Copyright © 2011-2018 John N. Lupia III


One of six children born of a Jewish family in New York. His father was Samuel A. Hesslein (1831-1904) and his mother Rosalie Hesslein. His father was born in Germany and moved to America in 1857. His father was a partner in Neuss, Hesslein & Co., formed between 1861 and 1863. His older brother Edgar Joseph Hesslein took over his father's share of the business after his father death. The family dry goods business was huge and imported and exported goods throughout the United States, South America and the Middle and Far East.

He is purported to have been a veteran of the Union Army. [1] If true then he was in his late 80's or possibly 90 when he died. However, Edgar is purportedly his older brother who was born 1865. Moreover, since his father was born in 1831 and arrived in America in 1857 unmarried and childless it precludes the possibility of his serving in the Civil War.

He married Clara M. Hesslein in 1891. A decree of absolute divorced was granted by Judge Giegerich to Clara M. Hesslein from William Hesslein. [2] Soon after his divorce he began to sell coins.

In his coin prices catalogs he prints “Established 1895.” He joined the ANA in 1899 and is member no. 158, with his mailing address above the Drug Store formerly owned by William Elliot Woodward (1825-1892) at 101 Tremont Street in the Paddock Building, Boston. Apparently, he became a numismatic dealer and cataloger by 1895 and so it appears bought the remaining W. E. Woodward coin and numismatic stock off his son Harlow.

On Christmas Day, 1888, Harlow and Susan had their fifth child, Edith Victoria Woodward. They continued their father’s business W. E. Woodward & Co., 40 Bromfield, Boston, after his death in 1892.

Harlow and his brother Clarence were partners in "Woodward Bros.," a perfume business at 468 Washington St. Harlow pursued a career in medicines, and was "regarded as one of the leaders in popularizing the druggist business in Boston by original and modern methods." Following in his father's footsteps, he was also a publisher, and an authority on coins and stamps. His obituary stated he was a man of much literary knowledge and taste, of original ideas and faculty for expressing them.

It appears that William Hesslein sold the Woodward druggist sundries and the coin stock as well.

About 1900-1901 he was cheated out of $40.00 by Edouard Frossard, Jr. He frequently corresponded with the Chapman Brothers beginning with his business at New Haven, Connecticut in 1902.

He became a traveling salesman who sold druggist sundries. He carried coins in a grip-sack from city to city in the eastern United States. He typically wrapped brilliant uncirculated coins in toilet paper as an absorbent to prevent discoloration by oxidation. He consigned coins for Thomas Elder’s first auction sale in 1905. His most notable sale was of the late Ralph Barker, about 1906.

Another interesting early auction sale was of the George Rowe collection held on November 6, 1909.

In addition to the Boston office he had a business office in the Malley Building, New Haven, Connecticut, at least from the beginning of 1902 to June 1913.

On May 20, 1913 he won an 1873 $3 Gold piece for $76.00 at the auction held by the United States Coin Company, New York.

“Mr. Hesslein of New Haven, came over to Providence, lately. He reports that the coin business was booming, there never before being quite such a good demand for fine coins.”

After June 1913 his main office was above the William Elliot Woodward Drug Store at 101 Tremont Street in the Paddock Building, Boston. From July 1913 to December 1931 he ran weekly advertisements in the Boston Herald.

He claimed to have conducted well over 140 auctions to 1931, which were numbered up to 144. If correct then he held 4 auctions per year on average during the 36 years he was in the coin business. During his final 7 years of business he held nearly 6 auctions per year. However, Adams rightly holds that 70 auctions purportedly conducted between 1916 and 1923 are pure fabrications in the numbering system to look more impressive to his market audience.

He issued 30 fixed price lists.

The ANS library has four of William Hesslein's catalogs (February 6-7, 1925, June 19-20, 1925, December 2-4, 1926, March 29-31, 1928) with handwritten notes and specific lot numbers circled by Endicott in red or blue pencil. Ruled ledger and typescript leaves of F. M. Endicott to William Hesslein of coins to be auctioned by Hesselin with lot numbers and prices to be paid.

In a 1929 ad in The Numismatist he boasted that he was the best known

coin dealer in the United States due to his massive national advertisement campaign, which competed with Benjamin Maximilian Mehl. His last known advertisement was published in Popular Science, February 1932, page 122 at the same time his company was sold.

"On February 29, 1932, the business was sold off at auction to pay off the holder of the mortgage. The business was purchased by J. F. LeBlanc and operated as Associated Coin and Stamp Company." [3]

His last sale was held on December 4-5, 1931 with coins consigned from Charles L. Stuart, G. Arthur Cook et alia. He quietly died shortly after his final coin auction sale. Some believe he did not die at that time but quietly slipped out of sight as a petty crook. Adams has written: "history is cruel to the petty crook. If one robs or extorts on only a modest scale, there are no Boswells and there are no film rights. Such was the fate of William Hesslein; by absconding with but small money, he left no biography behind him . . ."

In 1923 he held three sales. In 1924 he held six sales.

Auction Sales :

17. April 12, 1916 Edward Miller

101. 1923

105. January 18-19, 1924 Metcalf Estate

110. February 6-7, 1925,

June 19-20, 1925,

December 2-4, 1926,

March 29-31, 1928

133. September 20-21, 1929

144. December 4, 1931 Charles L. Stuart


[1] Neil S. Berman, "American Sales & Auctioneers, Part 3," The Numismatist, March (2010)

[2] New York Herald, April 6, 1894

[3] Pete Smith, American Numismatic Biographies 117


The Numismatist, Vol. XV, No. 4, April (1902) : 109; No. 5, May (1902) : 151

The Numismatist, Vol. XVIII, No. 3 March (1905) : 98 full-page ad

Sunset, the Pacific Monthly, December (1913) : 1057, ad

Philatelic West, Vol. 75, No. 2, January-February (1919) : 83 ad

ANA Membership List and Directory (1927) : 50

The New York Times, March 7, 1931

“Recollections of An Old Collector,” Hobbies : The Magazine for Collectors, Vol. 43, No. 11, January (1939) : 88-90

John Weston Adams, American Numismatic Literature, Vol. II.