Are Coin Shows on the Decline?

by Jeff Garrett  with Permission from NGC ………

Despite all of these headwinds, most coin shows are generally in good health.

As a member of the board of governors for the American Numismatic Association, one of the prime responsibilities is to make decisions about ANA conventions. That is no small task given the size and importance of the conventions. The World’s Fair of Money held each summer by the ANA is one of the organization’s largest revenue sources. It is also the face of the organization to its many thousands of members that attend each year.

Clubs from around the country hold meetings at these conventions and the educational opportunities offered to attendees are almost endless. Additionally, many millions of dollars worth of rare coins are sold in that short week. I would estimate that sales exceed $100 million dollars during ANA conventions. In short, the importance of the show cannot be over emphasized.

coin deal thumb Are Coin Shows on the Decline?Because of all the planning and organization, the ANA is fortunate that its summer convention is usually a roaring success. Unfortunately, some rare coin conventions around the country are not so lucky. In recent years, several major shows have seen significant declines in attendance and the number of tables sold.

A case in point would be the Central States Numismatic Society’s annual convention (CSNS) held each spring in the Midwest. Twenty years ago, the CSNS show was considered one of the largest in the nation and a “must attend” event. The large bourse area sometimes exceeded 400 tables! But last year, the show sold closer to 250 tables and other shows around the country have experienced similar declines.

The reasons some shows are succeeding and others are faltering can be complicated. Many believe the Internet has been a game changer for rare coin conventions. The theory is that collectors don’t need to attend a coin show when coins can so easily be found on the web. There is much truth to the fact that at any time of the day or night you can shop for rare coins around the country. Why go to a coin show when so much is available at the push of a button? I actually believe the opposite is true about the Internet’s impact on coin shows.

The Internet has created millions of new coin collectors. These collectors can start on the web, but soon will find the idea of attending an actual coin show to be more exciting. My analogy for this is the spread of legalized gambling in the United States. Many predicted that a casino in every large city would destroy the gaming industry in Las Vegas. However, the opposite proved true as local casinos introduced millions to the excitement of casino gambling causing these folks to want to experience the “big time”– a trip to Las Vegas! I hope that is how many new collectors feel about going to an ANA convention.

Some shows suffer simply because of where they fall on the calendar. Too many shows in one month and those at the end of the month, usually result in light attendance. Others have difficulty because of the location where the event is being held. For years, coin shows in downtown St. Louis were a “must attend” event. The Silver Dollar Show held there each fall was a huge event. However, the decline of downtown St. Louis and subsequent moving of the show to a smaller venue near the airport has caused it to shrink considerably. The show is still held each year (and I faithfully attend) but now, due to changing circumstances, it is just a smaller event than in the past.

The decline of the airline industry has also had a major impact on some shows. Many smaller market cities have seen serious cutbacks in air service. This means fewer and more expensive flights on smaller airplanes. Coin dealers do not travel light, and most hate going to a show if it means a commuter flight. This was one of the prime reasons the ANA decided against holding its annual convention in Indianapolis several years ago.

coin slabs Are Coin Shows on the Decline?Despite all of these headwinds, most coin shows are generally in good health. If a coin show is run well, the public and collectors will attend. I have a saying that I repeat often after coming home from a show, “Anytime I get concerned about the health of the market, I look around at the thousands of collectors at a typical coin show and feel better.” Most collectors love the excitement of going to a coin show and actually seeing and holding the coins they collect. Where else can you go and hold museum quality objects in your hands?

Photographs on the Internet have improved a great deal over the years but nothing beats seeing “real” coins in person. Coin shows also present an incredible educational opportunity for collectors. They can see a vast array of rare coins on display, look at educational exhibits and perhaps attend an informative seminar.

Seeing a great rare coin is exciting, but for many who attend coin shows it is the people that make it special. Where else can you go and see the legends of your hobby walking about and in most cases very accessible to anyone attending? Coins shows are where many long–term relationships are developed. Over the years, these relationships will probably be the most important thing you might gain from attending. I have attended 2 to 3 coins shows every month for almost 40 years. If you do the math, that adds up to a lot of coins shows! Most of my closest personal relationships were started at coin shows. As I have stated many times in this column, finding a mentor to assist you in your collecting pursuits is very important. Coin shows are an excellent place to find a dealer or advanced collector that will share their years of knowledge with you. Regardless of what series you collect, there will probably be someone there that specializes in the very coins you are seeking for your collection.

One piece of advice for anyone new attending coin shows: Try to attend the show early! Coin shows are very front–loaded as far as business is concerned. More coins trade in the first few hours than during the rest of the event. Dealers are very eager to purchase fresh coins as they are placed in the showcases. During a good market, the bourse floor will be abuzz with activity during the set–up period. As this business settles down, many dealers actually start to leave. By Friday afternoon, some of the largest dealers are headed to the airport. This situation causes much consternation for collectors and show promoters. The show promoters’ attempt to make dealers stay longer has met with limited success. Remember, many dealers like myself attend at least 25–30 coin shows a year. Being away from home most every weekend would be impossible for anyone trying to maintain a family life. I hope to meet anyone reading this article at the next major coin show. Just be sure to be there by Friday for the best experience!

