By Jesse Robitaille
Long-time dealer Don Olmstead, who was also a frequent contributor to CCN Trends, died on June 20 after a “short but courageous” battle with cancer.
A long-time member of the Canadian Association of Numismatic Dealers (CAND), Olmstead specialized in paper money and served the collecting community since 1976 as Olmstead Currency. Aside from his vast numismatic knowledge, he’s also fondly remembered for his strong ethics, his genial personality and his resolute willingness to help others.
“One of the finest men in our community, Don Olmstead, has passed away today after a short but courageous bout with cancer,” reads a statement published on June 20 by St. Croix Church, which Olmstead attended, in his hometown of Saint Stephen, N.B.
“Don has spent a lifetime trying to improve things for others. He will be missed by many people.”
Among the many people with heavy hearts are dealers and collectors in Canada’s numismatic community, which was quick to respond to Olmstead’s sudden death. He was a life member of the Canadian Paper Money Society (CPMS) and Atlantic Provinces Numismatic Association, a member of the International Bank Note Society and the chair of CAND’s dealer control committee.
“What a wonderful man Don Olmstead was,” wrote dealer Jared Stapleton, the owner of Metro Coin & Banknote, in a Facebook post soon after the notice was published by St. Croix Church. “Forget the butterfly effect; if you met Don, you experienced the Olmstead effect. He had such a positive effect on everyone he came into contact with. A man I can never forget, and a man that changed my life for the best for being my friend.”
Later, speaking with CCN, Stapleton said he viewed Olmstead “as a mentor in the business.”
“He provided a lot of great advice, wisdom and suggestions on how to do things, from helping with the coin show to everyday business in the shop,” added Stapleton, who knew Olmstead for about 15 years.
“I really believe in the Olmstead effect. The smile, the laugh, the wisdom—he was unerring in our conversations about numismatics and could joke around while being wholeheartedly sincere. Because he had a positive influence on everyone he talked to, Don was one of those guys that changed the world. The way he lived his life was unbelievable and inspiring.”
About 15 years ago, when he was only a novice collector, Stapleton began buying banknotes from Olmstead’s mail list and eBay auctions before meeting him in person at a Toronto coin show.
“From a novice collector to now a show promoter and coin dealer, I learned from Don’s advice, wisdom and encouragement the whole way through. Don always saw the positive potential in everyone, myself included, and bottom line, he was a great guy with full integrity.”
Also known for his creative advertisements – published in every other issue of CCN and elsewhere – Olmstead was a regular fixture on bourse floors, including most Royal Canadian Numismatic Association and Ontario Numismatic Association conventions in recent memory, plus other local shows, including Stapleton’s biannual Toronto Coin Expo.
“The Toronto Coin Expo was honoured to host Don and Karen Olmstead at our shows over the years,” said Stapleton, who added, “No one was ever wronged by Don.”
“He was a true gentleman, scholar and a godfather of the numismatic community. Don’s smile, laugh, wisdom and jokes will truly be missed.”
‘A YOUNG WHIPPERSNAPPER’
“Don’s passing leaves a gaping hole,” said dealer Michael Findlay, who knew Olmstead for nearly half a century, stretching back to when he first entered the paper money business.
At the time, Findlay’s father was also working as a dealer.
“I was just barely a teenager in the mid-’70s, but I got to know Don and Dick Lockwood, another fairly important paper money dealer at the time,” said Findlay, who’s also the editor of Trends and the president of CAND, which Olmstead joined in the 1980s.
“With Don’s knowledge of paper money – and back in the ’70s, he was obviously a young man, just in his 20s – he got along very well with my dad and Dick. He was a young whippersnapper in the paper money business, but he bought out my father’s paper money inventory in the late ’70s because my dad was getting out of the business and going full time into commodities.”
Olmstead eventually became the head of CAND’s dealer control committee, which managed all complaints made against CAND dealer members.
“He was someone who really believed in what we were doing as an organization,” said Findlay, who’s the owner of Certified Coins of Canada. “Don chaired the proceedings after any complaints and investigations, and he did every single one honestly, ethically and with enthusiasm. He always got to the bottom of it and made the right decision, and he was always willing to go above and beyond for the organization.”
In more recent years, although Olmstead was attending fewer shows than he used to, he was “always there,” Findlay added.
“Don was just always very friendly and easygoing, easy to talk to—a gentleman. His ethics were beyond question, and he was always willing to help people. He was relied upon for being the backbone of our Canadian paper money industry and – obviously, you never want to be, but – he was the senior member of the Canadian banknote collecting industry.”
With more than four decades in business, Olmstead represented one of the few remaining “old guard,” according to Findlay.
“You had guys like Don Olmstead, Joe Iorio, we just lost Doug Robins and Bob Armstrong recently—they’re that the generation before us, the bastion and backbone of what we think of as our senior members. These are the guys we look up to, and when we lose one, we say, ‘Who do we have next?’”
‘A GIANT, A MENTOR & A ROCK’
Another dealer who knew Olmstead for his entire collecting life was Brian Bell, of Geoffrey Bell Auctions in Moncton, N.B.
