By Mark Benvenuto
There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 has changed everyday life in the United States, and indeed the world, in countless ways. How we collect probably qualifies as a pretty small change, but nevertheless, this pandemic will most likely color how we go about assembling collections of great coins, bank notes, and medals for years and possibly decades to come. We thought it might be a good idea to query some of the people most actively involved in our hobby to see what is different for them, to see what has become more of a challenge, and to see if there might actually be any upsides or strange pluses to an event that put most of the world on lock-down in 2020.
I spoke with several people who are deeply involved with the American Numismatic Association and the Royal Canadian Numismatic Association to get their thoughts on our current situation and the current state of collecting. All are modest enough that they would not call themselves experts within our hobby, yet each has devoted a great deal of time to it. Their thoughts are quite revealing.
Shows and Safety
I asked Cliff Mishler, ANA Board Member; Joe Boling, the ANA Chief Judge; and Brett Irick, Royal Canadian Numismatic Association Director and Club Services Chairman how they thought the hobby was changed because of the pandemic. It seems each has been involved in making adjustments since the pandemic began, and thus had already thought about this, with some of their answers being quite similar.
Mr. Mishler was quick to point out that shows had been canceled because of the pandemic and to abide by the law, in the future, the safety of dealers and the public would be of paramount importance as shows came back. Not only will we have to practice social distancing in future shows, spacing tables farther, and asking people to keep a safe distance, but there must be some safety and sanitation measures taken as numerous customers and potential customers handle raw coins, coins in two-by-twos and slabs, or pages of coins in notebooks. It appears to be something that has not yet been fully thought out. Some sort of agreeable standard for safety measures will have to be adopted.
All the interviewees agreed that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected dealers differently than the average collector. Some are suffering badly, especially if their major business revenue was from face-to-face sales at shows. Mr. Irick pointed out that this has ironically been a good time for dealers to update and improve their websites, as more collectors are now going to such sites to keep their collecting active and healthy, and to find coins they might otherwise have found face-to-face at shows. He also indicated some dealers are saving a bit of money if their online sales are good since they have curtailed travel and meal expenses they would normally have had. Also, for customers who have established themselves with a dealer, and who have in the past provided want lists – and paid for the coins on such lists when dealers provided them – they have been able to actually get ahead during an otherwise tough time. The idea of working closely with and building trust with one or more dealers is definitely a good one that could culminate in some good buying or selling opportunities.
The idea of finding the time to organize our collections is undoubtedly one that predates the current pandemic. Indeed, it’s probably difficult to find a collector who is completely satisfied with how he or she has put their collection together. Mr. Boling was honest enough to say that he still feels he has many items in his own collection that he has not managed to catalog to his satisfaction. Likewise, Mr. Mishler described himself as a “classic accumulator” who tends to buy items because he enjoys them in some way, and not because they are part of some greater whole he is trying to assemble. This makes it a bit tough to put his collection in what he considers a complete, organized state.
All three of them agreed though that if a person can find some time, the pandemic may actually provide a chance to get somewhat more organized and to take collections to the next, higher level. Whether this becomes a reality or remains a hopeful mirage on some distant horizon, is something each of us will have to determine for ourselves.
Mr. Irick and Mr. Boling were quick to indicate that online purchases, whether directly from a dealer, or through auction houses, were on the rise during the time in which we were all at home. Both thought this was a solid way to continue building any collection, and pointed out how many dealers and auction houses had well-developed websites. Mr. Mishler commented that he felt there was still a difference between being able to see and hold a coin during a pre-auction viewing, and bidding for a piece online. But the idea of bidding in online auctions is another that certainly pre-dates the present situation. For new buyers or bidders in this area, it is always wise to look at the terms of sale for any event, to determine if a lot can be returned if what arrives in the mail does not match what appears in a photograph online.
Each expert noted how much the hobby has been disrupted because face-to-face club activities have been shut down for months. Many collectors join one local club, or perhaps more, because of the camaraderie and fellowship it provides and the friendships it builds. But Mr. Boling noted right away that with many clubs being able to move to a Zoom meeting format, they end up being able to have more attendees at their virtual meetings than they would have at some monthly face-to-face get together. He also pointed out that clubs that are not local, such as clubs built around a theme, can now have members attend and be seen, at least virtually, no matter where they live. Some clubs have been thorough enough in moving to an online format that they schedule and call a Zoom meeting, have a speaker or presenter for the evening, a show-and-tell session for those who have something to share, and basically go through a full meeting, just without some physical meeting space. It’s definitely different but it is also definitely better than no meeting at all.
Any person of good conscience can’t help but feel a bit guilty to find that a situation like this has presented them with some advantages, but again there seem to be some that our experts agree on. One was taking advantage of the people and the talent within local and regional clubs who are able to set up virtual meetings. While a lot of collectors who have joined clubs find that they cannot quite get the just-mentioned camaraderie through virtual meetings, there are still ways to connect, learn, and even do some buying and selling.
Mr. Boling offered the thought that now was an excellent time to either get your personal numismatic library in some order, so you can read the books and journals you have been hoping to but just haven’t found the time for – or to start building some kind of library of your own. After all, knowledge is one of the most important aspects of our hobby.
Our interviewees also mentioned that collectors who have not taken advantage of resources such as the Newman Numismatic Portal or the ANA website might be smart to do so at the present time. The portal, only an internet click away, at nnp.wustl.edu, has a wealth of information for anyone who is interested in learning more about any aspect of our hobby. Even if your interests are more towards what is happening in the here and now, there are several websites where your thirst for knowledge can be slaked. Coins magazine is an easy and inexpensive publication to subscribe to, and is as easy to find as an internet search.
What’s in Store for the Future?
The cancellation of essentially all of the local, regional, and national coin shows is one of the most obvious downsides of the pandemic on our hobby. This has hit some dealers very hard, while others have simply shifted to an online format, and continued to do business. Likewise, some collectors have been stopped in their tracks, while others are buying and selling in other ways.
Mr. Mishler felt though that once the idea of proper sanitation and show safety had been addressed and the stay-at-home orders end, shows will return, and collectors will be coming back to them. Predicting when is probably beyond the scope of any of us, whether we have a crystal ball or not. But the return of shows does seem to be something to look forward to.
Whether you have been affected by the pandemic as deeply as some of our community have, or whether you had a full-time job where you worked from home prior to the stay-at-home orders that were issued by most state governors, and thus had almost no disruption to your life, our hobby has definitely been changed by the COVID virus. But patience and perseverance will get us through this; with luck, our collecting habits and our collections will emerge stronger and more complete.