ANA Chicago 2013

Got back on Sunday from Chicago, which hosted the ANA’s “World’s Fair of Money”

History was almost made in the exhibiting arena.  A first time exhibitor, Charmy Harker (a/k/a the Penny Lady) won Best First Time Exhibitor, People’s Choice and almost took Best of Show, coming in as the first runner up.  I can assure you that was one excellent exhibit!  (She took a ton of photographs and posted them here.)  Ms. Harker took the class on exhibiting at the ANA summer seminar, taught by Larry Sekulich, who had won a Best of Show and (if I am not mistaken) at least two first runner up awards.

You’ll note that I said he “had won” a Best of Show award.  He won this year as well.  Two years ago, I was the only living multiple Howland Wood (Best of Show) recipient.  Now there are three of us!

On the down side we had a blatant instance of plagiarism as an exhibitor copied the NGC website wholesale for the text to his exhibit.  He did not credit NGC in his bibliography nor, apparently, did he make it clear he was quoting them at length.  He was last heard blaming the fact that he put the coins up on glass above mirrors for his third place (out of one exhibit) finish for his class.

The new board was inaugurated at the Friday night banquet, and there was an open session the next day.  The incoming ANA President, Walter Ostromecki, appointed Halbert Carmichael to be the head of the Exhibits committee, and has moved me over to being one of the assistant treasurers.  I get to handle money!  A coin collector’s dream, no?  Well… I get to sign checks and watch the money leave.  Well hell’s bells, why didn’t anyone tell me this beforehand?

The most significant action at the new BOG meeting was when Governor Sperber claimed the attendance was awful, and then went on to complain about one of my pet peeves:  the gigantic front and center floor space given over to the auction houses, who are selling nothing the general public could afford, and then abandon their tables Friday, leaving a “Mongol Horde Came Through Here” scene of devastation (and I brought that very image up in the meeting myself when they asked for audience commentary).  Now the general public comes in on Saturday (it’s their day off, more than likely) and they see several empty islands first thing through the door.

Jeff Garrett pointed out that there was a “well established” “Stars” system for allocating tables.  In other words, we can’t change it because we’ve always done it this way.  Well, maybe you should un-establish it.  Or at the very least require the auction houses to hold one session Saturday night, so they don’t leave a huge gaping desert at the front of the bourse floor when they skedaddle.

The ANA Election is over!

The election is over!  And I am surprised by a few of the results.

In descending order of number of votes, the winners are Gary Adkins, Scott Rottinghouse, Ralph Ross, Mike Ellis, Greg Lyon, Jeff Swindling, and Laura Sperber.

The losers, again in order of number of votes received, are Tom Mulvaney, William Hyder, Oded Paz, Scott Barman, me, Jeff Wuller, and Richard Jozefiak.

My first time out I basically gave myself one chance in three of winning–I am not that well known outside of exhibiting (if only the exhibiting community could vote, I’d probably have been a shoo-in).   Still I hoped for better than 12th place.  (I have some theories on what I could have done better–lessons learned.)

What’s more interesting though, is that for all the fuss and fury over the entire board needing to be fired because Jeff Shevlin was let go as ANA executive director… not a single one of the four governor incumbents lost.  And the most vocally pro-Shevlin people all lost.  The new governors are Ralph Ross, Jeff Swindling, and Laura Sperber.

This election was a far cry from the Insurrection of 2007 (as I call it) where every incumbent who had opposition lost.  Every single governor was either new, or someone who had last been governor years before.

The only person who did win who plans to try to shake things up (and hard) was Laura Sperber, and if she has a “trademark” cause, it is coin doctoring.  That’s a good one, in my opinion.  (Notice, though, that it’s not a personal politics cause; it’s an issue that affects everyone in their collecting.)

New Orleans and the Candidate Forum

New Orleans ANA is now a part of history.  This big event for me was of course the Candidate Forum for candidates running for the ANA Board of Governors.