“My first and last impressions were that of integrity, humour and a true gift of giving,” said Bell.
Aside from shows and auctions, Bell and Olmstead hosted “hotel buys” – setting up shop at a hotel to view and buy locals’ material – in Fredericton.
“We laughed a lot, never taking things too seriously. He viewed life as a journey, often a bumpy road to challenge our thinking. We discussed politics, good food and often ended with family topics.”
But like many other people in the numismatic community, Olmstead’s relationship – and legacy – moved beyond business and into camaraderie.
“He was a giant, a mentor and a rock in the numismatic world. To me, he’ll be remembered as one of my best friends. Sharing time on Loon Lake with our families was one of my fondest memories, sharing his time and knowledge—that’s his legacy in my eyes. I miss him dearly.”
Dealer Sandy Campbell, owner of Proof Positive Coins in Baddeck, N.S., also knew Olmstead for about three decades.
“He was just a gem, and he was sort of a mentor to both collectors and dealers,” said Campbell. “He did things the way you’d expect people to do them in our business, so he had a lot of respect from both collectors and dealers.”
Over the years working, there were a lot of “inside jokes,” Campbell added.
“Everybody had fun with Don. He had a great rapport with the dealer community and the collector community, and we had a lot of private chuckles over the years. We’ve lost quite a few people in the industry in the last decade, but this one is a tough one for everybody.”
More than a paper money dealer, Olmstead was also “very active in his community from a charitable point of view,” Campbell said.
“He was a philanthropist. He donated a lot of time and money to things in his community, so that’s what you need to know about him right out of the gate. Second thing, it didn’t matter what the deal was – whether you were buying or selling with him – it was always fair. He never needed to get the last dollar, and you felt obligated to give him a fair deal because of the way he operated. He was just an extremely fair individual – he was very polite and very helpful to anybody and everybody – regardless of whether money was involved. That’s important to know about somebody in our industry, and it was never about the money for him.”
Olmstead’s paper money business was backed up by a long and successful career in insurance, so the former outlet was more about camaraderie for him.
“He didn’t need to do this anymore – he was in good financial stead. He did it really because he loved the hobby, he enjoyed the camaraderie and he enjoyed being around the dealer and collector community,” said Campbell. “The way he lived his life is commendable, quite frankly.”
In 2017, while Olmstead was serving as the co-chair of the St. Croix Vineyard and Friends refugee committee, he helped raise money to sponsor several families of Syrian refugees – nearly 20 people in total – who relocated to Saint Stephen.
“We have a reasonable fund to help them get settled. They get a small amount from the federal government, but it’s insufficient to furnish a home, downpayment on the rent, and medical is another big challenge; that we learned with the first family here,” he said in a 2018 interview with CBC News in Saint John, N.B. “They had significant medical costs that are not covered by the medical program that the feds have in place.”
Earlier this year, Olmstead also co-chaired a group of volunteers – the Saint Stephen chapter of Dialogue New Brunswick – who organized the “Know Your Neighbour” event, the goal of which was to “build understanding and social harmony within the community.”
“When people understand the story of people who grew up in slightly different communities than what they typically associate with, it really helps,” said Olmstead in a radio interview with 98.1 Charlotte FM before the event, which was cancelled due to COVID-19. “All over the western world, we’re seeing more division into social and economic groups, and it harms us. Rich versus poor, immigrant versus local. There’s inherent resistance to people that they feel are different, but in fact, we aren’t.”
Olmstead’s work in the community didn’t go unnoticed in the numismatic community as evidenced by comments from Stephen Oatway, president of the CPMS.
“Don was indeed a multifaceted individual,” said Oatway, who met Olmstead in the early 1980s, when “as a struggling university student, I was attempting to put together a cheque collection, and he took the time to help.”
“A highly respected dealer, but who was also was very involved in his community, and the welcoming of Syrian immigrants to Saint Stephen. Many collectors and dealers alike valued his opinion, and his assistance was invaluable in the formation of many collections. He will be greatly missed by the numismatic community.”
Geoffrey Bell, a past president of the CPMS, also commented on Olmstead and his wife’s missionary work in Africa and other countries.
“He was always helping families in need in his community of St. Stephen, N.B.,” said Bell. “He was instrumental in helping Syrian families settle in his hometown. It would be difficult to find a more giving couple. Don wasn’t always a numismatic dealer. He was involved in city and town administrations as a town manager. He later ran a very successful insurance business in St. Stephen.”
Bell also offered some intimate memories of Olmstead.
“On a personal level, Don had a great sense of humour, loved good food to the point where he once owned a bakeshop to satisfy his pastry urges. He always brought me a Coffee Crisp chocolate bar to each show that served as his ‘coffee break.’ His humorous Canadian Coin News ads were conversation pieces. His insightful opinions were often sought at professional meetings. Don will be sorely missed by all who knew him.”
Olmstead is survived by his wife Karen, daughter Megan and sons Adam and David.