In 1995 there were many signs that the numismatic hobby was growing, from old timers adding to collections or starting new ones, to beginners entering the field for the first time. However, while traditional numismatic collectibles were doing well, there seemed to be less interest in later issues from 1990 to 1995. Proof sets and modern commemorative coins from the Mint saw a drop in orders and sales. As noted earlier, I attribute this decline to overly aggressive policies on the part of the Mint to sell more products at higher prices, when it was evident there was a poor secondary market for these items. In fact, resale value could be as low as 50% of the original costs, a great disappointment to the average buyer who had been led to believe that these special limited editions were great investments. The loss of people who might have become longtime collectors was a loss to the whole hobby.
As a professional in the business, I hated to lose this potential group of collectors, and my outrage was shared by others, often heard at club meetings, conventions, shows and coin shops. I felt that the Mint was not showing much interest in sustaining the market for its products, only in making a large profit at the onset. Having been part of the numismatic hobby for nearly 50 years at this point, I was always looking for ways to attract and keep the interest of the public. I sat down with Congressman Jimmy Hayes from Louisiana, who had been a personal friend and client of mine at Stack’s. He said the only way to "tame" the Mint was to let Congress know the poor results of what they had approved in the past and get them to either modify the way the Mint was doing business or stop these profit-making ventures.
This discussion had taken place late in 1994 at a show and, to my surprise, in spring 1995, I was asked to appear before the Banking and Finance Committee of the House of Representatives. My credentials to appear before this group (which had some control over the activities of the Mint) was my being a partner in one of the largest and most prestigious coin firms and having been an active professional numismatist since 1947. In addition, I had represented the coin industry before the government earlier in my career regarding special import licenses and the Hobby Protection Act. I had also been involved in the ANA’s process to improve grading standards, served as a commissioner to the last Assay Commission in 1976, and been on the PNG Board of Directors for over a decade, including serving as president of that group from 1989-1991.
In spring 1995 I and other experts in the hobby were summoned to a hearing by the U.S. banking committee to discuss the drop in interest by collectors in Mint products. We were able to provide some monetary history from ancient to modern times and discuss how coins told the story of civilizations, empires, and ways of commerce, reflecting those who ruled, political and social issues, as well as simply being used in daily trade. This background information was well received by the congressmen who attended the meeting. Past President of the American Numismatic Association David Ganz spoke, confirming the drop of interest and membership in our national association, a reflection of the disenchantment brought on by the constant increase in cost of the new commemorative coinage the Mint had produced since 1992. This loss of membership was damaging the goals of the ANA, which were to advance collecting and increase the number of numismatists as well as their enjoyment of the hobby.
I was then asked to speak, as both a professional numismatist and as someone with a great deal of experience working with the collecting public. To my surprise, into the hearing room came Jimmy Hayes, who had been attending another meeting nearby. He asked permission of the chair, Congressman Michael Castle from Delaware, to be the one to introduce me to the committee. After permission was granted, Jimmy spoke of the vast experience I had in the field, and how my family and I had for decades provided a shop in New York, the "club house" as we liked to think of it. It provided a place to gather and to buy, sell and discuss the hobby. He mentioned our history of building and auctioning famous and record-breaking collections and how the business had passed down through generations and was now run by myself and my son Larry. He also mentioned our involvement with coin clubs, both local and national. It was a warm and sincere introduction.
I will tell more about the hearings in my next article.