Jeff Garret (running unopposed for the Vice President job) and Richard Josefiak (another candidate for governor) were not present, but the other thirteen candidates for governor were all there.   If you want to watch it, it can be found here, all three hours of it.

A couple of things struck me as the forum went on.  One is that there were a couple of candidates who struck me as loose cannon.  Another is that some of the candidates have an axe to grind, in particular with regard to the “firing” of Jeff Shevlin.

As I’ve said in the past we do not know and cannot know and cannot be told everything that went into this decision.  Whether or not it was justified, the ANA would be sued simply for letting the information get out.  The ANA is already being sued for slander because of rumors circulating as to why Larry Sheppard was terminated.

It is entirely possible that the folks defending Jeff Shevlin are completely right and that he was doing a wonderful job and got railroaded.  But they are wrong to assume that this is the case based on their friendship with Mr. Shevlin.  I personally have heard one side of the story (Mr. Shevlin’s), and although it does sound appalling, it would be wrong for me to jump to a conclusion without hearing both sides.  When one serves on the ANA Board, one has to leave one’s prejudices, personal preferences, and preconceptions outside the door.  A lot is at stake in running an organization of this size and we don’t need loose cannon or people with an axe to grind getting onto this board.

(However, let me praise them too:  Unlike so many people who stand on the sidelines and throw darts at the ANA Board, they are willing to get involved.)

I believe we need a board that will try to figure out what has gone wrong with the executive director recruitment process and day to day performance once hired.  I am sure that whatever the answer to these questions is I won’t like it.  I won’t like it because I happen to like just about everyone involved.  Someone will come out of this looking really really bad, and I don’t imagine it will be anyone I could even guess at today, much less my preconceived notion.

On second thought there is a place for someone with an axe to grind on the board.  I do have an axe to grind, myself.  But my axe is the good of the ANA.  I want to do this because I want to leave the ANA a better organization than when I started.  The ANA does a lot for collectors, and the more serious the collector the more it does.  My reward for my service will, if I have anything to say about it, a better ANA.

And In With The New!

Well that was fast!

Instead of a months-long process of searching for a replacement executive director, while someone like Ed Rochette or Ken Hallenbeck serves as Interim Executive director, more than likely with Kim Kiick as the assistant ED, the Board simply hired Kim directly into the job, just like that.  No “interim” this or “assistant” that.  (I suspect they’d already had this in mind as a contingency plan.)  Congratulations, Kim!

Ms. Kiick (pronounced as if it had only one “i”) certainly should know by now what the job entails. She has had some relevant experience already, and of course the headquarters staff already knows her and vice versa.  So in many ways this looks very promising; one can hope that the right person for the job will turn out to have been under our noses all along.  Only time will tell.

I’ve met Kim quite a number of times at ANA shows (and I even bumped into her once in “real life” just from living in the same city), but I can’t really claim to know her all that well, certainly not well enough to personally judge her ability to do the job (and I won’t make the mistake some do of assuming that just because I like someone, they can do the job).  But the current board no doubt knows her very well, and (like I said before) she does have relevant experience.  I am cautiously optimistic.

Here is hoping the third time (fourth? fifth? Was Chris “Buffalo” Cipoletti number 3 or number 4?  I’ve lost count.  And should we also count interim EDs?) is the charm.

I hope Kim succeeds spectacularly.

Another Executive Director, Gone.

I just returned from the Central States convention, and it was there at about noon on Friday that I found out that the ANA has again let an Executive Director go.  Jeff Shevlin’s contract will not be renewed in June.  I was stunned.

Several times at the convention, someone asked me if I knew anything about the reasons, and I had to tell them (truthfully) that I don’t know.  I may be a candidate for the Board of Governors, but that doesn’t make me privy to the decision making process.  Only actually being on the BoG would give me that access.

Here is the extent of my knowledge–if you can consider rumors to be knowledge (I wouldn’t):  Rumor has it that it wasn’t anything remotely scandalous or criminal, it really was just a case of ‘poor fit for the job’ and/or ‘didn’t see eye to eye with the Board on what the ANA should be doing.’ (Those phrasings are mine, not someone else’s; I used the single quotes to delimit them from the rest of the sentence.)

