Exhibiting at ANA

by Bob Fritsch


Numismatic exhibits have long been a part of ANA (American Numismatic Association) shows. Several exhibit classes cover every aspect of the hobby, from US coins to foreign paper money to medals and tokens. Our exhibit class is number 24: Elongated Coins, with its associated Dottie Dow Award. This award is fully sponsored by TEC, and the club went to a lot of time and trouble to make it happen.

Basically, a sponsor must field at least three exhibits for two years in a row to establish a class. New York and Portland ANAs saw those exhibits and 1999 was the first year of the Dottie Dow Award. Larry White was the first recipient with a beautiful display on TEC Convention Badges with Ray Dillard second and Anthony Tumonis third. Congratulations to these exhibitors for their beautiful and informative displays.

So why am I telling you all this? Well, we need exhibits to sustain the class. There are predictions that there will be small participation in the future and that the class will die within a few years. We cannot let this happen! TEC depends on YOU to display some of your wonderful coins for all to see. There are many things to consider and to do while creating an award-winning exhibit, and that is the purpose of these articles: to give you the knowledge needed to create your display. Remember that these are numismatic exhibits and that they must be given a numismatic treatment. You will see what I mean by this as the series progresses.

What are my qualifications to tell you all this? Through a bit of extra effort at an extremely busy convention, I did my homework and became the first exhibit judge qualified for Class 24. I will be telling you what I and my fellow judges will be looking for when we view your displays. The remainder of this part will talk about getting organized. Part 2 will center on presentation, and Part 3 will give detailed information and tie up any loose ends. Any feedback you care to give on these articles will be appreciated.


You have all of these wonderful coins and want to show every one of them. That may not be practical because exhibit space is limited. Also this could lead to a boring display. So you have to narrow it down a bit. Organize your collection and you will find that your coins fall into groups. Find a group that has an interesting story behind it, one that has focus. There is always a display that has lots of nice coins (and even a catchy gimmick) but lacks focus and is not very interesting to the casual observer. And that is your main audience, people who do not know about this part of the hobby. These exhibits help to educate them.

Once you have a common theme or focus, choose the pieces to be exhibited with care. Choosing the core group of coins should be easy, but you will find as you build the exhibit that adjustments are necessary. Maybe this coin should be added, maybe you should forget about that one. This is normal and perfectly acceptable. Just don’t say, “This coin has to fit and I’m gonna make it.” That could kill the whole thing. Be flexible. ANA allows up to six cases for your exhibit, so there is plenty of room to work.

Start gathering the data for your exhibit. These are supposed to be educational exhibits, and to educate you must provide information. This is such a vital commodity that it counts for a full 35% of the score. Each judge has a rating sheet for your exhibit, and will examine and grade it following the criteria on the list. The smart exhibitor knows what the judges are looking for and present their displays accordingly.

Basic Numismatic Information is 15 points (out of 100). From the rating sheet: “The numismatic specifications of the exhibited items should be described to the extent needed by the exhibit’s scope to answer the questions of another numismatist. Examples: mint and mintage, composition, dimensions, designer, engraver, variety identification.” In other words, tell about the physical coin itself. How much does the coin weigh? What mintages does it have? For souvenir machines, the mintage is “unlimited”, unless it’s a short run like the Disney Christmas machines. In that case, try to get an estimate of the number of coins rolled. What is the coin made of? If a Lincoln cent, is it the bronze composition or copper-clad zinc? Most elongates have the designer’s initials or mark — who is it (RWD for Ray Dillard, JD for Jim Dundon, FB for Frank Brazell, etc)?

Special Numismatic Information is also 15 points. “Enough additional information should be given to answer the questions of a general viewer. Examples: historic, biographic, geographic, economic, artistic, and bibliographic information.” This is the background information. One of my exhibits was on the coins I got during my Alaska trip. I told how I came to be visiting that state, where the machines were, and even included pictures of the machines themselves. This all comes under this heading. How did you get the coin? What is its significance? Is there any history behind it? Tell the viewer all the relevant facts. This is not as easy as it seems, because you want an exhibit that is easy to view and read. Larry White’s display had only a few lines of special information for each piece, but that was sufficient to carry his message.

Title and Scope is valued at 5 points. “The title should be obvious. If necessary there should be an explanation of what the exhibitor intends to show.” Choose a working title for the time being but have the final title when you submit your application. The scope statement tells what you are showing. A specific statement of scope will put bounds on your display. A statement like “This display shows nine elongates from Alaska that I rolled there last year,” is far preferable to “These are all the elongates in Alaska.” The latter statement is just too general, and the judge could easily subtract points for not showing what you said you were going to show (How do you know that these are all the elongates in Alaska?). This criteria and Completeness go hand-in-hand. The judge uses the scope statement to determine completeness. Make sure you scope what you are showing and show what you have scoped.

