How To

Numismatic Exhibiting by Joseph E. Boling

Anyone can prepare a winning exhibit; the key word is prepare. A winning exhibit takes work and some talent — but it does not have to have exceptional numismatic material.

Purposes of exhibiting

  • to educate (the exhibitor and others)
  • to interest other collectors in the material or period
  • to interest the public in collecting
  • to brag about what you own
  • to win awards.

To do these, an exhibit must —

  • attract and hold attention.
  • present information.
  • be understandable.

Competitive exhibits face another hurdle — they must do these things for knowledgeable numismatists (the judges).

  • If you exhibit for pleasure, there are few rules.
  • If you want to exhibit in the “big leagues,” you have to play by the rules.
  • Competition requires a tradeoff — ease of viewing vs. depth of presentation.

Preliminary steps

  • Get the exhibit rules for the show at which you want to exhibit.
  • Choose a category within which to exhibit.
  • Apply for exhibit space.

Building the exhibit

  • Select a theme — choose the story that you want to tell.
  • Bring relevant material to your story; it is not necessary to show everything that you own.
  • Fit the theme of the exhibit to the exhibition categories (if necessary).
  • Perform research.
  • Read primary and secondary numismatic references (take notes).
  • Read background sources (history, biography, criticism).
  • Talk to others (collectors, scholars, users).
  • Cull essentials from the mass of information.
  • Write your text and captions.
  • Write carefully and edit skillfully — let it gestate.
  • Tie the numismatic specimens to the text (make it easy for the reader to follow the exhibit).
  • Write stimulating captions — draw the reader back into the story.
  • Stick to the chosen theme, in text and specimens.
  • Lay out the exhibit and check for physical space/balance.
  • Reduce text and/or specimens if necessary.
  • Allow space for titles and for non-numismatic collateral material.
  • Keep the exhibition rules in mind — number of cases, external props, lights, and so forth allowed.
  • Prepare the final text, captions, backgrounds, titles.
  • Proof read.
  • Use artistic skills and readily available aids (art papers, laser printers, die-cut lettering, ribbons).
  • Prefabricate as much as possible, to minimize setup time at the convention.
  • Lay out the exhibit in final, complete form.
  • Make a map.
  • Critique, proof read again; get another person to examine the exhibit.
  • Make necessary changes.
  • Package specimens and props for ease of transport.
  • Triple check for completeness — it’s frustrating to arrive at the convention without a key item.

At the exhibition

  • Check in with the exhibit chairman; get labels for all cases.
  • Check available display space (if choices are available) for best lighting and viewer accessibility.
  • Clean the cases (glass inside and out, bottom of case for aluminum shards and oil).
  • Emplace the exhibit.
  • Double check everything for proper placement (it’s easy to show the wrong side of a small item).
  • Stay with your exhibit until the cases are closed and sealed.
  • Examine the other exhibits.
  • Attend the exhibiting seminar (if one is offered).
  • Attend the judges’ training seminar (if one is offered).
  • Collect your ribbon or trophy!

After the exhibition

  • Write an article using your exhibit’s text (ask for assistance in preparing illustrations if necessary).
  • Improve the exhibit and move up to higher levels.
  • At the ANA level — you will find narrower categories, variable competition.

Rules of thumb

  • Be neat and keep things simple.
  • Use correct grammar and spelling.
  • Don’t brag, but do inform the reader.
  • Be as brief as your theme will allow.
  • Ask for and accept criticism.
  • Relax and enjoy yourself.

Contact me if you have any questions:
Joseph E. Boling, e-mail
ANA chief judge, 1991-93, 1995-2003, 2011; member of ANA exhibiting committee since 1987.