Mehl, Benjamin Maximillian (1884–1957)

By: Hollace Ava Weiner

Type: Biography

Published: May 29, 2021

Updated: June 1, 2021


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Benjamin Maximillian Mehl, the world-renowned numismatist, credited with popularizing coin collecting, was born in Łódź, Poland (then part of the Russian Empire), on November 5, 1884. In the 1890s, together with his parents, Rochel Rivkah (Goldstick) Mehl and Solomon Isaac Mehl, and his four older siblings, he immigrated to New York and then to Fort Worth. One of his brothers, Israel Nathan Mehl, became a Jewish community leader and Zionist organizer in Fort Worth.

Mehl attended school until he was sixteen and then worked full-time as a clerk in his family’s clothing store in Fort Worth. Mehl developed an early interest in coin collecting. He researched rare coins in his spare time and began buying and selling them by mail. In 1903 he placed his first advertisement in The Numismatist, the monthly publication of the American Numismatic Association, and sold thirty-three lots of rare coins and notes to the highest bidders. By 1906 he was working full-time as a coin dealer, and in 1908 he launched both the Star Rare Coin Company and the Numismatic Bank of Texas. In 1906 he published the first edition of The Star Coin Book: An Encyclopedia of Rare American and Foreign Coins. Mehl, known as B. Max Mehl, published the first edition of a more thorough reference book, The Star Rare Coin Encyclopedia, in 1908. By the beginning of 1924 the later booklet had reached an annual circulation of 70,000.

Dubbed the “P. T. Barnum of numismatics” by fellow dealer Ade Kossoff, Mehl, a self-schooled authority, broadened the hobby’s appeal through his advertising and publicity campaigns. In 1906 he became the first numismatist to advertise in a non-numismatic publication with an advertisement in Collier’s. By 1924 he was advertising on fifty radio stations in the Mutual Broadcasting System. From the mid-1920s to the late 1930s, he spent an average of $100,000 on advertising annually. One of his most notable publicity stunts involved offering a fifty-dollar bounty for 1913 Liberty Head nickels, although he knew that there were none in circulation. In several cities, transportation delays were reportedly caused by trolley conductors scrutinizing change in vain hopes of finding one such coin. His payment of $200 for a single rare penny was also widely publicized.

By 1912 Mehl had a staff of ten to handle correspondence. In 1916 Fort Worth architect Wiley Gulick Clarkson designed the Max Mehl Building, a three-story, 15,000-square-foot office building, located on West Magnolia Avenue. Mehl had forty employees in the 1920s. In 1939, with a staff of fifty, he boasted that he employed more people than all other American coin dealers combined. He required such a large staff in part because, unlike other large dealers concentrated on the East Coast, Mehl conducted his business almost entirely by mail. He claimed to receive more mail than the rest of Fort Worth combined. Reportedly, incoming mail peaked by 1935 with 1.25 million inquiries. Mehl counted among his famous clients Winston Churchill, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and King Farouk of Egypt. 

Mehl’s family was active at Congregation Ahavath Sholom, a synagogue organized in 1892.  He later joined the Beth-El Congregation, a synagogue chartered in 1902. He married Ethel Rosen in Fort Worth on August 18, 1907; they had two daughters, Lorraine and Danna.  He moved to New York City for a partnership with numismatist Wayte Raymond in 1912 but returned to his beloved city after only one month. In Fort Worth, Mehl was president of both the Rotary and the Exchange Club, Illustrious Potentate of the Moslah Temple of the Shrine, a director at Colonial Country Club and the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, and chairman of a local Selective Service draft board during World War II. The National Conference of Christians and Jews honored him for his civic and humanitarian achievements in 1956.

B. Max Mehl died in Fort Worth on September 28, 1957, and he was buried in the Beth-El section of Fort Worth’s Greenwood Cemetery. He was among the first six numismatists inducted into the CoinFacts Dealer Hall of Fame, established in 2010 by the Professional Coin Grading Service.

Encyclopedic Dictionary of Numismatic Biographies, “Mehl, Benjamin Maximillian” (http://www.numismaticmall.com/numismaticmall-com/mehl-benjamin-maximillian), accessed May 22, 2021. B. Max Mehl, “A Brief History of the Mehl Numismatic Establishment,” March 1, 1939, Fort Worth Jewish Archives at Beth-El Congregation, Mehl, B. Max and Ethel folder. Peter J. Molyneux, “The Romance of Money: A Texas Master of Coins,” 1935, Fort Worth Jewish Archives at Beth-El Congregation, Mehl, B. Max and Ethel folder. Saturday Evening Post, February 3, 1949. Pete Smith, “Numismatic History—Coin Dealer B. Max Mehl—A Texas Master of Coins,” CoinWeek, February 3, 2016 (https://coinweek.com/education/b-max-mehl-a-texas-master-of-coins/), accessed May 22, 2021.

Categories:

  • Patrons, Collectors, and Philanthropists
  • Peoples
  • Jews
  • Poles

Time Periods:

  • Progressive Era
  • Great Depression
  • World War II
  • Texas Post World War II

Places:

  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Fort Worth

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Hollace Ava Weiner, “Mehl, Benjamin Maximillian,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 21, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/mehl-benjamin-maximillian.

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May 29, 2021
June 1, 2021

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