The more data you can provide the better, but don’t go overboard. I have seen exhibits that have four cases full of writing. Unless you are a highly skilled writer, the viewer will probably lose interest in what you are saying before finishing, and that includes the judge. However, the judge must read every word in an exhibit; it is part of the job. If some information is not available, you can either say so, or just ignore it. This is a judgment call, so ask yourself, “Does my information raise any questions that I have not answered?” Massage your data until the answer is No. One display I judged this year had the statement, “I couldn’t fit all my pieces in six cases.” I wanted to know what the selection criteria was, why some pieces were included and others were not, but the exhibitor did not tell me and lost points because of it.

While you are gathering your information, keep a running bibliography of the reference works you use. While it is not mandatory, you won’t win the Gold Medal without a reference statement. Use the standard bibliographical format found in most nonfiction books.

One thing you should do immediately is to get the exhibit rules from ANA. They are available on the World Wide Web at:
http://www.money.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=National_Money_Show&Template=/CM/HTMLDisplay.cfm&ContentID=5002, or write to the ANA Convention Department at American Numismatic Association; 818 North Cascade Avenue; Colorado Springs, CO 80903-3279. These will tell you everything you need to know about doing an exhibit at the ANA conventions. The specific rules for each convention are linked on the cited page above.

You have your work cut out for you. Start now and in a few weeks you should know what you want to exhibit and have a good body of information to go with it. We will discuss presenting your exhibit in the next part of the story.

Last installment, we discussed the beginnings of an award-winning numismatic exhibit: assembling the materials and data. This time we will talk about organizing your exhibit and presenting it. I am sure by now that you have already done the first part and are anxiously awaiting these pointers on how to put your stuff together.

First some bad news. In order to exhibit at an ANA Convention, you must be an ANA member. Dues are $36 per year. You can sign up online at http://www.money.org. The ANA is well worth joining with numerous member benefits including a monthly subscription to Numismatist, the club’s magazine.

How you present your exhibit is completely up to you. The field is wide open, and each exhibit I have seen is unique to the person who created it. There are no hard and fast rules on how to do your presentation, but there are several guidelines that must be followed. Most of these are plain common sense and bear listing here. The intent of this installment is to remind you of them.

Your exhibit is housed in standard display cases which measure 32-3/4 x 20-3/4 inches inside. You may use up to six cases and ANA will provide them for you. The standard format is horizontal, but there is nothing preventing you from having your cases aligned vertically. Do not be stingy with the space. If an exhibit looks to cramped, points will be deducted. You may work on a single case display then find out that you really need two cases. This is OK. Make the adjustment and continue. I have seen exhibits contain but a single coin with the supporting data and graphics taking up most of the space. I have also seen fifty coins crammed into one case and the effect was a hard-to-follow exhibit.

When you are creating your layout, I find it is easiest to use a work board. I generally use a full sheet of foam board 20×30 inches which is close to the inside dimensions of the display case. Foam board is rigid so you can carry it around from place to place without upsetting what is on it. It is readily available in your local art store for a couple of dollars per sheet.

Next you must decide how to present your material. You have two major components in the display: coins and data. They must be presented in such a way that the overall effect is pleasing and the information you are providing enhances the coins being shown. There should be a flow to the layout so the viewer is led from point to point in a logical flow. Here is where your personal style kicks in. If you are lucky enough to attend a coin show that has exhibits, by all means examine and study how the exhibitor presented the material. Take a good look at advertising layouts in your favorite magazine and see how each element is positioned and presented.

Last installment talked about the importance of numismatic information — a full 30 points of the score. Start your layout by writing up the data. Don’t do it in one big chunk. Use small pieces of data to present a subgroup of your coins. Last year I separated my Alaska exhibit into the three geographical areas where the coins were found. Use the writeups to balance out the coins shown. Maybe you want to explain each coin individually, or maybe you want to describe a group of them. Do you have any supporting graphics like pictures or maps? I used both in my Alaska display. Don’t forget the Title and Statement of Scope. You must also cite your references in standard bibliographic format, which you can get out of any book. Most of your work will come from manipulating these elements.

Presentation points are broken down into three elements of 10 points each: Creativity and Originality; Attractiveness; and Balance. Each is described as:

Creativity and Originality – The exhibit should be novel and imaginative.

