The American Numismatic Association (ANA) has renamed its top award, the Farran Zerbe Memorial Award, after its namesake was found to have made several moral missteps.
During an open session meeting of the ANA board of governors earlier this year, officials honoured the wishes of nearly 20 past Zerbe Award winners by voting to remove his name from the honour effective next year.
The past winners requested the name change in a June 2020 email to ANA officials, according to Coin World, which quoted them as suggesting “either a past or present person or persons who more fittingly will represent the highest ideals of integrity, numismatics and the American Numismatic Association.”
Kerry Wetterstrom, a Pennsylvania resident who previously lived in Colorado, California and Canada, recently received this year’s Zerbe Award – its 70th presentation – which was the last time it will be presented under that name.
The accolade will now be known as the Distinguished Service Award “until such time as the name of an exemplary, deceased ANA member be brought forward to the board, after vetting by the awards committee, for consideration of formal approval with proper funding arrangements for such naming rights,” according to the recent motion.
A well-known figure in 20th-century numismatics, Joseph Farran Zerbe served as the ANA’s president from 1907-09.
According to an ANA press release announcing the name change, “A retrospective look at Zerbe’s professional dealings uncovered accusations that he made deceptively inflated claims about the future value of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition gold dollars he sold; complaints of hucksterism and fraud for his creation and sale of coin-like 1904 gold-plated exposition souvenirs; allegations that he unscrupulously obtained personal ownership of the Numismatist in 1908 from relatives of the ANA’s late founder, Dr. George F. Heath (then ANA vice-president W.W.C. Wilson subsequently purchased the periodical and donated it to the association in 1910); and claims of bribery involving the 1909 ANA election in which Zerbe’s friend John M. Henderson was named president.”
Zerbe died in 1949, and two years later, the ANA handed out his namesake award for the first time.
A CONTROVERSIAL DECISION
At least one ANA member, Scott Barman, the publisher of the Coin Collector’s Blog at coinsblog.ws, objects to the association’s decision.
On his blog, he wrote the ANA is “assessing 112-year-old accusations of conducting business” while also sitting “idly by while ANA dealers on television have done the same thing (as Zerbe).”
“I have documented inflated prices and deceptively inflated claims by Rare Collectibles TV (RCTV), DCN Coin Talk, and other scams that walked into my shop that purchased coins from these members of the ANA,” wrote Barman in a Sept. 23 post on his blog, which received the Numismatic Literary Guild’s “Best Blog” award last year. “The RCTV pitch included Miles Standish, and the DCN Coin Talk pitch included David Ganz. Ganz, like Zerbe, is a past ANA President.”
He added: “What is the difference between the claim that Zerbe made inflated claims on coins versus the television hucksters? Zerbe is dead and cannot defend himself. The hucksters are living and have given money to the ANA.”
Barman also suggested the ANA board should publish the details of the allegations, “including source material and where it was discovered,” lest the association joins “the ‘woke community’ looking to cancel a historic member of the numismatic community.”
He hopes to see the board reinstate Zerbe’s name to the ANA’s highest honour.