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Anyone can prepare a winning exhibit; the key word is prepare. A winning exhibit takes work and some talent — but it does not have to have exceptional numismatic material.

Purposes of exhibiting

  • to educate (the exhibitor and others)

  • to interest other collectors in the material or period

  • to interest the public in collecting

  • to brag about what you own

  • to win awards.

To do these, an exhibit must —

  • attract and hold attention

  • present information

  • be understandable.

Competitive exhibits face another hurdle — they must do these things for knowledgeable numismatists (the judges).

  • If you exhibit for pleasure, there are few rules.

  • If you want to exhibit in the "big leagues," you have to play by the rules.

  • Competition requires a tradeoff — ease of viewing vs. depth of presentation.

Preliminary steps

  • Get the exhibit rules for the show at which you want to exhibit.

  • Choose a category within which to exhibit.

  • Apply for exhibit space.

Building the exhibit

  • Select a theme — choose the story that you want to tell.

  • Bring relevant material to your story; it is not necessary to show everything that you own.

  • Fit the theme of the exhibit to the exhibition categories (if necessary).

  • Perform research.

  • Read primary and secondary numismatic references (take notes).

  • Read background sources (history, biography, criticism).

  • Talk to others (collectors, scholars, users).

  • Cull essentials from the mass of information.

  • Write your text and captions.

  • Write carefully and edit skillfully — let it gestate.

  • Tie the numismatic specimens to the text (make it easy for the reader to follow the exhibit).

  • Write stimulating captions — draw the reader back into the story.

  • Stick to the chosen theme, in text and specimens.

  • Lay out the exhibit and check for physical space/balance.

  • Reduce text and/or specimens if necessary.

  • Allow space for titles and for non-numismatic collateral material.

  • Keep the exhibition rules in mind — number of cases, external props, lights, and so forth allowed.

  • Prepare the final text, captions, backgrounds, titles.

  • Proof read.

  • Use artistic skills and readily available aids (art papers, laser printers, die-cut lettering, ribbons).

  • Prefabricate as much as possible, to minimize setup time at the convention.

  • Lay out the exhibit in final, complete form.

  • Make a map.

  • Critique, proof read again; get another person to examine the exhibit.

  • Make necessary changes.

  • Package specimens and props for ease of transport.

  • Triple check for completeness — it’s frustrating to arrive at the convention without a key item.

At the exhibition

  • Check in with the exhibit chairman; get labels for all cases.

  • Check available display space (if choices are available) for best lighting and viewer accessibility.

  • Clean the cases (glass inside and out, bottom of case for aluminum shards and oil).

  • Emplace the exhibit.

  • Double check everything for proper placement (it’s easy to show the wrong side of a small item).

  • Stay with your exhibit until the cases are closed and sealed.

  • Examine the other exhibits.

  • Attend the exhibiting seminar (if one is offered).

  • Attend the judges’ training seminar (if one is offered).

  • Collect your ribbon or trophy!

After the exhibition

  • Write an article using your exhibit’s text (ask for assistance in preparing illustrations if necessary).

  • Improve the exhibit and move up to higher levels.

  • At the ANA level — you will find narrower categories, variable competition.

Rules of thumb

  • Be neat and keep things simple.

  • Use correct grammar and spelling.

  • Don’t brag, but do inform the reader.

  • Be as brief as your theme will allow.

  • Ask for and accept criticism.

  • Relax and enjoy yourself.

Contact me if you have any questions:
Joseph E. Boling, e-mail
ANA chief judge, 1991-93, 1995-2003; 2011- member of ANA exhibiting committee since 1987.