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Scholarship Reports - 2005

My Week at the ANA Summer Seminar by Janna Silverstein, PNNA 999

I had no idea what to expect when I arrived in Colorado Springs this past July. I’d earned PNNA’s scholarship to the ANA Summer Seminar but had never devoted as much time to my interest in numismatics as I would be during the week to come. The entire trip felt like a mystery about to unfold.

The Summer Seminars are held at Colorado College, a lovely private school with a campus that mixes modern architecture with 19th century grandeur. It’s just a block away from the ANA Money Museum and Library, and a short walk to Colorado Springs’ downtown area. Under skies that were beautifully blue, the landscape is dominated by a breathtaking view of Pike’s Peak.

Events began with a reception at the Museum and then a proper dinner at the student center cafeteria where we’d share meals the rest of the week. As we ate, the program director welcomed us all and introduced our instructors. Though I’d skimmed the seminar catalogue for information about classes, I didn’t realize that the instructors would be people whose names I’d recognize. These were folks from the top of the hobby, experts who write for Numismatist, people who author the books we use every day in our collecting. The fellow students I met at that first meal came from every walk of life: from dealers studying coin grading to casual hobbyists, from Young Numismatists (there were at least 25) to senior citizens.

The PNNA Scholarship provides enough money for a student’s airfare, tuition for one major week-long class, and room and board at the seminars. For my scholarship class, I chose U.S. Tokens. Because I wanted to get the most I could out of the seminars, I supplemented my scholarship money and selected two evening seminars as well: the class on Lincoln cents and Introduction to Ancient Greek Coins. I’d be busy day and night.

Once classes were in full swing, they each offered an in-depth look at the subject at hand. I was dipped in history every day and got to examine literally hundreds of specimens as I learned the stories behind their origins. As the week wore on, instructors occasionally gifted students with samples for our collections, or with reference books to add to our libraries. I came home with copies of two enormous references: “Tokens and Medals: A Guide to the Identification and Values of United States Exonumia” by Stephen P. Alpert and Lawrence E. Elman, and “The Standard Guide to the Lincoln Cent” by Dr. Sol Taylor, who taught the Lincoln cent class. That doesn’t include the books I purchased at the library book sale (an event that’s only one highlight of the week) and in the museum gift shop.

At the Seminars everyone is a student and everyone is a teacher. One of my evening class instructors was a student in my day class. In another evening class, I pored over coin specimens shoulder to shoulder with none of other Kenneth Bressett himself, the man who edits the “Red Book.” As I shared my passion for elongated coins and transportation tokens, I learned from my roommate about Conder tokens and coin grading. Everyone has something to offer.

By scheduling myself for three classes, I’d booked my time pretty solidly. With a schedule that intense, I was concerned that I wouldn’t have time to visit the Money Museum and use the library. I needn’t have worried. Throughout the week, each class spends at least half of one day researching at the library. I didn’t want to leave! As the week wore on, I returned there again and again to use the library’s considerable resources and to look at some of the volumes from its rare book collection. During breaks between classes I hopped over to the museum to catch the latest exhibits. I particularly enjoyed the exhibit about errors in coins and currency; it was well curated and easy to navigate.

The seminar also offers some hands-on experience. The Gallery Mint, a company devoted to the preservation and study of minting techniques, presented a demonstration of minting throughout history, starting with crude hammered dies all the way through more modern techniques. After the presentations, the class was invited up to try all of the techniques and machinery the presenter had brought with him. I tried both techniques presented and was rewarded for my efforts with souvenir tokens I’d minted myself.

The last item I signed up for was the Seminar’s special tour of the Denver Mint. I’d taken the catwalk tour at the Philadelphia Mint a couple of years ago, but the ANA tour in Denver took us down to the factory floor. We got to peer inside the coin presses, touch the enormous rolls of copper destined to become pennies, watch as error coins were waffled for recycling. We got to examine Oregon state quarters and the new Buffalo nickels hot off the presses before they were released into circulation. And we got to see the enormous tote bags packed with coins ready to be shipped to distribution centers. I can now say that I know what a bag full of 400,000 cents looks like.

There’s no question that the ANA Summer Seminar was the highlight of 2005 for me. I learned an enormous amount about numismatics; I met some wonderful people; and I got to visit the vital center of the hobby. I’m grateful to PNNA for choosing me as a scholarship recipient, and I know that I’ll want to attend the seminars again and again.

