Collecting Friends: My First Coin Show

Hello! And welcome to the ANA’s new blog series, “Collecting Friends.”

We decided to approach this much like a conversation between friends. One of us starts with a topic, then the other responds. Simple as that. Along those lines, we’ll keep the tone conversational as much as possible. 

We both write about coins professionally, and will keep our relative style guides in our writing. For Dennis, Publisher at Whitman Publishing, that means capitalizing “Proof” and italicizing Red Book and never saying anything bad about Ken Bressett, who’s awesome anyway. 

For Steve, who’s written with Coin World for 15 years, it means Winged Liberty Head dime instead of “Mercury” dime, and similar nuances and oddities. And, it means writing A Guide Book of United States Coins (better known as the “Red Book”). 

Both of us started collecting when we were little, introduced to coins by a chance encounter with an old coin that sparked our curiosity. One of Steve’s interests is coin valuation, and he gravitates towards the intersection of art and coins. Dennis enjoys medals and world coins, and studying modern U.S. coins in the context of older series, what came before.

We met in 2012 at the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money in Philadelphia at an event hosted by the Austrian Mint where there was both a Ben Franklin and a Betsy Ross impersonator. We’ve become great friends in the past decade. We even were appointed together to sit on the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee starting in 2016, but Steve resigned soon after he was appointed to accept a full-time job at the Treasury Department while Dennis was re-appointed in 2020.

We taught a course together on numismatic publishing and writing a few years ago at the Summer Seminar, and while life has gotten in the way of us teaching another class, we jumped at our friend Caleb’s suggestion that we write a column. We hope you enjoy it! 

My First Coin Show

Steve: When I was growing up, shopping malls were a big, big thing and the now demolished Livonia Mall in Michigan would have a show every month, or so. There were all sorts of collectibles: sports cards, vintage toys, jewelry, and a coin section with local dealers with display cases and lots of “junk boxes” for folks to sort through. In retrospect, it’s wild that a coin show would be in the aisle of a busy shopping mall and that those dealers didn’t lose all of their inventory to theft, but I suppose it was a different time. 

My dad would take me to the mall, look at tools and the like at the big Sears, and leave me to look at the cases and go through the boxes to find treasures. There were always a few key dates that I read about in the “Red Book” on display along with always impressive big gold Saint-Gaudens and Coronet $20 double eagles. One dealer always had a 1918/7-S Standing Liberty quarter dollar in a slab in the case – always expensive, likely too expensive which is why he had it show, after show, after show – in a little ANACS slab. It was the fanciest coin at the mall show, where I’d go in with a want list of Proof sets and occasionally a type coin to finish off my Whitman 20th century Type Set folder. I can still imagine those shows vividly, and the fun I had with my dad (along with the patience of the dealers to let a 10-year old kid spend a long time looking through a box of coins only to buy one that cost $1). 

Dennis, what was your first coin show memory? 

Dennis: I remember going to gun shows with my father and brother when I was a kid. Although the main focus was firearms and ammunition (and clay pigeons, and exploding targets that blow up in a huge cloud of powder), there were always dealers who had some coins and medals on the side. At one show a man displayed a battered brown-leather briefcase that was full to the brim with world coins, priced at 25 cents each. I could have sat and looked through that treasure chest for hours! I picked out a few “wow” coins—common things, really, but eye-catching, like Italy’s big silvery 100-lire coins, some World War II–era French coins, British large pennies. That was the first time I experienced the magical lure and fun of a “junk box.” I remember it like it was yesterday. And I still have those coins.

The first actual numismatic show I went to was in Fulton, New York. I was probably about eleven years old. Looking back, I’m sure it was a small club show, but to me it felt huge! I remember my first-ever coin-show purchase: a beautiful About Uncirculated 1942 Mercury dime. Of course, it was stapled in a 2x2 holder, because certified slabs hadn’t been invented yet. 

Be on the lookout for another installment of Collecting Friends next month! In the meantime, learn more about coin show etiquette in our recent post, Attending Your First Coin Show.

About the American Numismatic Association

The American Numismatic Association is a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating and encouraging people to study and collect coins and related items. The Association serves collectors, the general public, and academic communities with an interest in numismatics.

The ANA helps all people discover and explore the world of money through its vast array of educational programs including its museum, library, publications, conventions and numismatic seminars.



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