Jim Charlton: a class act for more than a century

By now you will have already seen the cover of this issue, and know that James Charlton, a man rightly called the “Dean of Canadian Numismatics,” is no longer with us. Jim, as most of us knew him, was a true gentleman who was blessed with a long life and a very successful career. Elsewhere in this issue are remembrances from other numismatists, but I thought I would add a few of my own here.

I find it remarkable that I knew Jim for nearly a quarter-century, and that he was nearly 80 years old when I first met him. At that time he was already retired, and a living legend in the truest sense of the word. He had started out as a coin enthusiast, and then a part-time dealer, then a book publisher, and finally a numismatic expert. Along the way he was also an auctioneer and president of the then Canadian Numismatic Association. Eventually his name became synonymous with coin collecting in Canada. For years he was present at almost every numismatic event of significance and always had a quick smile and firm handshake.

I also found him to be just as informed as you would expect to find someone who ushered in the modern era of Canadian numismatics. One of my great pleasures was receiving mail from Jim, the notes were invariably fun and informative, and often humorous. The day he turned 100, he actually phoned my office and left me a voice mail. “I just thought I’d let you know I did make it,” he proclaimed. That year was special. Jim hadn’t travelled too much, but since it was too big a deal to miss out on, he turned up in Windsor, Ont., at the RCNA convention. Arriving late at night accompanied by a relative, he carried his own suitcase into the hotel room. After checking in, he wandered down to the lobby for a few minutes to see who was hanging about.

The next morning he showed up at a breakfast meeting. Of course, the room and the meeting both stopped for a few minutes as he plunked himself down and carried on as usual. That evening he was the featured guest at the awards banquet. A large cake was decorated in his honour, and the room went crazy when he showed up, holding his arms up in a gesture that was combined victory and greeting. Even though he continued to drive a vehicle well into his 90s, by now Jim was slowing down. The last time I saw him was at the 2012 Ontario Numismatic Association banquet, in Waterloo, Ont. I had the honour of being the master of ceremonies, and Jim was an honoured guest.

Dan Gosling, a former RCNA president in town for the event, volunteered to drive an hour each way to pick up Jim, and then another two-hour round trip to take him back later the same day. Jim showed up for the banquet just a little early. Seeing him enter I showed him where his spot was at the head table, chatted for a few minutes, then went about my other duties. About 15 minutes later, I noticed Jim still standing. I went over and suggested that perhaps he would prefer to sit down. He replied that Dan had brought him, and he couldn’t sit down till Dan did. I reminded him that, at the age of 101, he had earned the right to sit down any time he wanted, but Jim remained adamant, standing until it was time to start the dinner. It was typical of his style that he continued to demonstrate class and good manners until the very end.

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