Monthly Archives: July 2013

  • Reflections on 25 Years of ANA Membership

    A few weeks ago, a package showed up from ANA Headquarters containing my ANA 25 Year Membership silver medal and pin. It's impossible to open an article of mail and from it receive a bucketful of cold water to the face, but if such things could happen, I now know what it would feel like. I'm 35. I haven't even been shaving for 25 years, and I've been shaving for a really, really long time. Could I really be a 25 Year ANA member?

    I joined the ANA in 1988 when I was not yet 11 years old. I got their address from one of those Big Kids' Almanacs of Everything, the sort of thick trade paperback that helped you find your hobby, and the capital of Upper Volta, in the days before the Internet. If I wanted to learn to juggle, there was an address to send away for a pamphlet on juggling. If I wanted to collect records, it told me where to send away for a free issue of Goldmine. And, of course, if you were a young coin nerd, there was a PO Box address in faraway Colorado Springs where you could send away for an informative pamphlet on coin collecting, a 50 cent value, for the price of a self-addressed stamped envelope.

    So I sent away for the pamphlet. I digested it like a thousand termites intent on tearing down a doghouse made of cedar shakes, ripped out the back page membership application, and sent off a check from my mom for $11 to join up. The Big Kids' Almanac of Everything and the pamphlet both said you had to be 11 to join. I was at least six months away. I don't think I lied about my age, but I sent in the form and hoped against hope that I wouldn't be rejected for being underage. When my membership card arrived, along with my first issue of The Numismatist, I was overjoyed. I can still remember sitting at the kitchen counter with a glass of milk and reading it, cover to cover, then going back and reading it again.

    The ANA still brings me that kind of joy. Its convention is one of the highlights of my year, the only can't-miss coin show, the convention that allows me to see old collector friends that I've known for two decades or more. In fact, there are people I see at ANA shows that I consider extremely important friends, close confidantes, long-time pals, whom I've never seen anywhere BUT an ANA convention. That's pretty powerful stuff.

    The ANA has given me moments that I count among the highlights of my life. The Summer Seminar has been transformative for me, enabling me to meet some of my closest friends and learn more about coins than some collectors learn in a lifetime. Receiving the ANA YN of the Year award looked pretty fancy on my college applications. Their Heath Literary Award is literally the only award of any kind that I've ever won that is on display in my home.

    ANA Summer Seminar, 1993 or 1994. One of these guys is the Vice President of Numismatics for a major auction house. Another is a PhD college professor. The guy in the middle runs a little coin firm. Two decades of friendship started at the ANA Summer Seminar. ANA Summer Seminar, 1993 or 1994. One of these guys is the Vice President of Numismatics for a major auction house. Another is a PhD college professor. The guy in the middle runs a little coin firm. Two decades of friendship started at the ANA Summer Seminar.

    I was an underpaid radio DJ the first time I taught at the ANA Summer Seminar, a single week spent teaching after five years when coins had become backburnered during college and the start of my media career. That week made me fall in love with numismatics again. It is no coincidence that exactly two months later, I had packed my bags and moved to Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. It was at the ANA Seminar that I realized I was no radio jock. I was a numismatist.

    In short, the ANA has been a really big deal in my life, and I am forever in its debt. I wouldn't be who I am today personally, professionally, or intellectually without it.

    So the organization has gone through some tough times now and again. They are not run with the ruthless efficiency of a championship major league baseball franchise. Their institutional memory was once decades long, when a few folks hopped from office to office, filling every job in the building because their love of the organization mattered more than their particular qualifications for the position. Before HQ moved to Colorado Springs in 1967, the club was run out of Lew Reagan's briefcase. Afterwards, it was run out of the minds and hearts of men like Ken Bressett, Ed Rochette, Ken Hallenbeck, and others, folks who also experienced a transformative relationship with the nation's largest coin club. That generation moved on, in time, as generations do, replaced by people who had their own ideas about expanding, improving, and modernizing the services of the organization.

    Boards came and went, as they did before, and as they will in the future. Some board members were elected year after year, enjoying their picture in the magazine and their sinecure atop the coin field. There were those who had ideas for the future, while others had memories of the past. Some were leaders, some were there for the hors d'oeuvres. Life went on, and the organization was, for the most part, none the worse for wear.

    But modernity happened. The staff grew, requiring someone who knew how to be a boss and not just run a coin club. After the ANA's Greatest Generation had retired, the next wave had to feel around in the dark a bit. As history has indicated, their success rate hasn't been great. Despite this, the organization has persisted; the magazine has excelled; the museum has improved (those who doubt this never saw it 20+ years ago); and rank-and-file ANA staff members that most folks have never heard of have showed up, day after day, to do their jobs. While the board is fighting over ideas, and the members are rattling their sabres and declaring their unhappiness, these folks are showing up, making copies, putting books back on the library shelves, recruiting seminar instructors, returning emails, running coin shows, processing donations, selling magazine ads, updating the website, sweeping the loading dock, opening the mail. They're running the show, and doing a pretty damn good job of it. They're ensuring that the next 10 year old kid can send off for a pamphlet and have their life changed.

