Spring - 2013 Message
It is almost convention time again. Our 250+ booth bourse is sold out. Hotel rooms are in short supply, and judging from the number of phone calls I’ve been receiving over the past month seeking various details about the event, interest is running unusually high.
One of the highlights of the convention will be Heritage’s sale of the Walton specimen of the 1913 Liberty Head nickel. This is the type of item that might typically be sold only once in each collecting generation, if even that often. While the Heritage catalog isn’t out as I write this, I can’t help but mention that one of the questions I’m often asked by less-experienced collectors is “What’s the best way to learn about coins and what they are really worth at any given point in time?”
I always advise people to subscribe to the auction catalogs of the major houses, read them and then study the prices realized afterward. The Heritage catalogs are a case in point. Even a casual glance will demonstrate that they are written by well-informed numismatic specialists. In addition to high-quality illustrations, there will be a great deal of in-depth historical information, not only about the provenance and commercial history of the items being sold, but also about the historical context of which they are a part. There is a considerable amount of numismatic research and scholarship that first sees the light of day in auction catalogs. For my money they represent one of, if not the best way to enhance your knowledge base about whatever it is that interests you.
There is so much going on at this year’s convention, that it is difficult to know where to begin. Certainly a major focus of attention will be the Heritage Signature Sales and especially the 1913 nickel. We’ll also have a 250+ booth bourse area with probably 300+ separate business entities set up. If you can’t find what you are looking for in either our bourse area or our two Heritage sales, your tastes must be extremely specialized.
We’ll also have our typically wonderful educational exhibit area organized by Fran Lockwood, who makes the extraordinary seem typical when it comes to the scope and breadth of the exhibits she is consistently able to attract to our event. I know that many of our attendees are more interested in the purely commercial aspects of the convention, but if you spend some time in our educational exhibit area, you may just enhance your level of knowledge enough that it will expand your commercial options.
For the second year in a row we’ll also have a Civil War Educational Forum. Last year was a success beyond anything we contemplated, with anywhere from 40 to 70 people attending each session. We expect a repeat of that level of interest in 2013, as we’ll have nine presentations covering a broad range of Civil War-related topics. In fact, I know at least several of my friends stayed for each and every one of our eight sessions last year. If you come to the first one on Friday morning, you just might find it hard to leave for the next two days.
I know that over the past decade more and more commercial activity is being carried out via the Internet. Certainly the numismatic world is not an exception. While the Internet has the capacity to spread knowledge and bring people together who share common interests, at the same time it fosters human isolation. Perhaps I’m old fashioned, but there is just something really exciting to me about being able to walk around a busy bourse area, take in the buzz of activity that goes on and then unexpectedly have a friend rush up to show me his latest acquisition, something he may have been seeking for years. A text message somehow doesn’t capture the core vitality of human interaction and activity. It’s sort of like the difference between being there and reading about it later, the difference between getting to know someone by looking them in eye, judging the tone of their voice, seeing how they react to our statements versus sending e-mail messages back and forth.
I ran across a book a few days ago that I’ll have to order, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by Sherry Turkle. Where will I get it from? Amazon.com. That in itself is a symptom of our age. When I was in school in Washington, D.C., I used to spend hours looking around in the stacks at the Saville Bookstore. I can recall it being a popular destination – at least for the mildly eccentric -- but it, like so many other locally owned specialty retailers, is long gone, a casualty of the age of big-box retailers. Old paper has an aroma that evokes images of past ages and people who have come before us. I wonder if the Kindle Fire will ever be able to do that?
So, what does this have to do with our convention? Actually, more than you might think at first. When you come to our convention, you’ll experience the difference between holding a newspaper in your hand and reading it versus scrolling through a screen on your computer, the difference between reading an article by someone and actually talking to them.
Like almost everyone, I have CD’s of the music I like, but I make a point of buying them directly, either at a performance venue for a concert I’ve just attended or from the hand of the artist at a small coffeehouse. Somehow, when I listen again later I’m somewhere else, somewhere that the reality of having been there has enabled me to reach within myself and appreciate what I’m hearing in a way I wouldn’t otherwise.
So, what does any of this have to do with our convention? Actually, more than you might think. Being there is, well … being there. It is reality. It is something that you can touch, smell and experience. Sit down at the booth of large cent specialist Tom Reynolds. His coins, many of them rarities that only the most specialized of the specialists can understand and appreciate, are right there in front of you – gasp – yes right there, not encapsulated in anything, but right there where you can actually pick them up and touch them, look at them and carry on a discussion with Tom about why he thinks one is worth what he does and he’ll have something to say to you about its attributes. Likely as not, however, he’ll want to talk to you more about the coin than what it is worth. Somehow that seems more real to me than debating whether the last digit of a grade should be a 7, 8 or 9.
At least for the present, coming to a convention like ours will give you the assurance that the people you are dealing with have the capacity to know more about what they are offering you than being able to look at a grade label supplied by someone else and then compare that to a price sheet published by a different yet someone else.
Welcome to the past.