The Bob Clarke Story

Numismatic New - July 31, 2007 - Letters

Intriguing provenance links coins to CIA

Between 1970 and his retirement in1977, Robert L. Clarke was the Vice President and Resident Manager of the Union Oil Company assigned to Tehran, Iran. During much of this period, he wrote a weekly coin newspaper column for the Krause Publications' Numismatic News.

As a coin collector of world numismatics, I looked forward each week to his travels during vacations to countries in the Near East or to his discussions of weekly visits to the Tehran bazaar to look for coins.

Bob Clarke was the author of several numismatic books including "Minted Coins of Iran", "Swiss Coinage" and "Coins and Tokens of British Oceania," and "India’s 1862 Rupee" and "Modern Coinage of Iran" with Dr. Mohabat-Avin and wrote a regular column published in Numismatic News in the early ‘70’s.

Now to make this story a little more personal. For the past dozen or so years, I have been running the local monthly coin show of the Gold Coast Coin Club of Hollywood, Fla. The Hollywood Show had to move its venue several times during this period. About a dozen years ago, the show was held at the Hollywood Rotary Hall.

One Sunday, after all the dealers had settled down, I was able to walk around and look for my specialty – modern dime Size silver coins of the world. There was a new dealer who had just relocated from the west coast of Florida, therefore his inventory of world coins were new to me and early on caught my eye. In his case, he had a very large chocolate brown copper medal of Nasir-ed-Din Kasar Shah, who was the Shah of Persia from 1848 to 1896.

As I showed some interest in this Persian piece, the dealer said, “I have a whole collection of Iranian coins”. He quickly produced a three-ring notebook with the usual plastic pages of coins in 2x2s. Since they were arranged in the usual manor of crowns first, followed by the smaller denominations in order of size, I turned to near the back of the book, to look for 500 dinars,1 rials and white shari pieces. There were several pages of very interesting coins. At this point I learned that the dealer did not wish to break up the collection, rather sell the whole book as a lot. Very disappointed, I thanked him and walked away. The dealer who had a table next to him was a very steady dealer and good friend; I knew him, through both the Hollywood and Ft. Lauderdale Coin Clubs. Since he had overheard my inquiry about the collection and being a full time dealer in world coins himself, I later learned he bought the whole collection.

At the next show, the new owner of the Persian collection let me cherry pick most of the coins I could afford and needed to add to my own dime-size date collection. I was very grateful for this. One group of these small size coins, however, I passed up, as they had been mounted or holed.

Years later, I did acquire this group of holed coins from him, as I still did not have an example by date of them , so the coins shown must be very rare. They were the only specimens available to Bob Clarke in Tehran in the 70’s for his collection. I have collected this series for forty years, visiting large shows and ordering by mail at times. Next to China, the Persian/Iran series is the most difficulty to complete by date.

I’m way ahead of my story at this point – in the back of the notebook of these coins, were several pages, a zerox copy of the Iran/Persia pages from an early edition of the Krause Standard Catalog. On top of the first page had been penciled the name Bob Clarke. Upon seeing this I recognized his name and therefore this had to be his personal collection.

I have known for many years, you cannot take any coins out of Iran, illustrated by another story. Way back in the early 1970s, a travel agent friend of mine, who usually took vacation trips each summer to far away countries, told me she was going to Tehran. Would I like her to bring me back anything? I knew, Iran had not had any silver coins since the late '50s, so I said please bring me a copper-nickel 1 rial as a souvenir. When she got back to New York, she told me a tale of how the government had confiscated her Iranian coin at the airport in Tehran.

But to have a better ending to this story, she told be she had a new Iranian 1 rial for me. As the story goes, my friend had been on a Fifth Avenue New York bus when a foreigner boarded the bus and tried to pay the fare by holding out a handful of coins to the bus conductor. My friend, who was standing next to him, saw that he had both U.S. and Iranian coins together. She spoke up and offered a U.S. dime in exchange for one of his Iranian coins. It turned out he was assigned to the United Nations and was happy to make the exchange.

Now, back to the Bob Clarke story. How did this interesting collection of Persian/Iran coins get out of Iran and end up for sale in Florida. The dealer told me later, and we will have to take his word for it, that he bought the collection several years earlier in Okalahoma. Numismatic News carried the obituary of Robert Clarke on March 20, 1982. He had passed earlier that month. The report said, since his retirement he had divided his time between Midland, Texas and Barcelona, Spain. How the coins got to Okalahoma or how they even got out of Tehran I do not know, except the remarks passed on to me by the dealer. He said, he had been told that Bob Clarke was our CIA man in Tehran all those years.

It makes for an intriguing provenance for the few coins of Bob Clarke now in my collection.

Roger deWardt Lane

Hollywood, Florida

The Bob Clarke Coins from my Collection, more to be added soon
500 DINARS ND (C.1877) Y-10
500 DINARS AH1306 Y-10
500 DINARS AH 1311 Y-10