VIEW FROM EUROPE
Sebastian Wieschowski looks back on a successful virtual World Money Fair and reflects on the challenges ahead
The World Money Fair was one of the last numismatic exhibitions to take place before the world shut down back in 2020. Following the successful virtual version of the event this year, Sebastian Wieschowski reflects on the future of coin shows and on the challenges the numismatics community faces in the coming year
The pandemic has shaken the world. We have had to get used to no summer holidays or cosy get-togethers, and that meant the annual gathering of the coin world at Berlin’s Estrel Convention Center was also put on hold.
The ‘World Money Fair’ did take place on the site last year, as it narrowly missed the heightening of restrictions as the pandemic’s grip tightened. But it soon became clear that the fiftieth anniversary of the world’s largest coin fair would not be able to go ahead, or at least not in the usual format.
The organisers therefore invited collectors to stay safe at home and instead attend the ‘#DigitalFair’. And the move proved to be popular. The first virtual coin fair in the German-speaking world was a huge success. ‘You, dear collectors, have not let us down and have far exceeded our expectations,’ the organisers proclaimed in a newsletter. Almost 15,000 visitors from across the world are said to have visited the homepage and over 1,200 visitors viewed the pre-recorded Media Forum presentation. ‘So now our favourite hobby, numismatics, has finally arrived in the modern world,’ the organisers concluded.
No question, the World Money Fair Berlin corporation found itself in an awkward situation. Previously, there had been no comparable events, so the ‘#DigitalFair’ was a step into the unknown. Those responsible in Berlin accepted this challenge and developing a digital alternative for 2021 soon proved to be the right decision. They didn’t wait until the last minute – unlike the organisers of last year’s Numismata – but ensured planning security for everyone involved. For this, they deserve credit and it would unfair to too closely criticise this first digital attempt. Instead, the entire numismatic community should learn from the experience of 2021.
The evaluation of the 2021 World Money Fair should, however, include an unbiased and critical view. The fact that almost exactly the same number of visitors who have so far frequented the three-day fair in Berlin were also present via the internet, is rather surprising. Of course, more and more dealers and collectors are increasingly taking advantage of the digital possibilities, but the bulk of German numismatists prefer proven forms of communication and trade; for most of them gathering around the table at the coin collectors’ club or treasure-hunting on the floor of a ‘real’ trade fair are highlights of the hobby.
The attendance figure wasn’t the only surprise, the numbers who accessed the media forum were surprisingly good, although the reported 1,200 visitors (as reported by mid-February) saw only two ‘likes’ and no comments on YouTube, which is an unusual ratio – typically, interaction metrics on YouTube are at least one percent of video views – but perhaps the video presentation satisfied viewers so there was no need for further interaction.
What is clear is that the enthusiasm and energy of the annual numismatic reunion in Berlin cannot be completely replaced by a digital platform. The rummaging through rusty boxes, the professional exchange with colleagues and friends from all over the world, and perhaps most importantly a joyful gathering at a Berlin pub after the work part of the numismatic day… these are all elements that can’t be recreated whilst we’re all at home.
For most numismatists in Germany, the World Money Fair is as much a part of the start of a new year as the New Year’s Eve celebrations. Meeting numismatic friends and colleagues from all over the world in Berlin has been missed by many collectors, many of whom took to social media and voiced their opinion.
As scientists and politicians continue to debate exactly when the world will return to normal, or even a ‘new normal’, we numismatists need to continue to work on contingency plans. There’s no question that the Berlin show has hit the ground running in 2021. The World Money Fair corporation has been promoting the show with regular pre-recorded interviews for months now. But the team behind this event, and all
European coin retailers, need to adapt even more to the digital transformation; we need to take further steps forward, and we need to be willing to experiment.
Traditional coin shows like the World Money Fair have the longevity and authority of a well established brand. And such brands symbolise stability and tradition in a world that is becoming increasingly dynamic. Internet start-ups are hyped and disappear overnight, new trends come and go. If coin shows like the World Money Fair do not want to suffer the same fate, they must continue to rethink, renew and refresh – not least because nobody can be certain that 2022 will see a return to a pre-covid status. In a super-cautious public health environment such as Germany, there is much more to be done to keep the coin market buoyant. I am sure we coin collectors can meet the ongoing challenge.
We must continue to rethink, renew and refresh – not least because nobody can be certain what 2022 will bring