World Coins

David Vagi honored as ANA Numismatist of the Year

The recipient of the ANA’s Numismatist of the Year award for 2021 is David Vagi.

The 2021 American Numismatic Association Numismatist of the Year award goes to David Vagi, an expert in the field of ancient coins whose two-volume reference on the coins of the Roman Empire is a leading work in that area of study.

According to the ANA citation announcing Vagi’s selection for the honor, the award was first presented in 1995, was established to recognize individuals who have demonstrated long-term leadership in the field and service to the Association. Their accomplishments should have a significant impact on the numismatic community. 

A lifelong numismatist, Vagi became fascinated with coins when he was 8 or 9. Although his parents supported his hobby, he says his interest was completely self-driven. He began studying ancient Greek and Roman coins in the 1980s. Taking instructor Robert Hoge’s course on ancient coins at the 1985 ANA Summer Seminar sealed Vagi’s fate as a professional numismatist. “From that week onward, I studied ancient coins academically and with purpose, converting my private fascination into something large and more promising,” he said. “Without my involvement in the ANA, I likely would have taken a different path in life.”

Vagi earned degrees in history and journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia and studied at the University of Manchester (United Kingdom). He started his numismatic career in 1990 as a staff writer for Coin World and has worked in various capacities at Christie’s, Superior Galleries, Spink America and R.M. Smythe. He opened and ran his own business, Delphi International Ancient Art, from 1996 to 2008.

By far the most challenging and rewarding position of his career is his current one as director of NGC Ancients, which he’s held since 2008. Vagi finds coins appealing because they make history tangible. He considers what it would be like to study the Roman Empire without any physical remains. “Without such proof, one might wonder if its rich history was entirely legend. Surviving objects, such as coins, bring the past to life.”

A prolific author, Vagi also brings coins to life for others through his writing. For more than 25 years, he has penned a column every month for a major numismatic publication, including Coin World, The Celator, Numismatic News, World Coin News and the Numismatist. His 1,294-page Coinage and History of the Roman Empire received multiple “book of the year” awards and is considered one of the leading references on the topic. Additionally, he is a contributing author to six other numismatic books and served as editor (1994 to 1997) of SAN, the Journal of the Society for Ancient Numismatics. He also has written scripts for the National Public Radio program “Money Talks.” His research and writing have earned him numerous accolades, including “Best Column” writing awards from the Numismatic Literary Guild, two ANA Presidential Awards and an ANA Heath Literary Award. He was also named one of Coin World’s “100 Most Influential People in Numismatics, 1960–2020.”

Vagi is a life member and fellow of the American Numismatic Society and a life member of the ANA, for which he has taught more than 20 week-long courses on ancient coinage at Summer Seminars. Fans of the History Channel’s Pawn Stars might have spotted him on the show — he has made frequent appearances as a resident coin expert since 2014.

Vagi says he appreciates receiving the ANA’s Numismatist of the Year award “not only as a top honor, but because it’s unusual for a recipient to be a specialist in ancient coins. I trust this reflects the rising profile of ancient coins within the numismatic community.”

Vagi will be celebrated at the ANA’s World’s Fair of Money during the 130th anniversary awards banquet on August 13 at 7 p.m.

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