Questions about the rare coin market? Send them to wmr@ngccoin.com.

Jeff Garrett began his coin collecting the all-American way, with Lincoln Cents. In 1969 a family friend gave him a Lincoln cent board. From that time, coins became the focus of his life. While growing up in the Tampa Bay area in Clearwater Florida, Jeff became very active in several local clubs, serving as a junior officer of the Clearwater Coin Club in the 1970’s. He mentored at an early age by many of the area dealers, among them Ed French and Jeff Means. Jeff attended his first ANA convention at the 1974 Miami convention with Ed French and has not missed one since. He has been a member of the ANA for nearly 25 years with life membership number 3124. At the age of 17, Garrett was offered a position with Florida Coin Exchange, one of the dominant firms of the day. Two years later, he became a partner. In 1984, he founded Mid-American Rare Coin Galleries, which continues to operate today. Garrett also is co-owner of Sarasota Rare Coin Gallery. During the 1980’s Garrett was a partner in Mid-American Rare Coin Auctions which sold many important collections, and earned catalogue of the year in 1986 from the Numismatic Literary Guild. Several years later Jeff organized the Bluegrass Coin Club in Lexington, Kentucky. Because local coin clubs were so important in Jeff’s early life, he felt it would be important to foster the same atmosphere of enthusiastic collectors that he enjoyed as a youth. Today, the club is very healthy, with over twenty members in attendance each month.

About the Author:

NGC was founded in 1987, and for coin grading, its opening heralded the introduction of a new standard of integrity. From the beginning NGC focused on only one objective, a standard of consistent and accurate grading. As NGC has grown to become the leader in third-party grading services, we have maintained a steadfast and uncompromising commitment to this standard. The knowledge, integrity and dedication of NGC's team of grading experts ensures you a level of grading consistency unparalleled among grading services. This record of consistency, built over the years, has helped to foster greater stability throughout the rare coin marketplace.

6 Comments on "Are Coin Shows on the Decline?"

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  1. Great article, and highlights something that’s common across a number of industries.

    I spent most of last year working with a consultancy that handles around 30 of the biggest household retail brands, and one of the trends that I noticed is a greater scrutiny regarding meetings and conventions.

    Where at one time, I would have arrived to give a presentation at a brand headquarters and found that staff had been flown in from outlying areas, I now find that video or audio conferencing is the norm, along with screen sharing – effectively allowing a distant audience to see and hear exactly what I’m presenting (as well as any group discussion), without any expenditure on travel or accommodation.

    At one time, IBM actually dispensed with their annual convention altogether, and instead held it on their virtual island in Second Life. This allowed delegates to log in from their own offices or homes, and interact with each other in a ‘real’ environment.
    The conference had a lecture hall, and break out meeting rooms, all rendered as 3D environments.

    Fashion designer Garavani has recently done something similar – a 10,000 square ft museum of all his work, featuring 3D virtual displays that allow viewers to ‘walk’ around his clothes and see them from all angles. Add to this over 50 hours of fashion runway footage and an archive of designs and photography.

    In retail, we are almost seeing a return to the shopping ethos of the 1950’s, where the act of purchasing came second to the ‘experience’. Propensity to buy online is increasing, and physical environments have to offer a consumer experience outside of the purchasing act, in order to attract footfall.

    A large number of consumers now browse online before purchasing in store, but an equally large number actually browse in store before purchasing online to get the best deal.

    The traditional ‘1st and 2nd moments of truth’ (first touch of a product instore, and ‘unwrapping’ at home after purchase, respectively) in retail are being subverted by what Google refers to as the ‘zero moment of truth’ – experience of a brand or product online, before any physical experience.

    I suspect that I’m veering way off topic here, but your article certainly sparks a wider conversation!

  2. Boz says:

    Despite claims that the number of collectors is increasing, which may or may not be true (if you believe the cable TV salespeople), the average age of serious collectors and hoarders is now in the 60’s and higher. As with most hobbies, such as car clubs and the like, estate planning and physical restrictions have incapacitated many of the practitioners. Dealers actually benefit from this, since they are approached to liquidate estates, but it does little to nurture the hobby’s grass roots, at the bottom of the pyramid.

    Such hobbies, such as amateur radio, have seen the number of licensees actually increase, it is for different reasons than in the past, and because the entrance requirements have been dumbed down. General aviation, which formerly had hundreds of thousands of hobby participants, is now down to only a core group of elderly afficianados. There is still support, but not like in the good old days.

    The perception of higher fuel and travel costs, relative to the cost of living, and general economic malise since 2006 have also influenced younger people to stay away from any activities that might ding the personal or household budget. Why spend $1000 or more on travel to a show when you can spend that money by mail on something you need to fill a hole?

