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‘Save the ANA first’ should be board policy

The American Numismatic Association convention in March will be a milestone event.

For the commercial segment of the hobby, what happens in Portland will be critical. Can a major coin show held off the beaten path of the popular bourse locations do well enough to call it a success?

If you think I am slamming Portland, I am not. I like the ANA conventions that have been held there. I look forward to going back.

But I also have a long memory. Back when the market cracked in the spring of 1980, it was at another convention that was off the beaten path.

Then it was Lincoln, Neb., for the Central States Numismatic Society convention. When that show convened there was still some hope that coins could weather the storm of weakness in precious metals following the January peak. By the conclusion of the event, it was quite obvious that the commercial music had stopped and not everybody was going to find a safe chair to sit in.

This year Portland is off the beaten path and the coin market is weaker than it was last year. Dealers still have hopes of weathering the storm.

What we will see happening there is liable to be the template for the rest of the year. Sure, there are other shows, but ANA is as much about keeping up appearances among your hobby peers as it is about business itself.

Then there is the ANA budget. The board needs to make the document that is adopted there conform to the realities of ANA’s declining financial strength and the continuing drain legal bills are putting on the organization’s financial resources. I will be looking for belt tightening of a very serious order.

ANA’s problem for the most part has never been a lack of good people, either as staff or on the board. It has to do with the fact of overreaching based on warm and fuzzy ideas that ANA can be all things to all people.

It can’t. It needs to declare once and for all what it is. Is it an affinity group of collectors who are held together by a common commitment to the numismatic education of its members, or is it some sort of government consumer protection agency wannabe?

Consumer protection has always sounded good. Keeping people from buying counterfeit coins or misrepresented coins is a wonderful idea. However, not having the government’s financial resources or the police power itself has opened the ANA up to lawsuits where firms can claim ANA is illegally interferring in their business. The losses to ANA of time and money in this area have been staggering.

The next budget will tell us what it is to be (at least for the next 12 months).

Liquid assets have been so depleted that continuation of budget deficits of a size of the last couple of years would force the ANA to try to sell illiquid financial assets, or auction off duplicates from the museum collection to pay the bills.

I recommend a policy of “Save the ANA first.” The wider world of naive numismatic buyers will have to wait for another white knight.

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