ANA Summer Seminar Report by Matthew Crane, YN

There are very few seminars, as far as I know, that have achieved the scale and scholarly grandeur that the ANA summer seminar has. However, I was not aware of this before I arrived at the seminar. Having been picked up at the airport, I embarked on a bus ride to Colorado college, where the seminar was being held.  Never having seen it before, I found that Colorado College looked just like many other colleges, or most other colleges: an array of old brick buildings, scattered about with sidewalks and lawns in between them.

We were each given a small pouch to wear around our necks, and were instructed to wear it always.  Apart from a nametag, the pouch contained a passkey to get through some of the doors and a room key for the dormitory. All of the Young Numismatist’s were staying in the Loomis building, and I set off to examine my room. In two words, it was very small. Two beds and a few other furniture items occupied most of the space.

Apart from a space to sleep, the only other commodity I require is decent food. And that, at least, was provided. Anyone who has had experience, as I have, with elementary and middle school food would be indecent to complain about the cuisine the Colorado College staff came up with.

The class I attended, a general course on Roman coins, was taught by David Vagi and Kerry Wetterstrom. Most of the class was in slideshow format, which displayed pictures of the various coins, while the two instructors provided commentaries. This was the first time I had ever been in the presence of two of the most highly knowledgeable experts in the field, an exciting experience in itself.

Apart from this, one of the greatest features of the seminars was the ample opportunity to have hands-on access to coins that would, in many cases, otherwise have been under museum glass. Several times during each session, a tray would be passed around the class containing an array of interesting coins.

Getting away from coins, the program offered two side trips, one to a Rockies baseball game, and the other to Pikes Peak. For reasons I now do not remember, I did not sign up for the baseball game, but did go on the Pikes Peak trip. I must say I have endured more arduous hikes, as on this particular one I was squashed into a seat in one of the compartments of the tram moving slowly up the mountain, and barely moved my feet for the whole time. There were plenty of nice views from the tram, and when we reached the top, I went into the shop there, where I had the most grease-soaked donut I have ever had in my life, and due to this, the journey back down the mountain was much less enjoyable.

Perhaps the most important event of the ANA summer seminar is the YN Scholarship Auction. I signed up for the job of ‘cataloguer’ and as part of my duties was placed with the rest of the cataloguers in the computer lab to, in case you can’t guess, catalogue all of the donations and consignments for the auction. After an hour or so of sorting through the various items, writing identification numbers on zip-loc bags with a sharpie, and attempting to keep the many bags organized, we were stopped for a pizza break, before returning to the lab and continuing the process. The next night passed in much the same fashion, and by then the cataloguing had been virtually completed.

The actual auction itself took place in one of the main buildings, the Worner Center, and was quite an experience. Most of the adult seminar attendees seemed to have turned out, and everyone was carrying a paper plate with their bidding number scribbled on it. Having only been to a few auctions before, I watched with interest as the auctioneer wound through each of the 156 lots, and the bidders waged miniature wars against each other, with the expected result that some of the items went for two or three times (or more) the expected value. As an added bonus, there was a brick of dark chocolate in the back of the auction hall after I had been sitting for a couple of hours.

After the auction, there was only one more ‘event’ for me before the trip home: the final project for the Ancient Roman Coins Class. Part of me was feeling heavily out of luck, as no other class had a final project, but another part of me was actually eager to go on with this school-like project. It went well enough, and I would swap it any day for the umpteen misery-inducing presentations I will undoubtedly be assigned with the arrival of school in September.

A few last thoughts about the seminar: the classes were long, but not too long; you don’t turn up at the ANA summer seminar if you are not interested in some part of numismatics, but that does not mean there was not any leisure time; there was lots of it, in fact: in the morning, during lunch, and in the evening, during which you had access to much of the campus, and the Worner Center, which has most of the regular features of a rec center: pool table, computer lab, vending machines, TV. Helpfully, Colorado College is literally next door to the ANA headquarters, and you don’t need to look beyond the headquarters library if you are doing numismatic research. The ‘chaperones’ or ‘interns’ or whatever you might call them were all extremely helpful, and there was a coin shop near by the College (which you could walk to freely if accompanied), always useful when your ‘thirst for acquisition’ has been tapped by the classes and constant numismatic talk.

All in all, the end of the week arrived with me wishing I was staying for the next one, but I left the campus anyway with the thought in my head: I can always apply next summer.