There have been demands from some quarters that the ANA explain in more detail why Jeff Shevlin was let go.  Good luck with that.  Unfortunately for concepts of openness, employment law in the US is in such a state that vague generalities are all we are likely to get; anything more leaves the ANA open to lawsuits for defamation of character on top of the almost ritualistic wrongful termination lawsuit.

Alas, this means that I cannot promise that if I am elected to the Board, and we have to let someone go, that I will be open about the real reasons.  Sorry.  By the same token, though, anyone who does make such a promise doesn’t know what they are talking about.

Unfortunately you, as an ANA member, have to be satisfied with electing Board members that you trust to make the right decision, even when they can’t tell you everything they know.

I know enough of the people on this board to give them that trust.  I doubt that they blundered specifically in letting Mr. Shevlin go.  There was a real problem here.  On the other hand, it’s certainly possible that the problem was the board’s responsibility.  Perhaps they didn’t define the job well enough; perhaps they didn’t define policy well enough.  Or any of a dozen other possibilities.  Or (going back to the first hand), perhaps none of them.  At this point we simply don’t know.  But I do know that I can’t see the BoG doing this for capricious reasons.

One argument I’ve heard that doesn’t hold water, is that because Jeff Shevlin is a stellar individual dedicated to the hobby, the Board was wrong to dismiss him.  I will without reservation grant the premise; I don’t know Mr. Shevlin that well, but I’ve heard nothing but good about him on all those measures.  But the conclusion doesn’t follow; those qualities do not mean he’s cut out to be an executive director.

So let’s cut out all the posturing–blaming Mr. Shevlin, blaming the Board, blaming the organizational structure, even blaming the ANA Staff–and do the only rational thing.  Let’s figure out what actually happened, and take steps to prevent it from happening again.  This will require an ANA Board full of people dedicated to the good of the ANA, willing to face some potentially unpleasant truths, so long as doing so will help the ANA.

Something went wrong. And whatever that something is, it needs to be fixed.  And I, as an ANA Governor, won’t be satisfied with a band-aid.  I will want a fix that stays fixed.  We have seen too many executive directors come and go; this has to end.  That means a thorough understanding of what the problem is.  Not just with this instance, but the previous executive director.  And the one before him.  And the one before him.  And I don’t have that yet.  If elected I will to talk to absolutely everyone with so much as a shred of insight into any organizational “inside” problems the ANA has, to try to figure out what they are.  Or any mistakes we made in recruiting the Executive Directors in the past.  Or… well, whatever it may be.  The possibilities are legion; I could list a few (and I did, and then I deleted them) and it would be a stroke of luck if I actually named a genuine issue (which is why I deleted them).

Whatever it is, we must fix the root cause.  Or causes.  Even if the next Executive Director is chosen before the new Board takes office, this will be useful information; depending on what it is, perhaps we can make needed (and likely painful) changes and save a directorship that would otherwise fail.



The Barber Coins Guy

John H. Bunge
9 November 1929 – 15 April 2013

I knew John Bunge longer than any other coin collector, bar none.

I knew John Bunge first as a teacher.  He taught my ninth grade geometry class, at a school that was closed a few years ago, in 1978-79.  By all accounts he was a good teacher.  Even though I was in his class I really can’t judge.  I was a math whiz and the mark of a good teacher is how well he teaches the students who would otherwise struggle with the subject.

Then I knew him as a collector.  Very early in my time as a member of the two local clubs in Colorado Springs, he gave a short talk on the Liberty Head or “Barber” coins that were issued from 1892-1916, and for that reason I had him “tagged” in my mind as a collector of Barber coinage from that point on.  With one thing or another he stopped going to the meetings for a few years, then I did, but we started seeing each other at the meetings fairly regularly this past year.  I really don’t know firsthand what else he collected though I remember him giving talks and showing off other items at meetings of the Colorado Springs Numismatic Society.  I did one day last year bring my three Barber type coins to a Numismatic Society meeting in the hopes that he would be there, and he was.  (Twenty years later he was still the Barber Coins guy.)  He pronounced them “gems.”

