Byron F. Johnson

Beginning in 1989, the Grand Award for Best of Show exhibit (at the annual spring convention) was renamed the Byron F. Johnson, Jr. Memorial Award.

Byron F. Johnson, Jr. was inducted in 2016 to the ANA Numismatic Hall of Fame. The following biographical information was supplied by Joseph E. Boling in support of Byron’s nomination.

Byron F. Johnson, Jr. was ANA LM 523.

Birth date: 17 March 1931, Deceased: 14 June 1988.

Byron F. Johnson, Jr. was a “collector’s collector.” His specialties were the sidelines of numismatics—tokens, scrip, medals, world minor coinage, and dozens of subsidiary areas of these broader classes of numismatics, such as memorabilia of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific (AYP) exposition, Washington state scrip, and anything related to pharmacy or drugs (his profession).

Johnson was noted for his research in local sources, tying his collected materials to their origins and to related emissions. He compiled the definitive volume on Washington state scrip and assembled collections of thousands of transportation tokens. His mantra was “…leave a written record of what you have researched so as to save time for the next collector.” Unfortunately, he died before much of his research could be assembled into permanent form, leaving only several long series of columns in numismatic publications that are today hard to recover.

Johnson took a special interest in numismatic exhibiting. He wrote the chapters on exhibiting in the ANA’s Young Numismatist and Intermediate Correspondence Courses and encouraged novice exhibitors at every turn. He pioneered the use of exhibit classes that were based on the stories that collectors had to tell, rather than the fabric of the materials being shown (mixing media long before most organizations were open to seeing coins and notes in the same exhibit). His approach to exhibit classes, introduced in the Pacific Northwest Numismatic Association (PNNA) in the early 1970s, was adopted by the ANA in 1999 (a decade after his death) for the classes used at its National Money Shows.

He never missed a chance to get others involved in the educational aspects of his hobby. When he served on the ANA Awards Committee in 1975, one of his tasks was to select the Heath Literary Award winners for articles published in The Numismatist the preceding year. He gathered a group of 5-6 serious numismatists in Seattle and had them read the 1974 issues, complete—then convened a series of meetings to discuss the articles, their merits, and their appropriate recognitions. Everyone involved had his horizons expanded by this exercise.

In that period, one needed a sponsor to join the American Numismatic Society. Johnson was the sponsor for this writer.

Johnson also served as an officer in many of the organizations to which he belonged, helping to keep local clubs and specialty organizations alive and functioning. He served as president of the Token and Medal Society, the Organization of International Numismatists (OIN), the PNNA (twice) and the Seattle Coin Club, as well as many years as secretary, or librarian, or VP, or exhibit chairman, or committee member, or editor, or whatever other office needed to be filled or task accomplished for many organizations. He was an ANA governor 1975-1977, and I have found records of his serving on eight ANA committees between 1963 and 1979. He assisted in the merger of OIN with Numismatics International, making a stronger organization from two that were struggling. In addition to those mentioned, he belonged to about a dozen other organizations, mostly specialty organizations related to his many collecting interests.

Johnson was appointed to the Assay Commission in 1971 and served on the assaying committee of that body. He was named a Numismatic Ambassador by Krause Publications in 1984. He was frequently called upon as a speaker in educational fora conducted at major conventions.

Johnson had been a friend of Ole P. Eklund during Eklund’s lifetime. When Eklund died, Johnson insured that his extensive research on world copper coinage was preserved, rather than destroyed, as Eklund had annotated on his inventories. Those documents came to the ANA library. Johnson also donated his own materials to the ANA museum and library, while still alive and after his death, through a bequest provided for in his will. In 1982 he had been listed as a “benefactor” donor to the ANA, the second-highest level of recognition.

Byron Johnson’s greatest gifts to numismatics were his unfailing good humor and insistence that the hobby was meant to be enjoyed. He downplayed emphases on completing collections or buying with financial gain in mind. He said that one reason he collected world minors was that it was “a collection that could never be completed.” While he recognized the competition that could be introduced to exhibiting, in his mind exhibiting’s goals were to educate and to interest others in collecting the material being shown. Whether one received a trophy was not important. Ironically, upon his death, the PNNA’s best-of-show award was designated the Byron F. Johnson, Jr. Memorial Award.

