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Dr. Jay Galst, a specialist in eyes and coins, dies at 69
In an undated photo via the Galst family, Jay Galst. An ophthalmologist with a numismatic hobby, he combined those interests in an unusual book. He died of the novel coronavirus on April 12, 2020 in Manhattan. He was 69. Via Galst family via The New York Times.

by Neil Genzlinger

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- When Dr. Jay M. Galst was a boy in Milwaukee, his father, who owned a grocery store, would bring home coins from the day’s receipts, and young Jay would enjoy searching through them for wheat pennies, buffalo nickels and other distinctive finds.

That boy grew up to be an ophthalmologist, and in a happy merging of vocation and avocation, he developed a passion for numismatics that included a singular area of expertise: He may have known more than anyone about coins, tokens, medals and similar artifacts that were in some way related to the eye.

He knew so much, in fact, that in 2013 he and Peter van Alfen, chief curator of the American Numismatic Society, wrote a book about them. A book about coins related to the eye? Must have been a pretty thin book, you might think. Nope. The volume, “Ophthalmologia, Optica et Visio in Nummis,” which translates as Ophthalmology, Optics and Vision in Numismatics, had 574 pages and nearly 1,700 entries.

There were chapters on coins and such related to the blind, to the one-eyed, to guide dogs. Many of the coins and other artifacts described and documented were from Galst’s own eclectic collection.

Galst died April 12 at a hospital in Manhattan, New York, where he lived. He was 69. His wife, Joann Paley Galst, said the cause was the novel coronavirus.

Jay Martin Galst was born on May 15, 1950, in Milwaukee. His father, Julian, owned Galst Foods, and his mother, Phyllis Tannenbaum Galst, immersed herself in volunteer work once her children were grown.

Galst and his wife, a psychologist, were married for 47 years but had known each other much longer.

“We actually attended each other’s bar and bat mitzvahs,” Joann Galst said, “but became best friends when we were both editors on our high school yearbook staff and presidents of our respective B’nai B’rith Youth chapters.”

Jay Galst earned a bachelor of science degree at the University of Wisconsin in 1972. He graduated from Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1976 and completed his residency in ophthalmology at New York Medical College in 1980.

Galst had a private practice in New York for decades until recently affiliating with Omni Eye Services. And he became known for his expertise in coins. He was a past president and longtime board member and board chairman of the New York Numismatic Club.

He had expertise not only in coins with optic themes but also in the coins of ancient Judea. Van Alfen said he could get just as excited about a minor 20th-century optical medal as he would about a piece from antiquity. And, he added, Galst had a prodigious memory that enabled him to provide detailed backstories about a vast range of collectibles.

“The last time we were together, back in prepandemic February, we were in the ANS’s vault looking through trays and trays of 17th-century British farthing and halfpenny tokens,” van Alfen said by email, “trying to find an example produced by a London optician who also produced a different token he had just purchased in order to compare the two. I knew very little about 17th-century British tokens before that morning. In the hour it took to find the token, I received a crash course. His pure joy in such numismatic arcana was always irresistible.”

In addition to his wife, Galst is survived by his mother; a sister, Terri Frenkel; a son, David; a granddaughter; and a grandson.

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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