People in COINS by Melanie Cummings

By Michael S. Turrini

Published in Canadian Coin News, December 27, 2005 – Page 12

People in COINS by Melanie Cummings

Numismatics has shaped Paul Johnson’s life.

“I’ve been able to learn so much about so many aspects of collecting. Personally, it’s been very good for me.”

This year he celebrated 40 years as an avid collector. And in that time he’s added so much more to coin resume: educator, exhibitor, multiple club member, convention organizer, speaker, writer, and award winner.

He was 13 when he was first introduced to the hobby. Initially, Johnson admitted, he wasn’t impressed. With just ten cents left in his and his buddy Bill Hardwick’s pockets, the pair decided to blow the lot on one last ride at the Peterborough, Ontario fair. But Hardwick turned down the ride when he discovered one of the two nickels he has about to hand over to the operator had King George V’s portrait on it. It was one he needed for his blue Whitman folder. I remember thinking this is out to lunch foregoing a fun ride for a coin collection,” said Johnson. Something clicked though, when Johnson’s buddy showed him his whole collection later that day.

“He gave me a 1943 tombac nickel (88 per cent copper, 12 per cent zinc) – composite used to conserve nickel during wartime in 1942 and 1943) and my own Whitman nickel folder to start me off.”

His askance view of coin collecting immediately turned into avidity. Johnson still has that start-up coin and he now collects architectural-, coin club- and train-related medals.

From then on, he spent his allowance at the local coin shop and immersed himself in the Peterborough club. His take-charge attitude emerged quickly as he became the group’s secretary at age 14. By 15, he had created a junior offshoot of the coin club.

Once a month, the teens rotated meetings at respective members’ houses. With that group running smoothly, Johnson’s attention turned to replicating the same scene on a national scale.

He joined the Canadian Numismatic Association (CNA) in 1972, at the ripe age of 20 and instead of just enjoying the rewards of membership; he went right to the top. John wrote a letter to CNA President Norman Williams stating he wanted to organize more activities for young collectors. The Canadian Young Numismatists was born by 1973.

“I was one of the lucky ones to find something I loved so early in life,” said Johnson.

He became the youngest person to win Best in Show in 1975 and 1977 for his presentation of Canadian decimal coins at the respective CNA conventions.

It’s no accident then, that a man so intensely curious about coins would become an accountant.

His wife Mary-Ellen is a teacher and perhaps some of that profession has also rubbed off on Johnson.

For the past 14 years, he’s been the Education Director of the CNA. Among his pet projects is the numismatic correspondence course.

Developed over three years, it was launched in 1995 to widespread appeal. More than 1,500 people, from rookies to veterans, in Canada and the U.S., registered for the course.

A committee of five other volunteers marks the course papers, distributes and upgrades the study guides and results, and maintains communication with students.

“There was such a tremendous response to the first course, people wanted advanced ones offered as a follow-up,” said Johnson.

Last July, the committee unveiled a comprehensive 17 chapter (486-page) course focussing on various aspects of numismatics. Top numismatic researchers and writers across the country (including Canadian Coin News managing editor and associate publisher Bret Evans) each contributed a chapter.

“Nothing compares to it,” said Johnson.

So far, more than 200 people have signed up for this course.

Education, in Johnson’s view, is the key to the hobby’s proliferation and future. Johnson lives by this belief. He has an estimated 2,000 books in his personal numismatic library and is a member of more than 30 numismatic organizations.

“It’s a shame we don’t have more people who want to write about numismatics. We need writers and researchers to cover a lot of topics that haven’t been addressed yet,” said Johnson. His insight here comes from his longtime role as governor of the J. Douglas Ferguson Historical Research Foundation, which provides funding to worthy numismatic book projects.

For his part, he’s intent on developing a final correspondence course sometime down the road.

As for his own personal goals, he’s keen to become President of the very group that has captivated his interest for the past 33 years, the CNA.

The life member has already served as Second Vice-President, Ontario Director and Finance Chairman – the Presidency would seem a natural progression.

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Numismatic News, September 21, 2004 (pages 34 and 56)

By Michael S. Turrini

On July 7, Canadian numismatist Paul R. Johnson of Unionville, Ontario, Canada, lunched and sat for over two hours, exchanging his passion and devotion to our hobby along with Lee H. Gong of Santa Rosa, California and Dr. Walter Ostromecki Jr. of Encino, California.

Sitting and enjoying a nice buffet lunch at the well-known Canadian franchise buffet, Tuckers, in Toronto, Ontario, as the lunch and afternoon crowds came and we, we shared much.

“You don’t you don’t have to be rich to enjoy our hobby,” Johnson noted. Collect and study what you can afford. The recent Canadian Province Quarters, like your state quarters, are a fine starting point,” he added.

“What is needed is guidance and focus, and this is particularly true for the youngsters,” he remarked. Giving direction is an integral part of Johnson’s devotion toward our hobby, as he has served in a volunteer position as the Canadian Numismatic Association’s director of education, coordinating the entire numismatic educational programs and activities for the association, including the educational forum at the association’s annual July conventions.

His great pride is the association’s correspondence course, which has had over 1,400 participants in the past nine years with a success completion rate of 75 percent. This popular course costs only $40 (Canadian), and successful graduates earn books worth more than the fee, along with a certificate and mention in the CNA’s Canadian Numismatic Journal.

