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Viewpoint: Summer Seminar a hobby must

As a casual hobbyist for the past 30 years, and one who has become more serious over the past seven years, I felt it was finally time to make the trek to Colorado Springs to see what the American Numismatic Association’s Summer Seminar was all about.

In fairness, I’ve considered attending for the past five or six years, but, as I mentioned to some other seminar attendees, “if you don’t literally write it on your schedule and plan it out, it just won’t happen.”

Well, this year I made it happen, and it would be an understatement to say that the experience was well-worthwhile. In the following list I’ll attempt to summarize the key takeaways that I found most valuable.

The first thing: expertise. It is difficult to imagine a field where a great majority of the numismatic luminaries congregate at the same time to share their collective knowledge: Ken Bressett, editor of the Red Book; David Sklow of Fine Numismatic Books; Rick Snow, author of Flying Eagle and Indian Head Cents; Michael Fey author of Top 100 Morgan Dollar Varieties; Larry Shepherd, ANA executive director; incoming ANA board President Tom Hallenbeck; Barry Stuppler; the list goes on and on.

While I didn’t have the opportunity to chat with all of the leaders of our great hobby, I did have the chance to converse with many of them. These are professionals with deep research backgrounds, people who have written many of the tomes that we rely on as reference materials, and they were our instructors.

Also in attendance were representatives from NGC, numerous professional graders, members of the auction community, many dealers and many, many collectors.

The second thing: accessibility. This point ties into the one above. In short, what’s the point of having all of these experts if they are unavailable to the common collector? One of the most valuable experiences of Summer Seminar is the opportunity to mingle at meal times, and after hours, with the experts, dealers and other collectors to learn from their experiences.

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On my second night on the campus of Colorado College, I had a one-on-one conversation with Rick Sear, a co-founder of NGC. Just a couple of guys talking coins at The Lunar Lounge, the ad hoc outdoor watering hole on campus. What started as a group of 15 dwindled to just the two of us, and I had the pleasure of picking Rick’s brain for half an hour or so; it was a highlight of the experience. I found that, by and large, the experts were incredibly receptive to spending time with collectors, and were happy to answer very basic questions about the hobby. This accessibility to the experts is a huge benefit to Summer Seminar.

The third thing: immersion. The seminar takes place on the campus of Colorado College, adjacent to ANA’s headquarters. There are two downsides to staying on campus, the living arrangements and the food, but those are topics for later. The upside to staying on campus is that if you want to talk coins 24 hours a day, the opportunity is there.

This full immersion cannot be understated. I learned something in every single conversation that I had, and because all attendees share a similar interest, the side conversations outside of the structured “bull sessions” are infinite.

I attended the Colorado Rockies baseball game on Tuesday evening with about 17 others, which was offered as an optional excursion. I questioned a number of attendees during the day, asking whether they planned to attend the game. Several looked at me cross-eyed and replied, “We’re here to talk about coins.” I enjoy coin collecting, it’s a great hobby, but it’s not my life. It is possible to get “coined out,” and besides, I like baseball too. Still, if you want to talk coins 24 hours a day, the opportunity awaits you at the seminar.

The fourth thing: energy. The combination of accessible experts and other collectors that share your interests will renew your passion for collecting. There is great energy at the Summer Seminar. I found that I couldn’t wait to attend the Colorado Springs Coin Show at the end of the week, or a local coin show in Mesa, Ariz., upon my return.  The week will re-energize you!

The fifth thing: value. Consider the list above. The movers and shakers of this hobby, making themselves available to you for six consecutive days, or more if you attend both weeks. Money is tight in this economy, but in my mind, the value proposition is quite compelling. For roughly $1,200 tuition, which included room and board; $300 for airfare; and a few dollars for additional expenditures, I believe the whole week cost me about $1,800 total.

I can’t think of another hobby, or business, that offers education of this caliber for such a price. In addition, many of the attendees received a partial or full scholarship from their local coin club.

My advice to Young Numismatists, apply on the ANA website for a scholarship. The vast majority of the YNs in attendance were on some sort of scholarship through the ANA. If you are a YN, this experience is a must, so apply today! I’m planning to suggest to Larry, Susan and Emily that they extend the upper range for YN’s next year to 44 so I can squeeze in. Somehow I doubt it will happen.

Despite the fun, it would be biased for me to present this rosy picture without addressing some of the downsides of the seminar:

First would be the lodging. If you elect to stay on campus, you are in a dorm, a single, double or a quad option, with four attendees sharing one bathroom. The rooms are designed for college kids, and most of us haven’t attended college in at least a few years. Suffice to say, the lodging is very basic. The bed is small and hard, not great for a good night’s rest. There is no air conditioning in most of the dorms, which can retain warmth well into the night. I live in the Phoenix area, so I am a bit more acclimated than some, who voiced complaints about attempting to sleep in the heat. Also, the single dorm rooms have no television, though I’ll ring this one up as a positive, as a week without television has to be good for the soul.

Second would be the food. In a word, the food was poor. The cafeteria run by the college had limited choices, and several of the meals were nearly inedible. It might have been fine for college kids, and I think the YN’s were OK with it, but as professionals, the food was simply subpar.

The main cafeteria is under renovation, so perhaps this will be resolved by next year. Still, the lodging and food shortcomings were a small price to pay for the opportunity to be in the information flow. For those requiring a touch more pampering, several bed-and-breakfasts and hotels are available within a few miles of the campus. You can choose to eat off-campus as well. These options will add to the cost of attending, but are reasonable alternative choices.

In short, I was not attending for the comfy bed or great meals. Despite my baseball rendezvous, I was there for the knowledge, for the immersion, and I did learn a lot.

One final point worth noting. In interacting with the leaders of our great hobby, one does realize that this is a business. Grading services, auction houses and dealers can provide valuable services and much knowledge. However, while the hobby is what you make of it, you have to acknowledge that some are in it for the money.

Collector or investor, raw or slabbed, auction or local dealer, fun or business, work with the Mint or ignore them, we all have the latitude to make these decisions for ourselves and determine whom we will or will not do business with as we collect. For myself, I focus on collecting and investing in a manner that is comfortable for me. I ignore the components of the hobby that I find objectionable.

I don’t want the last few paragraphs to darken the mood, or in any way indicate anything but my vast support and enthusiasm for what our nonprofit sponsoring body puts on in Colorado Springs. I found Summer Seminar to be the single most valuable event that I’ve attended in coin collecting. There were attendees that had been collecting for six months, and those with 60 years of experience; collectors who were 13 years old, and those who were 80 years young. Whether you just dipped your toe in the water, or are a dealer with 30 years of experience, everyone can benefit from attending Summer Seminar.

I want to thank the leadership group at the ANA for all of their hard work in organizing the program. Schedule permitting, I plan to attend again in 2012. I encourage all of you to consider attending as well.

This Viewpoint was written by Bob DeLean, a hobbyist from Paradise Valley, Ariz. Viewpoint is a forum for the expression of opinion on a variety of numismatic subjects. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of Numismatic News. To have your opinion considered for Viewpoint, write to David C. Harper, Editor, Numismatic News, 700 E. State St., Iola, WI 54990. Send email to david.harper@fwmedia.com.

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