Like most long-time hobbyists, I was taken by absolute shock on a chilly November day with the startling news that Mike Berkus had passed on. Mike was a lot of things in the hobby but most of all he was a lifer. Like many of us, he was addicted to the joy of chasing items he wanted for his collection, thrilled to meet his heroes from his youth and always knew how to say the right things to the right people.
If you had never heard him give a talk, he was great at doing those and always knew how to tailor his speech to his audiences. At the Net 54 dinner, he would talk about the days of buying collections in the 1970s and bringing up such hobby legends as Goody Goldfadden. Meanwhile, at the VIP kick off reception, he would talk about how great the show was going to be, the great list of the guests and give thanks to those collectors who spent their hard-earned money to attend the convention.
I prefer to think of Mike Berkus as the ultimate hobby deal maker. When I first started at Beckett, I had already paid for my 1991 tables at the show and meanwhile Dr. Jim Beckett and dealer BA Murry also had tables for the show. What Mike and Dr. Beckett worked out (and I will stated I had nothing to do with any of this other than to sign off on letting Beckett Publications pay for and use my tables) was that our three sets of two tables were all placed together and thus in a way, Beckett Publications had the first ever “dealer” booth at the National Convention.
I spent very little time behind the table as that whole weekend was a blur but I remember all the Beckett employees at the both were constantly busy and the sheer amount of both current and back issue magazines we sold actually paid for everyone who attended and then some. Of course, I also remember leaving the show floor during the first promo night as myself and a couple of Arkansas dealers I knew left the floor to grab a snack. I was actually afraid of the show mob mentality that evening. But the 1991 National is truly another story for another day. And all of that was because Mike Berkus loved to make deals and enjoyed doing them almost as much as enjoyed making hobby friends.
As is often the case these days, the news of his death spread quickly by way of social media. My old friend Etta Hersh took time out to send me a personal message to ensure I knew. Meanwhile others such as Megan Galinski-Broggi (daughter-in-law of NSCC Co-Director John Broggi), Ken Goldin and D.J. Kazmierczak all posted very heartfelt tributes and those were among the first five postings I read in my news feed.
There are going to be many other great tributes to Mike and it’s good to see the hobby coming together to honor a true pioneer, even if the news comes as quite a shock. The National grew into a massive event during his tenure. I’m sure we’ll learn in the coming weeks that his “baby” as Jeff Rosenberg called it, will be in good hands, but Mike leaves quite a legacy and the number of collectors who enjoyed his show, his jokes and his passion for the hobby, will surely miss him.