By David Hill for American Numismatic Society (ANS) ……
Last month, along with most of the American Numismatic Society’s staff, I attended the XVI International Numismatic Congress in Poland. It was a great opportunity to reconnect with old friends and finally meet in person with email-only acquaintances. I quickly fell into a routine of attending sessions and exploring the beautiful area surrounding the conference.
Then one afternoon I got swept up in a coin-buying quest that began in an industrial neighborhood on the outskirts of Warsaw.
I had tagged along with ANS trustee Mary Lannin, a generous supporter who makes it a point, whenever she travels the world, to purchase coins and medals for the ANS cabinet. Joining us was ANS member Ed Snible, who hoped to find specimens to add to his own collection. Mary had an address for what seemed to be a coin shop located at a branch of the Polish Mint, so we summoned an Uber and off we went.
Forty minutes later we arrived. It didn’t look promising–just a building full of offices–but Ed went in to check it out. Despite the language barrier, he learned from some helpful people inside that, sure enough, there was no shop there. They did know of one, though, and scribbled its address on a piece of paper. We piled back into the car and showed it to our driver, who took us, this time, to a bustling downtown section of the city. Yes! It looks like we had found our shop.
Our celebration was short-lived. Though it was filled with beautiful collectables–ornate coin-like pieces and extravagant sets–this shop didn’t have the kinds of things Mary and Ed were looking for. What they wanted were Uncirculated and Proof coins, official issues from the Polish Mint, and maybe some paper money. What this shop offered were fantasies, multicolored concoctions, and pieces with embedded crystals, that sort of thing. Our quest continued.
At this point, Ed texted a Polish friend who gave us an address of a different place to try. Back into an Uber we went, once again with no idea where we were headed.
After a short drive, we rounded a corner, and that’s when our hotel came into view. We were right back where we started. Our destination ended up being two blocks from where we were staying.
We had been brought to a money museum run by the Narodowy Bank Polski – the National Bank of Poland. Called the Sławomir S. Skrzypek NBP Money Centre, it is named after its founder, a bank executive who died in a plane crash in 2010. Having more or less stumbled onto this museum, we ended up spending a couple of hours there, in awe of the extent and range of the exhibits, which occupied multiple floors. There were displays showing the development of coinage from ancient times up to modern Poland, as well as some showing the inner workings of an ATM machine, the processes behind bank note engraving, and the methods for detecting counterfeits. A highlight was the opportunity to see what it felt like to lift a genuine gold bar.
It was at this museum that we found our shop. Mary picked up some Polish notes honoring Pope John Paul II and Frédéric Chopin and some Proof coins for the ANS. Ed got a 10 Złoty Proof coin and several bimetallic circulating coins for his own collection. And I ended up getting an unexpected tour of greater Warsaw and a couple of hours in a first-class museum.
* * *