    Numismatics is now dominated by the bullion market. The types of coins people are looking to collect has changed. Modern coins, such as the American Eagles, and current outputs from various “international” mints around the world now dominate. The distribution network for these items totally bypasses the traditional networks, unless one wishes to obsess about “early releases” and “grading,” in which case there is still a ready supply of third party vendors feeding those addictions. Is it possible some of these aspects of the coin business has turned off some who might be serious collectors in the future, I suspect so.

    There may be about 100,000 “serious” collectors of modern coins left in the world, based upon the recent sales reports for such items as from the US Mint. Note that when the 2011 AE set was limited to that number, there was a perception by the flippers that the number was too low. Actually, it seemed to be just about right. This year, the AE San Francisco set has failed to generate that kind of enthusiasm, even with numbers three times as high.

    Yet, with mintages of less than 3,000, the First Spouse series has been slow to sell out. The days of presuming that there are millions of collectors out there who will soak up anything are over. Sure, many grannies and gramps still buy proof sets to give to the grandkids each year, but even the numbers of those is way down from the millions it once was.

    The perception also is that it is more dangerous to travel today with large value items. Despite overbearing “security” presence at airports and elsewhere, the amount of “petty crime”, such as purse snatching, is way up in most major markets. For the very reasons mentioned in the post, a safer small market city is unlikely to be blessed by a major convention or show of any time. The best way to be safe is to travel totally incognito, look over your shoulder as you arrive and depart the venue, and just hope the theives miss you as a random target.

    I suspect there are a great deal more factors in what is influencing coin show attendance around the country than those mentioned.

    • Louis says:

      Boz,
      The mintage of the 2011 25th anniv. silver eagle set was snapped up by about 20,000 people, who ordered an average of 4.5 sets each. But those numbers do not translate into how many “serious modern coin collectors” there are in the U.S., let alone the world. There are millions of coin collectors in the U.S., and tens of millions or more around the world. Think about the fact that there are almost as many millionaires in Germany and Japan as there are in the U.S. Anyway, I am not aware of any solid studies, but I have seen estimates that there are something like 3 million serious collectors in the U.S. And I know there are millions of people who collect silver eagles to varying degrees of seriousness. When it comes to the 2012 silver eagle sets, if you read my articles you would know that the “minted to demand” approach deterred a lot of people from buying. When it comes to the spouses, the coins with mintages under 3K had their sales ended prematurely by the Mint. Again, I have discussed this in my articles. You will not find any of the new key spouses anywhere except a couple on e-Bay and Modern Coin Mart, where the same coin that was $1,000 recently now goes for $3500-$4000. The reason lots of people are not collecting the spouses is the economy, rising gold prices, and most imp. the view that the artwork could be better, and that first spouses are not deserving of their coins (which I totally reject).

  3. Dan Duncan says:

    It appears to me that coin shows are evolving into more “trade” shows where trade professionals exchange ideas and goods. Not unlike other industries. A good case in point is the proliferation of the PCGS “Trade and Grades”, smaller shows that are predominately for rare coin professionals.

  4. RJ Wolf says:

    I have been a long time collector since the 60’s. I use to go to shows to buy Buffalo nickels with a teacher that also ran the coin collectors club in school. Some years back, I ran technology shows and notices large drop-offs of participants to shows.
    Why I’m supplying a reply to this article is that, I’m sad to say that dealers have made a bad name for themselves. People feel like they are getting ripped off when selling and buying. Subsequently, people don’t have an interest in purchasing coins when their resale value to the same dealer is only a fraction of what they just paid.
    With the price of silver being about $33 dollars an ounce I’ve been offered only $19 per ounce on PCGS coins where I’ve been told that they aren’t making a profit and that their margins are paper thin. I thought that when David Hall showed up on the scene in about 30 years ago and provided collectors with a PCGS grading system that this would save coin collecting. Today, I still talk to some dealers where just for fun I’ll put an ultra rare coin in their hands and after they get done shaking from seeing such a coin the they tell me it’s a fake but they still offer me slightly over bullion. It’s like I’m some sort of idiot and that the only way I could have possibly possessed such a coin to have taken if from an unsuspecting family member. I haven’t even been able to get the big coin houses to buy back their own coins. The sale only goes one way where I’m sending them money.
    For all my consternation, I still love coins.

    • Louis says:

      RJ,
      I agree it’s hard to make a buck on coins apart from bullion and major rarities, and I also agree that there are a lot of dealers who drive a hard bargain, but you mist be dealing with some really bad dealers. No one should be offering you $19 an ounc efor any kind of silver, let along PCGS-graded silver. i would report them to the Better Business Bureau, the ANA, and John Albanese’s National Coin Alliance, which is an anti-fraud group that recovers millions for collectors who get ripped off. If you have been collecting since the 1960’s, you should have been able to separate the wheat from the chaff with dealers. There are good dealers out there. Start with those who are PNG members. And any reputable dealer is supposed to buy back any coin they sell you for the prevailing wholesale price. Many state that in their ordering policies.

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