Copyright 2011-2018 John N. Lupia, III

This brief biographical sketch brings to light some details about Augustus Charles Gruhlke, a very important figure in American numismatic history and self-made millionaire. He was an established coin dealer at least a decade before the A.N.A. was founded. He was a charter member of the A.N.A. and held several offices. He established a very large coin collection and also others of curiosities, guns, and Indian relics. He was an inventor of many new and novel items and manufactured the first electric cigar lighter for which he was granted a patent in 1898. He was also a restauranteur, telephone lineman, electric company/public utility owner for the city of Waterloo, Indiana, a railway target man, real estate broker and investor, entrepreneur, and an Arch Mason. In 1901, he also invented a gasoline engine for an automobile that had a quarter horse power capacity. He was also a member of a seven man ocarina band. He had personal assets of about $1 million USD.

Several pieces of correspondence are in the Lupia Numismatic Library, Special Collection, The Chapman Family Correspondence Archive. However, due technical difficulties the digital database of catalogued inventory of over 13,000 of the 27,000 items has been largely lost preventing retrieval and scanning of items to illustrate this article.

Augustus Charles Gruhlke (1850-1935), was born in Lobsens, Posen, Prussia-Germnay on March 6, 1850, the third of six sons (and three daughters) to Daniel Gruhlke (1810-1875), and Wilhelmina "Minnie" Tietz Gruhlke (1820-1901). His family moved to the United States of America in May 1859, settling in Pulaski County, Indiana on a farm.

In 1867, he left home and worked on farms as a farm hand day laborer.

In 1872 moved to Waterloo, Indiana, where he began working for the Lake Shore and Southern Michigan Railroad as a target man using the old lighted lantern targets at the railroad crossing.

About 1875 he built a small restaurant opposite the passenger station on Lincoln Street. However, it wasn't until April 1889 that he had running water.

On November 12, 1879, he married Almira "Myra" W. Wheeler (1855-1924), a native of New York at Buffalo, New York. Her parents lived on a boat on the St. Lawrence River. They had no issue. He and his wife ran the restaurant though he continued as a target man for the railroad, and she also continued as a hairdresser and milliner. Searching through the coins at the railroad station and in his cash box at the restaurant Gruhlke was able to cherrypick old U. S. Coins for resale. His younger brother Albert and his wife also joined in the restaurant as partners.

In March 1883, he joined partnership with his brother Albert Gruhlke in publishing the Waterloo Globe, a local newspaper. They dissolved the partnership in the newspaper and restaurant the following March, 1884.

About 1886 he installed the first telephone wires in Waterloo, Indiana, which operated between his restaurant, the crossing tower, the freight house and downtown, in addition to several other points.

Fig. 1. Gruhlke's advertisement selling Havana cigars at his grocery store published in the Waterloo Press, Thursday, August 12, 1886, page 8.

In January 1887 he was elected to the board of directors of the Waterloo Broom Manufacturing Company. The following month at a stockholders meeting he was elected Secretary.

Fig. 2. A very rare Gruhlke business envelope with graphic illustrated advertisement of a Fugio soliciting to buy old U. S. Coins at a premium, and will send his Fixed Price List free if you send him a postage stamp for the mailing; sent to J. Sanford, Verona, New York, postmark Railroad Post Office of New York and Chicago Railroads, February 26, 1887, Train No. 8, with very scarce Star killer. Courtesy Lupia Numismatic Library. You can bid on this item. Estimate $200-$300. Write

Fig. 3. Gruhlke is reported buying up all Indian relics in the region and has amassed the largest collection in the West. Additionally he has also a very large coin collection and another of curiosities. The Waterloo Press, Thursday, May 16, 1889. In October 1889, he advertised buying whole collections of Indian relics in the St. Joseph Herald.

In August 1890, he attended the annual convention of the American Society of Microscopists.

In March 1891 he was compiling a directory of archaeologists who collect and study Indian relics.

Fig. 4. Gruhlke is cited in a report about his restaurant and coin collection that draws crowds. The Waterloo Press, Thursday, July 30, 1891.

In December 1891 he slipped on the ice and sustained a knee injury causing him to walk with a cane.

In April 1892 he was elected town clerk of Waterloo, Indiana.

