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Arguing about the ANA’s future

During my nearly 11 years of writing this blog, there has been criticism and compliments of the work done by the American Numismatic Association, its Board of Governors, and its staff. The organization has come a long way during that time and yet has had a lot of bad missteps over the years.

Any organization is not perfect as long as imperfect humans are part of its governance. Humans are imperfect beings and subject to imperfect thoughts, reasoning, and emotions. Emotional responses are human’s greatest strength while being their greatest weakness. Even when humans claim they have a dispassionate response there is a twinge of emotion associated with the final result. For a real-world example of the problems making these types of decision, “Who Gets What” by Kenneth R. Feinberg makes for interesting reading. Feinberg was the appointed Special Master of the 9/11 Victims Fund where his job was to try to dispassionately determine who gets what compensation, or anything at all.

These thoughts came to mind in a recent exchange between two members of the numismatic community over the upcoming ANA Board of Governors election. Published in Numismatic News in “Letters to the Editor” on April 4, 2017 (see the last letter on the page), Ronald Brown appears to make a case for a stronger line between the Professional Numismatic Guild and the ANA by being more of an advocate for the collector/hobbyist. In short, he advocates that if a dealer wants to serve on the ANA Board of Governors there be a sharper division between their business interests and the interests of the ANA.

In the third-from-the-end paragraph, Brown writes, “In my opinion, any person running for office in the ANA must pledge their allegiance to the ANA and void any other membership activity that has the appearance of conflict of interest.” This becomes a line of contention between Mr. Brown and Cliff Mishler, a former member of the Board of Governors and ANA past president.

In Mishler’s response (posted on April 23, 2017) he rightly notes that many ANA members, including those who serve of the Board of Governors are not members of one organization and that this should not disqualify someone from serving. I believe that Mishler is a member of the Royal Canadian Numismatic Association (RCNA), as I am. Like the ANA, the RCNA welcomes all members from around the world. They support numismatics of all types but their members concentrate on Canadian numismatics like the ANA concentrates on United States numismatics.

Should being an RCNA member disqualify either of us to serve on the ANA Board of Governors? It would if we were to follow Mr. Brown’s standards.

This question can be asked of anyone who is a member of any organization that may not be an ANA member or whose mission is somewhat different from the ANA and would prevent members of specialty organizations who could bring a different perspective from serving. It will do nothing to resolve the issue appears to have with dealers dominating the ANA.

A statement that appeared to irk Mishler was when Brown followed up separation suggestion with, “Additionally, stakeholders of coin businesses should put their business holdings into blind trusts for the duration that they hold office in the ANA, to again avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.”

When I first read the statement, I rolled my eyes and wondered who would comment. Mishler, who can come off as a gruff and cranky old man but is really a sweetheart, appeared to have a button pushed and responded in a way consistent with our politically charged environment. Of course, this did not sit well with Brown and he responded.

Both have overstated good points from their perspective but neither addresses the issues in a manner that would let both sides think about why there is a problem.

From a collector’s point of view, the ANA appears to be run with the agenda to do more to protect the dealer than the collector. When there is an issue in the collector community, policies appear to favor the high-value collector. Since most of the members who run for the Board of Governors seem to be either these high-end dealers or collectors, it appears that these dealers and collectors do not understand most of the rank-and-file members. It looks like an exclusive club that regular members can join but are not allowed into the inner circle.

From a dealer’s point of view, many have been members of the ANA for quite some time. They may have started as a vest pocket dealer or behind the counter in another shop, but they grew up in this industry. These dealers have seen the pains the ANA and the hobby has experienced and seen how bad decisions have hurt everyone over time. In the process, they have cultivated good and profitable businesses understanding what the collector wants. After all this hard work, they are not going to give up the businesses that provide their livings because a “junk-box picker” thinks we don’t understand.

NOTE: I am not calling Ronald Brown a “junk-box picker.” I am using it as emphasis based on a conversation I had with a friend about the series of letters.

As always, reality is somewhere in the middle.

I do believe that the policies are a little slanted to the dealer, but not in the extreme Brown and others correspondents claim. Part of the problem is that more members of the ANA Board of Governors, presidents, and vice presidents come from the ranks of dealers, even though recent past presidents Mishler and Walt Ostromecki are not dealers. I believe that four of the nine elected members of the Board of Governors, including President Jeff Garrett and Vice President Gary Adkins, are dealers.

Why is it a problem that dealer have influence on the ANA Board of Governors?

