by Victor England

The coin show by its very nature is a place where dealers and collectors gather to meet, buy, sell and learn about coins. At one time, before the advent of the internet the corner store, club meetings and shows were the numismatists universe. Over time, the field has expanded and as the world of the internet has come to dominate the field, shows have changed. To survive, many have become large commercial entities. This has been great for the serious dealer, collector and investor of high grade encapsulated coins. National shows, sponsored by the American Numismatic Association, annual state shows, and large commercial shows such as though run by Whitman publishing have become major events. However they focus on the encapsulated US market. Local shows, while they still exist have yielded to the flea market mentality. Through all of this specialized numismatic dealers have struggled, trying to work with these shows in developing an environment that is collector friendly. While some progress has been made, the specialized dealer needs to explore other avenues. 

As a specialized dealer in historical coins, our firm Classical Numismatic Group (CNG), handles a wide breadth of coins from the beginning of coinage in Europe the 7th century BC up to and including coins of the Renaissance. When I started in business in the mid 1970’s, I immediately recognized that shows did not cater to dealers such as myself and as a result spent the first ten years in business regularly attending shows on the US circuit hoping to meet the odd person here and there who had an interest in our coins, until a viable alternative presented itself. 

By the mid 1980’s it was becoming apparent that only attending US focused shows, one could not encourage or expect new customer development. A “simple” idea evolved of developing specialized regional shows that focused on the ancient world market. During the mid 80’s I helped develop this concept under the banner of the Classical Numismatic Bourse (CNB) and a series of small, specialized shows were held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas and Washington. These shows were designed with the specialized collector in mind and the concept was simple. Bring a group of specialized dealers together, have each of them invite local and regional collectors to attend and provide a relaxed show environment where the collectors and dealers could get to know each other better – the end goal being to develop customers interest in the field and to help the dealers get to know the collectors better. In general the concept worked. 

Early in the 1990’s I transferred my interest in the CNB’s to Arnold Saslow who continued these events for another five years under the banner of the Numismatic & Antiquarian Bourse. Running these small, specialized bourses was not financially rewarding, but it did a lot to foster the growth of the ancient and foreign field in the United States during this period.  

By the late 1990’s something else came along that immensely helped our field – the internet. Now some ten years later it effects are enormous and the learning curve for dealers and collectors has been exciting. 

This brings me back to the subject of this short article – the specialized show. The ancient field has developed into a nice niche market world-wide and the United States anchors a strong position in this market. The primary numismatic bourse activities for our specialized field focus around the New York International Numismatic Convention held annually in January when collectors from around the globe and all over the United States gather for an intense week of auctions, a well attended bourse, and sponsored educational events. Another annual well attended numismatic event for ancient and world collectors is the American Numismatic Association’s National Money show, which is held every summer in late July or August in a different major city. However the ANA’s primary focus is on the encapsulated market and the ancient and world coin dealers are pushed off into one corner (at least under a banner that lets people know we are there). 

However, there exists another important specialized event of note for collectors of ancient and world coins – the San Francisco Historical Bourse. 

In 2005, I was having dinner with John Jencek, a San Francisco dealer in classical coins, who was in the process of transitioning from full time work with Hewlett-Packard to becoming a full time dealer in ancient numismatics. Somehow, the topic focused on the days of the CNB/NAB events of the late 80’s and early 90’s. 

The Bay Area, always one of the most active markets nationally for ancient and foreign coins, was in a period of transition. Membership at the San Francisco Ancient Numismatic Society was starting to decline as its membership was growing older and dying. 

John, having come to the ancient field from the field of computer technology, wanted to bring new ideas into play to help rebuild the local market. Combining his technology knowledge and reintroducing the old idea of the specialized coin show has helped reinvigorate the local market. Now for the collector of ancient and world coins there are two more important stops to add to the calendar if one wants to meet the dealers, attend well run educational events, meet other serious collectors and enjoy a show in one of America’s most cosmopolitan cites – consider attending San Francisco Historical Bourse. 

Founded in May 2006, the San Francisco Historical Bourse (SFHB) brings together professional dealers who handle ancient and world coins only. The show meets twice a year in May and December and runs for two days. The show hosts between 20-25 dealers and on Friday evening a reception is combined with a lecture series which has in the past brought in speakers from the American Numismatic Society and other prominent numismatic circles. 

Last December’s show saw three of the New York International auctions companies exhibiting lots from the January auctions. Customers were able to view lots for the Triton, Gemini and Manhattan sales. More importantly though, customers were able to buy from the inventories of Amphora, Berk, Cederlind, Classical Ancient Coins, CNG, Clayton Rare Coins, Davissons Ltd, Freeman & Sear, Jencek, Kovacs, B&H Kreindler, Künker, Nilus, Pegasi, Ponterio and Associates, Pearlman, Rudnik, Teller, Waddell, Wolfshead Gallery, and World Wide Coins of California. 

Over 500 different collectors from 11 different countries and 15 states have attended this well thought out event. As a firm believer in the value of such small, specialized events I can only encourage you to consider attending. Further show information can be found at www.sfbourse.com.

Listed with permission from Victor England, Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. and Kerry Wetterstrom, Editor, the Celator.