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Reflections on Manatee Coin Club's 60 Years

Submitted by the Manatee Coin Club 

The Cuban Missile Crisis couldn’t do it, nor could the 1960s racial riots. Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, the War on Terror, Watergate, Whitewater, Iran/Contra, and Russian voter interference made no difference. The Great Recession of 2008, and bullion highs and lows could not shut it down. An unseen foe, however, a virus of all things, forced the Manatee Coin Club of Bradenton, Fla., into a prolonged hiatus after 60 years of meetings.

Numismatists organized the Manatee Coin Club sometime in 1960. That same year, 40 miles south, the Venice Coin Club began. To commemorate their 60th anniversaries, the clubs have purchased 1960 proof sets. With Numismatic Guaranty Corporation’s assistance, the clubs created some sample sets and individual slabs so that every member could afford a souvenir. Any remaining sample slabs will be offered for sale.

The Manatee Club intended a special celebration at its annual banquet in March, however, COVID-19 disrupted those plans. Many of our members returned north for the summer, and fall festivities remain unscheduled. Through e-mail and a dedicated secretary, the club continues communication.

Records from meetings prior to 1980 have disappeared. Regrettably, Fred Vandergraff Sr., one of the last surviving founders of the club, died five years ago. The remaining records, however, offer interesting nuggets of history about the club and west Florida numismatics.

The club began meeting in the Palmetto Police station, across the river from Bradenton. The club moved to Bradenton where it met in a Singer Sewing store owned byVandergraff. Since Fred gradually became a coin dealer as well, the store was a good meeting site. After using the common room of College Park retirement home, the club secured its current site in the classrooms of the Christian Reformed Church. Through these moves, the local coin shops anchored the hobby by directing visitors to the club.

The club hosted shows at various locations throughout the years. In 1987 the club held its first show at the Manatee Convention Center and continued there for one-day and two-day shows into the 1990s. Later shows followed in hotel meeting rooms and a mobile home recreation center. During the last decade, Manatee and Sarasota clubs joined forces with promoter Frank Cox to sponsor spring and fall shows in the Sarasota Municipal Auditorium.

Notices of the annual club banquet bring to mind restaurants that no longer exist such as Betty’s Lunch, and the Pewter Mug. Finding adequate dining space remains a challenge amid a fluid restaurant industry; however, the bullion raffle and a free or subsidized meal became the social highlight of the year.

Given the transient nature of modern life, the membership list changed noticeably over a decade. A few children came with their parents but grew up and moved away. New retirees came into this sun-and-sea mecca. Over the years, the membership fluctuated between 30 to 50 individuals. In the bylaws, dues began at $2 a year and have risen to only $7.50 per individual. It is $10 for a family because affordability remains important to the club.

Perusing the surviving minutes, one wades through mundane business matters, but also some interesting events. A newspaper clipping from 1963 describes a member’s display at an open house of the Gamble Mansion, a Civil War-era plantation. A photo shows a booth set up perhaps in the 1970s at the Manatee County Fair. In 1994, a club member unknowingly acquired an early member’s photo album in an estate sale jumble box. The club searched for surviving family members through the media. A month later, ecstatic family members retrieved the prized possession that was misplaced during the sale.

Of course, bullion and coin prices fluctuated greatly over 60 years. Collecting trends and favorites changed along with affordability. Knowledge, expertise, and coins passed from “old-timers” to novices. One illustrates how much the hobby has changed. From December 1981, the minutes describe a discussion regarding silver dollars graded MS-63, which flowed into the numerical grading system. The “general consensus is that such close grading is splitting hairs.”

In the eyes of those long-gone collectors, the hobby’s grading may seem like splitting atoms today. No doubt, given the world’s fixation with the atom in 1960, they would understand the analogy. In that era of uncertainty for the world’s survival, a group of numismatists demonstrated hope in the future of the hobby. For that faith, the current Manatee Coin Club salutes them.

This “Viewpoint” was submitted by Max Vreugdenhil, president of the Manatee Coin Club.

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