Like anyone else serving on a Board, regardless whether it is a for-profit or non-profit, there will always be an agenda. You will not do anything to hurt your own livelihood nor will you do anything to damage your potential customers. While dealers have ruled the roost, it is difficult to see how everything they have done is bad for the ANA.

Unfortunately, I believe that their views do not consider the ordinary collector or the collector that may be out of the mainstream. I thought Mishler would be more understanding with his noted collection of stickered coins and a former editor at a major numismatic publication. But his response appeared to be more pro-dealer than understanding that there may be a perception of elitism.

Then again, there is the golden rule: He who has the gold, rules! You can see who has the most influence on the organization by those who spend the money for advertising and sponsorships. As we know, this is the way of the world.

The needs of the collector and the dealer can co-exist. While I may never be a customer of a higher-end dealer, I do respect their accomplishments and contributions to the industry. However, there are some who should stop looking down their noses at the junk-box diver or the blogger who will flip through red boxes of 2x2s looking for something new that says “New York.”

As a member of the Technology Committee, I know that there is work being done to try to bridge some of that gap by considering the rank-and-file members. It encourages more involvement to introduce and extend the hobby in a way that some of the older dealers have accepted, regardless of their phobia to technology. Even Mishler, who I heard recently purchased his first cell phone, supports the effort!

Of course, this is not enough but it is a start. Remember, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

There have been a lot of single steps over the last few years and enough movement to show progress. Progress is not full success and there is a lot more to be done. The only way to move forward to be more responsive to the collector is for collectors to become part of the solution. Collectors should be encouraged to run for the Board of Governors. If you cannot run for the Board, try doing something on a volunteer basis. Work to make your local club successful because sometimes, one of the best solutions is to resolve the issues from the bottom up.

Come in with an agenda. Know what you want to see happen. In fact, if I should ever run again for the Board of Governors, here are some of the issues I would like to see addressed:

  1. Diversity. Face it, the vast majority of the ANA’s membership is white, male, and over the age of 50. The only time I have seen a diverse crowd at a show was at a FUN show. By diversity, I am also including women and younger people. The hobby has to start attracting a more diverse membership.
  2. Get Younger. While there are good Young Numismatist programs, they basically end when the YN graduates high school. The hobby needs to think about that gap when the YN drops the hobby for their life and picks it up again when they have their own YN to bring in. This is one area where the perceived elitism of the high-end dealers is hurting the hobby. We should be able to find some way to keep the YN interested all the way through their life without waiting for them to pick up their blue folders again when their kids become interested.
  3. Club Support. Numismatics is a hobby that can be built from the ground up. Part of that growth are the local clubs. More should be done to support local clubs. Ideas include meeting support where clubs that are getting staid can use the help to bring new ideas to their meetings; program support where the ANA can help arrange for speakers or support other programs that a club can use to highlight their meetings; and advertising support to help get the word out locally. There can also be a club program exchange portfolio where materials used by one club can be borrowed by another.
  4. Secondary and more accessible publications. Although I love the Numismatist, there is more information out there that needs to be publicized. For example, there used to be a YN journal. What happened to that? A YN journal needs to be brought back at least quarterly. Another idea is a monthly review of articles that appear in other journals. Nearly every regional and specialty organization has a newsletter, bulletin, or journal. Why not allow them to submit articles to be nationally featured?
  5. More Technology. Last, but not least, leverage the new technology to bring the ANA to the people. This is something I continually bring up with the Technology Committee, but I would like to see convention programs broadcast over the Internet and stored for later viewing. The technology exists to broadcast all of the Money Talks sessions and have it available for whenever someone wants to use it. In fact, those sessions can become part of the club support where instruction is given to the clubs how to use them during a meeting.

I appreciate Ronald Brown’s passion, but I think he needs to be a bit more realistic. This is not the federal government. Dealer’s should not be expected to make the Board of Governors a full-time job without compensation. But he does have a good point about creating more opportunities and adjusting policies for collectors. If he is not a candidate for the Board of Governors this time around, he should consider running in 2019. Maybe I will join him!

The Star Coin Book

The shameless promotion of the coin business and extraordinary search for special rare coins did not begin with the explosion of the Internet. It can be traced to legendary coin dealer B. Max Mehl. From the empire he built in Austin, Texas, Mehl was probably the first coin dealer to market coins to the general public.

Mehl started advertising in The Numismatist in 1903 and in the following year issued his first catalog. In 1906, Mehl paid $12.50 to advertise in Collier’s magazine offering his Star Coin Book for 10-cents. Later, Mehl would expand the book and sell it for $1.

