by Louis Golino for Coin Week
Laura Sperber has been a major force in numismatics and a full-time dealer since 1979. She has a strong passion for the hobby and a love of classic American coins like Morgan dollars and rare pre-1933 gold coins.
She also has what I would call a direct, no nonsense approach, especially to issues that currently weigh on the minds of many collectors such as grade inflation, coin doctoring, and the tendency of some dealers to take advantage of less informed collectors.
Over the course of her career she has bought and sold virtually every major U.S. coin rarity, and her company, Legend Numismatics, is an industry leader that emphasizes high-quality, investment-grade coins at various price points.
Ms. Sperber has a passion for quality coins with great eye appeal, and for what she likes to call “cool coins.” At the same time, she often advises her clients and readers of her frequent market reports to avoid lower quality material, or what she terms “dreck.” She loves to talk coins. If you attend a major coin show where Legend usually has a table, you will often see her enjoying discussions with collectors and giving them useful advice.
Ms. Sperber and Legend are also known for their preference for CAC [Certified Acceptance Corp.]-stickered coins. She is one of the owners of CAC.
On October 10 she announced in Coin Week her intention to run for the ANA board of governors.
After learning of her plans, I asked her if she could elaborate on what she would do if elected to the ANA board.
Golino – Can you elaborate on how you would help make the ANA “a happening place for numismatics?”
Sperber – As a collector myself, right now the ANA is meaningless to me. The only thing it represents to me is it has a great summer seminar and a good summer show. I would love to see the ANA as the “collector’s place to be.” Meaning clubs, individuals can all unite and share their numismatic experiences either online, at its great shows, or via its publications. I want to see people excited about being in the ANA. To do that, the ANA has to represent collectors in today’s market. It has to be in the lead on consumer protection. It has to be in the forefront on all major issues concerning the hobby. Basically, I will make the ANA do more.
G – When you announced your intention to run you mentioned coin doctoring and grade inflation, and the failure of coin dealers to adequately address these issues, as some of the key issues you would focus on if elected to the ANA board. Could you explain your view on what dealers are not doing in these areas that they should be doing, and what you would do as an ANA governor to address these important issues?
S – My stance on coin doctoring is well known. I will not accept it if the board or whoever at the ANA uses the same lame excuse about coin doctoring the PNG did. We are not a proactive group. I will make the ANA do the same as we are doing with the PNG-create a description of what coin doctoring is. Any member (does not have to be a dealer) who violates it, will be publically expelled after a warning. The ANA can not and should not turn its back on its members on this subject. The dealers are arrogant and some even feel it is their right to doctor coins. So the ANA needs to be proactive about it. I would create a committee to over see dealers and their ethics. That will definitely help the fight against coin docs.
[Author’s note: Ms. Sperber was recently appointed to PNG (Professional Numismatists’ Guild)’s coin doctoring committee that is headed by John Albanese, head of CAC.]
G – How do you view the future of numismatics? Is it a dying hobby as Q. David Bowers and others have suggested because most serious collectors are middle aged or older? What would you do as ANA governor to help encourage younger people to become coin collectors?
S – The hobby is not dying at all. However, collectors are becoming more disgusted and walking away faster. They have been told for 25 years that third party grading was the answer. Now, they are being told third party grading is flawed. We need to clean this mess up. The future is extremely bright if we do. Genuinely, people like coins. The outside world does think rare coins are cool. I travel all over the U.S. When people meet me, they want to talk about coins. We also need to increase somehow promoting coins to YN’s [Young Numismatists]. The ANA does do a very good job of it, but probably could reach out a little more.
G – