The last several months have been a roller coaster for international numismatics. No one has to tell dealers, collectors, suppliers or numismatic associations that simultaneous forces of global and regional recessions, volatile precious metals markets and fundamental shifts in national currencies make for a ride much more unpredictable and fearful than twirling in a tea cup at Disneyland.
The next 12 months will make more and more clear what the last 12 months have only hinted at: the fact that numismatics is, on one level, becoming more and more broken and fragmented, while at the same time, reconfiguring into something that has the ability to more quickly respond to not only economic factors, but more importantly to the new and different ways the collector and hobbyist and dealer and museum visitor think and live out their lives.
Take for example a personal desire to bring together collectors, enthusiasts, dealers and museums to further numismatics in the area of the great Reformation of the western Church under Martin Luther in 1517. Previously, there were just too many obstacles in the way to even attempt to bring together incredibly diverse interests in this 500-year old area of numismatics. Only a few individuals had access to very limited and obscure resources and knowledge of even a segment of the topic, and the ability to communicate that knowledge and excitement to others in either German or English.
First and foremost was the problem of bringing together individuals and local organizations scattered over Europe, North America and beyond who were limited in the distances they could travel, the languages they were competent to discuss often technical matters in, not to mention the financial resources available to hire staff and build brick-and-mortar offices and research centers and display cases and reference libraries necessary to carry out the mission of the organization.
Today the old problems are quickly giving way to new problems. Technology has contributed so much in breaking down the walls that prevented community from forming on an international/non-geographic scale. E-mail and Web sites and fax machines and video conferencing and computer-based language translators and digital imaging has actually opened up a part of the numismatic community unreachable 20 or 30 years ago. Technologies have opened new doors of possibility, but at the same time made the old way of doing things much more vulnerable to factors out of anyone’s control.
As I see it, the new problem for Reformation numismatics in particular (and the numismatic community in general) is a fundamental challenge to make the case why involvement in numismatics is not only interesting or financially profitable but necessary — even vital — for today’s individuals and families and communities on both a local as well as a national/global scale. Making the case for the importance of numismatics will make the difference between survival and movements that will revitalize the study of coins and medals for years to come.
Some business and interests connected to numismatics will, for an endless list of reasons, fall by the wayside in the next 12 months. But other interests will, often unexpectedly, begin to grow and flourish. My hope is that this is not only a time of change for numismatics, but a time of re-evaluating underlying values and passions that make us get up in the morning to further something much higher and deeper and wider than “coin collecting.”
What will be the enduring legacy passed on to a new generation questioning what numismatics has to offer in the journey of better understanding one’s place in the on-going history of the world? In these months ahead, either we will better clarify and communicate values and passions bigger than ourselves, or we will allow marketing agencies and accountants to determine the bottom line for our future.
Dr. Daniel N. Harmelink is founding President of The International Association of Reformation Coins and Medals.
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