Benjamin Maximillian Mehl was born in Łódź, Russia (now Poland) in 1884. His family immigrated to the United States in 1895 and worked as a shoe salesman before he became a coin dealer. Stories about his relentless promotion report that he was shipping coins to more than 30,000 times a year.

Mehl is famous for his advertising that he “Will pay $50 for a nickel of 1913 with Liberty Head, not Buffalo.” Although he never found one, that did not stop him from advertising and trying.

Then there is the catalog, Star Coin Book. Before the Red Book, Blue Book, and Standard Catalog, there were few books that provided this amount of information and was affordable to the general public. The Star Coin Book was his marketing tool to make and keep people interested and to keep the orders coming in.

Mehl sold so many catalogs that one can be purchased for as little as $5.00 or as high as $50.00 depending on the year and condition. Many are in poor condition since they were not meant to be saved. Mehl wanted people to buy a new catalog every year.

Imagine my surprise when I was going through a box of odd books that I purchased from an estate and found a 1925 edition of The Star Rare Coin Encyclopedia and Premium Catalog. I picked up the book, paused as I tried to focus on the well-worn cover, and smiled as I realized what I had found.

The book is not in good condition but it is part of numismatic lore. It is Mehl’s work as a cataloger and seller of coins and some currency. It is page after page of coins and the values that he would pay if you wanted to sell your coins. These values are a range of what he would pay and he notes that is based on the condition of the coin. He does include a description of the differences in condition and most coin types include some type of picture, whether it is a photographic plate or a line drawing.

After the lists there are a few pages of history of coins, “Coins Past and Present” that is followed by coins he has for sale. All sales were done by phone or by postal mail. Remember, this was long before fax machines and the Internet!

There are both contemporary and modern writings about Mehl that describe him as a huckster and mendacious. Others describe him as a genius of marketing that helped grow the hobby. Regardless, Mehl has a place is numismatic history that has to be respected for being able to use the tools he had to build a successful business.
 

Mehl built his company’s offices at 1204 Magnolia Ave. in Fort Worth. The building was rescued long after Mehl had died but his name still appears over the main entrance.

Image of 1204 Magnolia Avenue take from Google Maps.

POLL: Would you participate in a crowdfunded numismatic book project?

I have been working on a few manuscripts over the last year. If I put in the extra time, I can publish two of them within the next few months. Both books are more of a labor of love, taking some of the best content from this blog plus some additional information and packaging it for a book. I am not settled on the format of one of the books and considering a different approach.

After nearly 11 years of writing this blog, I have a lot of information that can be shared in a much longer form than I can on a blog. But I would rather polish the manuscripts and have them in the hands of the collecting public than sitting on my computer.

A long time ago, I authored a technical book and contributed to another. My book is very out of date and would have liked to have provided an update. But since the publishing company owned the rights, it was not seen as a priority and has languished. I learned that unless the publishing company is willing to allow updates, I am better off trying to self-publish my work.

My experience also taught me that unless you write a New York Times Bestseller, nobody is getting rich off of publishing a few books. But publishing has its costs whether it is paid by a publishing company or by me, if I self-publish.

Self-publishing is relatively easy but it does require paying the up-front costs. I need help with the funding. One way people have been able to fund new ventures is through crowdfunding sources. Websites like Kickstarter and Indigogo provide a service where someone can have a project funded. Those who provide funding get a reward for helping, such as early access to the project being funded and having your name added to the acknowledgements.

I have participated in helping fund a few projects, but the only numismatic-related project was for the Baltimore BNote. The rewards for funding the project was receiving BNotes, which I still own. I thought it might be worth a try.

When the books are ready to be published, it is my intention to make them available in both printed and in an electronic form. The electronic version will be made available for the most popular devices (Kindle, iBooks, and the Nook) as well as one that can be used on any computer or device (PDF). There may also be additional rewards for larger donations (I have an interesting idea).

Would you be interested? Let me know what you think.

 

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A Free Coke

Token for a free bottle of Coca-Cola in 1915-16

In my quest to find different and fun items for my business inventory, I seem to be tripping over some interesting numismatic samples. Recently, I purchased a collection of Coca-Cola memorabilia. Basically, if they can print, paint, mold, or stamp “Coca-Cola” on something, it is in this collection. It has everything from the mundane foreign-labeled bottle, including one from Bosnia, up to a 1950s-round metal advertising sign.

