My invitation for readers of Coin Update to send suggestions for future blogs drew a very nice response. So much so, in fact, that I have enough subjects for the rest of May and also for June.
Mike C. from Tennessee sent this:
The American Numismatic Society has existed long before the American Numismatic Association, yet the ANS clearly languishes in membership. I would like to hear any comments regarding this discrepancy in membership, as well as any differences between the workings of the two organizations.
In brief, both organizations are important to numismatics, but each is quite different from the other, and the two are not competitive. I have been a life member of the ANA and a fellow of the ANS since the 1950s.
As you probably know, the ANA was founded by Dr. Geo. F. Heath in 1891. From the outset it aspired to be a “popular” organization, drawing in casual collectors as well as experts. The Numismatist magazine, first published by Heath in 1888, was in time acquired by the ANA and today is published monthly. Under Editor Barbara Gregory it is one of the most diverse, most interesting publications in all of numismatics.
The ANA holds its World’s Fair of Money annual convention each summer, often drawing close to 10,000 registrants, sometimes higher. The peak seems to have been attained in 2000 with the Ship of Gold exhibit being an important drawing card. In Colorado Springs the Headquarters building includes a museum, the ANA Hall of Fame, and offices for the staff. Visitors are warmly welcomed. The Young Numismatists program encourages the younger set to become interested in numismatics. The Summer Seminar offers classes on various subjects.
At one time the membership was on the far side of 30,000 and headed upward. Today in 2019 it is about 25,000, a lesser figure due to several reasons, in my opinion:
(1) Millennials and those into their thirties in age do not collect anything as much as their parents did. No longer is much time spent looking through coins in circulation and putting them into albums — and I hasten to say that the lack of older coins in pocket change is part of the reason. No longer do high school students go home and sort through envelopes to add postage stamps to albums. Their “capital” of time for hobbies and other activities is usually gobbled up by the Internet, iPhones, computers, and the like. How to get more people to join the ANA remains a challenge for the Board of Governors.
(2) The Internet has the further effect of making it easy to buy coins, tokens, medals, and paper money without going to a coin shop or attending a convention. The ANA has become less important as a result.
(3) Newcomers often arrive, burn out, and leave. No longer is it necessary to learn about grading or authenticity. Just buy certified coins. No longer is it necessary to research prices. Just look in books or go on the Internet. For federal coins, in particular, the thrill of the chase is gone. It is about as exciting as buying a book of crossword puzzles with all of the answers filled in or buying a pound of frozen fish in a store instead of spending a day on a lake or stream.
My examples are oversimplified, but you can get the ideas.
In summary, the ANA is more popular than academic.
In contrast, the ANS is more academic than popular. It does not have a division for young numismatists, it does not hold conventions in cities around the country, it does not issue a monthly magazine with news, schedules, popular columnists, and more.
Founded by Augustus B. Sage in New York City in March 1858, the ANS was dynamic that year and in 1859, after which it disappeared. Why this was so I have never been able to find out, despite a lot of historical research and even writing a book with much information about the ANS. In 1864, a new and unrelated organization arose in New York City, the American Numismatic and Archeological Society, with nearly all different people. The “Archeological” word was added to draw in more members. In practice, the society never did much other than numismatics, and the word was later dropped, to create the new American Numismatic Society.
In May 1866, the American Journal of Numismatics made its debut as a monthly, later issued less frequently. It contained research information, news of new issues, numismatic articles treating eras from ancient times down to the present, reviews of auctions with prices, and more. In 1908, a magnificent temple-like building for the ANS was opened on Audubon Terrace in the Morningside Heights area of upper Manhattan — then a center for society. The benefactor was Archer Huntington, a railroad fortune heir. Around the architrave were names of famous numismatists. Only one was an American, CROSBY. In the late 1920s, Huntington donated most of the funds for the sister building next to and attached to the first.
For most of the 20th century, continuing into the present, the main emphasis has been on ancient coins, including books and tours to ancient sites. United States coins have not been neglected. Far from it. Some years ago the Coinage of the Americas Conference (COAC) was held each year. Today, events and books relating to American numismatic are more occasional than frequent. I hasten to mention the semi-annual Journal of Early American Numismatics (JEAN) under the editorship of Christopher McDowell assisted by editorial staff.
Once each year the ANS has its Gala dinner in New York City, to honor numismatists and to raise funds. Several hundred people typically attend. I was the honoree in 2006. On Varick Street, the ANS headquarters is on a floor of the refurbished former Herald Tribune printing plant. Furnished in fine style, it has a gallery and reception area open to the public. It also has the greatest numismatic library in the world, including the finest in American subjects. This is open to scholars by appointment.
Contrasting the ANS with the ANA, I liken the ANS to if not a learned society, a scholarly society. Membership is open to one and all. As most members are well informed on the art, science, and romance of numismatics, they tend to stay for years.
Ideally, I recommend that readers join both groups. They complement each other and have different assets and programs. In terms of numismatic budgets, the cost is pocket change.
Here is what to do: Check the website of each. Give it a try. I guarantee you will enjoy numismatics more than ever!