The ANA World's Fair of Money - A Week Long Adventure
Posted by Jim Bisognani on 8/7/2014
As I write this report, final preparations are being made by me, and I’m sure scores of other collectors and dealers, for the great numismatic event, the ANA’s World’s Fair of Money show in Chicago/Rosemont IL. I know for myself, the big summer show always has exquisite numismatic cuisine for every budget and palate. It is an educational, exhilarating, and all-around rewarding excursion no matter what the locale. Each venue has certainly been a thrilling expedition beginning with my first ANA, which I attended back in the early 1970s.
Boy, it seems almost like yesterday; well, at least my memory is still sharp. I recall the butterflies in my stomach prior to my making my first appearance as an attendee at the ANA in Boston during the summer of 1973. As I entered the hall and began walking the bourse, I was amazed by the amplified volume of all the buzz, chatter, and the mild reverberating echo throughout the hall that greeted me. Scores of tables, each brightly illuminated by a formidable battery of lamps, showcased dealers varied and exciting numismatic offerings. What a thrill! I recall canvassing up and down the aisles, attempting to get my bearings and recall who had what and at what table. Meeting some well-known dealers and other notables added to the adventure for this 16-year-old. I tried to remain focused and let the adrenaline rush settle down as I got down to business. Armed with my magnifying glass, a year-old edition of the Redbook, and my collection of US and foreign coins, which amounted to probably about $250, along with a princely $50 in cash, I began to wheel and deal. I must’ve spent over 10 hours on the floor that day, carefully viewing scores of coins in cardboard boxes, in vinyl envelopes, and stapled 2x2 cardboard holders.
Everyone had similar coins, it seems, yet the key was learning to actually grade and understand the subtle differences in all of the series. The grades of the coins I was looking at all seemed to differ from dealer to dealer, as there was no standardized and accepted grading scale then. For many established collectors, each had their favorite dealers with whom they dealt, and both parties had an understanding of each other’s grade interpretation and pretty much knew what to expect. Yet, one expert dealer to another had varying interpretations. The best way I found to learn about grading was to analyze auction lots and prices realized and view physical dealers’ inventory. However, the sobering slap in the face for me was when you bought a coin from dealer A and then attempted to sell or trade that coin to dealer B! This is when I found out, rather abruptly, that the differences in the subjective grading standards from one dealer to another had quite the impact not only for the grade, but most importantly for me, on price of said coin!
Reflecting on it now, it does seem like ancient history back then. We all took our hits, and we all learned and persevered. My, how things have evolved since my first foray some 41 years ago! Yes, coins were still coins when I first started to collect, and as a matter of fact, each of the rarities that I may have viewed then in Boston, along with the plethora of desirable collector coins, are still with us, however, the majority are now housed, protected, and graded in the secure third-party grading slab.
Although it wasn’t initially embraced, the advent of third-party grading has been a welcome and crucial part of the numismatic machine. While there are still scores of the familiar red cardboard boxes waiting at tables on the bourse, there is now a proliferation of third-party certification. Yes, the clickety clack of those plastic NGC holders is now a sound which is easily discernible on the convention floor! Having graded over 30 million coins, NGC stands front and center, not only as the official grading company of the ANA, but also for veteran dealers and newcomers to the hobby. The prestige, portability, and liquidity of NGC numismatic products is unequaled.
For first timers and novices attending the ANA, it’s sure to be a grand learning experience, given all the opportunity to rub elbows with the numismatic elite, take in exciting numismatic exhibits, and receive the ultimate hands-on training course in numismatics. For veteran collectors and dealers, it’s a time to rekindle friendships with clients, meet new collectors and old friends, as well as a time to buy, sell, and trade the finest US and world coins. Of course, for an individual such as me, it is a glorious escape. It’s a grand holiday, a weeklong adventure, and a bit of a marathon, to be sure, but it is also an extended Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
What should we expect this year at the ANA? Well, as this article posts, I’m sure the spacious Donald E. Stephens Convention Center has been buzzing, and collectors and dealers are having a grand time taking in the vibe and pulse of this powerful market. For first time collectors looking to take the plunge with a semi-numismatic purchase, the metal markets seem to be at attractive levels. With gold hovering around $1,300, $20 Saint-Gaudens will be fast movers. Silver propped up a tad over $20; this also seems to be conducive to spirited activity. There will be superb opportunities to purchase ultimate rarities and key collector coins on the bourse, as well as at the mammoth and superlative auctions by Stack’s Bowers and Heritage.
These two major auctions will be vying for collectors’ and dealers’ attention and cash throughout the ANA week. It’s no secret that there will be several million dollar coins sold at these prestigious auctions. As we go to press, the enigmatic and rare “King of American Coins,” the 1804 Draped Bust silver dollar, is about to be sold. The exquisitely preserved Garrett-Sommers specimen, graded NGC PF 55, is already knocking loudly at the million dollar mark in active pre-bidding. It is the highlight of the Stack’s Bowers Rarities Night. Certainly, the likes of this specimen, along with other tantalizing and rare numismatic delicacies, will cause quite the commotion and excitement in Chicago.
Modern mayhem is sure to be heightened, too, as the US mint releases limited quantities of the new 2014 Gold Kennedy Half dollar each day of the show. The mint will sell only one coin per person and will limit sales to 500 coins each day of the ANA. Yes, I am going to be waiting in line. There will certainly be much to report on in the next issue: auction results, dealer and collector reactions, etc. In the meantime, I hope to see you on the enormous ANA bourse; there is truly nothing like it. To take liberty with that well-known hometown ditty, My Kind Of Coin Town Chicago Is.
Until next time, happy collecting!
Jim Bisognani has written extensively on US coin market trends and values and was the market analyst and writer for a major pricing guide for many years. He currently resides in Southern California and frequently attends major coin shows and auctions.