Obituary: Mark M. Salton 1914-2006

by Ira Rezak


Mark M. Salton

Mark M. Salton, a longtime friend and benefactor of the Society, passed away in Hartsdale, New York, on December 31, 2005, in his ninety-second year.

Mr. Salton was born Max Schlessinger on January 12, 1914, in Frankfurt/Main, the scion of a distinguished Jewish family long established as bankers in the Rhineland. Among his ancestors were several who, as the Rothschilds of Frankfurt had also done, combined banking activities with numismatic entrepreneurship. Leopold Hamburger, a paternal cousin, founded a numismatic house in Frankfurt in 1863, which was later joined and expanded by his son Joseph and by his cousin Leo. It was through this relationship that Mark’s father, Felix Schlessinger, who had initially trained as a banker, entered the numismatic world in Frankfurt and later, in 1928, founded his own establishment, moving it and his family to Berlin. Mark’s mother, Hedwig, was of the Feuchtwanger family of Munich, and hence related to Lion Feuchtwanger, the distinguished twentieth-century author, and to Dr. Lewis Feuchtwanger, the nineteenth-century pharmacist who, as an immigrant to New York, developed the copper-nickel-zinc alloy known as German Silver or Feuchtwanger’s composition.

After commencing his education in Frankfurt, Mr. Salton moved to Berlin with his family and graduated there from the Siemens-Oberrealschule, emphasizing natural science, history, and Germanistik. He then matriculated at the Handels-Hochschule while also gaining practical experience at the Berlin banking house of E. G. Kaufman, in pursuit of the family’s long-established distinction in fiscal affairs. However, from an early age, encouraged by his father and uncles, he developed a keen enthusiasm for numismatics and determined to follow in his father’s footsteps as a professional in this field. Thus, as a teenager, he was already intimately involved in the richly matured numismatic trade characteristic of Germany, indeed, of all Europe at that time, and profited by coming in close contact with and learning from the many amateur collectors and curatorial experts who interacted with the Hamburger and Schlessinger firms. In later years, Mr. Salton often recalled with pleasure, and with the precision that revealed his extraordinary memory for numismatic detail, his engagement with such eminences as Leonard Forrer, the Grunthals, Henry Seligman, Dr. Richard Gaettens, Dr. Jakob Hirsch, Prof. Kurt Regling, Chief Curator of the Berlin Coin Cabinet, and many others in the prewar period.

The ascent to power of the Nazis in 1933 progressively constrained the operation of the Schlessinger firm in the Charlottenberg section of Berlin so that, when in 1935 Jewish proprietors were definitively excluded from the Reichskulturkammer, the family removed to Amsterdam. There, with the assistance of local numismatists and curators such as Maurits Schulman, W. K. F. Zwierzina, and O. Van Kerkwijk of the Royal Cabinet, as well as their widespread European clientele, the Schlessingers were able to reestablish their enterprise, issuing catalogs until February 1941, when the Nazi occupiers of Holland seized their business premises, blocked their bank accounts, looted their large stock of coins and medals, and confiscated their library and indeed the entire contents of the family apartment. Soon thereafter, Mark became a member of the underground resistance. In September 1942, he received a personal summons from the notorious Nazi chief, “Aus der Fuenten,” ordering him to report to the railway station for “transportation to the East.” At this point, Alexander Wellensiek, a pillar of the Dutch resistance movement who was later much decorated for his heroism, undertook to hide Mark and a friend in his office building at Reguliersgracht 18. Over the succeeding four months, while in hiding, Mark prepared his escape from Holland, with the goal of joining the Free Dutch Forces in England. After many close calls with the Nazi occupation forces, and with the help of courageous local resistance fighters, he made his way through occupied Belgium and France and eventually reached northern Spain where, together with other escapees, he was interned for many months in a concentration camp at Miranda de Ebro until July 1943, when he was able to reach neutral Portugal. Here he joined the Free Netherlands Forces and was assigned to the Dutch Embassy in Lisbon, serving there until 1946. He was awarded the Royal Military Cross of Merit by Queen Wilhelmina, and was offered a post in the restored Dutch diplomatic service. However, having learned that his parents had been deported by the Nazis to Theresienstadt and then to Auschwitz, where they were murdered, and that his younger brother Paul had emigrated to Palestine, serving during the war as a combatant in the British Legion, Mark chose instead to immigrate to the United States, arriving in Baltimore in July 1946. Shortly thereafter, at the urging of American relatives themselves refugees from Nazism who had likewise lost their families and who suggested that he should adopt a new name by way of separating himself from the past, Mark formally changed his name from Max Schlessinger to Mark M. Salton. This was an act that Mark came to regret for the remainder of his life.

