US Coins

Monday Morning Brief for June 22, 2020: Virtual conventions

As hobby organizations cancel shows in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many are using technology to make some planned convention activities open to everyone.

Original images courtesy of American Numismatic Association.

The decision by the American Numismatic Association Board of Governors to suspend the 2020 ANA World’s Fair of Money will disappoint a lot of collectors and dealers eager to resume some sort of normalcy on the coin show circuit after months without a major convention.

However, the coin collecting community should use the experiences of 2020 to establish a new paradigm. The ANA is already doing just that, as did the promoter for the canceled International Paper Money Show in Kansas City in June.

Some activities originally planned for the ANA World’s Fair of Money and the ANA Summer Seminar (also canceled) are being made available virtually, for free, to anyone with access to the internet. Convention travel and attendance at the Summer Seminar can be expensive; not everyone can afford to participate.

The decision to offer free virtual educational programming is great; collectors who would have been unable to travel to the Pittsburgh show or to Colorado for the Summer Seminar can now enroll in education courses and attend seminars from the safety and comfort of their own homes at no cost. You cannot beat free numismatic education experienced from the comfort of your favorite easy chair.

The experiences of the just-concluded International Paper Money Show show that a hunger for numismatic education exists. Lyn Knight, owner of the IPMS, made the educational programming originally planned for the June show available online for free through Zoom, an app that enables people to meet virtually.

While one of the presentations was in progress, Art Friedberg, who covers the paper money field for us, emailed me to say, “There are now over 80 people at Lyn’s Zoom Speaker program. That is about double what you normally see in the room.”

Traditional conventions and shows are wonderful, but they impose barriers. Unless you are fortunate enough to live near a community that is the host city for a convention, you face travel and lodging expenses (costs that will cut into your coin purchasing budget). Some people dislike crowds; many do not enjoy travel by plane or the indignities of going through airport security. Virtual convention activities enable you to experience some elements of a show without these hassles or expenses.

Sure, a real bourse floor offers collectors the fun of being able to look at coins they may never otherwise get to see in person, like an 1804 Draped Bust dollar and a 1913 Liberty Head 5-cent coin, both frequently found on exhibit at a convention the size of the ANA World’s Fair of Money. Bourse floors allow for personal browsing. Virtual experiences may not quite replace in-person experiences of these kinds, for collectors or for dealers.

Still, the hobby has been moving to a virtual paradigm for years. Auction rooms often look nearly empty because most bidders are now participating remotely from their computers or over telephone lines. Most purchases of United States Mint products are made through the Mint website; mail orders were ended years ago. Brick-and-mortar shops are giving way to online venues like eBay.

The uncertainty over when the dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic will be gone, or if they will ever be gone, may well hasten the move from in-person convention and auctions to virtual versions. And if a coin show is held and it becomes a hot spot for a new flare-up of the coronavirus, collectors and dealers may demand that convention sponsors consider alternatives that offer less risk and expense.

Can coin conventions survive COVID-19? We hope so. Let us just be prepared for new ways of experiencing conventions. 

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