Those who knew him much better than I did said he had many interests and went after all of them with an intense passion, which is exactly as it should be.

He attended the Numismatic Society meeting this last Sunday, and I did not go.  He passed away the next day in his sleep, having just done some work on the kitchen.  Just that suddenly he was gone, leaving behind Claire, his wife of 62 years, and a large number of children, grandchildren, and even a few great-grandchildren (one on the way as I write this).

So long, old friend.

The Barber Coins

Another way for me to pay a tribute to John would be to talk about the Barber series of coins a bit.  Perhaps the reason John’s interest in the Barber coins stuck in my mind so thoroughly is that it’s a bit unusual.  The designs that came after 1916 are widely regarded as beautiful artwork:  The “Mercury” dime, the standing liberty quarter and the walking liberty half are artistic classics, and the walking liberty half design got recycled onto our present “silver eagle” bullion coin. By comparison the Barber series (which is sometimes considered to include the “V” nickel, which was designed by Barber but is a bit different from the dime, quarter and half dollar) are considered staid and dull and hardly seem like they could be interesting at all.  Even the portrait of Liberty on the coins seems lacking in much detail, with a broad flat cheek and a liberty cap with almost no detail in it, rather than bare hair (which would tend to have a lot).  This, I believe, was a deliberate decision on the part of Charles Barber (I’ll explain below).  In any case, the US Mint waited the statutory 25 years between design changes, and once that time period was up they dumped this design.

One look at a lustrous gem uncirculated Barber quarter or half dollar, though, and you will be surprised.  These coins look fantastic in a lustrous uncirculated grade.  I have uncirculated examples in each denomination but I won’t show my photographs here, because my photographs don’t do them justice and in this case it’s vital that justice be done.  But if you are reading this and don’t know what the Barber design looks like, see here.  (You’ll note that in many cases the coins pictured there are a bit worn or weakly struck–I wish I could get decent pictures of mine, but I simply haven’t learned how to handle luster when photographing.)

One of the most beautiful coins I ever saw was a Barber quarter, where the reverse field had toned an electric blue.  Picture that eagle and the stars against a vibrant blue blackground.  That coin was in an auction clear back in 1996, and bidding opened at three times the Red Book price.  (You get three guesses as to who doesn’t own that coin but wishes he did.)

It turns out that Barber halves are noticeably expensive to obtain in mint state grades though the quarter and dime are much more manageable.  In fact, if anyone has ever managed to assemble a set of mint-state, well struck barber halves, he or she is keeping mum because at least some people claim it has never been done.  Quarters and dimes, though not as expensive, can also be difficult to find in mint state.

So a challenge and surprising beauty when you first see an uncirculated piece.  That’s enough.  People will collect them, passionately enough that there’s an organization devoted to the Barber coinage.  (I’d have joined if I, as a type collector, weren’t already done.)

But I promised to explain my comment on Barber’s motivation for the plain design.  I think he knew he was designing a coin, first and foremost.  Most forms of sculpture do not suffer a lot of wear, but a coin will, and Barber was very cognizant of this and accounted for it when he made his designs.   He wanted to have a design that would wear fairly gracefully, and he succeeded.  If his silver coinage wears a bit, nothing is lost because the high points of the design all have no detail on them.  Even on heavily worn pieces you can tell what the design is supposed to be.  Contrast that with the walking liberty half dollar which has all sorts of detail in the high points.  First off, those details are rarely struck up properly to begin with.  Then consider that on a worn (or really badly struck–and there are a lot of those!) walker half dollar the design quickly comes to resemble a plain vertical bar and it’s hard to appreciate the design then.  I’ll even go so far as to say they look ugly then.  Of the three post-Barber designs, I think the dime holds up best as it wears.  (By contrast, the “walker” design was an excellent choice for the non circulating, and painstakingkly well struck, silver eagle, which allows its strengths to come through and be preserved.)

