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Exhibiting Treasures
By Dr. R. S. "Bart" Bartanowicz

Our numismatist was totally enthralled with the number of high quality exhibits at the coin show. The thoughtfulness and appearance of the exhibits was terrific. This was a far cry from exhibits of yesteryears. To often in the past he had seen interesting numismatic items placed in displays without much explanation as to what he was looking at in terms of history and numismatic qualities.

The exhibits he was viewing featured common and rare coins as well as other numismatic materials. Yes, there were rare and costly items but there were also inexpensive and impressive exhibits featuring common coins with educational and informative narratives.

Most exhibitors used computer programs/graphics that made for easier reading and highlighted aspects of the exhibits. This was easier than deciphering notes from old typewriters or hand-printed cards.

Not every display was high tech or computer assisted. A few exhibitors used calligraphy. These were attractive and made the exhibits stand out as different. So even in this new world, something from the past was eye-catching and perhaps even quaint.

The exhibits were grouped by category: competitive, non-competitive and special exhibits. The exhibits were defined as classes. The classes including U.S. items such as coins, paper money, medals, tokens etc. World items were also broken down into classes. This diversity provided the viewers a sampling of the many branches of numismatics. Particularly noteworthy was the goodly number of youngsters and families taking it all in.

Leaving the exhibit, our numismatist mused that it would have been nice to have a few "docents" (a hoity-toity word for guides or educators) to lead folks through the exhibits. This could be fun for a docent. After all, telling people about coins and numismatics is an important point of the hobby.

So, should you exhibit your coins or other numismatic items such as currency, medals, tokens and such? Or, perhaps better asked, what is the purpose of an exhibit? Plain and simple, an exhibit educates and informs. You can be a very specialized collector and exhibitor such as my good friend Don who lives in Nashua, N.H. Don is a dedicated numismatist and a collector of all things Nashua.

Don is always at the ready to exhibit his collection of Nashua bank notes. Don's exhibit is a joy to behold and he has the stories behind the bank notes that always captivates viewers. Don loves to let people know about his town, and he is considered to be one of Nashua's premier historians.

Exhibits can run from the humble Lincoln cent with just a few specimens to more elaborate sets. The main thing is the story behind the coin.

One exhibit I saw some years ago had a small chart showing what a Lincoln cent would buy in 1909 (first year of issue) taking it up through the decades. (As I recall, the last thing a one-cent piece would buy was a piece of gum from an old gumball machine around the 1960s. Now gumball machines usually take quarters.) The exhibit showed the changes to the Lincoln cent in terms of design, materials and purchasing power. It was informative beyond just the coin itself.

So back to my question about whether or not you should exhibit. If you are passionate or dedicated to a particular coin or series then you probably have a story to tell. Ask your local coin club or coin show manager if they have rules or guidelines for exhibiting. Some are short and others, such as the American Numismatic Association, are extensive. Don't be afraid to ask. I have some suggestions if you decide to "Take the plunge."

You need a statement of purpose or opening line that accompanies your exhibit. You want to get the viewer's attention in a few lines. An example could be, "Prior to the state quarters, the Lincoln cent was probably one of the most collected coins in U.S. history. Most leading numismatists will tell you this is how they started out. This exhibit discusses the history of the coin and the changes that have taken place over the years&"

From there you can have note cards for selected coins discussing their history and impact. A good start is to view the exhibits at various coin shows to see how others do it. Ask your friends for critical input on your exhibit.

Work at being different or creative. The end question is: "Did I put together an exhibit that educated and informed the public?" Having an attractive exhibit is helpful in drawing people to your work - but an eye-catching exhibit in itself that doesn't educate and inform misses the mark. There are usually awards for the best exhibits, but don't be driven by this - satisfy yourself that you did a good job.

So there you are. Exhibits give you an opportunity to do many things including being creative. If you are creatively challenged, such as myself, perhaps your spouse or significant other can help you out. And if you have friends like mine - there will be no shortage of advice.


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