Tag Archives: Coin Collectors

Why the ANA–And Its Leadership–Matters

In my previous post, I made the case that the most important group of people in numismatics is the collectors.  Dealers, grading services, publishers, scholars and researchers, etc. are all there because of the collectors, and they make their living by adding value to collectors’ pursuit of the hobby.

It’s important to remember that the groups are not distinct.  Many of us will fulfill more than one of these roles in our lives.  And even the most hard core collector has a little bit of the scholar, the dealer, and the investor in him.  The reverse is true too.  Most dealers collect something or even many different somethings, and I know a number who also have written books.

Many dealers, in fact, are primarily collectors, and they still have the collector mindset.  They are the sort who would make you say “he’s a very successful dealer, but he is still a collector at heart.”  [And I’ve come to conclude that that situation is rarely a coincidence.]  I think of these worthies as collector-dealers.

So with that necessary clarification out of the way, let’s talk a bit about organizations.

The ANA–the American Numismatic Association–is important because it is the national organization that focuses on the collector.  There are organizations out there that serve the dealers and the scholars, and they are definitely worthwhile organizations.  But the ANA is for us.

And since it is for us, we collectors need to play a very large role in running the ANA.

I used to take the stance that the ANA should be run entirely by pure collectors, and I was suspicious of dealers running for the Board of Governors.  I know now this was a mistake, because the ANA functions in many ways like a large business, and at least some of the people on the board need to know how to manage one.  An all-collector, no dealer board can be an invitation to disaster.  Fortunately we have a ready-made stock of trained businessmen in numismatics.  But I still insist that they have that collector orientation.  In other words, I want to see collector-dealers as I described them above, making up a large proportion of the ANA Board of Governors.

It’s easy, by the way, to tell that someone is a dealer–unless they are utter fools or have an extremely selective clientele they will go out of their way to publicize it.  It’s harder to tell if they are really collector-dealers.  That’s a “read” best made if you know the individual really well; you can tell whether they are more enthusiastic about the material they handle, or the deals they make.

But by that logic, shouldn’t the entire board be collector-dealers?  No.  I said the ANA functions in many ways like a large business.  But there are many ways that it does not, and should not.  It’s a non-profit and it is here to serve collectors and help the hobby grow.  So sometimes it needs to spend money on things that don’t have a good rate of return.  And it should pass up some money making opportunities for the opposite reason, refusing to grub for money in ways that demean or undercut itself, the hobby, its benefactors, its members, and so on.

The long-time treasurer of the ANA, the late Adna Wilde (whose big interest that I know of was Lesher Referendum Dollars–yes he was definitely one of us) would often admonish the ANA board to “remember the member.”  I’d go so far as to say that really means “remember the collector” though that doesn’t roll off the tongue quite so well.

I think we want a balanced mix.  We want able people, all of them collectors, some of them scholars, and some of them successful businessmen, and all of them dedicated to the success of the ANA and the hobby, on the ANA Board of Governors.

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The Core of Numismatics

The numismatic world–and all the related things like paper money, tokens, medals, and things that are even more exonumia than that–is pretty big, actually; not only does it span the world, but it’s big business, too.  There are investors, third party grading services, services that will check the third party grading service and tell you they agree with it, dealers, auction houses, publishing–oh lots of publishing, to the point where there are rare book dealers who specialize in numismatic books, and people talk in awe of others’ numismatic libraries!  I’ve seen no estimates but there just isn’t any way this is not a multi-billion-dollar “industry”–except it’s not an industry, it’s a hobby–in the United States alone.  And I am not including the part of it that’s actually dealing with precious metals that have no added numismatic (or “collector”) value.

All of it–all of it— depends on the collector.  The kid pushing quarters into a 50 State Quarters folder.  And the multimillionaire who bought the 1794 dollar that–many claim–is the very first US silver dollar ever made.  Without collectors who care about a grade, third party grading services would not exist.  The dealers would have no one to buy their stock, or for that matter, to sell them stock either.  Auction houses would have no bidders.  And few would care enough to buy the book before not buying the coin.  So that would wipe out the rare coin book dealers too.

That covers everything in my laundry list except the investor.  Surely the investors would still be out there, buying material and waiting for it to go up in price?  Well, maybe they would for a little while, if all the true collectors vanished.  But an investor is in it primarily to turn around and sell it for a profit later (nothing wrong with that), and for that he needs a buyer.  Now that buyer might be another investor.  Or it could be a collector.  But ultimately, why is the coin valuable?  Because some collector wants it, and wants it badly enough to part with big bucks to purchase a coin that has a face value of fifty cents and maybe ten dollars worth of silver in it.  The collector is the end user of the item, and without an end user, it has no market value. Were it not for us, no investor would care that the dime says 1894 on one side and “S” on the other.  So if we disappeared, the investors would eventually realize that they are now in a bubble… and that very realization would make it burst.

Again, a rare coin’s ultimate value to an investor lies in the fact that a collector wants it.  That having been said, investors entering a market can certainly increase demand that is already there; we’ve all see speculative bubbles, and I’ve been burned by one or two myself.  (The collector that has never made a mistake probably pulls everything out of circulation.  Which could itself be considered a mistake.)

All of those other parts of the hobby are nothing without us collectors.

Does that make them parasites?  Are they exploiting us?  Given the individuals involved are honest, and most are, absolutely not.  (Fraud, on the other hand is always bad.)  You see, we collectors would be almost nothing without them.  We could still collect, but we would be doing it from circulation, with no dealers.  Our collections would be pathetic.  We’d all be at the level of the kid with his coin folder–except we wouldn’t even have the folder, so we’d be wondering what years have “S” mint marks and what ones don’t.  (And if by chance we actually did stumble on something rare, we’d never know it.)  We’d have no idea what was out there, without the books–so the good news, I suppose, would be we’d have no idea how pathetic our collections were.  So yes we need the dealers and writers and publishers almost as badly as they need us.  And third party grading and certification is quite useful (yes! Though we sure like to gripe about them).  And auctions are, bar none, the best way to get your money out of your expensive and eclectic items when that time comes and your collection needs to be offloaded.

All these people make money off of us, but they are worth it.  Of course they are; if they weren’t would we spend our money on them instead of the next coin?  If we woke up one day and decided (for example) “you know these third party grading services are utterly worthless, that coin isn’t worth any more in the slab than out of it,” then suddenly the sounds of cracking slabs would reverberate across the land.  And that would be the end of them–slabs and graders both.  (Of course the fact that the slab really does add value does not mean you should buy the slabbed coin for its label!)

But it must be remembered that even though these individuals greatly enhance our enjoyment of the hobby, we collectors are the core.

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