This article was originally printed in the latest issue of Numismatic News.
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Every numismatist, collector, or anyone who is interested in coins should go to a major convention. There’s something to offer for everyone, from the beginner to the advanced hobbyist. No matter who you are or how much experience you have, you could see items you have never seen or have only dreamed about. You could learn something new, find another collecting interest, or meet a favorite dealer in person.
Schedules of major conventions can be found at the sponsoring organization’s website. Dates, times and locations are given, so you can plan accordingly. Often, an alphabetical list of dealers can also be found on the convention information page, so you could look up your favorite dealers and see if they will attend.
Before you go, prepare, to get the most out of your convention experience. Update your want list. Check your list against the dealer list to see if any dealers specializing in your favorite series will be at the show. If your favorite dealer takes an ad in a hobby publication, and you spot a much-needed coin listed, you can call or e-mail in advance. Perhaps he will bring the special coin to the show and you can examine it in person before buying.
Check the schedule of events that is posted online or printed in hobby publications. Experts give talks on many different numismatic topics throughout the day during a show and you may want to hear a particular expert speaking about a favorite series. Make a list of things to do at the convention, so you don’t miss anything you have an interest in.
When you arrive at the convention center, check name tags. You may run into a dealer or an expert you always wanted to meet in person and introduce yourself. You may want to ask a question or two. What better place to talk about coins than a big convention?
Auctions are held in conjunction with a big show. Get copies of the auction catalogs that interest you and study them carefully. Look through the catalogs to see if anything catches your eye. If you are seeking a big-ticket item, or a piece that does not come up for sale often, you may have seen ads well in advance of the show, describing the special coin with a photo. You can examine the auction lots to see if it’s the right coin for you.
One year at the Florida United Numismatists convention, the very first coin I looked at was available at auction: a 1921-D Morgan dollar struck off center. I had never seen such a coin up close, and enjoyed studying the dollar, but later learned that the opening bid was out of my budget.
When you register at the show, before entering the bourse floor, you may be given freebies, such as an official convention medal. I recall visiting the Texas Numismatic Association show and receiving a medal that resembled the Spanish Trail commemorative half dollar. When I commented on this, I was told that an original galvano of the Spanish Trail half dollar was on display at the show. As a commemorative fan, I was anxious to see this and found the display as soon as I entered the bourse.
While at a FUN show, I struck up a conversation with a collector from Tennessee, who anxiously awaited the release of his home state’s state quarter. I happened to find just released new rolls of the Tennessee quarter for sale from the United States Mint and from a few dealers. I gave the collector the top coin from my roll.
Enter the bourse floor. Now the fun really begins. It’s your move. You can visit your favorite dealers that you marked on your want list. You can check out the many exhibits. You can see what the United States Mint, or the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, or even a foreign mint, has to offer, depending on the show. You can find special displays of truly rare coins that you can never see anywhere else. Or you can just play it by ear, walk the bourse floor, and see who or what you run into.
You can run into impressive displays that are not heavily publicized. While browsing around the bourse floor at a major show, I came across a selection of drawings, paperwork and medals pertaining to the Hawaiian commemorative half dollar. Cameos of Capt. Cook, artist’s original drawings and a specimen of the half dollar in sandblast proof, complete with case and an accompanying letter.
At another show in Atlanta, I spotted a complete set of gold dollars, 1849-1889, including the famous and rare 1861-D coin struck at Dahlonega for the Confederacy. And at still another show, I saw a lovely collection of Seated Liberty dollars, including the 1870-S.
Some remarkable displays are publicized well in advance of the show. It could be worth the trip to see such items. The 2008 American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money in Baltimore had on display a wonderful collection of early copper in high grades. This collection was shown in the back of the convention center, as I recall, but drew big crowds each time I went to check out the coins that were set up in a number of tables. High grade half cents, including the 1796, 1793 large cents, matte proof Lincolns, they were all there, along with a selection of Flying Eagle and Indian patterns.
The very first table I checked out in Pittsburgh ANA convention in 2004 held the best known set of Seated Liberty dollars. I went back a few times to admire this collection and saved the brochure available at the table.
One of the most impressive displays ever seen at a major convention had to be the group of 10 1933 double eagles, mounted in a large holder at the 2006 World’s Fair of Money in Denver. I entered the bourse floor the morning the show opened, and there was already a long line to view the coins. Three security guards stood nearby. I asked if I could take a picture and they said sure.
Another once-in-a-lifetime display was seen at the 2003 ANA World’s Fair of Money in Baltimore. The long missing Reynolds specimen of the 1913 Liberty nickel had turned up, was authenticated, and sat in a black plastic holder, along with its four sister coins. All five specimens of the 1913 Liberty nickel on display together! This particular display drew big crowds all weekend.
