Bernard Poindessault (1935-2014)

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by Fritz-Rudolf Künker

October 2, 2014 – In Paris in the 1970s there was a little joke circulating. Yes, there was a numismatic heaven, ruled by God the Father, God the Son and the Holy Spirit. God the Father – and this is hardly a surprise – was identified with great Jean Vinchon, ‘veteran’ of the Parisian coin trade since 1945. The Holy Spirit was Emile Bourgey. Finally, God the Son – that could have been no one else than Bernard Poindessault, zealous prophet and herald of the numismatic message who became very talented in getting laypeople enthusiastic about numismatics. Not only the family grieves for Bernard Poindessault, the numismatic world has lost one of its leading figures. He died on 12 July, 2014.

Bernard Poindessault was born as the child of two lawyers on 13 July 1935. Unsurprisingly, he chose to study law after finishing school. Between 1958 and 1961, however, he had to serve in the army, and that gave his life a new direction. At the very beginning of his military career he was sent to Algeria, in order to help setting up a training center at Khenchela. During his stay there the young enthusiastic man witnessed the thermae of ancient city of Mascula being archaeologically excavated. Amongst the material unearthed were numerous coin finds. Bernard Poindessault was thrilled. Being a child he used to binge-read the novels written by Alexandre Dumas with their historical backdrop and he owned his own collection of Roman sestertii. And there he was, experiencing an excavation first-hand, even unburying a few items himself that are on display today in the showcases of the museum of Constantine.

When he returned to Paris, Bernard Poindessault worked at an insurance company. All of his leisure time, on the other hand, he spent on numismatics. He collected Roman coins. In addition, he felt the profound need to share his passion for numismatics. That was the reason for him to become a foundation member of Société d’Etudes Numismatique et Archéologie whose presidency he was to assume later. He created the journal Les Cahiers numismatiques and served as its editor. In 1965, his finest hour had come. The television broadcast “Avis aux Amateurs”, produced by T.F. 1 had invited him to speak about his hobby. Today, this is no big deal, but back then it was something of a sensation: T.F. 1 was the only television channel available in France. And so everybody watched Bernard Poindessault. But even the television experts did not see this incredible feedback coming: more than 1,200 letters arrived at the station – an unparalleled number. It took Bernard Poindessault 15 months to answer them all, and during that time he decided to switch careers. He terminated his assurance business and became a coin dealer.

Just two years later, the business premises in the Rue Montpensier already proved too small. In 1969, he moved to the coin dealers’ street, to Rue de Richelieu # 38 where the Centre Numismatique du Palais Royal is located until the present day, run by his wife Josiane.

Apart from his daily routine as a coin dealer – as an expert, he conducted several auction sales at Hotel Drouot Paris, but he also organized auctions at Lyon, Marseille, Lille, Roubaix, Bordeaux and Poitiers – Bernard Poindessault always had the desire to actively promote numismatics. He published three monographs, two of which became standard works of reference to many collectors: Repertoire de la Numismatique Française Contemporaine as well as Repertoire des Monnaies Napoleonides. He initiated the journal Archeonumis and, in his function as secretary general, vice-president and president, played an active part in the French association of coin dealers called Syndicat National des Experts Numismates et Numismates Professionnels whose honorary president he was.   

In addition, Bernard Poindessault often was called in as an expert both by Tribunal de Commerce de Paris and Cour d’Appel in Paris. His most important ‘case’ was connected with the great heist at the Naples museum. Back then, it was his task to examine 3,500 confiscated ancient coins in order to identify the specimens that had been stolen from the museum at Naples.

Bernard Poindessault was always open to the new media. His numismatic career having started with a television appearance, the end was marked by a new website that is currently hosted by the French journal Numismatique et Change.

With Bernard Poindessault the numismatic world is losing a dedicated representative who successfully managed to likewise fill outsiders and non-collectors with enthusiasm. I have lost a colleague and a friend whom I have been close to through numismatics. My sympathy goes to his widow, Josiane Vedrines-Poindessault, and his entire family.