Less than 5 minutes away, mints and wholesalers meet in the lobby of the Westin Hotel. Around the venue there are many modern hotels offering all the comforts you could need. The culinary scene is also impressive! From bars to fine dining: Pittsburgh is famous for its cuisine! Add to this the fact that the members of the Pennsylvania Association of Numismatists could easily win an award for their friendliness, and it is clear that Pittsburgh is indeed an ideal meeting place for the exhibitors from around the world who travel to the World’s Fair of Money.
The Small Difference between US and European Coin Shows
More than 400 exhibitors from all over the world presented their goods from Monday, 7 August to Saturday, 12 August 2023 – a total of six(!) days. By European standards, this is a very long time. No European coin show lasts longer than three days, and most make do with a single day by now.
The reason for this difference is a structural one: with the exception of very few coin shows, the events in Europe are usually run by privately-owned companies. They want to make a profit, and therefore pay most attention to the interests of their most important clients, the exhibitors. This means that their best-case scenario is a large crowd of visitors passing by the booths in a short amount of time – and, of course, they want to avoid that at some point no customers are present.
In the US, on the other hand, most coin shows evolved from cross-border meetings of coin associations. As a result, US shows still revolve around board meetings, lectures and social events. This is especially true of the ANA, which is an umbrella association for many smaller outfits. The fact that there is also a coin show on the side is a nice and important plus, and considered tempting by collectors. But it is not the decisive factor for whether or not the event takes place – although the high costs of the event are obviously also financed with the income from the coin show. Therefore, in theory, only ANA members are allowed to exhibit. In practice, anyone can quickly become a member for one year on site.
Therefore, you can observe the same scene every year: while the organisers of lectures, board meetings and the like hope that their events will be well attended, the about 400 coin dealers sit behind their desks in the hall, waiting for customers.
Nevertheless, most of them are happy about the profits as they are doing good business – not so much with collectors but rather with colleagues. Time and again, you hear that a major deal was closed as early as on Tuesday or Wednesday. As a result, some very busy CEOs already leave the World’s Fair of Money on Thursday evening.
Ancient and World Coins
The section of Ancient and World Coins includes everything that was not minted in the United States. Traditionally, this field has played a rather small role at the World’s Fair of Money. After all, the majority of ANA members still collect US coins. And yet, this section seems to grow every year. And even in the “general” area there are more and more coins from Europe and Asia on offer. The interest in non-US coinage seems to have increased significantly among American customers in recent years.
Of course, US collectors mainly collect US coinage, but they are also interested in ancient and Mexican pieces, South American and contemporary issues and much more. Especially bullion coins are in high demand. After all, the US pension system is quite different from those in Europe, and much is left to one’s own initiative. Therefore, there is a great willingness to invest in gold and collectibles.
This means, that the US market is also highly profitable for European dealers. Asian dealers, on the other hand, are rare. Although their goods may not reach the end customer, many American dealers use the World’s Fair of Money to replenish their stocks. And in turn, time and again you can discover European coins at the booths of US dealers. So it is not surprising when a German colleague shows you a coin they have just purchased and comments: “Look, I’ve just earned us our dinner.”
Two or three decades ago, the ANA was a strong competitor to the World Money Fair, which was then held in Basel. Both events wanted to become the most important platform for contemporary numismatics. But with the WMF moving to Berlin, the situation changed in favour of the European event. The mints decided to go to Berlin and the number of mints exhibiting at the World’s Fair of Money declined for a long time. The inglorious low point was reached in 2022, when only the Royal Canadian Mint and the Pobjoy Mint had a booth alongside the U.S. Mint, although the organisers had been trying for years to encourage more mints to participate.
2023 may have been a turning point: there was actually a small area dedicated to mints. The British Royal Mint, Bermuda, China, Poland, the Vatican and also private companies such as the Germania Mint had a booth. In addition, the ANA managed to bring back the prestigious Coty Award ceremony to the World’s Fair of Money.
Even more mints and international wholesalers could be found in the lobby of the Westin Hotel next door. Only a few of them actually made it to the coin show. This has become the norm, but it should not be. In this way, well-off large companies use this marketplace – which is funded by small collectors and coin dealers – without contributing to it themselves. In a biology class, this would be called parasitism.
Few players are aware of this – on either side. This should change. I know many of them well enough to know that hardly any of them would feel comfortable with acting like a parasite. In other words: the organisers should think about how the current free riders can contribute to making this marketplace as attractive as possible.
The U.S. Mint
The U.S. Mint plays a very different role. It has been a loyal exhibitor for many decades and always has the largest booth of the event. The Honorable Ventris Gibson, the mint’s Director, and Deputy Director Kristie McNally were present at the fair – and not just passing by. The Honorable Ventris Gibson – a title that she earned as a senior federal official – sat very people-oriented at the front of her booth. She had a small table where she signed certificates and listened to the concerns of individual collectors. This is an excellent opportunity for her to find out how the feelings run among collectors.
At this point, let brief mention be made of the fact that the U.S. Mint probably has the world’s best programme for attracting young generations to numismatics. Its website offers games and information in a child-friendly way as well as resources for teachers. And those who visited the booth of the U.S. Mint in Pittsburgh, could take home numismatic colouring books and other gadgets for their children and grandchildren.
Pittsburgh vs Rosemont
The ANA in Pittsburgh really did have everything that makes a good coin show. And yet, I have come to understand why so many make the case for the Rosemont Convention Center in Chicago.
This is about practical issues. But let us start at the beginning: 2023 was the first year for CoinsWeekly to have a booth at the World’s Fair of Money. We took that seriously. We produced beautiful decorations for our booth and had 2,500 CoinsWeekly Special Issues printed – in the US, to avoid unpredictable customs formalities.
A few days before our departure, we were faced with a problem that no one had predicted: a requirement came up for our 2,500 issues to be delivered by a surprisingly early deadline and at a tiny time window. If our printer failed to meet the deadline, we would have to pay additional costs amounting to about $1,000. This was not a requirement of the ANA but the Convention Center, which charged us for bringing the issues from one place to another. We had originally planned to have the issues delivered during the fair itself – but this was downright impossible. It was forbidden to bring more to one’s booth than what a person could carry in their own arms.
The reason for this requirement are labour unions, which are particularly strong in Pittsburgh for historical reasons. After much upset and time-consuming work, we were able to solve the problem in a pragmatic and unconventional way thanks to the help of Thomas Uram, the new President of the ANA and the current President of the Pennsylvania Association of Numismatists. Thank you so much! But now I understand what colleagues meant when they said that there are no problems with unions in Chicago.
And there was another problem, this time with air travel. Pittsburgh is a great city with a small airport that is not serviced by many airlines. Almost all foreigners had to change planes somewhere in the US. This caused problems for many coin dealers on their way to or back from the coin show – especially as several flights were cancelled due to a storm. The situation for us was particularly frustrating, and the problems already started in Europe: my colleague’s connecting flight was cancelled and he would not have arrived in Pittsburgh until Thursday afternoon on the replacement flight. We decided that it was best for him to stay home – and so our booth did not have the beautiful decoration that we had prepared.
Now my colleague is looking forward to the next World’s Fair of Money, which will take place from 6 to 12 August in Rosemont, Chicago. Getting yourself and your material there will be easier. But I will not like the venue as much. Well, we all know that we cannot have it all.