    And that's worthwhile. That's what the ANA is there for.

    Not a member? Go join: http://www.money.org/membership/join-the-ana.aspx

  • The launch of JKAMERICANA.COM - Version 3.0

    A friend and customer of mine recently relayed the kindest and most Zen-like of all wishes: “hope life slows down a bit for you.” When the slowest seasons in the business cycle align rather neatly with school breaks and auction cataloguing deadlines, such fond wishes are tantamount to prayers for rain in the Maghreb.

    As I sit here and write, itself a Zen-like exercise in paragraph construction, one dependent phrase at a time, life has begun to slow. In the lingo of my suburban Charlotte neighborhood, this is racing under the yellow flag. The wreckage will soon be cleared, and the green flag and its concomitant speeds will undoubtedly return soon. The major time sucks of the last few months have ended. The multiple volume ANA sale by StacksBowers has been catalogued and, more vitally, organized, credit for neither of which can be laid at my feet though both sure did take a lot of time. The ANA Summer Seminar, with its corona of preparation and catching up, has been successfully put in the books. And, finally, this website is now up and running. Most of the heavy lifting has been done by my truly excellent web designer, whose West Coast location has come in particularly handy for strategy sessions that begin when the day’s other work finds a stopping point in the late evening hours.

    Launching the new site has been invigorating. Re-invigorating, even. Seeing the inventory depicted in spiffy new professional photographs is like seeing your car in the driveway after getting it home from the carwash: familiar, yet surprisingly attractive again. (The first simile I composed in this space had to do with my fiancee and the hairdresser, but somehow I don’t think comparing her to a toned 8 reales of Ferdinand VII is a recipe for domestic bliss.)

    FERNANDO-VII_PlusRedWhig_1

    Anyway, the website is a hell of an upgrade. Visually, it finally looks like the 21st century around here. The back end makes my life a lot easier. And you, beloved customer, can finally sit home in your PJs, whip out a plasticized cash substitute at 1 AM, and pay off a rare medal on the same plan as that top-of-the-line vacuum cleaner you bought three years ago. Oddly, through this whole process, nailing down credit card processing was the most challenging part.

    For as much cataloguing as I’ve done in my life, writing about my own inventory still comes slowly. It used to be done in hours-long marathon sessions in a crummy New York apartment while my webmaster, a couch cushion away, waited patiently until I finished maniacally banging out a large enough clump of it to merit him coding it in. Now, like my fellow AEPi brother Ron Popeil, I can set it and forget it: write a description, load it, hit reload, and walk away. The upshot for customers is that there will likely be more frequent, but smaller, updates; the OCD reloaders (you know who you are!) stand to gain most from this.

    I hope to also find more frequent inspiration for blog posts. Coin blogs tend to fall into a few big categories, and I suppose it will best please everyone if I sample liberally from each of the following:

    1. The travel blog. These range from pithy with a side of snark (a genre mastered by our friends at Coin Rarities Online) to food and wine porn. Some end up sounding like bullet points of complaints. Though everyone can nod their head and agree that airlines suck and hotel rooms that smell like fishsticks are unpleasant, it strikes me as unseemly to complain too much about being a traveling coin dealer. Then again, my dad welded trash trucks. Everything seems easier than that. On the flip side, show too many decadent meals and customers start to wonder if your markup is less about the cost of doing business and more about fine California reds. So I guess a proper numismatic travel blog needs to make sure coin shows sound like real work, but fun work: oddly, that is the unvarnished truth. So is the occasional fancy foodie meal followed by a lunch of purple-blue hot dogs on stale buns.

    2. The informational blog. My role model here is Doug Winter at raregoldcoins.com: frequently updated, always timely, long enough to cover the essentials but short enough to make it interesting. Blogging like this requires real dedication and some good brainstorming. A lot of what I would blog about ends up becoming my Coin World column, though that ends up being a lot more about the historical background of the material I handle and less about the market aspects thereof. Is the colonial coin or historical medal market dynamic enough to write about market trends?

    3. Decadent self-promotion. I could probably do with some more of that. John Kraljevich Americana, the World’s Leading Dealer in Fugio Coppers. Or, John Kraljevich Americana, THE WORLD’S LEADING DEALER IN FUGIO COPPERS, perhaps.

    4. Everyone’s favorite: blogs that never get updated. We’ll work on that.

    In that spirit, I’ll make like a shark and put a FIN on the end of this thing. There will be much to write about in upcoming weeks, including the ANA, its important auction, and some new acquisitions. So, as Porky Pig might say if he was Porky Porc instead, “voila, c’est tout!”

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John Kraljevich Americana