“The course has been so well received that by the end of this year, having it in final draft form, we hope to have a part two,” he reported. “Now, this is not intended to be an advanced addition to the successful first part; rather it is a continuation,” he reminded. “Whereas the first part had 12 chapters, this second part has been expanded to 18, of which nine are mandatory,” he continued, “and the emphasis is research and numismatic writing.”

An avowed advocate for numismatic education, Johnson argues several times in our exchanges that “numismatic research and writing are the next logical steps when a coin hobbyist expands his or her collecting and begins to learn. That is our hope in the correspondence courses addition: participants will want to write.”

“My goal and our courses’ goal are simple : educate people in our hobby to learn how to tell others about the hobby,” he reiterated.

This noble goal is traced back to when, at age 13, he accompanied a childhood friend, Bill Hardwick, to a local country-style fair. As the day was ending, he and Bill had enough change to do more carnival ride, at ten cents. Bill, however, chose not to ride, tell Paul that his last nickel “was a rare one that he needed for his collection.”

Paul did the ride along, and when done, he and Bill stopped at Bill’s home on the way home while Bill shared his collection. Hill gave Johnson that nickel, a Tombac 1943 five cents, along with an album, which Johnson still retains in his collection.

With these youthful beginnings, Johnson’s pursuits – when not interrupted with higher education and his career – expanded to the all-Canadian decimal series, foreign medals. Particularly architectural medals or which he has 40, and trade tokens. One of his pursuits is architectural medals created by Belgian sculptor Jacques Wiener.

His first venture into organized numismatics was with the Peterborough Coin Club of Ontario, and at age 14 he was its secretary. He later served in the club’s other offices, and began its junior club almost immediately after joining.

The hobby was exciting, so much that in 1973 he helped found and lead the Canadian Young Numismatist Association, which at its height had 300 – 400 members and a regular multi-page publication. The association lasted about eight years, and in addition, Johnson also wrote and published YN articles in Coin World.

Johnson’s great joy and recognition was being awarded the American Numismatic Association’s Outstanding Young Numismatist back in 1972, at the association’s New Orleans convention. He still retains the award, which was a short U.S. gold type set, double eagle to quarter eagle and proudly shared it later during our visit.

For the CNA, he has been equally honored, holding the esteemed title of Fellow of the CNA, being inducted in 1997. Also, in 1995, the association honored him with its highest award, the J. Douglas Ferguson Award.

In reviewing the history of the CNA, in both 1975 and 1977 his exhibits won the Best of Show at the association’s annual conventions.

He is one, in spite of his various awards and honors and long involvement in our hobby, not to forget his mentors. When asked about those who have influenced him, he replied, “Several names come to mind, and certainly I have to say the late Stephen R. Taylor, whom my family and his family often exchanged visits and stays. John J. Pittman, was another, who was president of both the ANA and our country’s association; Kenneth B. Prophet, late executive secretary for our CNA and J. Douglas Ferguson – all are at the top of my list.

When asked about the future or trends in our hobby which are common to both sides of the border, he was quick to reply, “We need greater communication and collaboration between the ANA and our CNA, at the highest levels as well as middle levels, regardless of the size differences. Numismatics is international. And we are neighbors, with a fair number of ANA members here in Canada. We have the same motivations.

“We have to increase the number of active hobbyists, and that is true here in Canada and in the states,” he continued. “The problems are the same; many individuals have too many conflicts to their time and can’t collect readily from circulation,” he noted. “And these are identical no matter what side of the border you live,” he said.

Although these problems and perceived differences exist, Johnson remained optimistic and positive, still radiating the youthful enthusiasm and energy that has carried him over 40 years of hobby commitment.

Trained as an accountant and having the family obligations with his wife and adopted daughter, he kept throughout our exchange to the theme of education and the hobby’s advantages.

When, as our time drew to a close, and Tucker’s wanted to bus our table and ready for the dinner crowd, he was asked what the hobby had done for him. Without missing a beat, readily answered, “What has it done for me? I could never have imagined at age 13 that our hobby would prove its value far more than just in the collecting. Skills and expertise learned in communication, people relationships and work, organization, public speaking, and so on, all these even benefit me in my professional life in private industry. The hobby added much to my life and career.

Expanding from his youthful beginning and the CNA, he also involved himself and remains involved at the local and provincial levels in Canada. “I have to agree with the observation that the hobby has been fun and fellowship,” he noted. “Now my happiness is helping teach others about the hobby, whether at CNA conventions as its educational forum moderator or elsewhere,” he said.

“Now it is time for me to give back to the hobby. I have won many awards here in Canada. The hobby has done much for me. Now, my energy is to return,” he repeated.

Later, during the CNA convention, he continued his youthful enthusiasm when he brought and displayed both his aforementioned ANA Outstanding Young Numismatist Award and a few of his numismatic scrapbooks religiously maintained since 1973.

Pasted with numerous clippings from both the American and Canadian numismatic press and some local articles, he has assembled more than 40 scrapbooks. We took the time to skim and flip through one, bringing back memories, names and the love of our world of money.

The dust of decades and the yellow of years could not diminish the fact that Paul R. Johnson has and continues to live our world of money. With that thought, he has asked if he could bring some conclusion to our interview and time together.

Thinking for a moment, he said, “Education and communication are the keys to numismatics. We need to teach others about what the hobby excites for us, and we need to share, to promote to all. Yeah, that says it all, in a nutshell.”

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