When I was a youngster, my dad likened me to Baron Munchhausen,
as I evaded punishment with elaborate tales, one foot in
reality, one on the other side. I was so excited: “I’m descended
from royalty,” until later on I realized the Munchhausen coat of
arms that he propped up in the basement was me getting
snookered. By the time I figured it out, I thought it was pretty
You wouldn’t know it today, but I was a really quiet
kid. Squeaked into college. Senior year was a revelation, here I
was in Atlanta Georgia, and just didn’t have the money to go
home for vacation so I walked into the coin shop downtown and
asked if I could have a job just for the two weeks. I was hired
to do inventory of their stamp department. Their stamp man was
well glad to hand off this tedious job to me.
First day on the job I went next door for a nice
lunch, fish and fries. First gulp, a big old fish bone got stuck
way back in my throat!
I couldn’t talk. I could only whisper. And I
didn’t have insurance so I couldn’t go to a doctor right away. I
didn’t have the sense to complain to the restaurant. So I went
back to work and kept my mouth shut. Boy, were they impressed
with me! The campus doctor returned a day before my job ended
and removed the fish bone. I took the bus to the hobby shop so
animated that my boss said “First you don’t talk and now you
won’t shut up!” I accepted an afternoon job which fit in well
with my senior year at college
My generation is shaped by the Vietnam War. I had a
college deferment, expecting to serve upon graduation. I took
the physical and let’s say they were under-impressed. But here I
was, having graduated college, preparing myself for Army
call-up, and then it didn’t happen. My plans were four-year
college, Vietnam, graduate school. Now an unexpected void.
So I called my family and said I was returning to Atlanta to
take this position as a stamp dealer for a year. A year would
tell the tale. If not, I could enroll in graduate school and
become a medical social worker as I’d planned.
stamp dealer? My dad yelled, my mom, well, you know mothers.
Let’s say they worried for my good sense.
Months later, the coin company got burglarized
and there went their entire stamp stock. Fortunately, I’d made a
friendship with a coin dealer in Jacksonville, Florida. His name
is Barry Williams.
I don’t drive. I know how to, but I’m the worst
driver you’ve ever seen. No kidding. I took the driving test in
Atlanta and they told me “Boy, we’d give a pig a driver’s
license, but you’d better stay off the road”. I was offered a
license, but declined. I just wanted to know I could do
it. Representing the company at stamp shows was really important.
I hooked up with Barry, sharing a booth or each of us taking our
own booths. We’d go on buying trips, him for coins, me for
stamps. Remarkably, we’re very good friends today—38 years late
One time we did a show in the Palmer House in
Chicago. Here we were on an upper floor on the last day of the
show and the elevator broke down. The dealers were in the midst
of moving out. Didn’t faze Barry. He’s a big strong muscular
man. So he shoved both our stocks into our footlocker and
hoisted onto his shoulders, saying “Clear A Path!” walking our
stock down six or seven flights of stairs!
When the hobby company lost their stamp stock, my job
disappeared so I reckoned that I ought to call Barry and wing it
down to Jacksonville. Problem was, the only housing I could
afford was free, so Barry’s family put me up on the porch. Three
kids so I was grateful they could squeeze me in. Accomodating as
his family was, I just felt kind of restricted working in a coin
shop as stamps was my passion.
Three months later, I heard Lt. Col. John
W. McDaniel Jr. of Winter Park was looking for a right hand man
so with Barry’s okay, I contacted John. Working for John was
very interesting. When I started in mid 1973, he had a mammoth
inventory but merchandised it in a way that prevented him from
most easily selling. He’d carefully note price increases, but
not lower prices when warranted. When I started, John was real
pleased doing $4,000 at one show per month. When I quit in June
1976, we were doing up to four shows monthly grossing $20,000
each. I learned a lot there.
I had a bit of savings when I left John’s employ
but most went to family needs almost immediately. I was so broke
that in July of 1976 I had something like $600. I remember
selling 3-cent stamps to neighborhood kids out of my apartment.
I made a deal with John that I wouldn’t
contact any of his customers. In the stamp business, a dealer’s
word is as important as a signature on a contract. Sometime
during 1975, a guy approached us with some really great stamps,
and after checking him out, we knew it really was an
inheritance. I was the guy in McDaniel’s office that Tom dealt
with but he “belonged” to John. So once in a while, Tom would
come in with a stockbook of cool U.S. and I’d buy it.
After I left John’s employ, Tom came in to him
with a very nice book full of stamps, but this time John handled
him and it wasn’t pretty.
When Tom asked where I was, John clasped his
hands below his stomach, saying “Mike’s no longer with us.” The
implication was, of course that I’d passed away. Problem was,
Winter Park was still a pretty small place, and Tom hadn’t
noticed a bit in the paper about me.
So Tom pulled in a favor and got my unlisted
phone number, calling me. When I said that I couldn’t deal with
him because I’d promised John that I wouldn’t contact his
customers, Tom pointed out that it was on his initiative that he
was able to find me. So we met and he showed me a wonderful book
Later on he would let me sell for him things like 10,000 sets of
U.S. Famous Americans used and the same of U.S. Overrun
I’d sort each value into glassines of 100
stamps each. These would be sold to the old H. E. Harris
Tons of work!
If not for Tom, I may have returned to
graduate school. We are friends today.