Organizations: offices held – title and year(s):

  • American Numismatic Association – joined 1961, and served in numerous capacities including Resolutions Committee, YN Committee, Membership Committee, District Representative for Washington state, Election Ethics and Procedures Committee, Exhibits Committee, Assistant Chief Judge, Awards Committee, Governor, Long Range Goals Committee, Audit Committee, Advisory Council.
  • American Numismatic Society – since 1960s or earlier.
  • TAMS – joined 1962 – LM 27, and served as librarian, secretary, governor, 2nd VP, 1st VP and president.
  • Northwest TAMS – served as editor.
  • Pacific Northwest Numismatic Association – LM, served as president twice, editor, board member and chief judge.
  • Organization of International Numismatists – served on publications, conventions, and exhibits committees; served as board member, 2nd VP, 1st VP, president, and on the Membership Committee.
  • Seattle Coin Club – LM (member as early as 1959) – served as VP, president, and as editor for over 20 years (recognized at 50th anniversary banquet in 1986).
  • Other clubs – Canadian Numismatic Association, Society of Paper Money Collectors, Society of International Numismatists, Numismatic Association of Southern California, Cal-State, American Vecturist Association, International Order of Wooden Money Collectors, Society of Asian Numismatists, American-British Numismatic Association, Civil War Token Society, MichTAMS, American Tax Token Society, CES.

Numismatic accomplishments:

  • Began collecting in 1946 at age 15.
  • Noted for his numismatic research.
  • Collected type coins of the world – “a collection that can never be completed.”
  • Wanted collectors to have fun – not be intent on completion, investment, etc.
  • Pre-1971 – speaker, ANA Exhibiting and Judging Symposium.
  • Pre-1973 – speaker, Cal-State Numismatic Assoc. educational symposium.
  • Assay Commission member 1971 (chair of the assaying committee).
  • From his candidate’s statement for the ANA 1973 board election: – “… he has suggested the counterfeit control program used at COIN, exhibit judging forms for ANA, training schools for judges, and the exhibit classification system first tried at the 1969 Central States convention.”
  • 1973 – wrote chapter VII (Coin Exhibits and Exhibiting) of the YN Correspondence Course – the chapter was also used in the 1978 Intermediate Correspondence Course for adults.
  • 1979 – placed the O. P. Eklund inventory of 40,000 world minors in the ANA library, along with some unpublished Eklund catalog manuscripts.
  • 1980 – donated an original Continental dollar to the ANA museum, along with other coins worth a total of $10,015.
  • 1980-81 – made ANA library donations valued at $3,400.
  • 1982 – speaker, ANA convention educational forum – “…leave a written record of what you have researched so as to save time for the next collector.”
  • Assisted in drafting the ANA grading guide.
  • Made several slide sets for the ANA library to loan for educational programs.
  • Named a consultant to the National Coin Collection by the Smithsonian.
  • His emphasis was on aiding average collectors and specialty clubs.
  • 1989 – bequest to the ANA library from the Byron Johnson estate.

Published numismatic works:

  • A Trial Listing of Washington State Scrip, attributed to NWTAMS, actually compiled by Byron Johnson, 120pp (1989); First supplement to the above (13pp, also undated).
  • 60s-70s editor of The Nor’wester.
  • Catalog of Alaska-Yukon-Pacific tokens and medals (apparently published as a series of columns).
  • “More Light on Sales Tax Tokens” (Jerry Schimmel, The Numismatist, Jan. 1971); Byron Johnson acknowledged for his contributions to the article.
  • TAMS columnist (received an appreciation certificate for his column in 1981).
  • Rulau, Russ, Hard Times Tokens (1980) – Byron Johnson acknowledged on the cover for “special contributions.”
  • Seattle Coin Club Planchet – editor 20+ years (recognized at the SCC 50th anniversary banquet).
  • NWTAMS – editor.
  • Coin World long-running column, “Byron’s Bylines.”
  • Johnson also wrote for Numismatic News and the Numismatic Scrapbook, as well as for TAMS and for many other club publications.

Numismatic awards:

  • TAMS appreciation award 1974.
  • TAMS Distinguished Service award 1975.
  • TAMS Medal of Merit 1976.
  • Numismatic Ambassador 1984.

Personal information:

  • Military service: Army 1953-56, pharmacist, Germany.
  • Education: University of Washington, BS 1953 (pharmacy); Washington pharmacy license from 1956 (following military service); retired as an active pharmacist in 1987 (31 years of service) to devote time to numismatics.

Numismatic collecting specialties:

Collected (among many other things) world minors, sales tax tokens, food stamp credit slips, transportation tokens, personal tokens of fellow collectors, AYP memorabilia, elongated coins, bus tokens, scrip (particularly of Washington state), medals, encased postage, and anything connected to pharmacy or drugs.