In mid-August I attended the American Numismatic Association
World’s Fair of Money, the designation for what used to be called the
ANA convention. Held each summer, the convention is often the
focal-point show of the year.
The number of different people attending a given show is the
numismatic equivalent of a state secret. Bigger is better seems to be
the guiding rule. Insiders know that this is not necessarily so. As an
example, the yearly gathering of the Early American Coppers group,
with several hundred signing up, is one of the most enjoyable and
active of the year.
The old-time rule for ANA conventions was to count the number who
registered. Seems the right way to do it. Then, a few decades ago the
system became casual.
Today it is a question in history as to whether more than 20,000
different people attended the summer shows in 1976 and 2000, both of
which posted these numbers. Ed Rochette, former executive director,
said that for some shows the number of “people days” was used. Under
the “people days” method of counting attendance, if I attended a
convention from Tuesday through Saturday, or five days, I counted as
five admissions. This paled into insignificance compared to a West
Coast show that counted people as they walked in — so if a smoker came
in and out six times in a single day, he or she was tallied as six
people for that day alone!
Changing the drift slightly, we have population reports issued by
Professional Coin Grading Service and Numismatic Guaranty Corp. These
do not reflect true population at all — for that would mean the number
of different coins certified. Instead, these are certification events.
In one instance a leading dealer told me he sent in a 1916-D
Winged Liberty Head dime 24 times, on his own and through friends,
until finally it was graded Mint State 65. Each submission would be
counted in the grading service’s population report, and yet, just one
coin was involved.
Many general-interest magazines faced with declining subscribers
now offer special deals — such as buy one subscription for yourself
and another free as a gift for a friend. This keeps the numbers high,
but the quality of the subscribers suffers.
“To make something seem official, attach a number to it,” is a
truism. If I said that 2,453,509 people read my books and articles on
the Internet last year, few would question it!
The ANA is back on track — and will publish actual registration
numbers, an ANA official told me.
Q. David Bowers is chairman emeritus of Stack’s Bowers Galleries
and numismatic director of Whitman Publishing LLC. He can be reached
at his private email, email@example.com,
or at Q. David Bowers, LLC, Box 1804, Wolfeboro, NH 03894.