Mendelson was gold standard of coin dealers

Friday, October 9, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

The shiny silver dollars he so loved to handle and show to his customers have lost some of their luster. Mark Mendelson has died. The owner and driving spirit of Fountain Square Stamp & Coin Co. was 50.

Death came suddenly, swiftly and totally unexpected. Two Fridays ago, he experienced some shortness of breath at his home in Montgomery. CP:M. Mendelson

Mark had planned on spending another 12-hour day at his downtown shop selling stamps and coins, something he had relished doing six days a week for the last 27 years.

Instead of letting him follow his routine, his wife, Nancy, got him to the hospital. Before the day was over, a blood clot had stopped his heart.

Mark was a hefty guy with a huge, generous heart. Few customers left his store without something extra, a story, a joke or a free coin.

He didn't need the extra weight. By eating less, Mark was slimming down from a frame that could give Orson Welles a run for the calories.

But he had to have a big heart for his twin devotions, his work and his family, his wife and two children, Danielle, 13, and Matthew, 8. Sitting in her family room and looking at the empty easy chair where Mark used to sit and watch TV, Nancy Mendelson remembered how her husband always beamed when he talked about his job.

"He was always so proud about being a coin dealer," she told me. "Mark had been collecting since he was 10 and dealing in coins since he was 13. He felt very fortunate he could earn a living for his family by doing something he loved. And, oh, did he love going into his store. I called it "Mark's Dream.' "

Today, "Mark's Dream" is temporarily closed. His store stands just as he left it.

The wooden display cases glow in the faint amber light of an antique lamp. His desk is piled high with coin books, price lists, catalogs and shipping boxes. A rumpled sport coat hangs on the back of a chair, as if the owner just dashed out for some lunch and will be right back.

Mark could usually be found at his desk looking at stamps and coins through a magnifying loupe attached to his glasses. To give his eyes a rest, he'd periodically survey the passing scene outside his windows at the entrance to the arcade connecting Fountain Square to Sixth Street. If he spotted someone he knew, he'd throw up a hand, give a quick wave and beckon you inside.

He always had a story to tell or a bit of information to share. Now, people are telling stories about Mark.

"He was totally honest in a business not known for honesty," said Mark Schumacher, a coin collector and co-owner of Schumacher-Dugan Construction.

"Mark was always a collector first," recalled Julian Leidman, a coin dealer from Silver Spring, Md. "He knew the thrill of holding a rare coin, the joy of just looking at it."

Jonathan Valin, Cincinnati's best-known mystery writer, proudly called Mark his "oldest and best friend." A longtime fan of hard-boiled detective novels, Mark gave his boyhood friend a copy of The Big Sleep.

"I read it and fell in love with that kind of writing," Jonathan Valin noted. "Mendy got me started writing detective stories." Mark Mendelson was buried with a 1921 silver dollar in his pocket. "I gave that to his wife at the funeral," said jeweler Phil Bortz. "The dollar was for his generous soul, for all the times I saw him give something to a kid, never expecting anything in return. Plus, if he wants to open a coin shop in the afterlife, the silver dollar will get him started."

In the here and now, Nancy Mendelson doesn't "know what's going to happen to the shop." Her son wants to carry on his father's business. But Matthew Mendelson is only 8.

"I need someone to help me," Nancy said. "I need someone who's honest, kind and generous, a gentleman with an encyclopedic knowledge, someone who loves to collect coins."

The person she was describing sounds exactly like Mark Mendelson. In this world, that kind of man is as rare as the coins he sold. And infinitely more valuable.

Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.