Jeff Garrett: 10 Questions for Incoming PNG President John Feigenbaum

Posted on 4/20/2023

Jeff Garrett speaks to John Feigenbaum about his plans for the dealers group and the future of numismatics.

Starting in July, the Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG) will be installing a new Executive Director. He will be replacing Robert Brueggeman, who has guided the organization for the past 28-plus years. PNG was formed in 1955 with the guidance of legendary coin dealer Abe Kosoff, who believed the hobby needed a professional organization. Its original motto — "Knowledge, Integrity, Responsibility" — still reflects the core mission of PNG.

I have been a member since the early 1980s and had the pleasure of serving as President from 2007 to 2009. I was recently elected to serve on the board again last year. PNG is an important numismatic organization whose members are thoroughly vetted and subject to binding arbitration. No other numismatic organization offers customers of its membership such strong protection. Like all numismatic nonprofit groups, PNG must change with the times and address issues facing the organization and the hobby.

I believe John is the right person for the right time to help navigate the future of PNG. He has done a masterful job of turning the Greysheet from a small weekly flyer into a pricing juggernaut. Hopefully, he will have similar success when he takes over running PNG.

I have asked John to answer 10 questions about the hobby and PNG:

1. John, you were previously one of the most prominent rare coin dealers in the country. You decided to exit buying and selling rare coins to manage CDN Publishing (home of the Greysheet price guide). Tell us about that decision.

I started young in this business. By some accounts, I was attending coin shows at the age of 5 and became a professional helping my father by 8 years old. I had a very successful career building my company to $30-plus million in annual sales, but I was burned out by my mid-40s, and I felt it was time to change my life. I sold David Lawrence Rare Coins and quickly found a new career, which takes advantage of all I learned buying and selling coins, along with the publishing experience I had learned in college. The CDN Publishing brands are highly regarded in our business, and it's been a privilege to modernize Greysheet, Greensheet and our other products for the 21st Century.

2. You have utilized and implemented numerous technological improvements for CDN and the Greysheet family of products. How do you think technology will impact the hobby going forward? Any predictions about what could be the next big thing?

I am a lifelong data and programming geek, and I brought that mindset to CDN. Technology has been under-represented in our hobby for a long time, but that is starting to change — and quickly. Everything from modern inventory and customer management systems (CMS) for dealers to pricing models and apps from data providers like Greysheet — we are seeing new ideas and applications every day. I don't think there's any "next big thing." Rather, I think that the established brands will utilize technology to become better. I suppose computer grading is possible and would be a game-changer, but I'm not an expert in imaging or AI, so I can't speak to that. We'll have to wait and see.

3. As someone who has their fingers on the pulse of the market more than about anyone else, what are your predictions for the market in the next year or two?

Despite a red-hot bullion market, the "classic" rare coin market is showing some signs of slowing, which is understandable given the interest rate hikes, which have upended the financial markets. Prices on some coins are settling a bit, which represents rationality in my mind. Values can't go up forever. I feel this will be the trend for the rest of the calendar year. I cannot speculate further, but I would add that I believe the overall health of the rare coin market (including dealer participation, shows, etc.) is in a better place than it's been for a decade. I feel good about the long term.

4. Pricing rare coins can be very difficult today. As we all know, the same-grade certified coin can bring very different prices when offered at auction. Tell us about your pricing philosophy.

Not sure I can fairly explain my strategy in a few words, so we should save the long version for a podcast. In short, we approach pricing from transparency. That means we monitor public auctions and live market bids to do our best to make sure astute buyers understand how we derive our values. Nothing fancy, but it is incredibly hard work, as you suggest, because the rare coin market is very complicated. What constitutes a type coin or doesn’t? How do bullion prices affect better dates? How does an outlier auction record affect the other coins in a series? And so on.

5. What made you accept the job as the Executive Director of the PNG?

I have been a member of PNG since 1999 and was a board member for six years (up to vice president). At the time, I was too committed to running my business and three young children to devote more to this great organization. Taking the ED role at PNG is going to be an exciting new challenge for me, as well. I'm going to have to play a diplomatic role in the industry I grew up in and modernize the organization along the same lines that I have at CDN Publishing.

6. After being involved with the inner workings of PNG for the last few months, what do you think are the biggest obstacles or issues facing the organization?

Great question. I think we (as an organization) need to revisit our mandate. The PNG was founded in a pre-internet world as a group of exclusive dealers. We need to embrace technology, social media groups and also seek out the next generation of dealers.

7. The membership of the PNG has fallen slightly in the last few years. What are some ideas to grow the organization going forward?

Membership has dropped because of our antiquated mandate, which has been overly focused on issues that don't drive new membership. We've got a number of new ideas for increasing membership, which we hope to announce as soon as this fall. In the meantime, for example, we have already started planning a new program for seasoned dealers to mentor young numismatists. We already have a financial sponsor, and the few people I've discussed this with have been really excited about participating, which feels great.

8. Many are concerned about the aging population of the average coin dealer. I see a lot of young dealers at shows, however. How can the PNG attract these young dealers and grow its membership?

See #7.

9. The PNG is basically a coin dealer union. How can the PNG use strength in numbers to improve the business of its members?

There's so much we can do here. Most critically, we need to get our numbers up. I want to see a more inclusive PNG that opens its arms not only to a wider range of dealers, but also to organizations like other dealer groups, specialty collector organizations, auction houses, museums and research institutions, media firms and so on. I have also been speaking with several international numismatic organizations along the same lines. To take a phrase from the political world, we need to broaden this tent. Whether we're talking about an individual or an organization, one overriding criteria will never change: PNG stands for "knowledge, integrity and responsibility," and we require all of our members to adhere to standing for those as well.

10. From your experience, what are the advantages of dealing with a member of the PNG?

Ironically, PNG has never been more important. There has never been more danger for the unsuspecting buyer. Counterfeit bullion products proliferate on internet shopping marketplaces, and the average consumer has no idea whom to trust. The PNG offers several programs to protect buyers. But most importantly, doing business with a PNG dealer will mitigate this risk entirely. We at the PNG need to better communicate the tools we offer buyers, like the ACEF (counterfeits) and APMD (bullion).

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