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The Biggest and Best Bargain in Numismatics?

By Frank Van Valen, Numismatist and Cataloger, U.S. Coins

Author: Stack's Bowers Galleries / Thursday, May 09, 2013 / Categories: Events
Let’s face it, we’re all collectors or we wouldn’t be reading this blog in the first place. As collectors, we often look outside of our own collecting comfort zone and seek new pursuits or numismatic avenues to wander down, always with an eye peeled for the next interesting purchase. What if I told you one of the best bargains and most fun times in numismatics had nothing at all to do with purchasing a coin or a note or a medal for your collection?

The annual American Numismatic Association Summer Seminar, held in Colorado Springs, Colorado at the foot of Pike’s Peak for the past 45 years, is an event not to be missed. It happens for two consecutive weeks each and every summer, with Week 1 held this year June 22-28, and Week 2 June 29-July 5. Imagine hundreds of students from across the country -- and around the world – converging on the campus of Colorado College on Cascade Avenue where they stay in dorm rooms (or privately off-campus if desired), eat at community meals, and enjoy a five-day class on the numismatic topic of their choice. And don’t forget the camaraderie! You’ll meet other collectors and forge lifetime friendships in the grandest tradition of numismatics. And, I will be instructing there during Week 2. (Oh, and if you’re there during Week 2, as I will be, the fireworks are great in Colorado Springs!)

My first experience at the ANA Summer Seminar was way back in June 1985 when I attended a class on counterfeit detection taught by J.P. Martin, Mary Sauvain, and Pedro Collazzo. I was awarded a National Coin Week all-expenses paid scholarship to the seminar and selected the counterfeiting course knowing full well I’d probably benefit greatly from the experience. Dave Bowers was president of the ANA in 1985 and was seen constantly around campus; little did I dream two short years later I would begin a career in professional numismatics for Mr. Bowers that has lasted to this day! I met Ken Bressett, now editor of A Guide Book of United States Coins, the familiar “Red Book” we all value so dearly, along with Bill Fivaz, two familiar names in numismatics, and two friends to this day.

In 2001 I was approached by Gail Baker of the ANA and asked if I would like to team-up with David Lange, NGC historian, and instruct a course on collecting U.S. type coins. Dave and Ken Bressett had done the course together previously, and as Ken was stepping down, I accepted the challenge. I had never met Dave Lange before this, but true to Summer Seminar form, we have become fast friends, numismatically and otherwise, and have now taught together many times in “The Springs.”

Our course is based on the Guide Book format. We take every type in the book, half cents through double eagles, and discuss them at length. From 1793 to 1933, if it was made in a U.S. Mint for intended circulation, we cover it in detail. Each student is given a folder with a black and white line drawing of each type which they are free to mark or make notes upon as we discuss areas of striking weakness, the design high points, where to look for breaks in luster, as well as who designed each type, what we know of the design origins, weight statutes and changes, and so on. Students are encouraged to bring their type coins to class for show-and-tell which happens every afternoon just after lunch.

Of course, the Summer Seminar is not just about my “Collecting United States Type Coins” class. There are numerous courses offered from beginning to advanced grading, classes on copper coins, early pre-federal money in America, photography, engraving, and the list goes on and on with dozens of topics and courses to choose from. And the night life! There are mini-seminars virtually every night on varied topics, and each of the two weeks there is a YN (Young Numismatists) auction that is a highlight none of us “old timers” like to miss. The fun factor is through the roof at the event and the proceeds go toward scholarships for future YN visits to the Summer Seminar. Most evenings adults can be found at the “Moonlight Lounge,” a large patio on campus, “out back a ways,” where collectors and friends from around the country gather to tell their numismatic tales and otherwise have a good time. More than one impromptu bluegrass session has broken out there over the years. Indeed, last year, 2012, we could the Waldo canyon fires just a few miles away, fires that made the national news and destroyed more than 300 houses during seminar week.

I look forward every year to my trip to Colorado Springs to participate in one of the greatest forms of relaxation I know – immersed in coins, coin lore, and friendship. You should give it a try. The ANA can be found at www.money.org, their website, which will give you links to the Summer Seminar and all the organization’s other fine activities. If you read this and attend, come up and introduce yourself to me, it will be fun to meet you. Hope to see you there!
Tags: ANA