Reminiscences - Part XXIII
by Michael Rogers
Florida Stamp and Coin
Harking back to early 1982, the news was shocking. The venerable Florida Stamp & Coin Company, operating in Central Florida since the mid fifties, was going to close down. With a pithy coin stock, and somewhat better though rundown stamp inventory, the shop had seen better days. Plus the key employees were gone.
My Winter Park Stamp Shop was going great guns, supported by ad revenue, most local collectors came to us. It was very difficult for another shop in town to compete, as I had very good connections within the trade to find inventory.
When this news came about, I thought it was a shame such a fine old name was going away. I’ve been pretty good planning a venture, thinking it through.
So optimist that I am, I set upon buying Florida Stamp & Coin for $45,000. I hadn’t yet gone into China, so I was eager for the challenge. Money was put into sprucing up the place to give it more appeal. A dark sense of foreboding came upon me on the first day we opened when a bag lady entered the shop with her super-market cart, looking for a hand-out.
I checked around and hired a guy who had run a coin shop. Thought myself pretty lucky to be able to latch onto a guy who was retired military that I knew who’d been a part time mail order and show dealer for the many years he’d been out of the service. Dick knew the meaning of work, plus was a cheerful fellow.
I got rid of the stamp stock, replacing it with first class, clean inventory that was much in demand. When something wasn’t in stock, I had contacts that could supply the items though at a small profit margin. Better to do this to satisfy one’s clientele.
One day, Dick called me saying a customer wanted a VF never hinged set of U.S. Graf Zeppelins. I called my good friend Joseph (Joe) Ruchala of New York City, requesting one set be sent down on the usual one week customer approval basis. This means that I wasn’t obligated to buy it unless my customer chose to purchase the set. Joe went one step further, sending two sets down, one original gum never hinged, and one regummed which was priced $250 less.
The two sets arrived at Florida Stamp & Coin, each clearly graded and priced. Dick elected to show only the regummed set to his customer, stating it was "never hinged," not getting into the discussion of original gum vs. regummed and sold the Zeppelin set for the original price as quoted, netting the shop an extra $250 profit. After the customer paid, Dick returned the original gum set plus remitted for the regummed set to Joe Ruchala.
At the end of the month, I became aware of the deception when I was going over the bank statements and cancelled checks. After calling Joe and realizing he’d been paid for a regummed set, I sat down with my employee. The guy couldn’t understand my concern; after all, he’d made the shop an extra $250. He reinforced an easy decision for me to terminate him when he defended his role after I laid it out: what he did was fraud, and it would be undone.
Many years later, I received a stunning phone call from Dick’s widow, asking me to come over and purchase his stamp inventory. Considering that I’d fired him, I never would have anticipated that call. So I quietly asked if she knew our past history, to which she said it was just fine. But I had to be there that Sunday at 11:30 a.m., no later.
Since my former employee specialized in post WWII British Commonwealth, I knew his inventory would be really complicated, going far beyond Scott. Alvin Hintz, a long time Winter Park Stamp Shop employee, knew this material in depth, so he accompanied me.
We went to her Orlando apartment in our Subaru station wagon. All the furniture was gone. Heaped in the middle of the living room was Dick’s stock. After greeting each other, I fell to my knees with a pad of paper and pencil to start.
It just felt wrong. As I dithered, both Alvin and the lady wanted me to do the deal. Alvin leaned over, saying quietly to me "Do the deal, dummy."
Alvin whispered in my ear "Be sure to get a Bill of Sale!" So I told her, after we did the paperwork, that I’d hold everything intact for a week, just in case she changed her mind.
I closed Florida Stamp & Coin in 1987. The shop evolved into a low ranking coin shop as most stamp collectors preferred coming to Winter Park. We didn’t hold a candle to the many top notch coin stores in town. Thus I became the one who ended Florida Stamp and Coin’s long run, a role I sure didn’t relish.
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