By Jesse Robitaille
Remembered as a legend of Canadian numismatics and with many decades of service as a trusted coin dealer, Bob Armstrong, of Owen Sound, Ont., died on Nov. 8 at the age of 84.
A life member of the Royal Canadian Numismatic Association (RCNA) and Ontario Numismatic Association (ONA), the latter of which he joined in 1978, Armstrong was also an honorary life member of the Canadian Association of Numismatic Dealers (CAND).
“The numismatic world has lost another of the true greats in Bob Armstrong, who was ONA life member #46. Over the years, his support for the ONA was much more than just being a member or dealer at our conventions. He was a part of our foundation,” said ONA President Scott Douglas.
“Bob was a pillar of our community having a reputation for honesty and integrity. He was always ready and willing to help a collector meet his collecting goals and needs. Bob instilled confidence in you because we always knew he would give it to you straight. Bob Armstrong is a legend and will be very much missed. In fact, he already is.”
Armstrong’s presence on the bourse “has been missed considerably since his retirement,” said RCNA President Bob Forbes.
“It is with a great deal of sadness that we at the RCNA find out about Bob Armstrong’s passing. Bob was a very fair and ethical dealer, and a good friend of numismatics. We wish to pass on our sincere condolences to Bob’s family.”
At the 2009 ONA Convention in Kitchener – Armstrong’s final show before his “official retirement” – he was presented with a certificate honouring his decades of service as a dealer.
“He was the dean,” said fellow dealer Ted Bailey, of Paris, Ont., whose friendship with Armstrong extended beyond the bourse.
“We hung together for years, going out for supper and Vegas on his birthday. We had good times together.”
Armstrong is also remembered for his mentorship of other collectors and dealers, including Sandy Campbell, owner of Nova Scotia’s Proof Positive Coins.
“He was the ultimate coin dealer gentleman and treated everybody with great respect, both when he was buying and selling,” said Campbell, who added Armstrong treated “every client like they were his best client.”
“He had a way with people that was very unique, and I don’t think anyone could ever match it. Every dealer looked up to Bob because of what he represented. He was a good person.”
With Armstrong’s departure from the hobby in 2009, “he left a gaping hole that was never filled,” Campbell said, who knew Armstrong for nearly four decades and considered him a “very good” friend.
“His role in the industry was the ultimate show dealer; he’d show up at shows, and people would line up at his table.”
Armstrong was also a mentor to Gatewest Coin’s Ian Laing, who called him “the best show coin dealer who ever lived in Canadian numismatics.”
“As far as honesty and integrity, I’ve never met anyone who had it to a greater degree than Bob had it; he never did any deal that wasn’t fair and right – a stellar reputation.”
In addition to being a fixture on bourse floors across Canada and into the U.S., Armstrong was also a touted coin grader who at one time served as one of four graders with the Toronto-based International Coin Certification Service.
“He was known as an ‘expert’ coin grader long before third-party graders came into existence,” said RCNA Executive Secretary Paul Johnson, who added Armstrong’s handwriting is well-regarded throughout the hobby.
“He had a special way of writing the information about the coin on each two-by-two holder in black ink so you knew that it was a coin he graded and sold.”
Other graders “even tried to match his handwriting,” Campbell said, “but everything he did always seemed a little better than most. He was iconic with everything he did in the industry.”
Laing echoed these comments, saying Armstong had the “absolute ability to grade coins in a manner that was conservative before such things as grading services existed. His grading was always accepted as the class standard.”
“His handwriting and style on two-by-two flips was so well-known and respected that dealers would often leave the coins in Bob’s holders when reselling them,” said Ontario collector and dealer Roger Paulen, owner of Sherwood Park Pennies, who added he only met Armstrong once, “but he left a great impression.
“Bob was a gentleman’s dealer, always fair, and a conservative grader with a knack for finding coins with great eye-appeal.”
When dealing with his customers, Armstrong was “very fair with his pricing and was very personable and reliable,” added Johnson, who has been a coin collector since 1965.
“I always made sure that I chatted with him at each show that we both attended. He always had a positive look on the numismatic hobby. This is truly a sad loss for our hobby.”
Another collector and author of four books on the die varieties of Canada’s Victorian cents, Rob Turner echoed the comments about Armstrong’s way of doing business.
“Bob was one of the nicest, most straightforward, and honest dealers I ever had the pleasure to meet,” said Turner, who’s also the RCNA’s first vice-president.
“He was a great guy.”
Not only praised in Canada but also south of the border, Armstrong was presented with a medal at the 75th-anniversary convention of the American Numismatic Association (ANA) in 1966 as an “ANA friend and long-time and well-respected Canadian Coin Dealer.”
Armstrong was also a supporter of the RCNA’s “Coin Kids” program, to which he often donated.
In 2004, Armstrong, his friend Charles Moore and Kitchener, Ont.-based dealer Colonial Acres made donations to the ONA to assist with the cost of its bimonthly journal, The Ontario Numismatist.
Armstrong is survived by his wife of 62 years Joyce Armstrong as well as two daughters, one son, eight grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.