US Coins

Activity abounds at the return of World’s Fair of Money

Top attractions of the 2021 World's Fair of Money included U.S. Type Coins of the Tyrant Collection and the display of the record-setting 1933 double eagle, hosted by GreatCollections.

Images by Larry Jewett

A ceremonial ribbon cutting at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Illinois, had added meaning when the 2021 American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money officially opened on Aug. 10. The signal that allowed attendees to begin their activities also marked a long-anticipated return to everyone being together in one place, after more than a year of constraints.

“I cannot begin to tell you how thrilled I am to welcome you to this 2021 World’s Fair of Money. We all missed each other. Nineteen months. We are excited once again to be together as a community, kindred spirits back in the city where it all started,” said ANA executive director Kim Kiick during opening ceremonies.

The annual event was canceled last year due to precautions and restrictions imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2020 event was scheduled for Pittsburgh.

As collectors headed to the bourse floor for the first day, a sense of relief prevailed, as the reality that it was finally happening took hold. The hours of planning between the ANA, convention hall officials and the host Chicago Coin Club began to manifest in the show. Signage throughout recommended wearing of masks and reminded visitors that the dealers who purchased tables had the right to require them. Several locations, including the grading tables, followed the recommended precautions. No one wanted to return to the restraints against in-person shows.

It didn’t take long for business to ramp up. Many dealers reported brisk first-day sales, as dealer-to-dealer transactions and an anxious public combined to keep product changing hands, a trend that continued throughout the oncoming days.

Longtime visitors to past ANA events held at this location noted that the physical layout of the show appeared to be more spread out than in years past (the site hosted seven previous ANA events). Roomy booth space and wider aisles were noted. A first impression noted a lack of some amenities often seen in bigger trade shows, as few booths were decorated with curtained backdrops, resorting to just tables and display cases. A few days walking on the bare concrete floor in the 250,000-square-foot hall brought on a pining for shows that featured carpeted aisles.

As could be expected, a few booths were empty as last-minute events derailed the plans of an intended table holder. Many arriving from the West Coast were hurried to be ready, as travel delays left some stranded in places like Minneapolis before their eventual arrival at nearby Chicago O’Hare Airport. The most glaring absences were those with international numismatic interests. Few businesses based outside the United States could travel to the show because of lingering restrictions related to ongoing health concerns.

Exhibits on display

While circumstances far beyond the control of the event organizers had an impact, the 2021 ANA World’s Fair of Money offered enough activity to provide a gratifying experience for a wide variety of interests. Walking onto the bourse floor, it didn’t take long to notice the vast display of U.S. Type Coins from The Tyrant Collection. What promoters call the world’s most valuable private coin collection provided a stunning lesson on the beauty, artistry, patriotism and history of America’s coinage. The display included the King of Siam set along with 417 high-grade coins of denominations from half cents to $20 double eagles. The exhibit was offered through the efforts of Ira and Larry Goldberg, though no Goldberg attribution was visible in the display itself.

The GreatCollections booth offered a display of the recently sold 1933 Saint-Gaudens gold double eagle, giving the public its first chance to see the coin since its ownership changed. The coin sold for $18.87 million in June, an amount greater than the cost to construct the convention center in which it was housed. Published reports from a 2016 article indicate that the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, then known as the O’Hare Exposition Center, was built at a cost of $12 million.

Visitors had the unique opportunity to view the ship’s bell of the SS Central America. The California Gold Marketing Group brought the 268-pound bronze bell to the show, along with a model of the ship and information about the recovered treasure from the 1857 wreck. Twice daily, Bob Evans, chief archaeologist of the recovery efforts, rang the bell eight times, symbolic of the time when the ship sank off the coast of the Carolinas. The bell had been in a tank of distilled water in a desalination process for 30 years before the first-ever display.

Educational events

In addition to the commerce of the bourse floor, the underlying theme of education was abundant throughout. Nearby meeting rooms served as locations for the annual Money Talks and Sundman Lecture Series presentations. Young collectors scurried throughout the show in their treasure trivia hunts, finding answers to a variety of questions through visits at participating tables. A wealth of education exhibits provided thoughtful insight into vast areas of the hobby as viewers cast votes on top exhibits.

Numerous organizations used the gathering for their annual meeting, allowing many to see fellow club members in person for the first time in more than a year.

The event served as a time of recognition for past achievements while setting the stage for the future. At the PCGS Set Registry annual awards, three new members were inducted into the Coin Dealer Hall of Fame. Posthumous honors were given to Catherine Bullowa-Moore and Bruce Amspacher as the class of 2021. Current Stack’s Bowers Galleries CEO Greg Roberts, a 2020 nominee, was finally given his award.

The ANA presented awards on several occasions, handing out awards to the Chicago Coin Club and Presidential Award winner Rick Snow during opening ceremonies. A Thursday afternoon Members and Awards celebration recognized long-time members, literary efforts and special achievement awards. Recipients included David Vagi (Numismatist of the Year), Michael Fuljenz (Harry J. Forman Dealer of the Year) and Eric Holcomb (Adna G. Wilde Memorial Award for Exemplary Service). A Friday night awards banquet included the installation of officers for the 2021-2023 term with new governors Charles Morgan and Mark Lighterman taking their positions. Dr. Ralph Ross assumed the presidency for the upcoming term. Barbara Gregory, former editor of The Numismatist, and the late D. Wayne “Dick” Johnson, inaugural editor-in-chief of Coin World, were inducted into the Hall of Fame. Kerry Wetterstrom was recognized as winner of the Farran Zerbe Memorial Award for Distinguished Service and David T. Alexander was given the Lifetime Achievement Award.

The optimism prevailing at the show’s opening was very evident to the final bell when participants wrapped up activity and made plans for their next event. The challenge of 2021 had been met with gusto. The future, always an unknown, now shines bright for successful activity of this scale, as plans for the ANA World’s Fair of Money to return to Rosemont in 2022 are already in the thought process.

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