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Richard B. Witschonke (1945-2015)

by Ursula Kampmann
translated by Annika Backe

February 26, 2015 – This is a sad day for numismatics. Richard B. Witschonke died on 24 February 2015 in Sarasota, Florida. That leaves us speechless. Rick died unexpectedly and far too soon. He leaves a great void in the numismatic community.

Richard B. Witschonke was born in Washington, D.C., in 1945. His interest in coins was prompted rather early. His grandmother gave him a Whitman penny board as a present. To explain it to those who store their coins in Beba coinboxes: penny boards were collector’s albums with holes to hold pennies arranged by date. His grandmother supplied him with material at regular intervals, and Rick was excited when he realized that he could make quite a profit selling a rare penny to a, likewise collecting, classmate. His interest had been kindled. Every penny was thoroughly checked for its date, and soon the material included other coins as well – Rick even had some Roman denarii in his early collection.

In 1974, Michael Crawford published his catalog of Roman Republican coins, and Rick was hooked. Neatly arranged, Crawford’s work was ideally suited to serve as a collector’s manual. Yet “the Crawford” left so many questions unanswered which, however, called for an answer. Rick collected. On his way he met many coin dealers and researchers who shared his great interest in the Roman Republic. Rick consequently became a researcher himself who published influential articles and edited important Festschrifts. Amongst other things, he was co-editor of the Festschrift in honor of Charles Hersh and in honor of Roberto Russo, both focusing on Roman Republican coinage.

When Rick undertook a duty he was always committed. How typical of him that – after a great career as a businessman - he did not retreat to his country house in New Jersey – but supported the American Numismatic Society as a curatorial assistant. His duties included organizing the renowned ANS summer seminars that have influenced so many young researchers.

He owned the “most complete collection to be sold publicly, at least in the era where extensive illustration of the coins is possible”. It is an indispensable tool for everybody who aims to date a Roman Republican coin according to the current state of research.

Besides numismatics, Rick was a wonderful person, always interested in the person he was dealing with. With pleasure I recall all our conversations, the many emails we exchanged, the invitations at regular intervals – on both sides – which we could never get back to, for lack of time and due to the great distance. Rick has supported CoinsWeekly from the very beginning. He kept sending links and information he deemed important to the numismatic community.

Our deepest sympathy goes to his close family, Heidi and his children. What kind of person Rick Witschonke was is illustrated by the story about how he came to know Heidi. Since this story has already been published we do not think it too personal to tell it once again.
Rick met Heidi through a mutual friend. At that time, her husband was dying of cancer. He passed in the winter of 1997, leaving Heidi and their three daughters behind. Back then, Rick and his friend planned to go on a sailing trip. They invited the grieving widow and their daughters to join them on their trip. That was the beginning of a long and happy relationship.

Richard B. Witschonke was a man who enjoyed life and was himself so full of life that it seems impossible to believe that he is gone now. We will miss him.

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