Attractiveness – The exhibit should be neat, well-designed, and eye-catching; the color scheme should be pleasing and effective. The title and text should be easy to read and not faded or dingy from repeated display.

Balance – The numismatic items, the information, and the related materials in the exhibit should be balanced and related to the exhibit’s scope.

These criteria define what the judge is looking for. Usually points are deducted for mistakes rather than points assigned for merit. Let’s look at some specific items:

Color – Your data and coins have to be on some sort of paper. The color of that paper should be pleasing. Don’t use garish colors like Neon Pink or dull colors like dark purple. Light colors that are easy to look at are best. Use a color that contrasts the coins. Red backing for copper coins is not a great choice. You may use several colors in your display but they must complement each other.

Backing – This is another individual choice. Backings are many and varied, from a simple “frame” of cover stock (or construction paper) to pedestals to raise the display up to the level of the glass. I prefer foamboard cutouts to give a feeling of depth in the display. Another method is to take a piece of contrasting cover stock cut slightly larger than the writeup as the backing. One friend of mine prints his writeups on a cover stock then lacquers it front and back so it won’t curl and gives it an illusion of depth.. Matte board also works well. The glue you use is very important because the ultimate disaster is to have stuff curl up in the display case.

Case Lining – I always have a hard time with this piece of the puzzle. The case lining should again enhance and not detract from your display. It is one of those things where it is not noticed if it is OK but loses points if not. I have found that wrapping paper works well, but care must be exercised to ensure that it is anchored in the case so it will not curl. The case will be closed for four days and you will not be able to make any corrections to such a disaster. Do not use metallic paper as it is a big time distraction. I have also used a sheet of colored foamboard as the liner but it is not quite large enough to cover the entire geography.

If you have further questions about this phase of exhibit creation, I will be glad to try to help. You may send me an email at bobfritsch@earthlink.net. I can give general help only so please do not get specific about what you are creating. Next issue we will tie everything together and give pointers about getting your display to the convention and physically laying it down.

By now you should have your exhibit all set up, the theme chosen and the layouts completed. You’re done, right? BZZZZZ! WRONG! Your work is just beginning.

The purpose of an exhibit such as yours is to tell people about something you like and are willing to tell them about. Have you succeeded? Now is the time to take a step back and look at what you have created.

Does the exhibit fill its intended purpose? Are you presenting the story the way you want? Will people looking at it learn that story? You will be able to spot several errors right off, but that only goes so far. Get others to help you, to look at the display and to give their opinions. Ask them what they learned by looking at the exhibit and listen to what they have to say. If they go away with a different impression than the one you wanted to convey, then you must do something about it.

Is your title and scope clear? Do you show what you describe in your scope statement and does your statement accurately describe what you’re showing? Do you have the title in each case (for multi-case displays) and is it obvious as a title?

Is your numismatic information (both basic and special) complete for what you are showing? Look at the items on the judging sheet and decide which ones are relevant to your exhibit and adequately describe them. There is no sense describing mintage for Disney coins, for example, unless it’s a limited edition. Does your Special information tell the story? Do you attempt to answer questions before they are asked? [Example: You say you chose to show only part of your collection. Why did you do that and what was your selection criteria?]

Do you have anachronisms or typos in your displays. Both deduct BIG points as this is supposed to be a scholarly pursuit. [An anachronism is something that doesn’t belong in the era of the display. Don’t show a 50-star American flag in a display of Century of Progress coins.]

First time exhibitors have an edge in creativity and originality as they haven’t gone through the process before. This is always hard to judge as we have “seen it all before.” But a fresh approach counts points. As you become more experienced as an exhibitor, you will tend to fall into a routine so your exhibits can be spotted as yours because of the technique and your “look.” Judges are not supposed to know whose exhibits they are judging so everyone has an equal chance at an award, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

Is the display attractive? Do the backgrounds and graphics get in the way of the coins? Do you have too much or too little in the space you are using? Have you physically presented your story so people are drawn to it? In other words, do you have a good balance in your presentation? Neatness counts, but only to the point of stray material in the case (a scrap of paper, etc.). Please don’t show your coins in holders as this detracts from the overall presentation (unless they came in a nifty presentation holder).

How complete is your exhibit in terms of your statement of scope? If your title starts with “A Selection of…” the judge has no way of telling if you are showing everything you said you would and usually deducts points. One exhibitor a few years ago showed “My Indian Cent Collection”. The 1877 (key date and very expensive) was blank with a note saying, “I can’t afford this coin.” The display didn’t win an award but the judges thought that was really neat.