Apparently Charles Barber went to his grave claiming that the “Mercury” dime, Standing Liberty Quarter, and Walking Liberty Half designs were failures.  By his criteria, I think he was right.

It’s almost a hundred years since the Barber coinage was discontinued, but of course we still have the coins and can, if we take an interest, collect them.  Staid and boring?  Not really but I will admit it is an acquired taste.

1826 Poltina

This Russian piece is one of the coins in the banner at the top of this site, hiding a bit left of the center on the bottom.  You’ll note it’s in pretty decent shape, a prooflike AU.   (Full disclosure, I no longer own this coin.)

This is a silver half-ruble, or poltina (from the prefix pol- or half-) of 1826.  It’s the first year this particular “wings down” design was used, and it only ran to 1831.

0469o 1826 SPB NG poltina wings down small

The top reads “Poltina Coin,” the bottom is the date.  НГ is the initials of the mintmaster, Nikolai Grachev.  The eagle itself bears a shield with St. George on it, the traditional symbol of Muscovy.

0469r 1826 SPB NG poltina wings down small

The inscription reads, “Of pure silver, 2 Zolotniks, 10 1/2 Dolei” (which works out to almost precisely nine grams of pure silver), and the mintmark for St. Petersburg.

R. W. Julian (yes, that R. W. Julian) has done a lot of work on Russian coinage and has written a book covering silver coinage for the period from 1797-1917.  There is a short section near the front of this book where he lists ten particularly tough types for a collector to find (if they are assembling a type set, which I was), and this coin, plus the wings down 25 kopeks (quarter ruble) were among them.  Which is why I jumped on this coin when it showed up; it’s not only one of the toughies, it’s in fantastic condition.

Apparently a very small number of these were struck in platinum in 1826, and exactly one in 1827) as a test run for the later platinum coinage.  I am certain this coin wasn’t one of those, because a platinum piece would be twice as heavy as it “should” be.  (Also the platinum pieces have no edge lettering.)

This coin came in handy for another reason.  When building my Russian Coins Of Conquest exhibit, I needed a warlike graphic, as a sort of “logo” to tie the exhibit together and add visual interest.  Quick searches of the internet turned up nothing that wasn’t cheesy or just not what I had in mind.  Then it dawned on my that I had literally hundreds of scanned in images of Russian Imperial Eagles, and I settled on this particular coin because of its superior condition.  I chose the wings down eagle because it’s the only style the Russians used where the eagle is clutching arrows and a wreath, indicating war and peace–surely appropriate for an exhibit about occupation and regional coinage.

So first I had to laboriously mask out everything that wasn’t eagle; this took quite a bit of time because I didn’t want the edges of the eagle to look jagged.  I used Picture Publisher 7.0, an obsolete bit of software much easier to use than Photoshop.  (Today it has to be run on an XP virtual machine, which is a pain–but back in 2007 this was not much of a problem.)

wings down 0

I could almost imagine a stamped metal eagle like this gracing the cap of an officer in the Russian Army or police in the 1820s or 1830s.   (Would he be a full bird colonel?)  I’ve seen this eagle motif on at least some of the shoulder patches of today’s Russian military (with the crown, even though it’s a republic today).

But for an exhibit color is needed, so I started by making the eagle gilt:

wings down 1

Of course the shield ought to be red, as indicated by the vertical lines (that’s the convention for indicating “red” on uncolored sculpture, or relief, or engraving).  So I masked the shield and changed it to red:

wings down 2

And St. George should be white or silver, so some more masking:

wings down 3

Voila, one graphic suitable for use in an exhibit.


Few who have seen this exhibit (and I still have the coins for it and will often display it non-competitively) realize that the decorative eagle graphic was really a picture of a coin!  But if you go to an ANA show, there’s a good chance you will see this exhibit, and you will know.