Speaking of brochures, you may want to take a tote bag with you to hold the various catalogs, papers and sample copies you pick up at the show. Some hobby publications have samples of magazines or newspapers available at shows. You may even meet your favorite editor or writer and speak with him or her.
Are you a serious numismatist with a reference library filled with books about your favorite series? Come to a big show and find some of the book dealers who have stacks and cases of old coin books and auction catalogs. You may find an old book that you didn’t know about, or a collector’s item book you want for your own library. Lots of old Red and Blue Books are often found at these tables.
Did I mention coins? With 400-500 dealers on the bourse at a major show, you should be able to find something of interest and maybe something new.
Check your want list. Find the dealer or dealers that specialize in your series, and see what they have to offer. If you called or e-mailed in advance about a choice item, see that dealer first. Maybe the first coin you see is the one you’ve wanted for years.
At a recent FUN show, the first coin I spotted was a beautiful 1892-O Morgan dollar in Mint State with a nice strike. Morgan dollar collectors know this is a very difficult coin to locate. I had to pass on this coin, but I’m sure the next collector who saw it snapped it up.
The scarce engraved 1921-D Morgan dollar is a favorite of mine. I had never seen one in over 40 years of collecting, but I did in 2008 in Baltimore. One of my favorite dealers knew I was interested in the coin. When he obtained one at his table, he had me paged at the convention center, so I could check it out in person.
Some tables have hoards of coins for sale, circulated gold coins at reasonable prices, boxes of Mercury dimes, bags of junk silver. It may be worth your time to check these out, perhaps buy a bag or a box of old silver. These bags make good gifts for new collectors.
Early federal coins are always a treat to see. One dealer at a FUN show had a nice circulated 1796 quarter, just honest wear, with the eagle’s head struck well. On most of these coins, even in Mint State, the eagle’s head is quite weak. Hours later, I ran into a friend who expressed an interest in early type coins and I told him about the 1796 quarter.
You may even find a new collecting interest, one you wouldn’t expect. I once saw a lovely collection of Civil War tokens, store cards and patriotics at a show. I had never paid much attention to these, but the pieces were so nicely arranged, I couldn’t help but get interested. There were also reference books and guides available at this table.
One recent ANA World’s Fair of Money featured an auction of Hard Times tokens with an impressive catalog. I saved the catalog for reference. Many collectors are not aware of Hard Times tokens of the 1830s and 1840s, let alone the history behind these interesting pieces. Many of them took political jabs at President Andrew Jackson. Perhaps politics is classier when struck in metal.
Don’t forget to check out the many exhibits at a show. Many of these exhibits, created by fellow collectors, are museum quality. The exhibits may showcase a familiar series, and present it in such a way that you see it in a new light. You may spot an exhibit of items you aren’t familiar with, and learn something new. Exhibits may consist of one table or many, coins, paper money, tokens, even coin holders. One exhibit of old-fashioned coin holders and boards won a major prize at a recent convention.
One of my favorite exhibits had an interactive touch. A specialist in Barber quarters mounted a loupe on the table so the viewer could fully examine the coins shown. Another showed a collection of half dimes, not the number one coin on the collecting hit parade, but presented in an eye-catching way. The set included the rare 1802 coin.
Still another display showed the copper color differences in large cents. Another fascinating exhibit highlighted the different mottoes considered for our coinage other than “In God We Trust,” and still another, the edge inscriptions on early coins. The coins were mounted in special holders and shown in a way that the viewer could see the edges of each coin.
A major convention can show more than 90 exhibits, and they are all open to inspection an hour or so before the bourse floor opens, so you can take your time and really check them out. You may be encouraged to collect something new, or find renewed interest in an old series. You may even be inspired to create your own exhibit at the next show.
At the ANA World’s Fair of Money, held in the summer (this year August in Boston), you can vote for your favorite exhibit; the exhibitor wins the People’s Choice Award.
A collector can attend any number of talks and lectures given by prominent numismatists throughout the convention weekend. Check the schedule. You may find something of interest, or a new interest. Topics can range from favorite coins, new discoveries, tokens or medals or currency, to consumer protection. Something for everyone.
If coins of the world are your forte, there are conventions devoted to your collecting interest. Many shows have certain areas where foreign coins are sold. The World’s Fair of Money has the Mint Mile, where a number of foreign mints set up tables and attractive displays. A younger collector can obtain a special “passport” to have stamped by the different mints, and collect a coin from each country represented. One year, the Bank of Costa Rica gave me a colorful shirt; they thought it was great to see a female collector.
Specialty shows for currency lovers, Colonial coin collectors, early copper enthusiasts, are held throughout the year. No matter what you like, there’s a convention for you at some time besides the major shows.
Try to visit a convention when you can. You may find a special coin or a new series. You can talk to fellow collectors. You can attend talks and lectures, view impressive exhibits and learn more about your favorite hobby, and have a lot of fun doing it.