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Time to sell parts of ANA collection?


What is the purpose of the American Numismatic Association’s Edward C. Rochette Money Museum?

That might seem to be a strange question to ask about a long-established aspect of the American Numismatic Association.

Yet the question occurs to me as an appropriate one to ask at this time because of an item that has come my way in the last few days – and it’s an election year.

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Ursula Kampmann sent me a report that the MoneyMuseum in Zurich, Switzerland, is going to be selling off a small number of very valuable coins in several auctions starting in May in order to fund a new series of both short and comprehensive podcasts on iTunes University in German and English to further its educational mission on coins and coin-related topics.

With holdings worth about $37 million, ANA members might ask if they are getting $37 million in value out of their ANA museum. Even the board’s strategic plan asks the question.

Evidence in recent years is they are not. A 2007 theft of coins was not even noticed for weeks and the full extent was not documented for months afterwards. The ANA began recovering some missing pieces last October and who knows how long full recovery will take or whether it will be accomplished at all.

Naturally, the board of governors is focused on improved security, operational procedures and inventory. The latter is something that has particularly bedeviled ANA as coins have sat for years in the containers they were mailed in.

This, of course, is behind the curtain. Out front in the public area at Colorado Springs, Colo., headquarters, the museum can wow the most jaded collector with a 1913 Liberty Head nickel and an 1804 silver dollar and the Bass gold collection, which has its own room. They are the crown jewels that we can all be proud of.

The ANA website notes that 225,000 items are in its possession and most cannot be displayed, though they will eventually be digitized.

Would the educational mission of ANA be better served at the end of this process with a smaller and more focused collection curated by a larger staff? Once digitized, duplicates and other coins deemed unessential can be sold off to finance a core educational mission. The Internet will then allow access even to the pieces that are sold.

What should that mission be? Once you rule out the idea of having an example of every coin and bank note ever made, you open the door to competing visions.

It is better, though, to do a more limited job well than to try to do everything. A bigger staff funded by museum sales might be able to arrange exchanges with museums that can fill in the gaps in a smaller ANA collection so every ANA member can know that there will be something to further his or her learning in whatever specialty area is desired.

The ANA organization is dedicated to education. The incoming president’s experience is in education. Is it time to redefine the museum to better serve that end?

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