From the Desk of Q. David Bowers: The Permanence of Print

Writing about the permanence of print on an e-mail blog is probably oxymoronic! However, the subject is worthy of comment.
Back in 1957 I paid the record sum of $4,750 for an 1894-S dime. The idea of a college kid spending so much for "one thin dime" was picked up by the Associated Press and the story was run in many newspapers. As a result, I received over 6,000 letters and postcards from people who had dimes. "Mine is dated 1886 and is older. Do you want to buy it?"
The Today Show on NBC heard about this and invited me to come to New York City to be on television. I was scheduled for perhaps 10 minutes, but the next guest was delayed, and the host, Dave Garroway, asked if I could be interviewed longer. I did this. Then Garroway asked if readers could contact me by writing to NBC. The answer, of course, was yes. I went home with the expectation that I would be getting untold thousands of letters and cards. A few weeks later a thin envelope came from NBC containing just a handful of mail.
In ensuing years I have been on television many times and also in print—when my coin company sold a rarity, was involved in a treasure find, or did something else newsworthy. Each time, and without exception, in-print stories generated a pile of mail and television programs little or nothing.
Fast forward to today. Each week I have my "Joys of Collecting" column in Coin World. This started in 1961 and is the longest-running column in world numismatic history. It is popular with readers, and each month I receive several dozen or more e-mails from readers (hardly anyone writes letters). Indeed, e-mail and the Internet have revolutionized communications.
In contrast I write a weekly blog for Stack’s Bowers Galleries, as here, and for Whitman’s Coin Update site. I don’t remember getting even a single comment from the readers of each in recent times! Stuff on the Internet is read and quickly forgotten as it makes way for the next piece of news. Not much different today from my television experience of over 50 years ago.
Similarly, books by Stephen King, Kurt Vonnegut, J.K. Rowling, Jon Meacham, and others tend to become long-lived. Who cares about or remembers General Hospital, Gunsmoke, and other popular television series of years ago?
In the 1930s the Amos ‘n’ Andy radio show was so popular that theaters turned off their movie projectors so people could hear the latest episode. Otherwise they would have stayed home. Today this show is largely forgotten, but the printed works of John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway live on.
As a summary, both in-print and on-screen media are dynamic and essential. However, for reader interface and permanence, in-print items can be forever.
The 2019 edition of A Guide Book of United States Coins will be released by Whitman in two weeks. It will sell hundreds of thousands of copies and will be used continuously by readers throughout the year. If Whitman were to post exactly the same information on the Internet, it would be reviewed and mostly forgotten.
In terms of Stack’s Bowers Galleries, our printed catalogs, such as the remarkable suite of volumes in print for our auction sessions at the Whitman Coin & Collectibles Expo next week, will be long remembered, some perhaps being consulted a century from now. (I enjoy my 1882 catalog of the Charles I. Bushnell collection by the Chapman brothers, for example.) Live television and Internet coverage of the Expo will be ephemeral—of great interest at the time, but soon forgotten.
If there is a conclusion to this it is that print is not obsolete and probably never will be. It remains super essential as a cornerstone of permanent knowledge. If you have a working numismatic library you know this. On the other hand, the Internet is equally essential and is dynamic, but it does not replace print.
See you next week.​

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