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Written by Q. David Bowers, Chairman Emeritus

Author: Q. David Bowers / Wednesday, November 06, 2013 / Categories: From the Desk of Q. David Bowers
Welcome to my latest weekly e-column, a collection of clippings, comments, things that amuse me, numismatic comments, and more. You can contact me at [email protected]

Enjoy your week!

Hi ho, hi ho! Off to the Whitman Expo I go! Off to the Whitman Coins & Collectibles Expo in Baltimore, that is. Three times a year Whitman Publishing LLC puts on a grand convention at the Baltimore Convention Center and Stack’s Bowers Galleries conducts the auction in connection with it. If you are planning your schedule for 2014, check the Whitman website for dates in March, June, and November of next year. These are three of the top five conventions of the year!

A survey of dealers showed that Baltimore is their favorite convention city. It is well located on the East Coast. A circle of 300 miles drawn around it would probably capture more than half of the active collectors, dealers, and researchers in America. It is easy to fly to (Baltimore Washington International Airport is modern, close to downtown, and has few air traffic delays), to drive to (multiple Interstate Highway connections), or to go to by train (on Amtrak—our favorite way to travel). I suppose if you have a yacht you could also arrive by sea, in Baltimore Harbor.

There has been a revival of sorts in the popularity of printed books. There is something special about having a bound book with printed pages that you can hold in your hand, take to the beach, read in an easy chair at home, and otherwise enjoy at leisure. A printed book has random access -- you can flip to any page you want -- requires no batteries or power, has nice graphics and, perhaps more important, has a permanence. Our old auction catalogs are enthusiastically collected -- far more than those of any other contemporary firm. The Ford Collection hard bounds are the latest in an illustrious series. It could be that the same amount of information if posted on the Internet would be just as useful, sort of, but something would be lost. A book in its own way is a little trophy, perhaps like a special watch or car is.

The Whitman Guide Book of Civil War Tokens, recently published, has been selling like hotcakes, Whitman advises me. This was a “fun” book to write -- with lots of help from others. Among the front matter items is a detailed reminiscence from the late George J. Fuld, my long-time friend -- with information about his collecting life (which began in 1943 with Lincoln cents) that has never been published elsewhere.

Further speaking of books, the Numismatic Bibliomania Society is one of our favorite organizations. It is devoted to the enjoyment of out-of-print as well as current coin magazines, auction catalogs, reference books, printed broadsides and more. Their quarterly journal, The Asylum, is one of the best “reads” to cross my desk. The current issue included articles about Emmanuel J. Antinelli, father of collecting numismatic auction catalogs by John W. Adams; a related article also by Adams, about Antinelli himself; a feature by Pete Smith and Joel Orosz as to what the first publication was of the second United States Mint (the cornerstone for which was laid on July 4, 1829); “Reminiscences of a Numismatic Bookseller,” by George Kolbe; a quiz by Myron Xenos; and other features by David Fanning, Scott Rubin, Wayne Johnson, Elizabeth Hahn, Steve Tompkins and, again, Joel Orosz. The remarkable thing about the society is that dues are just $20 a year! If you are interested, send a check for that amount to the treasurer, David M. Sundman, PO Box 82, Littleton, NH 03561 and say that I sent you!

A bit about stamps: When I was at the Pennsylvania State University I usually had breakfast at the Corner Room near the campus. Also there every morning was H. Clay Musser, executive secretary of the American Philatelic Society, headquartered in the town. He would talk about stamps and I would talk about coins, each learning something from the other. Once he suggested that it would be a good idea for me to buy a life membership in the APS, for whatever the cost was, probably not more than $100 and perhaps less. Today, some 55 years later, I still get The American Philatelist. I guess I was not a very good investment for the APS as I am not a stamp collector. I do enjoy, however, reading many of the articles in each issue and, especially, the editorial comments. The APS is having many of the same problems that the American Numismatic Society has -- declining membership, high expenses and graying demographics. Reinforcing this was a recent brochure I received from Earl Apfelbaum, a well-known dealer in Pennsylvania, inviting members of the APS to sell their stamps. “Our customers, typically in their sixties and seventies, live in all 50 states.” One challenge for all of us in each hobby is to try to get the younger set to become more interested. The instant gratification provided by the Internet, games and the like takes away from the energy once spent on filling holes in a Whitman album or, for that matter, adding stamps to a collection. And yet, coins have a fascinating history that you can hold in your hand and are a tangible reminder of something that once was or is. A collection of Statehood quarters from 1999 to 2008 is wonderful to behold, each with its own story to tell.

Another challenge for numismatics is for the makers of certified holders to create a product that is small and easy to use. I have a set of Jefferson nickels that fits nicely in an album. However, if it were to be slabbed by PCGS and NGC I would need to rent a couple of safe deposit boxes to hold it! And, in addition, the coins would be much harder to enjoy and appreciate. How about making small circular holders with a security rim just slightly larger than each coin, with the rim being imprinted with the serial number and other information. This could be taken in and out of a larger “slab.” Wouldn’t it be nice if when collecting Jefferson nickels or Statehood quarters, if certified collections could fit compactly into albums? Something to think about.

See you next week!