Headlines in the numismatic press read "ANA show good considering the times", and "Activity moderate at Orlando ANA ". I guess the media is kinder to "'numismacrats" than to politicians. Having followed the field from the opening bell to the final wire, through an agonizing mud track, my impression of this yea r's ANA is that it was a flop. That's right, READ MY LIPS - the ANA convention was a flop!
I hesitate to agree publicly with the inimitable Dr. Saslow, who elucidates his point of view - often controversially - at the other end of this publication, but most ancient coin dealers might as well have stayed home and counted their zero revenue as a profit.
Maybe it was the economy, maybe it was the location, maybe it was the weather, and maybe it was just the same old B.S. (that stands for "Bureaucratic System"). I can already hear the wheels grinding - "It's that mercenary Sayles taking the side of the dealers again. Is that all he thinks about is profit?" Well, truthfully, I think very little about profit. If I did, I would probably have ulcers by now. What I do think about, quite a lot, is how much fun it used to be to go to a big coin show with a lot of hustle and bustle. I can remember when a person could actually trade coins at a coin show. Better yet, I can actually remember when a collector could sell coins at a show.
Today, the only coins that solicit bids are those precious heirlooms that were bought 50 years ago for pennies and might now slip through an unwary hand for nickels.
Let's face it, coin shows have been choked by insensitive management and a steady shift in priorities. Long, long ago - in a land of milk and honey - coin shows were a social event, Mom and Pop came out with the kids, and the whole family enjoyed a sort of indoor treasure hunt. Little Johnny or Susie could spend half their allowance on exotic coins that opened wide horizons, and actually helped kids to learn. What happens today?
Mom doesn't want anything to do with coins because Pop spends too much of the family's recreational budget on them. So, in penance, Pop drags along little Johnny - but of course it's little Johnny who's the drag. The only coins Johnny wants are the ones that fit into a one-inch slot and whisk him off into a fantasy world of bells and whistles. So, after a few excursions into this abysmal purgatory, Pop stops coming to coin shows, and goes back to drinking beer and watching Monday night football.
Who's to blame? Mom? Pop? Johnny? How about declining family values? How about a declining educational system? How about the guys (and gals) who orchestrate these huge shows that are little more than monuments to their own arrogance?
In a slow economy, it takes a lot of pavement pounding to make a living in the coin business. It is not unusual for a dealer in ancient coins to hold another full or pan time job as a supplement. There are few incentives, and many disincentives, to selling up a bourse table when the travel, lodging, and table fee starts to approach the $2,000 mark. Think about it for a moment. With a 25% markup (which in many businesses would be considered healthy) the coin dealer has to sell over $8,000 worth of merchandise before the first nickel goes into salary. I personally know of several dealers who did not gross that amount at the Orlando ANA.
Not only is the dealer squeezed by the overhead, but the reduced volume of business dictates higher unit markups. This, of course, translates into less buying opportunities for the collector, which in tum leads to disenchantment, diminished enthusiasm, and ultimately loss of interest.
Why do we face this deplorable condition in the hobby? Partly because the so-called "non-profit" organizations, that purport to enrich the hobby, spend too much of their time and energy enriching the self-inflated egos of corporate leadership, and no! enough lime helping the hobby to survive. While the average coin dealer is holed up in Motel 6 and eating fast food, a whole gaggle of "numismacrats" is wining and dining in plush hotels and heaping incredulous praise upon each other. Maybe this is a simple fact of life, but does it have to be so blatant and obvious? Maybe someone in that mythical arena of decision making called a "board room" should consider ways of reducing costs for a dealer to set up at these mega-shows. Just maybe that would translate into lower markup and maybe into better buying opportunities for collectors. Sound like "trickle-down" economics? Maybe, but it sure couldn't hurt to try!
Yes, l do support ancient coin dealers, and I make no apology for that. Without the dealer network we would not have a hobby at all. Without the dealers, these lines would not even be written. Without the dealers there wouldn't bean ANA. How about a little leadership that helps the poor dealer make an honest buck? How about going back to the basics? Wake up ANA!
Enough steam for this issue - write and let us hear your point of view!