Tradition breeds success, I’ve heard it said. Nowhere is that truer, numismatically speaking, than in Fargo, N.D., at the end of January. The last weekend of January is the longstanding venue for the annual Red River Valley Coin Club show, which this year celebrated its 50th anniversary.
This year I decided, for the first time in many years, to do another return engagement, opting to drive, with a certain degree of apprehension. I’ll always remember my first attendance, back in 1984. I flew there amidst a howling winter storm. The event has endured despite the fact that blizzard or semi-blizzard conditions have been pretty much the norm rather than the exception through the years.
This weekend turned out to be a beautiful one for my travels and for the show. The morning temperature was the lowest of the season locally – minus 5 degrees – when I put the Town Car on the road at about 7 a.m. My initial route of travel was west by way of US-10 to Stevens Point, I-39 north to Wausau, state Hwy. 29 west past Chippewa Falls to I-94 and on to the Twin Cities. Crossing the Mississippi there at about 11 a.m., having driven 251 miles.
It was about noon when I stopped to gas up, and for lunch at the Applebee’s in St. Cloud. As the afternoon wore on the temperature warmed to a high of 9 degrees, but had fallen back to the zero range by 4 p.m. when I pulled up to the Doublewood Inn in Fargo. I had logged 490 miles for the day, with the actual travel time having been roughly an hour less than I had calculated it might be.
After settling into my room, I opted for a short nap before heading down to the Doublewood’s Dakota Grill for supper at about 5:30. Returning to the room and calling it a day about an hour later, I didn’t end up encountering a single familiar face.
A morning constitutional got my Saturday started at about 5:30 a.m., but I cut it short at about half an hour. While conditions were calm I opted to defer to the minus 5 thermometer reading. By 7 a.m. I was back down to the Dakota Grill for breakfast, where coin show conversational strains were overheard, but still no familiar faces. It was about an hour later when I arrived at the exhibit hall. It already was pretty much filled with dealers, of whom perhaps no more than a quarter proved to be familiar faces I’d encountered previously.
Two of the first people I met were Bob Hanna and Leonard Otterson, two of the more active members of the RRVCC. The operator of a wholesale insurance agency by day, Hanna shoulders primary responsibilities for this annual show. This year’s 50th anniversary event hosted 32 dealers occupying 49 tables; annual attendance numbers typically fall in the 500-plus range. The club’s active membership numbers around 15, according to Hanna, with the total membership numbering about twice that number.
One of the veteran members of the club, Otterson serves it unofficially as historian and organizer of the exhibit area at the show. Among the dozen exhibits shown this year were a handful of impressive presentations ranging from a set of CC Morgans and a comprehensive overview of National Bank Note issues from the state of Maine, to one providing a comprehensive arrangement of 38mm aluminum token issues of Minnesota and another offering a range of commemorative woods.
A regular reader of these commentaries through the years, Otterson posed a question to me as we chatted upon meeting. How can you remember all of the details; do you have a recorder? No, I don’t use a recorder, was my response, but I do tri-fold a sheet of paper from a legal pad and tuck it into the vest pocket of my suit or shirt at the beginning of every show for noting key words or thoughts from time to time for later recall.
Among the familiar faces encountered during the course of the day were dealers Jim Lentz from Minnesota, John Jackson from Iowa, with shops in Sioux City and Storm Lake, and Micky Shipley from Devils Lake. There also was Glen Jorde, from Devils Lake as well. A onetime regular on the coin show circuit doing business as Lake Region Coin & Currency, for the past several years he has been operating out of Florida as the head of the PMG service, taking a busman’s holiday as a tabled retailer. Then there was long-time acquaintance Warren Jackson and his sidekick, Charles Fulker, a pair of longtime backbones of the South Dakota Coin and Stamp Association.
With the Red River Valley Coin Show being a small event, hustle and bustle did not permeate the atmosphere at any time during the day, but a real solid crowd and activity were evidenced until 3 or so in the afternoon. And, every dealer with whom I spoke late on Saturday was pleased with their results, buying or selling. I did find ample opportunities to visit at some length with many of the club members, dealers and collectors in attendance during the course of the afternoon, and scour several dealer offerings for a few appealing items to carry home.
Among those visits was an extended one with dealer Luke Johnson from Pipestone, Minn., a historic community tucked away in the southwest corner of the state. Johnson is presently immersed in creating a comprehensive Minnesota token catalog. By advance arrangement I had brought along with me to the Fargo show my holdings of CCC tokens and stickered dollars to be photographed for incorporation in the listings.
At 6 p.m. the RRVCC formally observed its 50th anniversary show with a reception and banquet attended by about 100 members, participating dealers and guests. Among those with whom I shared a table were Jackson, Fulker, Jorde and his winter associate Rick Spidahl.
Having been invited to be the guest speaker for this occasion on topics of my choosing, this provided me with the opportunity to address the group on the topics of the Chinese counterfeiting threat, the state of the hobby community and the benefits of being a member of and supporting the ANA as the cornerstone organization of the hobby. In pitching ANA membership, I did a play on some often quoted words from the 1961 inaugural address of President Kennedy:
“Ask not what the hobby community (ANA) can do for you, ask what you can do for (ANA) your hobby community.”
At the conclusion of my remarks Hanna presented me with an honorary life membership in the Red River Valley Coin Club on behalf of the membership. That gesture was certainly appreciated and I welcome the opportunity to stay in closer contact with the club’s activities going forward. Walking to my room with the hour nearing 8 p.m. following the breakup of the banquet, I found myself reflecting on how welcome everyone had again made me feel and resolving that in the future I must not be so neglectful of this corner of our hobby community.
Actually, I anticipate making my next return visit to Fargo and a RRVCC event over Labor Day weekend this year. At that time the club will host the annual NTCA National Token Show, which over the past 25 years or so has traditionally had an Omaha venue. The Doublewood will serve as the venue for this event as well.
It was about 6 o’clock Sunday morning when I headed out for my morning walking regimen, which I again cut short at about half an hour. While the morning temperature was up to zero, a fair breeze was blowing that made it feel more like minus 15.
Following breakfast in the Dakota Inn restaurant, it was about 8 a.m. when I hit the road for the drive home. I’d put in 222 miles when I pulled off the Interstate northwest of the Twin Cities at 11:30 a.m. for gas and a lunch at Perkins, enjoying a cup of cream of broccoli soup and a chicken pot pie. It was nearly 4:30 p.m. when I pulled into the garage at home, following another uneventful day-long drive, with the temperature having moderated to a somewhat balmy 17 degrees.
Fargo in January, from my perspective, is definitely a successful tradition!