The Demise of the Printed Word in Numismatics, Part One

David Harper, editor of Numismatic News, was the guest speaker at the Texas Numismatic Association Show in early June. He spoke on many subjects, and one in particular was food for thought for me. He discussed changes he foresaw that might lead to the demise of the printed word in numismatics. This caused me to sit down and reminisce about my close to 70 years as a professional numismatist and how the hobby’s sources of information have changed during the last decades.

When I first joined Stack’s in the 1940s numismatic Information was sparse. The publications available were issued monthly, some semi annually and others yearly. News about what was happening in the marketplace came slowly and could be difficult to locate. The Guidebook and the Standard Catalog were issued yearly, The Numismatist (ANA), Numismatic Scrapbook, and some society publications were issued monthly and /or semi annually. The Coin Collector Journal was issued sporadically. Occasionally references were written or re-written. Stack’s tried a quarterly publication but after two years we gave it up, as it did not seem to reach mainstream collectors.

One major source of current markets and prices at the time was the public auction and mail bid auction catalogs issued by different dealers about the country. With the exception of Stack’s monthly sales, these were not always issued on a regular basis. The prices realized published by the auctioneers after the sales were also an important source of market information.

There were coin clubs and conventions, locations where information was shared, but this only reached a small part of the hobby. Rare coin dealers in different locations tried to provide information and education about numismatics, but there weren’t many major dealerships and a lot of coins were sold through mom and pop stores that might also deal in stamps, books, baseball cards and other collectibles.

Therefore, information was slow in getting around. But the coin hobby was growing, as more and more people got serious about numismatics. Major collections were being built and there was more and more specialization. Newcomers were entering the hobby in great numbers. As the interest in coins evolved, Chet Krauss, a collector and a publisher, visited dealers about the country asking how a weekly newspaper would it be accepted, should he choose to publish one. The dealers showed some enthusiasm, including my Uncle Joe and my father, Morton. With positive feedback, Chet went forward and in the early 1950s began publishing Numismatic News. This has remained a weekly source of information since then.

In the early 1960s Amos Press, decided to publish a weekly newspaper called Coin World. Under the editorship of Margo Russell and later Beth Deisher this publication provided much additional needed information as to the growth of the coin market.

While the Guide Book continued to provide annual information on coins and pricing, ads in Numismatic News and Coin World (as well as in monthly publications), together with dealer price lists and auction prices realized, became important market information sources throughout the year.

In his comments at the Texas Numismatic Association Show, David Harper predicted that within the next 25 years the need for these printed publications would be almost non-existent. It made me wonder if in the future, all coin and market information, current and historic, will need to be retrieved (if one knows how and where to look) using the electronic devices we all seem to have or will obtain.

Next week I will write more about the changeover to from print information to electronic.



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