Offhand, a good measure of the “best” coin show might be the number
of people who attended. However, no standard exists for measuring attendance.
Today, it seems that the all-time real record is the American
Numismatic Association’s 2000 summer show in Philadelphia. This was
the one where the “Ship of Gold” exhibit stretched across the front of
the bourse. It was said that 20,000 people were there. But wait! Some
years earlier, in 1976, 20,000 also attended the annual convention of
the ANA in New York City.
In the very early days the measure of attendance at an ANA show
was the number of registrations. For example, at the 1912 ANA
convention in Rochester, N.Y., 55 people were registered. The 1913
show in Detroit saw an uptick to 56. The 1914 show in Springfield,
Mass., counted 68 people.
Oops! At the 1915 show held in San Francisco, where members could
attend the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, the gathering set
a new low record for attendance of members. The Numismatist reported
that the entire body present consisted of just 12 people! Never before
at any ANA convention was attendance so sparse.
Why? My guess is that the ANA membership stayed away because they
despised Farran Zerbe, who was to have a large display at the
exposition, including new commemorative coins, and was to be a host at
the convention. Zerbe had been disgraced for buying The Numismatist
for his personal profit, instead of purchasing it for the ANA as
everyone had supposed, and he had rigged the 1909 ANA election.
In the late 20th century “attendance days” were used, according to
Edward Rochette, longtime executive director of the ANA. If a
collector or dealer showed up on Wednesday and stayed until Sunday he
or she was counted as five attendees! To that figure was often added a
guess for others — such as unregistered spouses and schoolchildren attending.
An unrelated private large West Coast show went further, much
further, and estimated the number of coming-in times each day. An
attendee who had appointments or went out for lunch or to have a
cigarette could be counted maybe a half dozen or more times on a given day!
Sometimes, shows that are almost as dead as a doornail are
reported as being beehives of activity!
Next week: More “wiggly” statistics and numbers in our hobby!
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, firstname.lastname@example.org,
or at Q. David Bowers LLC, Box 1804, Wolfeboro, NH 03894.