by Burton S. Blumert by Burton S. Blumert
I was born (a few months before the Crash) at 4:20 PM on February 11, 1929, in the Crotona Park Hospital, the Bronx, New York. My mother: a pert 20-year-old, my father, 26, a bon vivant. Both were homegrown New Yorkers, and I would be an only child. From a poor family, Goldie was eldest of four. The youngest of three, Max was doted on by his parents and sisters. He would remain “spoiled” his entire life.
My paternal grandfather earned $10,000 per year as a designer of women’s clothes. Actually, with sketchbook in hand, he shopped the show windows of Manhattan’s finer stores, and “stole” the latest fashions with his pad. Within hours, inexpensive “knock-offs” were being manufactured and destined for department stores all over the nation. Grandpa Jake’s skills kept him well paid and in demand until his mid-80’s.
Unlike most young couples that were forced to live in cramped quarters with their parents, my folks rented an airy, bright apartment in a brand new building on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. For young middle-class Jews moving up, this was the place to be. I’m told that parts of the Grand Concourse remain a prestige address to this day. It seemed likely that the Bronx would have been the permanent home for the young Blumerts, but then, when I was four-years-old, my sunny childhood was disrupted.
I would reach adulthood before I learned the details of what had happened. Max had developed a great respect and affection for the young Italian mobsters and their family affiliations in the Bronx. One night, after closing the speakeasy he worked in, he witnessed the murder of a Mafia family member. The Bronx DA sought my father as a material witness. Fortunately, Max’s “pals” gave him the opportunity to quietly disappear “on the lam” rather than have him face a more predictable and grisly fate. That wasn’t so good for my mother and me. For the next three to four years, I have vague and unpleasant flashes of us moving from one place to another. Finally, we wound up living in a grungy, furnished flat in Brooklyn Heights. To this day I despise beaded room dividers.
Most likely, Max spent those years in Cleveland, and I recall speaking to him on the phone once or twice. I don’t know where the money was coming from, but my mother always seemed to have cash. Eventually, it was safe for Max to come back to New York, but, the Bronx remained off limits, and we became a Brooklyn family. I spent eight years in public grammar school with the same 32 kids. They were all Jews, except the Italian janitor’s kid. The teachers were mostly Irish, and the school principal, Miss Joanna Becker, was a magnificent, and imposing German spinster.
We didn’t know it at the time, but our education was rigorous and first rate. After all, this was the 1930’s, the depth of the Depression, and jobs were scarce. The New York City school system attracted the best. A teacher’s job was a plum. On to four years of high school. Although my grades were good, there was always a group of girls who were at the top. I easily won entrance to Washington Square College, NYU. NYU was a private school and few parents could afford the tuition. At the time most of the kids who continued their education attended the free city colleges, like CCNY.
Can you imagine having Greenwich Village as your campus? The Village was a cultural treasure with creative people everywhere. While walking on the busy streets, I encountered important writers daily. Poetess and critic Eda Lou Walton taught my American Lit. course, and the American Prima Ballerina Maria Tallchief sat next to me at the coffee house. (How could I not fall in love with her?) My parents read books and were high-school graduates, but I was not prepared for the culture shock I faced in the classroom and on the Village streets. The art and genius of Western Civilization was overcoming my senses. I became a giant sponge absorbing everything, but retaining little.
I was an adolescent with little guidance. Several teachers tried to help. Poetess Eda Lou Walton made a mark on my life with her friendship, and I think of her when I talk to young people today. I remember my last year at NYU. Graduate or law school remained a possibility, but it was the draft that occupied most of my thoughts. The Korean War was raging and every day there were new directives on how you could or couldn’t avoid the draft. After I graduated from NYU with a BA degree, a family friend got me a job in a defense plant. While the job got me exempted from the draft, I remember cutting aluminum blocks with a band saw and doing it badly.
The days there were numbered. The draft board was tightening the noose around my neck. I quit the defense plant and was soon taking a US Army pre-induction medical exam. In spite of complaining of poor health at every station, I passed and was waiting for the letter of “Greetings” from the US Army. And then a stroke of luck. The US Air Force was having a tough time recruiting Flight Personnel. Potential applicants didn’t want to be stuck with an enlistment period of four years if they flunked out of flight training. To attract these folks, recruiters came up with a two-year enlistment plan. I was first in line that next morning to enlist in the Air Force as an Aviation Cadet. It was interesting how quickly my general health improved as I breezed through the very same physical exam I had almost failed just weeks earlier.
On the other hand, it was disappointing to wash out of flight training due to a problem with depth perception, but my Air Force career, although short, was with some distinction. I earned a 3rd stripe in less than 14 months, a record at the time. More important, my term in the Air Force was only two years. My first semester at NYU Law School started days after my release from active duty, but I knew from day one that I was not to be a lawyer. In spite of family pressures, law was not my calling. After dropping out of law school, leaving NYC seemed appropriate. While in the Air Force, I saw much of the US and learned that there was more than NYC. Answering a “blind” NY Times help wanted ad, I hired on with a company whose clients were suffering losses due to employee theft and inefficiency. After a short training course, I became an industrial spy.
Only top management knew my identity. I had two assignments, both in department stores, one in Rochester, New York, and the other in Dayton, Ohio. I uncovered “crimes” involving buyers who received “gifts” and provided false inventory figures. I thought I was headed for a great career with the firm until I was told that my next assignment was to infiltrate a Mid-West industrial plant allegedly infected with gambling and drugs. I turned the assignment down and decided to accept a job offer from Reed’s, a chain of women’s millinery stores. It wasn’t as interesting as the industrial spy job, but my chances of survival were better. What made the hat shop job appealing was that my territory would cover the Old South from the Virginias and the Carolinas to Alabama and Louisiana.
After years of working for Reed’s in the South, there was an opening in the company’s California territory. Moving to a suburb south of San Francisco in 1958 was irresistible. My base was in San Mateo County’s new regional shopping center and nearby was a Coin Shop geared toward collectors. I soon befriended the owner. Within three months I evolved from a coin-collecting customer to becoming his partner. For a while I split my time between both businesses, but I knew I would have to decide upon one or the other. It wasn’t easy deciding between the security of the old-line retail firm or the risk of going on my own. I chose to go out on my own. I never had time to suffer any remorse. Incidentally, the security of Reed’s was an illusion. Two years after I sold my first gold coin, they were out of business.
The coin business placed me in the middle of the most amazing monetary revolution. For the first time in America’s history, silver was removed from the coinage, and Silver Certificates were no longer to be honored. Camino Coin became an integral part of what followed; the disappearance from circulation of the silver coins and the change in regulation allowing the trading of gold. Camino Coin earned a solid reputation in the industry. I am very proud of that. Surviving since 1959 is an accomplishment in itself. This led inexorably to wanting to know more. More about money: more about the history of money. Ultimately, I discovered the writings of Murray Rothbard. In 1973, I would meet the great man and this changed my life forever. I became a passenger on Murray’s freedom train. My fate was sealed when I met Lew Rockwell in 1980. The rest of the story you probably know, or can figure out.
This recently discovered essay was written in 2003.
Burt Blumert (1929-2009) was owner of Camino Coins, president of the Center for Libertarian Studies, chairman of the Mises Institute, publisher of LewRockwell.com, and the author of Bagels, Barry Bonds, & Rotten Politicians.