It was more like a gold trot than a gold rush when the Convention Center doors opened yesterday, but the object was the same -- go for the gold. And the silver, copper, cupro-nickel, paper, wood and plastic.
Hundreds of eager numismatists poured into the vast exhibition room to view, study, buy, sell, trade -- and covet -- the objects of their affection: coins, bills, certificates, even wooden money, gambling chips, credit cards. In short, almost any medium of exchange and commemoration.
The 102nd annual convention of the American Numismatics Association is expected to attract 12,000 to 18,000 visitors during its run that ends at 3 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free.
More than 400 dealer tables hold an estimated $1 billion worth of numismatic material for sale, while in another room, scores of glass-topped cases contain exhibits from some of the finest collections in North America.
Among the displays are the only known specimen of a Dutch East India Company 6 1/4 percent bond of 1621, and a display of Canadian $2 gold pieces that captured the Best of Show award last week at the Canadian Numismatics Association Convention in Moncton, New Brunswick.
Coins range from those of biblical times to the latest offerings of two dozen national mints, including the new Central Bank of Russia. The latest cupro-nickel coins from the Russian mint are on display, and mint representatives said a special issue featuring ballerinas of the Bolshoi Ballet was expected.
John Jay Pittman, 79, a retired Eastman Kodak chemical engineer from Rochester, N.Y., is probably the oldest and longest-serving exhibitor, having first displayed pieces from his collection of world coins at the 1947 ANA convention.
Mr. Pittman's display this year is the 13 different gold eagles, $20 pieces, issued by the New Orleans Mint between 1850 and 1879.
"It took me many years to get all of them," said Mr. Pittman, who is the only person to have been president of the American and Canadian numismatics associations and honorary president of the Mexican society as well. He is a member of the ANA Board of Governors.
Interest in the hobby remains high, although ANA membership has declined after many years of steady growth, Mr. Pittman said. He attributed this, at least in part, to the very high prices commanded by good quality collector coins, "and also, there are so many other things to collect now, like baseball cards."
"More people are starting to collect foreign coins, and there are some rare ones, and the ancillary stuff, like poker chips and wooden money," Mr. Pittman said.
The "ancillary stuff" was displayed along a side wall. Next to the table for gambling chip collectors was that of the small but active "Love Token Society."
Love tokens are coins that have been smoothed on one, or sometimes both, sides and engraved, usually with initials.
The practice of engraving coins began in England in the early 18th century and ended there in the mid-19th century, just as it began in the United States, where Congress eventually enacted a bill banning mutilation of coins, Mr. Entenmann said.
In Britain, copper pennies and halfpennies and silver sixpence were used and were called, logically enough, "engraved coins." Crudely or elaborately engraved, they commemorated births, deaths, engagements, marriages, anniversaries and other events.
In the U.S., they were called "Love Tokens" and were usually sentimental gifts, with entwined initials.
The Dutch East India Company share is the featured exhibit of the convention, alongside a model of the Half Moon, the ship that explorer Henry Hudson sailed in search of a new route to the riches of the Orient.
A full-size replica of the Half Moon, sponsored by the Dutch Mint, is moored at the Inner Harbor during the ANA convention.
Ted K. Woods, 44, a businessman from Calgary, Alberta, displayed part of his collection of Canadian gold coins, both currency and commemoratives, which is said to be among the world's finest.
Mr. Woods, who owns several companies, said he began collecting when he was a 12-year-old paper boy and discovered that Canadian nickels minted during World War II had a Morse code message around the rim: "We win when we work willingly."
"I started with them, trying to get every date. I can remember paying $20 for a nickel," he said. "And then, as I got older and got more money, I went for the gold, and I'm still going."