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Hobby works on trust; how about the ANA?

Numismatic News editor wonders about the treatment shown by the ANA board to some of its biggest contributors in light of the museum naming rights controversy.

If you and a couple of friends or associates gave $500,000 to a good cause, how would you expect to be treated?


Now compare that to the treatment the American Numismatic Association board of governors is giving to Cliff Mishler, Chet Krause and an anonymous donor over the naming rights to the ANA Museum, an honor they thought they gave Edward C. Rochette. ANA said, sorry, just a part will be named for him.

Does your expectation of the treatment they deserve match what the ANA board is actually doing? It doesn’t match mine. The treatment dished out to Mishler, Krause and Mr. Anonymous looks more like a fast-talking salesman and three marks. “Sign right here. Don’t read the fine print. Trust me.”
Am I being fair to the board in this? Misunderstandings do happen. When I am involved in a misunderstanding, I try to sort it out and make amends. I expect that in others. How is the ANA board doing by this metric? (See Page 26)

Even given the contention of the ANA leaders that their understanding did not match that of the generous trio, their behavior in trying to resolve the misunderstanding is mystifying. They are basically giving the stiff arm to the most generous cash donors to the museum renovation project.

Now I assume that members of the ANA board might think they can hold out for something better, especially in light of the fact that there is no signed document of gift with the understandings spelled out. That is their legal wiggle room. That is their legal right. They have a right to treat donors as they see fit. However, their contention about the basis of the misunderstanding does not bear scrutiny. The more I dig into it, the more support goes to the position taken by Mishler, Krause and Mr. Anonymous.

A press release issued by the ANA Nov. 3, 2000, says, “The top three donors of $500,000 or more will be named ‘ANA Grand Benefactors’ and qualify to have their names noted prominently on and associated with the ANA Museum, Library and remodeled entry plaza.”

Since Dwight Manley’s installment gift allowed him to select the library as the place for his name, would it not be a natural expectation for another $500,000 gift to take the museum? It seems to me that this would be so.

This isn’t a case of dueling donors fighting over naming rights. One selected the library, the other selected the museum. Nobody selected the front door because there is no other $500,000 gift.

Ah, but legally, does the press release wording explicitly promise naming rights? It doesn’t. It only promises “names noted prominently.” Does that mean a gallery in the museum qualifies as a name noted prominently? Probably.

However people do not think in terms of legal contracts. They think a little more generally. Take that press release, other communications with the ANA cited by Mishler in his letter to ANA President Bill Horton and the fact that Manley’s name was placed on the library and the average person would say close enough. However, it is the ANA’s legal right to say not good enough.
In our current climate of hyper-legalism, it is never a surprise when someone insists on it. But consider the business of numismatics. Can you imagine having written contracts every time one dealer started to do a deal with another?

How many coins are simply handed one to another based on trust and the integrity of the two parties involved? Trust that is broken in this hobby environment is never regained. Burn me once, shame on you. Burn me twice, shame on me. That’s numismatics.

So you take three very generous donors who have spent their lives in numismatics. They approach a board that for the most part is peopled with members who have spent their lives in numismatics and they seem to reach an understanding. There is trust.

Given your experience of how the hobby works, wouldn’t that be enough?
Ah, but it is ANA’s legal right to say no. It did. Is it the way you would want to be treated? Is it right? Is it smart? I would say no. Keep this in mind next time you have to deal with ANA.