Many of today’s coin collectors got the collecting bug by attending their first coin show.
With the increased usage of the Internet to connect collectors with coins and one another, some conversations I’ve had at the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money in Philadelphia have centered on the changing role and place of coin shows in the collector mentality today.
Coin shows serve as both an entry point to the hobby for beginners and a vehicle for deeper exploration for those who have been collecting for some time. The show is a place to connect with longtime friends and make new ones.
The basic goals for a coin show are pretty much the same at all levels, and have been for some time. Basically stated, coin shows strive to provide a safe place for dealers to conduct business, to bring collectors together, and to promote our hobby in a positive way.
My first big coin show — the Michigan State Numismatic Society fall show held in Dearborn over Thanksgiving weekend in 1989 — introduced me to a larger world of collecting than my local coin shop could provide. It showed me that the hobby is also a big industry and that plenty of people can make a living buying, selling and working with coins.
It was a thrill to see cases full of gold coins, in contrast with the two or three pieces that the local shop had in inventory. Dealers had expensive coins and key dates. I was amazed by the educational exhibits and remember the young numismatist program — led by Florence Schook — where my odd interest in coins was encouraged.
As years passed, I can remember milestones in my life in the context of coin shows. My first ANA convention in 1994 in Detroit was followed up in 1995 by Anaheim, Calif., noteworthy for me because that was the first show my parents allowed me to attend on my own. I remember the Portland, Ore, convention in 1998, which was the first show where I worked behind a dealer’s table. The list goes on and on, and my list is short in comparison to the many dealers and collectors who have attended 30, 40 and even 50 ANA shows over their lifetimes.
For many of the people who have stopped by the Coin World booth in Philadelphia, it is their first show. They’re a smidgen overwhelmed, a little amazed by the largeness of the whole “big show” enterprise and the vastness of the dealer bourse and educational programs. However, despite the immensity, all seem impressed and would return to a coin show.
True, there are perhaps more big shows now than there were a decade ago, and the time demands on dealers to attend these shows have grown substantially. For example, many dealers will be in Philadelphia for nearly two weeks to fully participate in the ANA auctions, so one can understand their weariness toward the end of the marathon stretch.
But the hobby cannot forget that coin shows — both at the local and national level — are key entry points to the hobby and that collectors who attend shows over time, forge a deeper bond with the hobby and (hopefully) become lifelong collectors.
The Internet is a wonderful complement to — but certainly not a replacement for — the connections made at coin shows.