How difficult was it to assemble your collection? If it took all year and six trips to various locations to get all your coins in the exhibit, tell us. If you went to the Zoo and pressed 20 coins in one day, the degree of difficulty is necessarily low. If there is no statement the judge has to guess at this mark. How rare are the coins in the case? If only one is rare, point it out and make a big deal about it. Condition of most elongateds is “Mint State” as they don’t circulate after they are rolled. Try to show the best coins you have.

Once everything is completed and you know you have the best exhibit in the world, do yourself a favor and do a backup. Make two of everything that goes into the cases (except the coins, of course). Titles, maps, pictures, graphics, writeup – everything. And put the backup in a separate suitcase or bag than the original. A few years ago, the airline lost one exhibitor’s display. The coins were in their carry-on and they used a paper grocery bag to hand write the presentation. Good recovery but not very attractive and not really what we are looking for in a national competition. Don’t let it happen to you!

Don’t forget to send in you exhibit application by the published deadline. You can find applications and rules online at http://www.money.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=National_Money_Show&Template=/CM/HTMLDisplay.cfm&ContentID=5002, or you can write to the ANA at 818 North Cascade Avenue; Colorado Springs, CO 80903-3279. You must be an ANA member to exhibit, and I will be glad to sponsor your application. My address is at the end of this article. While you are visiting that particular page, take a look at Bill Fivaz’s article about preparing a willing exhibit.

Now the big day comes and you arrive at the convention center with exhibit all ready to lay out. Go up to the Registration Desk and let them know you are an exhibitor. If you are pre-registered for the convention (strongly recommended), your badges and ribbons will be ready for you, if you did not receive them in the mail before leaving home. You get a ribbon that says “Exhibitor” and another one that gets you in the door during non-public hours to do your display. You must place the exhibit on the morning of the opening day or earlier. I generally do mine the day before.

Once you are admitted to the bourse and/or exhibit area, find the exhibit coordinator who will show you the location of your case(s) and give you the paperwork. Grab the Windex and paper towels provided because that is the first thing you want to do – clean the cases inside and out. Don’t wait until the exhibit is laid then do the cleaning. Windex leaves little spots all over everything and that means deducted points. Examine the glass top from several angles to ensure you got all the fingerprints and gunk that glass naturally attracts.

Once the cases are clean, start your layout from the bottom up. Make sure your background lays flat (unless you purposely want it unflat) and continue upwards. Constantly step back for a long view to ensure everything is just perfect. When you get it all done, CAREFULLY close the top of the case. If you do it quickly, air will rush out and blow stuff all around and you’ll have to open it back up to realign everything. Once the top is closed take another long view for a final chance at adjustment. Be very finicky so everything is exactly how you want it. Then call over the Master at Arms to lock the cases. You will show him your inventory and you both will sign it. ANA is now responsible for your coins until you take custody again on Sunday. Clean the outside of the glass one last time. You may clean the glass as many times as you wish during the entire convention but you will not be able to get into the case except in extraordinary circumstances.

That is not the end by a long shot. The judges will meet on Wednesday afternoon to get their judging sheets, special instructions, and to ask/answer any questions. Judging must be done by Thursday evening, so if you see a bunch of people with clipboards looking at exhibits, you will know what they are doing. As a matter of courtesy, do not bother them while they are doing their work. I strongly urge you to attend Judges Training on Thursday morning and try your hand at it. It will make you a better exhibitor by being able to see an exhibit from a different perspective. Judging sheets are returned to each exhibitor early Friday morning and there is a short period where marks can be challenged. All challenges are handled quickly so the awards can be fabricated in time for the ceremony on Friday afternoon. The final judges’ meeting is Saturday where difficulties are pointed out and results can be discussed among them.

Sunday morning, exhibitors are invited to stand by their exhibit and talk about it with others. This is a fun time and a good chance to boast about your hobby. Although the schedule says you cannot rescue your exhibit until after 2PM on Sunday, in practice you can get it just about any time during the day, especially if you are heading home before the published time. If you do not plan to be there for the full convention, you may designate an agent in writing at the time of application to set and/or retrieve your exhibit.

Please send any questions you may have to me at bobfritsch@earthlink.net and I will be glad to answer them. Use the words “TEC Exhibit” in the subject line so I do not toss it as spam. If you need to become an ANA member, I will be happy to sponsor you – you can sign up online at www.money.org.

So there you have it. It’s a lot of painstaking work. It’s a lot of time invested. But it’s also our hobby, our passion, and it’s exciting. It is worth every minute and dollar you put into it. See you on the Exhibit Floor!