Every week seems to bring multiple announcements of new numismatic books. But are printed books doomed in today's digital age? Harvey
Stack is addressing this topic in a series of blog posts on the Stack's Bowers web site. The first two installments have been
published, and here are some excerpts. See the complete versions online. -Editor
David Harper, editor of Numismatic News, was the guest speaker at the Texas Numismatic Association Show in early June. He spoke on many
subjects, and one in particular was food for thought for me. He discussed changes he foresaw that might lead to the demise of the printed
word in numismatics. This caused me to sit down and reminisce about my close to 70 years as a professional numismatist and how the hobby’s
sources of information have changed during the last decades.
When I first joined Stack's in the 1940s numismatic Information was sparse. The publications available were issued monthly, some
semi-annually and others yearly. News about what was happening in the marketplace came slowly and could be difficult to locate. The
Guidebook and the Standard Catalog were issued yearly, The Numismatist (ANA), Numismatic Scrapbook, and some
society publications were issued monthly and /or semi-annually. The Coin Collector Journal was issued sporadically. Occasionally
references were written or re-written. Stack's tried a quarterly publication but after two years we gave it up, as it did not seem to
reach mainstream collectors.
One major source of current markets and prices at the time was the public auction and mail bid auction catalogs issued by different
dealers about the country. With the exception of Stack’s monthly sales, these were not always issued on a regular basis. The prices
realized published by the auctioneers after the sales were also an important source of market information.
In the early 1960s Amos Press, decided to publish a weekly newspaper called Coin World. Under the editorship of Margo Russell and
later Beth Deisher this publication provided much additional needed information as to the growth of the coin market.
While the Guide Book continued to provide annual information on coins and pricing, ads in Numismatic News and Coin
World (as well as in monthly publications), together with dealer price lists and auction prices realized, became important market
information sources throughout the year.
In his comments at the Texas Numismatic Association Show, David Harper predicted that within the next 25 years the need for these
printed publications would be almost non-existent. It made me wonder if in the future, all coin and market information, current and
historic, will need to be retrieved (if one knows how and where to look) using the electronic devices we all seem to have or will
As the hobby grew in the years from about 1980 to the present, the quantity of printed numismatic material grew. As more people became
interested in coin collecting several new publications became available such as Coins Magazine, the Coin Dealer Newsletter,
and many more. More dealers entered the field and more pricelists became available for reference. Also, there were more public auctions and
therefore more prices realized were available. Information came from the newly formed grading companies in the form of population
The next big change, of course, was the advent of the Internet. As early as the 1990s, the shift began toward online marketing and
sales, as well as the spread of information via electronic media. Over the next two decades this trend only increased and even the popular
weekly publications started to lose circulation. With so much information available on the Internet, fewer people felt the need to hold a
printed publication in their hands.
Coin sales, once done mostly in person or by mail or phone, became “easier” over the Internet. Buying and selling could be accomplished
instantly, and even payment could be happen immediately. Public auctions were affected, as many auction houses put their sales online as
well as in printed catalogs. Bidding by mail became much less popular as collectors could bid directly online, without relying on the
postal service. This process was much faster and the Internet offered the ability to track and increase bids without even the
“inconvenience” of a phone call. In time, bidding in “real time” over the Internet changed the public auction scene completely, as personal
attendance became less important as one could even watch and listen to the auction while bidding from home.
Circulation for coin publications dropped, as people searched for the information they needed online. Advertising in the weekly and
monthly publications started to drop along the circulation numbers and some publications went out of business. Those publications that
survived have needed to adapt to the current situation and offer online publications to meet the needs of a new generation.
Business became dependent on electronics and each company had to figure out how to use the Internet effectively while still appealing to
clients who relied on printed material. At this point, the hobby seems to be straddling both worlds. But as we move forward, I can see why
David Harper predicted that his publications and others might not exist by the year 2040.
I have some opinions on the effect the Internet has had on our hobby. Having been in the business for well over half a century, I
believe my observations may have some value. While the Internet has been very beneficial in many ways, I can’t help but think of some ways
that it has changed numismatics in not so positive ways.
Next week I will talk a little about why I hope we are not seeing the end of the “print culture” in coin collecting.
We'll look forward to reading Harvey's conclusions. What's that blue thingy in the illustration? We all know it as a computer
mouse, but touch screens are making these obsolete relics, too. Where will technology take us next? -Editor
To read the complete articles, see:
The Demise of the Printed Word in Numismatics, Part One (www.stacksbowers.com/NewsMedia/Blogs/TabId/780/ArtMID/
Demise of the Printed Word in Numismatics (www.stacksbowers.com/NewsMedia/Blogs/TabId/780/ArtMID/
Wayne Homren, Editor
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