Bowers: What Isn’t In a Name?
Playing the Hobby’s Naming-Rights Game
By Leon Worden
As a brand, the name "Bowers" is worth a fortune to someone else.
Bowers has nothing to do with management of the coin company that bears his name Bowers and Merena Galleries. Instead, since 2003, Quentin David Bowers has flown under the rather nondescript banner, American Numismatic Rarities LLC. Why?
Well, in 2000, Bowers and his partners sold Bowers and Merena Galleries to Collectors Universe, the corporate parent of the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS). Included in the sale was the right to use the name Bowers and Merena.
Q. David Bowers and his management team stayed with the Bowers and Merena division of Collectors Universe until early 2003. The following year, Collectors Universe got out of the retail coin business and sold Bowers and Merena Galleries to Greg Manning Auctions Inc. of Irvine, California, now a global collectibles company doing business as the Escala Group.
Meanwhile, Christine Karstedt, who had been vice president of Bowers and Merena, formed ANR, and Q. David Bowers joined as an equity partner and numismatic director.
"There has been confusion ever since Bowers and Merena and ANR have been two separate companies," said Steve Ivy, co-chairman of rival Heritage Auction Galleries. "I mean, most people in the business understand who’s who and who’s where, but it is a confusing situation."
Ivy said new customers have come to Heritage on numerous occasions after wrongly assuming they would be dealing with Q. David Bowers at Bowers and Merena. It happens "less so now than it used to," Ivy said, "but initially it happened all the time."
"Q. David Bowers is a good guy and a great numismatist," he said. "How other people use his name is a bit of a different story."
Bowers and Merena Galleries currently advertises that it has handled "four of the five most valuable United States coin collections ever sold" the Eliasberg, Bass, Garrett and Norweb collections.
"When the world’s most valuable collection of United States coins, the nearly $45 million Louis E. Eliasberg Sr. Collection, was brought to market by the Eliasberg family, we catalogued and sold it," the company states.
It’s true that Bowers and Merena did so, but those sales were cataloged and conducted by Q. David Bowers and his team, not by employees of the Escala Group subsidiary.
Escala has bigger problems than dubious claims to other people’s work. Shareholders are suing and the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating Escala’s role in supplying stamps to its majority owner, the Spanish auction firm Afinsa Bienes Tangibles, which promised investors guaranteed rates of return. In September, Escala severed business ties with Afinsa; it remains to be seen whether the fallout will affect Escala’s other business units, including Teletrade, Spectrum Numismatics and Bowers and Merena.
None of the players was willing to discuss the sale of the Bowers and Merena name to Collectors Universe, except to say that the transfer documents were sealed "for legal reasons." It is widely assumed that with the sale, Bowers relinquished his right to affix his name to a company that sells coins.
"I would suppose that if there were any way Dave could use his name, it would have been used by now," Karstedt said.
"I do have Q. David Bowers LLC, which is a company that advertises in paper money magazines and so forth," Bowers said. He formed it in March 2003 but doesn’t use it to sell coins.
Bowers said he no longer wants his personal name in lights anyway.
"I certainly wouldn’t want to have ‘Q. David Bowers Rare Coins’ or something. It would be a bad thing, because then people would want to talk only to me."
Having his name on someone else’s banner can be unfortunate, Bowers said, "because people sometimes think I live in California" where the current Bowers and Merena is headquartered "which of course I don’t, but I suppose that’s the way the world turns."
"I don’t intend to counter it by having a company with my name here [in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire]. I don’t need it and don’t want to do it. I think almost anybody who is aware can find me or ANR. I don’t think that’s too much of a problem, actually."
Collectors Universe President David Hall agrees.
"Dave Bowers is a national treasure," Hall said. "I think that wherever he’s doing whatever he does, all of the collectors are going to know about it, whether his name is on the marquee or not."
