Fred Lake has had a profound impact on my numismatic career. I have only known the man for just a few short years and he has been offering mail-bid auctions of quality numismatic books for decades now out of his Florida home with the help of his wife. I was deeply disappointed to see his email several weeks back that he was closing up the business. I was ever saddened to read the next email that he would be entering hospice care soon. Of course, the inevitable happened and Fred passed away before the end of 2016.
First of all, Fred has had an amazing outlook and an ever yielding sense of gratitude. Every email exchange I have had with him over the years has been honest and without fluff. Anytime there was a difficulty in packaging my winning auctions or in which it was taking longer than expected, an email arrived stating everything as such. That kind of honesty was refreshing when so many other customer service representatives I have dealt with in my life are not trying to own up to a problem but beg for my continued support and allegiance. I never felt that with Fred. I didn’t need to. His services have always filled a need and I’ve been glad to pay for that.
I found Fred’s mail-bid book sales a few years ago with the help of the E-Sylum weekly email newsletter. This wonderful newsletter that goes out to about 1,000 passionate numismatic bibliophiles caters to an audience that likely has more books about coins than coins themselves. We’re mostly an old-fashioned type and quite a few of the stories deal with the quirky news in antiquarian books and editorials that decry the success of digital publishing over the value of a stalwart physical text.
Participating in Fred’s auctions were always a pleasure, especially as a younger collector on a modest income. Even discount retailers like Amazon often did not have the numismatic titles I was craving. They do offer a decent variety, but anyone who gets involved in numismatics over a period of time realizes that there is so much out there and many of the in-depth books are not offered on Amazon or are at price points that are far out of the average person’s budget.
Fred worked really hard to catalog books from consignors for just about every price point. Some books realized several hundred dollars a piece, most went for the average price of a hardcover book today. Occasionally I was able to get some great research material for under $5. As shipping costs have gone higher in recent years I imagine it became much tougher to offer those attractive price points for collectors like myself. Still, he continued to consign budget options for buyers like myself.
In any given mail bid auction there was such variety and such gems I had never heard of that it was inviting just to receive the email PDF of what he might be offering for that sale. Many times I had the pleasure of bidding low amounts on obscure books that might only appeal to tiny collecting audiences. For example, I was able to secure a number of specialized texts relating to the collecting of ancient coins. Some were previous editions of the Sears books, others highly detailed examinations of a given Emperor or Islamic Caliph. Finding these anywhere else would have been troublesome.
For the collector of famously owned books, Fred offered a great variety of options as well. Many times consignors themselves were the authority on the topic and their collecting notes or auction results were written in the margins of their books. That information could be covetous for someone cataloging a series or wanting to own the “notebook” of a competing collector. Signed editions were quite common and always reasonably priced. I think my favorite acquisition was a hardcover of the now infamous pedophile Walter Breen
I think my favorite acquisition was a hardcover of the now infamous pedophile Walter Breen inscribed by the author to a fan at a coin show. Yes, you read that correctly. Upon consignment years later the recipient scratched out their name so as not to be associated with the evils committed by Breen. Breen is a whole separate topic of a numismatic genius who authored several important books on coins. Years later he would write in favor of pedophilia in Greek Love. He was sentenced to 10 years prison for his actions but died of liver cancer after just one year of serving. Let’s switch from that whackjob back to the hero of the story.
In Fred Lake’s last email to his customers, in order to dispel worry and commotion Fred point blank stated that he was entering hospice soon for inoperable cancer. I wish we didn’t have to read such statements with such frequency in our lives. Fred’s followup though was all the more satisfying. Quite simply the man related that he is quite aware of his circumstances and that it has been a pleasure to have reached 87 years in this life. He is grateful for all of the fun and all of the connections he made numismatically. He couldn’t be more honest.
Fred’s follow-up though was all the more satisfying. Quite simply the man related that he is quite aware of his circumstances and that it has been a pleasure to have reached 87 years in this life. He is grateful for all of the fun and all of the connections he made numismatically. He couldn’t be more honest.
Please read some wonderful recollections from other collectors. It’s easy to see why the man was so well-praised. From what I understand Fred loved to collect American Coppers, half-cent and one cent coins of America’s 18th and 19th century.
Fred Lake’s numismatic book sales will live on. The website has not been updated yet. To be fair, Fred hardly ever did any updating with the website aside from listing the newest mail bid sale. If you visit right now it will likely still have the same pre-millennium feel of websites of old. Fred preferred that ease of access.
Fred if your family is reading this I just want to say ‘thank you.’ Fred has inspired a young collector in his professionalism and honesty. His book sales were unique and a highlight for me for years. I will miss opening the mail to well-made numismatic masterpieces with the faint smell of pipe tobacco from their previous owners. Thank you, Fred for further encouraging the hobby and reminding all of us “buy the book before the coin.”