Gruhlke was a charter member of the ANA and is listed as Member No. 49.

Fig. 5. Gruhlke's advertisement in the March 1892 issue of The Numismatist on page 43. Courtesy Lupia Numismatic Library.

Gruhlke's coin advertisements first appeared in the March 1892 issue of The Numismatist on page 43, where he solicited to buy Large Cents 1793 to 1857 in Very Fine and Uncirculated Condition. Remember back in 1892 coin grading and terminology was a bit different. Very Fine condition was the equivalent to Extra Fine to About Uncirculated by today's standards.

Fig. 6. Gruhlke's restaurant featured in the local newspaper reports the front room has his coin and curiosity collections on display. The Waterloo Press, Thursday, September 29, 1892, page 1.

In November 1892, Dr. George Heath appointed Gruhlke together with Tatman and F. B. Stebbins to the Standing Rules Committee for the newly formed A. N. A.

Fig. 7. Gruhlke's advertisement in the December 1892 issue of The Numismatist selling subscriptions to his new monthly serial.

In December 1892, he advertised in The Numismatist selling subscriptions to The American Archaeologist, a twenty-page monthly devoted to the interests of Indian relic collectors, published by the Archaeologist Publishing Company. It soon expanded to twenty-eight pages. The monthly journal was formed by Gruhlke, L. V. McWhorter, and J. R. Nissley as the official organ of the American Archaeologist Association. They sold shares of stock in the company and eventually they sold out to Professor Warren K. Moorehead, Ohio State University. Gruhlke owned a vast collection of 26,000 Indian relics, and was a very proficient amateur archaeologist.

In 1893, he was present at the first A.N. A. annual convention. He became the Superintendent of the Exchange Department of The Numismatist.

Fig. 8. Newspaper attention was given Gruhlke's The American Archaeologist, magazine. The Waterloo Press, Thursday, March 2, 1893, page 5.

In 1895, he invented the electric cigar lighter. He formed a partnership with William Kessler in the firm of the Standard Manufacturing Company making the Standard Electric Cigar Lighter. Gruhlke sold out his interests in the firm to Kessler. He then opened a new firm, the Star Electric Company.

In 1896 he was the Secretary of the Waterloo City Lodge of Free and Arch Masons.

In 1897, he sold the restaurant and retired from the Railroad.

In September 1900 he sold 5,000 pieces of his extensive collection of Indian relics to Dr. Nelson Lloyd Deming (1868-1947), Fort Wayne, Indiana, for $1,200.

In January 1901 Gruhlke and his partner E. G. Flack were granted the franchise to open the electric company in Waterloo installing street lights and supplying electricity for the city.

In October 1903 he sold his interest in the Waterloo Cigar Company to F. C. Goodwin.

In 1908 he sold his interest in the Star Electric Company. He then opened a real estate brokerage in the firm of Gruhlke & Saltsman.

Fig. 9. Report of Gruhlke's gun museum possessed the largest collection of guns in the state was published in the Indianapolis Star, Sunday, November 21, 1909, page 10.

On September 15, 1911, he held a public auction selling a portion of his rare gun collection.

In 1912 he advertised selling a collection of 2,000 coins in the April issue of The Numismatist.

The 1930 U. S. Census lists him as the owner of a Vanity Store.

It was reported in his obituary that his vast collections of coins, Indian relics, and guns were sold prior to his death.

He died on April 30, 1935, and is buried in the Waterloo Cemetery, DeKalb County, Indiana.

Bibliography :

The Waterloo Press, Thursday, January 27, 1887

The Waterloo Press, Thursday, July 18, 1889. Ocarina band

The Waterloo Press, Thursday, August 14, 1890.

The Waterloo Press, Thursday, March 12, 1891

The Waterloo Press, Thursday, July 30, 1891

The Waterloo Press, Thursday, December 17, 1891, page 5

The Numismatist, March (1892) : 43

The Numismatist, November (1892) : 86

The Numismatist, December (1892) : 110

Indianapolis Star, Sunday, November 21, 1909, page 10

The Numismatist, April (1912) : 150

Garrett Clipper, Tuesday, May 2, 1935, page 4

The Waterloo Press, May 2, 1935, pages 1 & 8 Obit