In New York, Mark trained as a banker. Possessing a remarkable range of diplomatic and linguistic skills, including fluency in English, German, Dutch, French, and Italian, he secured a position with the International Division of the Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company, first as an analyst and later as an executive. He undertook night-school education at New York University, and was granted a Master’s Degree in International Banking after preparing a thesis on “The Financing of the Italian South” under the supervision of the distinguished Professor of Economics Henry Kaufman. In 1948, he met Lottie Aronstein, herself a refugee from Germany, and after a courtship of less than three months, they wed. Their marriage, enhanced by a mutual interest in numismatics, was fortunately destined to last happily for fifty-seven years, up until his final passing.

In the early 1950s, Mark renewed his numismatic activity as a collector and for several years as a part-time dealer, specializing in ancient and foreign coins and medals. Both Mark and Lottie were particularly fond of renaissance and baroque medals and plaquettes. In 1965, the Bowdoin College Museum of Art exhibited 186 objects from their collection; the accompanying excellent catalog soon sold out; a second edition was issued in 1969. Over the following thirty years, Mark made medals from his collection readily available for extended loans to other exhibitions. Generous donations, chiefly of ancient coins and related numismatic literature, carefully selected after his personal site visits and research and invariably chosen to complement existing institutional holdings and fill specific gaps in important collections, were made over the same time period. Among the beneficiaries were the American Numismatic Society, in addition to museums, colleges and, universities including Bowdoin, Mt. Holyoke, Newark, Worcester, Cornell, Princeton, and Harvard.

In 1966, the Saltons commenced a nine-year residence in Rome, where Mark was head of Manufacturers Hanover’s representative office. This assignment, which entailed considerable travel in Europe and the Mediterranean, presented him with the opportunity to renew prewar numismatic acquaintances. Though Mark retired from his position with the bank at age 67 he was not one to treasure leisure time and in tandem with is wife actively pursued his numismatic interests at home and abroad until his final illness.

Mark was a Life Fellow of the ANS where he served on the Society’s Sanford Saltus Medal Committee, charged with the task of identifying outstanding contemporary medalists for this prestigious award. He also chaired the Archer M Huntington Medal Committee, responsible for the annual identification and invitation to the Society of the preeminent numismatists of the day. Additionally, Mark was a Fellow of the Royal Numismatic Society, a life member of the American Numismatic Association, a member of the New York Numismatic Club and of several other related organizations.

Mark M. Salton will be remembered as an exemplary “numismatist of the old school” who, having been brought up in a family and in an international European environment which emphasized ongoing study, attention to detail and tradition and, above all, probity and discretion in personal and professional dealings, remained committed to these ideals for his entire life. He was a man moreover whose extensive knowledge, sharp wit, and readiness to assist colleagues and acquaintances made him a trusted adviser and valued friend to all fortunate enough to have known him. He will be missed by members of the American Numismatic Society, of the international numismatic fraternity, and by all of us who were touched by his presence. Of him one may truly say that the “memory of the righteous is a blessing”.


Lottie and Mark Salton


Mark Salton and Harvey Stack at the old ANS building