Nick Brown was a Majestic Man|
July 01, 2013
As much as I love coins, and Chinese Pandas in particular, what makes the activity of collecting and learning about coins so special is the people I meet. Occasionally someone in numismatics becomes such a part of my life that he or she can only be described as a friend. My coin friends have brought me a lot of joy, but occasionally they also bring sorrow. May 2013 was a time of sadness as my friend Nick Brown passed away.
Nick was the President of Majestic Rarities in Chicago. You may have seen his ads in numismatic publications, or met him at coin shows. When it came to high-end modern Chinese coins, including Pandas, Nick was the best-known coin dealer in the United States. He was also an author (“The 100 Greatest U.S. Error Coins”), columnist, and blogger. Above all he was a goodwill ambassador for the entire coin industry. Nick’s motto was, “Collect – Invest – Have Fun,” and he practiced what he preached.
As an important figure in the coin world, Nick was remarkably generous with his time and knowledge. He would often spend hours on the phone with collectors trying to explain the ins and outs of the field. It didn’t bother him that he often didn’t sell any coins as a result of these conversations. He was happy to have educated someone. Besides he would tell me, “one day that person might become a customer.” From his viewpoint the entire world was filled with would-be customers.
Nick knew, however, that people weren’t perfect, or even close to that. He was the first to own up to his own shortcomings. He could also live with – and laugh at – most of the shenanigans he saw in the coin world. He often reminded me, “Nobody wears a halo.”
Nick was one of the politest and most considerate people that I’ve ever known. In conversation he would always patiently wait for the other person to finish speaking before saying anything. Maybe that’s why, now that he’s gone, so many people have come forward to say they knew Nick through phone conversations.
Nick was a coin collector first, a coin dealer second. He liked to describe himself as 70 percent collector and 30 percent dealer, and that was about right. He loved to collect, and to study, and to understand both coins and the coin market.
Although he had more means than most collectors to pursue his numismatic passion, he was always chasing something new. Like all of us he rued the deals he missed, the coins he passed on, the ones he couldn’t acquire.
What he did acquire was pretty extraordinary, though. Nick liked large coins. He explained that if there is a choice between a coin that you need to squint at to see the details and a coin that is big enough to appreciate at a glance, he always prefers the bigger coin. This was typical Nick Brown thinking; direct and practical.
He used the impressiveness of large size coins to attract new collectors into the field. The dimensions and eye appeal of 12 oz. and kilo coins are, well, large. Many of the people who can afford them also enjoy being part of an elite group of collectors. Nick understood this, and he helped create a market for them.
As part of this effort Nick would turn his show tables into exhibition spaces. Where other dealers would cram their cases full of coins, Nick would present his as if they were in a museum. He might curate the coins like museum pieces, too, complete with cards that explained why each coin was significant. And you could bet that every coin in the exhibit was graded by NGC.
He recognized that as coin prices rose grading and authentication would become more and more important. His relationship with NGC was more than just “business.” He believed in the integrity of NGC’s work. In fact, he thought that they graded his coins more closely than most other submitters just to prove there was no favoritism.
Because he could speak to high-end collectors on an equal footing he was able to convince many to send their coins in for grading. I’m told that he once had a conversation with a very important collector in Asia who was on the verge of submitting his collection. The collector was still hesitant. He said to Nick, “What happens if the plane goes down and my coins end up at the bottom of the Pacific?” Nick immediately replied, “Then you will be happy that you weren’t on the plane!” The coins got graded.
Nick Brown was one of a kind. His untimely passing cheats everyone interested in modern Chinese coins, of his vision and drive. I have personally lost a great and wonderful friend who always made me laugh and think.
While Nick can’t ever be replaced I hope that we will all try to travel down the path of generosity and dedication that he blazed. I also wonder if it’s still true that no one wears a halo. Rest in peace, my friend.
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