It certainly won’t appear on the marquee in New York City, where Stack’s has merged with ANR. Come November, the short-lived ANR brand name was scheduled to fade into history and don’t expect the new firm to be called "Stack’s and Bowers."
"I don’t believe my family would want to dilute the name of Stack’s, which stood alone for all these years," said Harvey Stack, who shares the title of "chairman emeritus" with Bowers in the expanded company.
"It’s nothing personal against David," he said, "but David’s brand is all over the place from previous endeavors. I remember when it was Bowers and Ruddy and when it was Dave by himself, and then it was Bowers and Merena and then with General Mills and all this other business."
General Mills isn’t a metaphor. Throughout his career, Bowers has started companies, built them into respected firms and sold investment positions in them. In the mid-1970s, Bowers and his then-partner, James F. Ruddy, sold a majority stake in their coin company to General Mills, which decided it wanted to add coins to a bizarre portfolio that included Parker Bros. games, Monet jewelry, Eddie Bauer and Izod apparel and H.E. Harris Co., the world’s largest stamp dealer.
Raymond N. Merena had gone to work for Bowers and Ruddy’s first joint enterprise, Empire Coin Co. of Johnson City, New York, in 1962. In 1966, the partners sold Empire to Paramount International Coin Corp. of Englewood, Ohio. Merena went to Paramount. In 1982, Merena returned to Bowers and Ruddy in Los Angeles, and Ruddy retired. In 1983, General Mills went back to making Wheaties and divested its non-food assets. Bowers and Merena repurchased the company in their names.
Bowers is certainly not the only person to sell a coin company along with its brand name.
"It’s the same thing with Superior," said Heritage’s Ivy. "This is the third or fourth generation of Superior. The Goldbergs are living; they’re the ones who actually did most of the things that Superior claims it has done."
Isadore Goldberg founded Superior Stamp & Coin Co. in 1931. Eventually, the Beverly Hills company was purchased by sports mogul and ancient coin dealer Bruce McNall, who would serve four years in prison for defrauding banks. Superior went into bankruptcy, and the company was sold and resold. Dealer Silvano DiGenova acquired it in 2001 and reversed its sagging fortunes.
Now known as Superior Galleries Inc., the company is being purchased in a $14-million stock transaction by DGSE Companies Inc., aka Dallas Gold and Silver Exchange, whose profits were buoyed by a rising bullion market during the first half of 2006.
When the acquisition is complete, Superior’s principal shareholder, a bank on the island of Antigua in the West Indies, will emerge as the largest shareholder of the combined company. DiGenova and the rest of the management team will remain.
Across the street from Superior Galleries in Beverly Hills, California, Isadore Goldberg’s grandson, Ira, and his partner, Lawrence, are doing business as Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins and Collectibles Inc.
Their situation is actually the reverse of Bowers’: The Goldberg family started in the coin business under a fictitious name, sold the company and restarted under their own names.
The case of Chester L. "Chet" Krause offers another parallel. A carpenter who had a yen for collecting things especially coins and old cars, Chet Krause started publishing the weekly Numismatic News in 1952. As time went by, he launched additional periodicals and in 1964, he incorporated his business as Krause Publications Inc.
In 1972, he added the first annual Standard Catalog of World Coins, which he co-wrote with Clifford Mishler, to a lineup that eventually would grow to 55 titles covering a panorama of collectibles, from comics and classic cars to records and old movies.
By the end of the 1980s, it was time to think about passing the torch. In 1987, Krause initiated an employee stock ownership plan; in 1990, he stepped down as president; and by 1995, he had sold his company’s entire stock to his loyal employees.
In July 2002, the employees cashed out, selling their company for $120 million to F+W Publications, a publisher of special-interest magazines and books. Upon the acquisition, the new F+W subsidiary filed for a trademark on the name "Krause Publications."
Still on the payroll, Krause wasn’t happy with the direction he saw the new owners taking the company.
"At one time, it was a big family
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