. Days went by and we didn’t hear a thing. Every evening John wanted to call him.
“We can’t bother him,” I said. “Let him call us.”
After two weeks even I couldn’t wait any longer and John placed the all-important phone call. The old man spoke in a slow, deliberate manner. “I couldn’t find any watermarks either,” he began. “So I sent them off to a friend in California. He has special equipment. We have to wait.”
Another two weeks passed and one evening the call came. “They are not 107a. The paper is wrong.”
“What about the watermark?” John asked.
“It’s very faint,” the old man replied. “My friend found a trace of it.”
Easy come, easy go. The postcards were returned and life returned to normal, except that we now had $500 worth of cheap postcards. Boxes and boxes of them. Now, 18 years later, some can still be found in my attic.