Volume 41, Number 3, March 2004
Worlds apart? The World Money fair held in Basel at the beginning of each year has always been the premier event for the Mints of the world to showcase their latest new issues and tell the world’s numismatic press of what’s due to be released over the following year. It is at that fair that some of the most inspired coin programmes of recent times have been announced (the US quarter program being the most obvious example) and where some of the most exciting innovations in minting, from bi-metallics to coloured coins, have been seen first. The Basel fair is, without a doubt, the largest gathering of National and private mints that the public can visit anywhere in the world. However it isn’t simply that it is a coin show in the traditional mould too, with dealers from across the globe attending the bourse just as they would at Coinex or the ANA. This year though there were less dealers, or so it seemed, and those who were there gave the impression of being almost under siege, rather like cowboys in an old western movie rounding the wagons against the onslaught of the Indians. It might have been the way the tables were laid out, with the dealers in the centre of the room and the mints around the outside, or it might have been the fact that the mints with there vast marketing budgets, huge stands and booths with whizzy graphics literally dwarfed the low, smaller tables of the humble traders but whatever the reason never has the divide between the “old” and “new” branches of our hobby been so apparent. There are those who would argue that actually the dealers had no place in being at what was essentially a coin manufacturers convention and that in fact there weren’t two sides of one hobby represented in Switzerland but in fact two distinct hobbies – with new issues and those who collect them being as different from hammered coins and their following as stamps and philatelists are from Charles II milled crowns and their aficionados, but to follow that argument to it’s logical conclusion would be to split our hobby up beyond recognition. You would end up with dozens of small factions each claiming that they had nothing in common with the others bar the fact that what they collected was small (ish) round (ish) and made of metal (generally) – you cannot do that we are all coin collectors (apologies to the banknote collectors – theirs truly can be seen as as separate hobby!), to say that only those who collect coins minted before a certain date qualify for membership of our hobby is to miss the essential fact that new issues are as relevant to numismatics as Roman denarii albeit for very different reasons – after all, all those Roman coins we see around today were new issues once too! That all said there can be no denying the fact that the New issues market is a very different one to say the hammered market or the market in milled gold, the mass sales techniques of the mints and their agents have ensured that people who would never dream of calling themselves coin collectors now own small collections – maybe because they depict pictures of cats, trains, flowers, or were minted in a particular celebratory year, the reasons they own those coins are irrelevant, the fact is they do, they are fledgling numismatists and wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could cultivate them (educate them I hear some cry) into fully fledged collectors and paid up members of this hobby? Some are trying – the Royal Mint, seemingly unique amongst its contemporaries, does keep one eye on tradition and the past, acknowledging the history that has gone into the coinage of this country, but is it enough? Unfortunately when the hobby is as divided as it sometimes seems when attending shows like the World Money Fair that dream of turning the coin purchaser into the coin collector does seem a long way off.
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