Ernie Watson helped make coin collecting ‘cool’ in Canada

By Bret Evans and Jeff Fournier

Ernest George Watson is being remembered as one of Canada’s top dealers and numismatists who helped shape the hobby into what it is today.

“He was one of the people who made coin collecting cool in Canada,” says dealer Sandy Campbell, owner of Proof Positive Coins, based in Baddeck, N.S.

Known to his friends and customers as “Ernie,” Watson died on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2016 after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 80.

Watson was born in Yorkton, Sask., and moved to Alberta in 1950. He began working for Burns & Company and became one of the youngest salesmen in the history of the company in 1954. He married Isabella Masciangelo on June 30, 1956. They moved to Lethbridge with Burns & Company in 1957. A daughter, Roxanne, was born in Calgary in 1957 and a son, Rick, was born in Lethbridge in 1958. The family then moved back to Calgary in 1964, when Ernie and his father, Albert, decided to enter the coin business together in 1964 creating Albern Coins (later adding Foreign Exchange), which is a mix of their names Albert and Ernie. The coin company thrived for the next 40 years and became a Calgary business landmark and one of the largest businesses of its kind in Canada.

The father and son had a great run that allowed Ernie to retire/semi-retire in 1990, passing the business onto his son, Rick. Along with Rick, Don Carlson – Ernie’s son-in-law – ran Albern Coins & Foreign Exchange until it was sold to Gatewest Coins Ltd.

“Ernie was a gentleman, always,” says Ian Laing, of Winnipeg’s Gatewest Coins, who purchased Albern Coins from Watson in 2001. “You could not say a better thing than that.”

Laing describes Watson as a quiet man with old-school manners. “He always acted correctly in all his dealings and in all his relationships.”

Laing also points out that Watson got into business at the start of the modern coin collecting boom in Canada.

“He’s the last of the dealers who were here in the first coin collecting boom.” Laing agrees the dealers of that time helped form the coin hobby of today.

Many Canadian Coin News readers recognize the advertisements that Albern Coins consistently placed in the paper. While the early advertisements were quite small, they soon grew to one and then two pages as the company expanded. The familiar heading in every issue boasted of the consecutive number of ads the company had placed beginning in 1964, when CCN was known as Canada Coin News and later as it changed its name to Coin Stamp Antique News and finally toCCN.

Albern Coins holds the record for consecutive ads placed in CCN, having reached the incredible milestone of 1,000 consecutive ads in CCN volume 44, No. 6 in 2006.

In 1991, while attending the American Numismatic Association (ANA) convention in Chicago, Watson decided to take in an afternoon baseball game with his son Rick, leaving his table attended by the late Paul Fiocca, who at the time was publisher of CCN, and a Royal Canadian Mint staffer.

He returned to discover that sharp operators had outsmarted his temporary help, and closed a deal that ended up losing Albern thousands of dollars.

A class act, Watson thanked the pair for doing their best and brushed the mistake off as “an expensive baseball game.”

Stan Wright, of Calgary’s Diverse Equities, knew Watson quite well, having worked for him at one time.

“He was a complex man,” Wright says. “He was a good businessman who knew how to make deals happen, but he was also active in the community.”

Wright adds that in the 1980s Watson was the largest customer of the Royal Canadian Mint, supplying coins to other dealers in Canada and around the world.

“He was very consistent both in business and in his personal life.”

It was while working under contract to Watson that Wright put together a deal to purchase the famed 1911 silver dollar, and later put together the deal to sell it to famed collector Syd Belzberg.

“Owning that coin was a dream of Ernie’s,” Wright says. “It was a memorable time for me as well.”

He became heavily involved in the Calgary sports scene and supported both his son and daughter in their activities throughout their lives. Watson was also an avid sportsman who excelled in bowling, darts, curling and pool. He was president of Centennial Little League Baseball in northwest Calgary for many years. Later he also became the ‘Umpire in Chief’ for Calgary Big League Baseball and became a highly sought after umpire around major baseball leagues in Alberta.

Watson is survived by his wife of 60 years, Isabella and his son Rick (Paula), along with eight grandkids and many nieces and nephews. Watson was predeceased by his father Albert in 1983, mother Dorothy in 1998, daughter Roxanne and son-in-law Don Carlson in February 2014.

Watson will be greatly missed by the numismatic community, and his numismatic legacy will endure and will not be forgotten.

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