Looking back on 55 years in Iola|
May 15, 2018
How times change, and life accommodates. It was a bit more than 55 years ago that I landed in Iola, Wis. Since then, a lot of water has flowed over the dam, as they say, and welcoming and powerful water it has been.
It was on a cold and snowy late winter morning – Monday, March 16, 1963 – when I stepped into the Numismatic News office building at the corner of Washington and Water streets in downtown Iola to begin my Krause Publications career as the associate editor of the News. The sidewalk to the entrance had been freshly shoveled by an individual I would shortly meet for the first time, Chet Krause, who had arrived on the scene in advance of the rest of the staff.
There was a light shining from the open doorway of a small office on the immediate left inside the front entry door. Poking my head around the corner I introduced myself, as the occupant and I had not previously met. A hardy welcoming rejoinder greeted me: “Hi, I’m Chet.” That first exposure to Chet forever changed my life, much as his exposure to coin collecting, collecting old cars and similar involvements with many other hobbies changed lives in those pursuits as well.
It was just three weeks earlier that I had first set foot in Iola on a bitterly cold winter morning – Saturday, Feb. 28, 1963 – with the temperature well into the double digits below zero and the street-side snowbanks piled high throughout the village. I had arrived on that occasion to interview with Ed Rochette for the editorial position, having met and corresponded with him on several occasions over the previous two years or so.
Rochette had extended me an employment offer in Chet’s absence, he having been away on business over the weekend, that I accepted shortly after returning home. The offer was for $110 a week – $2.75 an hour based on a 40-hour week – it turned out there weren’t many of those through the coming weeks, months and 40 years. I was to claim the 14th staff chair, joining a crew that grew to 17 by the end of the year, spread out through the 4,000-square-foot building.
Our coin hobby was on the threshold of exponential growth, a trend-line that in 1965-1966 would come crashing down to earth. At the time two periodicals were being published out of Iola, Numismatic News and Coins magazine. Before the summer was out, there were two more. One was Canada Coin News, which while short-lived as an Iola product, still serves the hobby today as Canadian Coin News out of Toronto. The other was The Coin Dealer, which continued into 1966.
We struggled out of the 1960s, launching what became Coin Prices in late 1967. That year had also given birth to the Coin Shopper, a back-to-basics tabloid trader emulating the 1952 origins of Numismatic News, a short-lived title which in the spring of 1968 was merged with a tabloid acquisition – The Coin Collector – to become the Coin Collector and Shopper, which was eventually merged into Numismatic News following publication of its December 1969 issue.
With the turn into the 1970s decade, Krause Publications set forth on a diversification mission; diversification within and without the coin collecting realm. Having survived the U.S. coin collecting bust of the mid-1960s, we didn’t want to ever again have all our apples in one basket.
Our explorations led us to the world coins and old cars enthusiast fields. In the fall of 1971 came the launch of the Old Cars tabloid, and in the spring of 1972 the introduction of the Standard Catalog of World Coins.
Launch of the SCWC led to much more in the numismatic field, it being followed by World Coin News, the Standard Catalog of World Paper Money, Bank Note Reporter, and much more. Likewise, in the old cars collecting field, other periodicals followed along with related catalog references. A three-legged stool publishing philosophy had developed; 1) A trader/news tabloid to serve audiences of focused interests. 2) A magazine attuned to more generalized public interests. 3) A price guide and/or reference catalog delivering market pricing structures.
The 1970s turned out to be golden years. By early 1975, Krause Publications was bursting at the seams, headquartered in what had become a roughly 6,000-square-foot building at Washington and Water. Staff grew from 46 at the close of 1974 to 69 by the end of 1975.They were spread out into three other locations. On June 23, ground was broken for what became a 20,000-square-foot, T-shaped brick and concrete block structure on a 16-acre site situated at the eastern limits of the village. This was completed and occupied on Dec. 2, 1975.
The next few years found Krause Publications experiencing modest development and growth, but the pace picked up again following the spring 1981 launch of Baseball Cards magazine. That undertaking led to the acquisition of Sports Collectors Digest in the fall of that year, leading into an unparalleled boom in the company’s activities. Those undertakings paved the way for the company’s subsequent successful entries into a range of collector fields, antiques, Hollywood, knives, comics, records, firearms, military, toys, stamps, postcards, and limited editions, along with other leisure time and trade interest fields.
In all, at its height around the turn into the 21st century, Krause Publications was publishing in excess of 50 periodical titles, their combined annual deadlines being nearly 800, along with more than 100 new books or editions annually that infused an active book list of more than 800 titles. The number of employees was upwards of 500. We were also producing a dozen affiliated trade/collector shows across the country from Atlantic City to Hawaii. That was a momentous, enjoyable and rewarding time to be in the hobby publishing business.
