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Numismatic Innovation

At the last ANA convention in Chicago, the new management of Coin World invited a couple of dozen numismatic professionals/advertisers to discuss how their organization could be of better service to us dealers.  It was a refreshing and appreciated gesture and the ensuing frank and robust exchange of ideas was both edifying and hopeful.  Issues ranged from how to better serve us dealers as well as expanding internet and social media services to engage new collectors.

I was proud and humbled to be included with so many brilliant, sharp yet pragmatic minds. At a time when there are many daunting challenges to the future of numismatics as a hobby, let alone as a profession, this was encouraging.

This short encounter reminded me of Summit 2000, a gathering in Phoenix of some 50 numismatists including the major grading firms and auction houses, sponsored by the Professional Numismatist Guild, and the Industry Council for Tangible Assets to explore some of the same issues we are dealing with 15 years later.

It became clear then as it is now that markets and lifestyles change and if we as an industry don’t innovate and change along with it, our future is in peril.

This is nothing new; when I worked for my father and uncle in mid-60s I would often hear laments from diverse dealers of the impending doom of our hobby.  “You can’t find rare coins in change anymore”, “grading is too subjective; there’s no standards”, “Counterfeits from the Middle East and China will ruin the industry”, and later, “government regulation is preventing us from making any money”. They say, “Adversity is the mother of invention” and time and again the numismatic community has responded.

Industry Innovative Responses

Independent grading coupled with population reports helped standardize grading and, to a certain extent, made generic coins fungible so new collectors/investors could feel more confident about receiving fair value. Technology, intense research, and networking helped combat counterfeiting, and the precursor to ICTA was formed in 1981 as a watchdog for potential harmful legislation.

Two years ago the PNG launched an innovative career opportunity internship/fellowship program to encourage, educate and place aspiring numismatists into jobs. By contracting with the University of Rare Coins (URC), a  provider of interactive numismatic educational classes via the internet, and working with numismatic firms willing to mentor candidates, the PNG mentor program—financed by the Ed Milas memorial fund and other dealer members—have been able to identify, qualify, educate and place three new numismatists with numismatic firms. Three more are currently in the program.  Unfortunately new ways are needed to market this virtually all-expenses-paid vocational opportunity since few applications have been received in the last several months.

Current Challenges

But constant innovation is necessary in all areas of numismatics including marketing numismatics to new audiences, more accurate and in-depth accumulation of data, providing speedier access to such information and more sophisticated and easier delivery systems of both information and products, as well as providing better educational and career opportunities in numismatics.

Expanding the Collector Base

This may be Job One if there is going to be a robust future for our hobby.  The U.S. Mint’s Hip Pocket (USMint.gov) program aimed at educating our youngest demographic has been helpful but probably could benefit from more input from the ANA and PNG. Certainly the various Washington State and national park quarter programs as well as presidential dollars and other commemorative programs have stimulated interest in coin collecting.  When in 2006 we succeeded in getting 2/3 of Congress to sign off on a coin to commemorate the 1906 earthquake and the survival of the Old Mint, we were able to raise $4.75 million towards a future American Money and Gold Rush Museum at the Old San Francisco Mint—a potential destination for thousands if not millions of new collectors.

Saddle Ridge Hoard Legacy

The Saddle Ridge Hoard Treasure gave us an opportunity to share a numismatic story with millions of others who had never before been exposed to the history and romance represented by these round metallic artifacts. At the peak of the news cycle last March, over 1.65 million websites worldwide carried the news exposing over a billion new people to the story.

By marketing the coins through Amazon.com we were able to reach hundreds of thousands of new potential collectors who were first enamored by the story and then wanted a piece of that history.  Besides opening a new platform to sell multiple quantities of similar coins, this venture is also about bringing numismatics to a gigantic untapped audience of potential collectors and investors. There are now over 150 dealers on this platform.

Future Innovations

Possibly the next big innovation will be in numismatic content delivery systems. The major grading services of PCGS and NGC as well as the major auction houses now provide numismatic history, population and pricing data that is readily available through the internet.  But access to the industry is still fragmented. Just like shopping malls replaced the individual retail stores, soon there will there be one-stop numismatic communities for e-commerce.

You’ll be able to mine terra-bytes of numismatic stories, readily find specific wants from a data base of tens of thousands of coins, verify value, ask technical questions from experts, manage your account, place your new purchases in a virtual  Whitman Blue book which will automatically update the scope and value of your holdings.

There will probably be a smart phone app equivalent to a Facebook for numismatists with local content about events and Skype-like reviews. Virtual coin shows may be another innovation.

Other educational innovations could include placing URC curriculum in the hands of traditional schools as either standalone classes or part of other courses which will give students early exposure to numismatics.

Universal access to Interactive on-line museums as well as the more visceral experience of mortar and brick structures could bring millions more to the world of numismatics.

 

It’s clear that if we are to attract a new generation of coin collectors we need to go where the market is which is constantly changing. Recently more people watched a championship match of a game called League of Legends than the Super Bowl. This game attracts over 27 million young people a day. Apparently while there are financial incentives, the competition and recognition from winning is most compelling. This has been shown to be true with the brilliant innovation by the major grading firms of Registry Sets—which taps into the compelling motivation of assembling the finest collection.   Perhaps our industry needs to merge numismatics and gaming to attract this new audience.

Eventually the new tag line for numismatics will be History In Your Hands – and your fingertips.

 

Don Kagin

 

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