Old coins, new hopes
SAN CLEMENTE – Just like that, he disappeared. His company closed. And thousands of customers who had depended on John Baker for 14 years watched the value of their investments disappear too.
That was 27 years ago. Now John Baker wants to advertise his services again. To relaunch his groundbreaking company. With hopes that the wealth of certified coins and medals he produced from 1965 to 1979 will regain their lost fortune.
Once he hobnobbed with the rich and powerful – the director of the U.S. Mint, the president of the Franklin Mint, and foreign heads of state who granted him privileges to buy cash on the day it was issued and remove it from their countries.
Then he lost it all. He didn’t mean to. Or want to. In fact, of all the people left high and dry by his departure from the nationally known “99 Company,” probably none was left more high and dry than this man now struggling to walk to a chair on his front porch, this man wearing boxer shorts and an untied apron, this man who misplaced the single most valuable coin he ever owned: John Baker.
AN IDEA IS BORN
John F. Kennedy’s death in 1963 led to the birth of John Baker’s greatest idea.
Like the rest of the country, Baker first mourned Kennedy. Like the rest of the country, Baker stood in line in March 1964 to purchase newly minted Kennedy silver half-dollars. What he did next, however, was not like the rest of the country.
“I didn’t realize it was going to change my life,” says Baker, 68, “and the lives of thousands of other people.”
He drove to the Northfield, Ohio, post office. He glued three Kennedy half-dollars on three envelopes and stuck stamps partially over each coin. And he asked the clerk to postmark them.
She looked at him funny. Then politely said no. You couldn’t just glue money to the outside of an envelope and mail it through the U.S. mail.
That’s when Baker, the charismatic son of a salesman, demonstrated how he’d managed to sell $1 million worth of life insurance by age 22: He didn’t take “no” for a “no.” Not from – in order – the clerk, her supervisor, the postmaster, the Cleveland district office and finally the Postmaster General’s Office in Washington, D.C. – which, after talking to the genial Baker, instructed the clerk to postmark his coins.
With that, he had proof that his were first-day-of-issue Kennedy half-dollars. An idea – and soon an entire industry – was born.
TWO HOBBIES IN ONE
The postmark on one of Baker’s three JFK half-dollars was smudged, so he tore it off and bought a burger. That left two. In 1969, one sold for $18,000 and made national news. That left one. We’ll get to that in a minute.
Back in early 1965, Baker took his three JFK halves, got into his VW and puttered down to Sydney, Ohio, to meet with the editor of Coin World.
“I can still remember what she said,” says Baker. “She said, ‘John, you’ve discovered a whole new world of coin collecting that weds coins and stamps, the world’s two largest collecting hobbies.”
Stamp collectors – known as philatelists – were familiar with first-day issues, which the post office promotes and even postmarks as such. Coin collectors – or numismatists – however, had no way of verifying first-day-of-issue coins. Until Baker came along.
Coin World published his story.
Read the rest of the article.
By TOM BERG The Orange County Register