Stack’s Bowers Galleries Presents the Dick Johnson Collection

Stack’s Bowers Galleries is honored to be offering the D. Wayne Johnson (better known as Dick Johnson) Collection of art medals, coins, non-art medals, tokens, numismatic art, and assorted exonumia in a series of sales in 2024, starting with the April 17 Collectors Choice Online Auction of Tokens and Medals. 

Richard Wayne Johnson, known as D. Wayne Johnson or Dick Johnson, was a well-known collector of tokens and medals, author of numerous books and articles on art medals and associated terminology, numismatic terminology, and hobby news. He was a talented cataloger and numismatic historian who was a fixture in the world of art medals and the broader numismatic community for well over half a century. Additionally Johnson was active in numerous numismatic organizations over the course of his long and varied career.

Richard Wayne Johnson was born in Kansas City, Missouri on August 27, 1930. Growing up in the Midwest, mainly in Kansas City, the greater Chicago area, and New Orleans, he reported that his interest in numismatics dated to February 1939 when his father gave him a Whitman “Penny” board. An early ambition, which he realized many times over the course of his professional life, was to serve as the editor of a numismatic publication.

Johnson served in the Air Force from 1950 to 1954 and attended his first national coin convention in 1951. From the 1950s and 1960s onward, he formed strong connections with many of the most accomplished numismatists of the period including Q. David Bowers, Eric Newman, Walter Breen, and Ken Bressett. With this cohort Johnson cofounded the Rittenhouse Society in 1957, a club of eminent numismatists that continues today. He also served in different officers’ roles in multiple Midwestern numismatic clubs. His foray into numismatic publishing began when he helped establish the Middle Atlantic Numismatic Association and coedited its journal with Walter Breen. He wrote longer form, more serious content under the byline D. Wayne Johnson and shorter form pieces under the moniker Dick Johnson, a sobriquet used by many friends and fellow numismatists. Later in the 1950s, he worked for a printing firm and the Kansas City Kansan as he began his career in numismatic publishing.

An oft-cited entry in Johnson’s numismatic biography is his central role in establishing Coin World magazine. He served as Coin World’s first editor for 18 months, from the publication’s establishment in spring 1960 through mid-1961. Short though his tenure at Coin World was, Johnson remained an active contributor to numerous publications and founded another – Coin Wholesaler, which was sold to Space City Numismatics of Houston, Texas. From that firm he launched another publication, called Pace.

Over his career, he contributed many articles on art medals, medalists, and other numismatic topics to a wide variety of publications including The Numismatist, Coins, and Coinage. In the internet age, his online contributions were also prolific, including many articles in E-Sylum, the weekly electronic newsletter of the Numismatic Bibliomania Society. For decades he maintained a database of research he had done and regularly published a blog. His body of work includes lengthy explanations of various terms and concepts relating to medal and exonumia production and collecting and constitutes a valuable resource of collectors looking to sharpen their knowledge.  

Though in this biography the term “exonumia” is used, this might have chagrined Johnson, who did not believe that the term “exonumia” included art medals. His initial criticism was in a 1960 Coin World published after the term was coined by Russell Rulau at a meeting of prominent numismatists (including Johnson) that took place before the 1960 American Numismatic Association convention in Atlanta. In his writings on the subject Johnson differentiated between art medals and token medals (medals struck on a coining press), the latter he grouped in with tokens as a class of non-coin collectibles described as exonumia. He elaborated on these distinctions in his published work.

He published several books late in his life, including Monograms of American Coin and Medal Artists in 2010, Who’s Who Among American Medallists in 2015, and An Encyclopedia of Coin and Medal Technology in 2016. He also published Numismatic Directory 1957.

Johnson’s name is indelibly associated with his extensive work at and with the Medallic Art Company, starting when he became Director of Research there in January 1966. Among his significant undertakings at MACO was cataloging the firm’s 1907-1976 output, publicizing many of the firm’s releases and writing speeches for its president. He edited MACO’s company newsletter The Art Medallist. He worked at MACO until 1977, and when he left, the firm sold him 64,000 “unwanted medals.” He later served as publicity consultant for MACO and as a medal consultant for firms and organizations, including the Carnegie Hero Fund Foundation and numerous museums.

With Chris Jensen, a fellow medal collector/aficionado, Johnson formed Johnson & Jensen in the spring of 1977; they transitioned the firm to Medallion House Incorporated in 1983. They conducted 27 sales from 1978 to 1985. Johnson cataloged and conducted eight more auctions into 1990. Johnson remained active in the industry and hobby throughout his life. In 2008 he co-founded Signature Art Medals, a firm dedicated to selling high quality medallic art and he returned to MACO in 2010, serving as the firm’s Corporate Historian until it declared bankruptcy in 2017.

Over the course of his career, Johnson amassed a substantial collection of art and token medals, tokens, coins, and numismatic art. It includes quite a bit of MACO material, in addition to tokens and medals from Tiffany & Co., the United States Mint, and material designed by prominent American medallic artists and/or commemorating significant numismatic and medallic art organizations. Agricultural medals, So-Called dollars, trade tokens of different descriptions, a smattering of U.S. and world coins, and all manner of other medallic objects abound.

Johnson passed away on December 29, 2020, at age 90. He was inducted into the American Numismatic Association’s Numismatic Hall of Fame in 2021, a capstone for a career that saw many other awards and decorations from hobby institutions. Today his name is associated with the institutions to which he dedicated his career, such as Coin World and MACO, and his reputation as a skilled numismatist and indefatigable researcher endures. His collection reflects his interest in art medals and traces the contours of his career.

The author of this tribute is indebted to the obituary published in the January 4, 2021, E-Sylum, as well as Johnson’s own autobiography on his website and a 2003 Asylum article.  

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