As I was sorting through the collection, I found a frame with an octagonal token “Good for one free bottle” of Coca-Cola dated 1915-1916. The token is in pretty decent shape although has been well handled. The problem is that it appears to be glued to the backing. The back of the frame also has writing indicating that it was a gift to the former owner.

I have seen similar tokens before, such as the Colgate-Palmolive-Peet token I previously wrote about, but never on for Coca-Cola. I am sure that these are relatively common for advertising tokens.

For a Coca-Cola collector, it is a nice gift. For a numismatist interested in the token, I am worried that such a piece may be damaged. Before I decide whether to free the token from its frame, I have to decide whether it would be better sold as a framed item or with the token. I also have to decide whether I want to keep this token!

I better be careful because if I keep finding all of these fascinating advertising tokens I might end up keeping them and starting a collection.
 

Full framed image of the Coca-Cola advertising toen

A Glenn Family Short Snorter

John Herschel Glenn, Jr. is a true American Hero.

I feel so comfortable saying this that I will not qualify that statement with, “few will argue that ….” When you are the first American to strap yourself into a tiny capsule that is forced into space on top of the Atlas LV-3B rocket, essentially a huge Roman candle, there is no argument on his status in history.

Glenn was not only the first American in space but is also the oldest person ever to go to space. In 1998, at the age of 77, Glenn rode on Discovery on STS-95 as part of a study by the National Institute of Aging. Although the study was not criticized, the selection of Glenn was. While there will be an asterisk in history about the criticism, it will not diminish Glenn’s place in history.

While out looking for collectible inventory, I came across an auction of memorabilia from the widow of a crewman that was aboard the ship that picked up Glenn after he splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean.

On February 20, 1962, Glenn blasted off from Cape Canaveral on Friendship 7 for what ended up being a 4-hour 55-minute flight into history. During the flight, a sensor noted that a heat shield had loosened and could endanger his re-entry. Glenn was ordered to leave a solid-fueled retrorocket pack in place to protect the shield.

Although Glenn’s re-entry was calculated, he carried a note that read, “I am a stranger. I come in peace. Take me to your leader and there will be a massive reward for you in eternity” in several languages, in case he splashed down in an area where the Navy was not positioned.

According to the auction house, two ships were in position based on the projections as to where Friendship 7 was supposed to splash down in the Atlantic. A third was positioned further south and then moved when calculations suggested that the retrorocket pack would change the trajectory of the capsule. When Friendship 7 splashed down further south than expected there was a race amongst the three ships to see who could pick up Glenn and etch their names into history.

The third and most southern positioned ship, the U.S.S. Randolph (CV-15), was in the best position to recover Glenn and the capsule. In the race to the area of the capsule, the Randolph arrived first and pulled Glenn out of the Atlantic. Glenn remained aboard the Randolph where he was medically examined before the aircraft carrier docked in Florida on Friday, February 23, 1962.

Saturday was shore leave for the crew of the Randolph in Key West, Florida. To celebrate, Captain Claude C. (Buddy) Inskeep and select members of his crew were invited for a pleasure cruise aboard The Big Wheel fishing boat where a number of pictures and autographs were offered.

In the auction lot of memorabilia were pictures of John Glenn and his family, a memento picture of some of the people on board The Big Wheel along with a medal featuring John Glenn, and an autographed $1 silver certificate.

It is the silver certificate that makes this lot a very cool find. Technically, we could call this a short snorter since it is a signed piece of paper currency of members together on a trip. But these are not ordinary autographs. From top to bottom the autographs include John Glenn’s wife Annie Glenn; John H. Glenn, Jr.; (John David) Dave Glenn (son, then 17 years old); and (Carolyn Ann) Lyn Glen (daughter, then 15 years old). Below the printed signature of Treasurer Ivy Baker Priest is written “2-24-62.”

I have no doubt that the autographs and the memorabilia are authentic. It is something that you just cannot find every day! Even though I am a dealer and should sell what I purchase, I know that this is a memento from history and of a hero who passed last year. I know I can make a hefty profit from this purchase since I know I vastly underpaid what it is worth, but I am having a hard time considering letting them go.

Glenn family autographed “Short Snorter” dated February 24, 1962, four days after Glenn orbited the earth in Friendship 7

For now, I own them but might entertain offers. But the offers must knock my socks off because this is just too cool to consider anything else!

Note: On the reverse of the picture of Glenn and Gen. McElroy, it does not identify the general by his first name. Based on some reasearch, I believe this is Major General Ivan Wilson McElroy. If someone has different information, please let me know!
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