As every collection grows, there comes a time when decisions must be made about what to keep, and what to retire. This is true for both private collections, as well as cultural institutions such as the American Numismatic Society. In a perfect world, vault space would be unlimited, and the ability to store, maintain, and make available an endless supply of numismatic material would be not only feasible, but practical. Alas, vaults are built to fixed specifications, and with it come similar constraints on any institution’s ability to care for, research, and exhibit their collection. And as guardians of cultural artifacts, we must do what is right by the collection, and the members and donors who contribute to the American Numismatic Society.
As such, the ANS has decided to accept the important challenge of determining what items in the collection should be permanently re-homed. In reality, this is a win-win situation. Not only will the ANS be able to create more space for future objects, but the revenue generated will help support our mission of promoting and advancing the study, research, and appreciation of numismatics. Additionally, members and collectors alike will now have the opportunity to acquire an incredibly diverse range of material pedigreed to the Society at prices dictated by the open market. Pedigree and provenance are hugely important in numismatics, and we feel that giving others the opportunity to incorporate a small piece (or many pieces) of the ANS into their own collections is a benefit to both collectors and the Society.
So, what are the steps necessary to carry out this endeavor in an appropriate manner? First and foremost, members of the Curatorial team are carefully considering what items can and should be removed from the collection based on their purview and area of expertise. It should be stressed that only duplicates are being considered. Even then, duplicates also have their place in the ANS collection, as die varieties and die states can provide a wealth of numismatic knowledge about a particular coin series. Once we have identified a duplicate and determined that it is not a unique variety or die state that should remain in the collection, we can then decide which coin is the best-preserved example and therefore should be the specimen we keep.
Next comes the manner in which the duplicate material should be sold. It is our belief that the fairest and most appropriate method to advertise and sell our collection of duplicates is via open auctions with the widest possible reach. As such, eBay auctions will be our main vehicle for the majority of the material that will be leaving the ANS’ collections, at least initially. Not only does eBay have the widest reach of any online auction platform, but eBay’s unique format also allows the Society to add small batches of material on a weekly basis, as opposed to orchestrating larger timed auctions where many hundreds of items go live and sell on the same day. This helps ensure a steady supply of items for collectors to bid on, and makes the day-to-day logistics of running auctions (photographing, listing, and shipping) a more streamlined and manageable operation. Additionally, eBay allows the ANS to list our material with low starting bids and no reserves to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to bid on and win objects from our collection, and that market demand and market demand alone dictates the final price of any sold piece. As a non-profit, this is of paramount importance and ensures that we are approaching this new project with integrity, honesty, and fairness.
On many collector’s minds is what range of material will the ANS be considering? While we are initially focused on coins, paper money, tokens, and medals from the Americas—including the United States, Canada, Central America, the Caribbean, and South America—eventually the project will be broadened to other world coins and paper money, world medals and tokens, and ancient coins. Numismatic literature is also on the horizon, as the ANS library also includes many duplicates.
We hope to share updates from this project as time goes on, and hope to learn from members and collectors as to how we are doing. Deaccessiong is never an easy process, and for the ANS (as it is for any institution) it will be a continuous work-in-progress where we learn, grow, and improve with each sale. Ultimately, our efforts are grounded in doing what is right for the ANS, our members and donors, and our collection, but we hope that anyone who wishes to add an item from the ANS will be able to do so in the months and years to come.