Commentary & Opinion: Numismatic Dealers – How Many Are Really Professionals?
The following commentary was submitted by Martin Kaplan.
The word “professional” carries with it the connotation of “expert”, i.e., having “expertise” in one’s chosen field. Professions where there is a fiduciary responsibility to clients normally have a certification process where the member has passed tests and there is periodic re-testing to make certain the members maintain proficiency and are in good standing among their peers. The highest ethical standards are a critical part of every profession. CPAs, stock brokers, financial planners, attorneys and insurance professionals, among others, all must meet certain requirements to be qualified as a professional, achieving proficiency by passing tests and maintaining ethical standards.
This is not true in the field of numismatics. How is the customer to know the expertise of any so-called dealer? The industry has no requirements for knowledge and ethics to determine what is a professional numismatist.
There is the PNG – the Professional Numismatists Guild. Members of this organization are certainly not without criticism by their peers. For example, the problem of coin doctoring has not been satisfactorily resolved by the membership.
For an individual to be a “dealer”, to set up at a show, have a coin shop, sell over the Internet, television or telephone, intimating to the public that he is a professional, there are no standards of knowledge, expertise or ethics in numismatics as in other professions. How is the collector/investor to know if a dealer has his best interests at heart when there is no code of ethics in the numismatic “profession”. Unfortunately, virtually all collectors/investors have “paid a financial price” by doing business with dealers who might not know much more about numismatics than they do and/or are unethical. “Let the buyer beware” in too many instances is what clients/investors find out about dealers they have dealt with. This should never be or have been the experience of anyone dealing with a “professional” numismatist.
Walking onto the bourse floor at a show can be overwhelming. There may be hundreds of dealers with coins and paper money on display. Does the collector/investor have a clue who to deal with? Just because a dealer has expensive material does not qualify him as an expert. How does one determine a dealer’s knowledge and ethics when there are no standards?
In today’s era of coin and paper money certification, i.e. “slabbing”, the dealer can point to his inventory in slabs and only has to talk grading number and price. Does the dealer know the market and the nuances of what he is selling? There is far too much of what is referred to as “drek”, coins and currency in holders that are over graded and not a good value for the collector/investor at any price. I have not even touched upon the challenges some people have faced when dealing with those who sell numismatic material over the Internet and telemarketers. There are many very professional looking web sites, but what are the standards and ethics of the people behind them? Without certification, anyone can pass themselves off as a professional numismatist.
As the numismatic industry has grown and the products sold increase in value, the collector/investor would be well served to have dealers certified as professionals.
Until the industry sets standards for its members by requiring the same type of qualifications and certification for membership as other professions, initial testing and refresher courses, numismatics cannot achieve the credibility it purports to have and serve its customer’s best interests.
This proposal will result in an outcry from all “dealers”. The number of dealers who would achieve professional standing would likely be a fraction of the number of those who today call themselves dealers. For those who are truly professional numismatists, they will not want to add course work, annual refresher testing to their work load plus the cost of membership. For those whose knowledge is deficient, the time required to achieve proficiency might eliminate even more so-called dealers.
There should be a “good housekeeping seal of approval” for numismatists – having an in depth knowledge of numismatics, maintaining high ethical standards for conducting their business and having a fiduciary responsibility to their clients so that potential clients can be assured of dealing with a professional.
Certification would elevate those dealers who are professional numismatists to maintain high standards as in other professional organizations.
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