When I stepped away as president with the close of the 1999 calendar, turning the reins of the company over to another collector, Roger Case, whom I’d lured away from eastern Montana in 1988 to take charge of the numismatic division, things were starting to change. Both the Internet and eBay were still in their infancy. Both have exacted their toll, over the past 15 years, since my formal and full retirement in 2003 after 40 years, in siphoning from the marketplace strengths that print publishing had enjoyed for so many years.
The employment picture in publishing has also been seriously impacted negatively by changes in the printing science, in particularly the ongoing development and sophistication of desktop publishing. The tools of the back shop have been brought to the desks of editors and designers, virtually eliminating the typesetting, keylining, and proofreading needs of old. At one time, perhaps 25 percent of our publishing staff were occupied in these roles; today, those departments no longer exist.
These developments in combination, along with outsourcing of non-editorial and sales functions, have conspired to dwindle the company’s employee numbers down to about 70 serving the News and its sister publications, notwithstanding that the number of live periodicals and books still published remain substantial. Thus, it is not surprising the company has opted to move into smaller accommodations elsewhere.
Their new quarters are located at Stevens Point, 25 miles west of Iola and not far from the shop at which the News was printed from 1958 through June of 1961. When traveling to coin shows from Iola back in my early years on the staff, I’ll interject, my typical departure was from the city’s Municipal Airport on a North Central Airlines DC-3. Times do change ... but life accommodates.
For me, times had first experienced real change, although I certainly did not realize it at the time, as a 10-year-old living in Kalkaska, Mich, in the summer of 1950, probably sometime in July. Warding off the insistences of a newly gained young friend and his mother, whom I’d met just months before, that I join them in a fascination for assembling canceled world stamps in albums, I responded to a Tatham Stamp & Coin Company advertisement, probably in Linn’s Stamp News, offering a selection of obsolete currency notes from the World War II era for a dime.
A short time later that note selection arrived in the mail, along with a selection of collector coins proffered for my purchase approval. My recollection is that three of five coins offered appealed to my senses and were purchased with funding that was generously forthcoming from my father.
One coin was a U.S. silver three-cent piece, a well-worn example, which still reposes in one of my accumulations. One of the other two was a rather worn coin of mystery for a 10-year-old, an example of the 1299 dated (A.H.; 1881-1882 A.D.) copper one-pysa issue from Zanzibar.
That Zanzibar coin provided me with a life-changing experience. It piqued my budding interest in history, geography, math, economics, political science and such subjects, as my education advanced. It provided the pivotal experience that caused me to become a lifetime enthusiast of coin collecting, paving the way to a career that has been aesthetically and fiscally rewarding. Over the years I’ve often passed that coin around as a show-and-tell accompaniment when delivering talks at educational programs. My encounter with that unimpressive and unrenowned coin was the genesis of a future career.
Just a couple years later, Chet Krause had a life-changing experience as well, one that ultimately impacted both our lives in meaningful and rewarding ways. It was in the summer of 1952 when Chet penned and mailed a letter to a couple hundred identified coin collectors inquiring as to what they thought of the idea of subscribing to a “publication that would provide the individual collector with low cost advertising to buy, sell, or exchange coins.” Times changed in the numismatic world with publication of the introductory issue of Numismatic News dated Oct. 13, 1952.
After Friday, April 13, 2018, 55 years and four weeks after having rooted myself in Iola, my numismatic life again changed significantly. I am no longer able to conveniently stop by editor Harper’s office for a visit, or rendezvous with him over lunch at the Crystal Cafe on Mondays, as we have been doing for the past many years.
Iola will remain the location of my office, but the village is no longer a key operational location on the numismatic publishing map, as it has been for more than 65 years. Monday, April 16, for me, felt decidedly different ... but life will accommodate.
As Harper and the rest of the staff relocate to a new office in Stevens Point, Iola will never be the same. Chet has been gone for nearly two years. Numismatic News is now gone from the village as well. Ed Rochette passed away recently, but I’m reminded of his having passed through Iola every time I drive by the house he left behind, painted a bright red and catty-corner across the intersection of Iola and Jackson streets from the Krause family home from which the News was given birth in 1952.
I’m still here with intentions of remaining, God willing, for many more years. Yes, times always change as time passes ... but I’m sure life will accommodate.
On my office wall as a reminder of those inspiring and invigorating days past, however, there is a trio of large Numismatic Ambassador Award plaques bearing the identities of all past and more recent recipients of that recognition, originated in 1974 by the News. They were recently removed from the now vacated publishing offices to the present location.
If you’re in the Iola area, stop by and say hello. I’ll treat for coffee and pie at the Crystal, and I’ll also very much welcome the opportunity to visit and reminisce about how life has accommodated change with the passage of time.
With this change, I expect that for some time the days will probably seem really different and lonely around here in the village of Iola.
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On May 23, 2018 Jeffrey Zarit
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