Numismatist. It’s certainly not a term that people hear on a day-to-day basis. Being a numismatist is, in part, a career choice, and one that Mark Borckardt ’86 uses as a senior numismatist for Heritage Auctions, the largest fine art and collectibles auction house founded in the United States, and the world’s largest collectibles auctioneer.
You see, a numismatist is a specialist in numismatics, or a person who is a specialist dealer in, who collects, or who uses coins in scholarly object-research. In other words, Borckardt knows a lot about coins.
A lot about coins.
In fact, Borckardt knows so much and has had such a great deal of success as a result, that he was recently named Numismatist of the Year for 2020 by the American Numismatic Association, one of the highest individual honors within the hobby. And his journey started right here in Findlay.
Borckardt grew up in Findlay, the son of a special education teacher and a Presbyterian minister who served churches during times of vacancy or when pastors went on vacation, and who also was a speech professor at Findlay College. Borckardt explained that he attended many churches as a young boy as a result of his father’s profession, and that it was at one of those churches that a member gave him a 1964 Guide Book of United States Coins, or a Red Book, as they’re commonly known in the industry. He eventually joined the coin club in Findlay and attended school coin club meetings as a youth.
With the assistance of some early mentors, including Roger Zorn, a part-time dealer and member of the Blanchard Valley Coin Club, the late Norman Talbert, who operated Great Lakes Coin Company, and Early American Coppers Club member John Wright, who continues to mentor him today, Borckardt began to learn – and love – the art of numismatics. Along with Zorn, Borckardt and his father attended weekend coin shows as dealers, primarily in Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan. “Those early years provided my initial numismatic education,” he said.
Those early years also led to Borckardt taking a somewhat non-traditional path through what was then known as Findlay College. “I had taken a year off between high school and college as I was not ready to continue my education out of high school,” he explained. “During that year, I enlisted in the Ohio National Guard, and it was during Army basic training that I made the decision to attend college.” Findlay was an easy choice for him, he said, since his father was teaching at the college.
As a commuter, most of Borckardt’s time on the Findlay College campus was spent attending class and studying in the Alumni Memorial Union. Without a doubt, however, the most special memory of his time at Findlay, he said, was the day he met the lady that would become his wife. “Three of us were in the process of forming a campus chess club,” he remembered, “but we needed four officers. Mary (Werth) walked over to ask her roommate, whom we just elected as president of the club, a question, and we immediately elected her as the fourth officer.” After some time off after leaving for a job in Pennsylvania that he “couldn’t pass up,” Borckardt ultimately graduated from Findlay College in 1986 with a degree in mathematics.
His numismatic career, spanning some 40 years, has seen some exciting and unique experiences; for instance, pursuing the “lost” Walton 1913 Liberty nickel, which was produced in extremely limited quantities unauthorized by the United States Mint, making it one of the best-known and most coveted rarities in American numismatics. It was a once in a lifetime happening for Borckardt, and one that brought a nearly dream-like few days. “In May 2003, Bowers and Merena Galleries President Paul Montgomery told me that a one-million-dollar reward was being offered to find the missing 1913 Liberty nickel,” he said. “I told him it would never work, thinking we would not find the nickel.”
Spoiler alert: they found the nickel. And, in 2013, it was sold by Heritage Auctions for more than three million dollars.
“I remember thousands of phone calls and emails claiming to have the missing nickel,” he said. “One email stood out above all the others. It included photos that convinced us we needed to see the actual coin.” An authentication meeting was scheduled with five other professionals passing all five 1913 Liberty nickels back and forth for nearly an hour. “We knew that such an event would never happen again, and we were going to enjoy it for as long as possible,” Borckardt remembered.
As for being named the 2020 Numismatist of the Year, Borckardt said that it is not only important to him, but that it validates his numismatic work over the many years he has been at it. And, along with those mentors he mentioned who clearly helped him along during his younger years, Findlay College/University of Findlay had a hand in it as well. “The experiences in all of my classes helped to develop logical and critical thinking,” he explained. “That has been invaluable for my career.” And that woman he met on campus who became his wife? The pair recently celebrated their 40th anniversary, and now have three children and one grandchild.
So, as times moves forward, with Findlay College having changed to the University of Findlay, and as coin collecting, like everything else, most certainly evolves with technology, one thing remains the same: The University of Findlay, in one way or another, leads to some very meaningful lives and terrifically productive (and unique!) careers for its graduates.