I’ve been to Chicago once before, but on that occasion I hastened out of Rosemont and made my way to Wheaton, 45 minutes outside of the city proper by means of two trains and a fair amount of walking. It was winter then, and bitterly cold with a wind chill of -30F. There was snow on the ground.
This time, I’ve arrived to a far different reception — the modern and unique Donald E. Stephens conference center in its chrome, red, and yellow is set off by brilliant blue sky and gusty breezes. I know exactly why Chicago is called the “Windy City.” Every time I have come here, the air has been vivid with motion. But the high-summer weather has been much more cheering and enlivening than winter, and with an excitement emboldened by the gorgeous day, I entered my first ANA World’s Fair of Money.
My first “coin show” was actually the paper money show in Memphis last year. I was impressed then with the collection of dealers, professionals, researchers, and general numismatic gurus…but the Chicago ANA is easily three or four times as large as the Memphis show. I spent most of the afternoon wandering around the bourse, only to realize I had covered less than half of it! Dealers were sitting with their lamps and their papers, talking business or catching up with old friends. Young volunteers or numismatists wandered among the tables, and several collectors were scribbling furiously in notebooks as they took down their prospective purchases.
The Whitman Publishing booth was filled with books, either hot off the press or old favorites and best sellers, and for a while I met there with various experts and talked about canals and railways and paper money. I signed a very intriguing copy of the Red Book filled with 167 signatures of numismatic figures and professionals dating from when the first pen was set to the book in 1986. I put faces to names I had only encountered via email or on the phone and, in general, enjoyed myself thoroughly.
The thing I love the most about the numismatic hobby in particular is that you don’t have to know it all — indeed, who can know it all? And yet, compared to some of the long-standing giants of the hobby, it is easy to feel very small in the field, regardless of how much knowledge you accrue. But in numismatics, it’s a “come as you are” family. Information is shared with unfiltered delight, and though I still consider myself to be something of the new girl, I find that people know my name and seek me out, ready and willing to share with me their latest treasure of knowledge. I feel a part of something larger, something that teaches me every single day, something to which even I can contribute.
I suppose you could call me a “book” numismatist. I do not have a collection of favorite coins or pieces of paper money or tokens…I have books that I have read or studied, and I have the knowledge that I gather from either immersing myself in text, or listening to a collector talk about their latest acquisition, or discovering new research in old archives. And so coming to these shows — and the Chicago ANA in particular — is a special delight to me, to be able to see things I have only read about or seen on paper, now in full-size, full-color, real life. To touch them and examine them in ways that can never really compare to viewing them on a page.
I saw a table with rows and rows of Liberty Seated coins today, and I simply burst out laughing in amazement. The Morgan Peace dollar is so much larger than I ever expected, the fragile and thin trimes so much smaller. The obsolete paper money, which I confess is my favorite, is nearly surreal to look at, even under glass. Here, in front of me, is a piece of history. Who knows how many hands it has passed through to get here and lay there, so innocuously under the glass? Moreover, the entire room is filled with treasures to uncover. It is a visual and academic smorgasbord.
And I’m only on my first day….
Caitlyn Trautwein is Senior Associate Editor at Whitman Publishing.