Mark Salzberg’s Address At the Legendary Coins & Currency Opening Reception

Posted on 12/13/2005

I’m very pleased that there are so many people here and that we have had such a great turnout from the numismatic community. This event is about the numismatic community. Brent Glass came to coin dealers and collectors to ask for our support, and I’m very proud that NGC and NCS were able to meet this need. I believe that tonight’s reception, and the exhibit Legendary Coins & Currency, are just the first components of a great developing relationship between the Smithsonian and the numismatic community.

In this room with us tonight the most important and most valuable United States coins are on display. As numismatists we understand coins very well; we seem to know almost instinctively which coins are important. However, we are not always effective at disseminating our knowledge outside of our own community, and it is our responsibility to spread the critical message that coins are important artifacts and worthy of broad attention. One way we can do this is by making great coins available for everyone to study and admire. The Smithsonian enables us to reach beyond our own industry and to show that coins are real symbols of our heritage and tangible reminders of our past. Through events and exhibits like this one, we take steps to spread this information. NGC has always made efforts to reach out to the numismatic community and beyond, but this exhibit is a special opportunity because it has the potential to reach so many people outside of our narrow field.

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NGC and NCS Chairman Mark Salzberg delivers address at Legendary Coins & Currency exhibit opening reception.

To illustrate how important a role coins can play in a person’s life, I’d like to relate a story from my own family’s experience. My parents are survivors of the Holocaust, and I’m pleased to say that they are both alive and well today. This is due in no small part to the universally recognized value of gold coins. Trapped in the devastation of post-war Germany, my father found that by dealing in an underground market exporting United States twenty-dollar pieces from European banks to American coin dealers he was able to raise enough money to relocate himself to the safe haven of the USA. With this money he was further able to establish a farm in New Jersey, on which I worked as a child. My family’s story has been repeated thousands of times over the centuries, as coins served again and again as buffers against life’s misfortunes. While my father may not have stopped to consider the artistry of these coins when dealing in them, he certainly appreciated the international standard of value that each piece held as a fixed unit of gold. They clearly did leave an impression, however, as he made a point of introducing me to coin collecting at an early age. That introduction left a lasting impression, one that has ultimately brought me before you this evening. For this reason and many others, working with the Smithsonian and this incredible collection is among the most significant things that I have done in my numismatic career.

Tonight we also have a small guest exhibit of very rare coins The 1885 Trade Dollar included in the exhibit is of special note because it is a coin that the National Numismatic Collection is missing, showing that the community can very literally fill the Smithsonian’s needs. By placing such coins alongside the Smithsonian’s, we have a very clear feeling for how direct and immediate this relationship can be. This coin is on loan from noted dealer, John Albanese. John and I go way back, having made the rounds of coin shops as enthusiastic teenagers and then, ultimately, becoming partners in NGC. Though John is no longer with NGC, we share a lifelong bond of friendship that began as a mutual love of coins. I’ve found that most people in the numismatic field, whether they be collectors, dealers or scholars, have long associations with others of similar interest that make their daily activities so much more rewarding than ordinary jobs.

There is some precedence for a supportive relationship between the Smithsonian and the numismatic community. Vladimir and Elvira Clain-Stefanelli were both admirable curators of this collection for many decades. They were involved in a great period of outreach which saw important additions to the collection, including the DuPont and Lilly collections. The Stack Family as well made great strides to contribute missing pieces to the collection in the past, perhaps most notably by donating the 1794 dollar in copper. Currently, Dick Doty, as curator, has been especially receptive to these recent developments. I know that he, too, deeply believes that this collection belongs to the American people and it should be prominently displayed.

The preparation of this stellar exhibit we are celebrating tonight involved many other people. David Allison oversaw its development and creation. Elizabeth Little at the Smithsonian, and NGC’s Special Events Coordinator Maggie Dent, were both heavily involved in planning this evening’s reception. NGC’s Director of Marketing Scott Schechter also assisted in the event and pre-publicity planning. Jim Hughes with the National Numismatic Collection aided significantly with logistical details. Valeska Hilbig oversaw the public affairs details for both the exhibit and tonight’s event. Karen Lee has been our primary point of contact with the Smithsonian and a critical figure for arranging our involvement with this institution.

Within the numismatic community, Jeff Garrett played a major role in making this event possible. For well over a year, he worked tirelessly with the Smithsonian to bring many of the necessary pieces together, and his energy and enthusiasm have been a driving force and a big part of why we are here tonight. Tom Mulvaney’s excellent photography is also in evidence here tonight, and we are all very appreciative of his superb work. I would also like to thank Bill Gale, who has contributed to the exhibit as well.

This event is also important for another reason. We are coming to a point of understanding of the role that conservation will play in the future of our community. David Camire of NCS has consulted and worked closely with the Smithsonian’s own conservators to apply the company’s proven techniques to remove wax and other debris from the surfaces of the coins on display tonight. This can now be done while retaining the original patina and assuring the high visual impact of these coins. Most significantly, conservation stabilizes the surfaces of these coins, playing a critical role in their long-term preservation. This is a major milestone, as professional conservation was not widely available before NCS, and a mere five years ago this type of expertise did not exist. Along these lines, I am grateful for Dave Camire’s considerable abilities, and to him personally for giving generously of his time and energy to this project. I also want to acknowledge Richard Barden, whose efforts from the Museum’s Preservation Services have enabled this to happen in a meaningful way. Conservation is a central component of our involvement with the Smithsonian, to have these and other coins conserved and ultimately housed within holders that will assure their safekeeping. This cannot be underestimated as a worthwhile goal.

While most of us here understand intuitively the importance of coins in general and, more specifically, that of the great rarities and milestone pieces on display tonight, the real goal in preparing this exhibit was to spread this message to the American people as a whole. In the 21st century we are in a constant struggle to teach our young people the importance of history to their own lives. Amid all the electronic media available to today’s youth, inanimate objects such as coins may be overlooked. But by placing them in a social and historic context, by weaving them into the drama of the American story, we can present them as tangible links to the lives of our ancestors. What are museum pieces today were once the very foundations of survival and prosperity to persons now gone from the scene.

In the course of learning this lesson, we may expect that viewers of this important exhibit will also come to know the amazing artistry and technology that ultimately result in a finished coin. It is the mission of NGC and NCS in underwriting this exhibit to create an awareness of the role that coins have played in this nation’s still unfolding story, and it is a great pleasure for us to have been received so warmly by the Smithsonian’s professionals and staff. I hope that you will enjoy yourselves tonight and that you will similarly commit yourselves to spreading this positive message that coins can very directly illustrate our past.

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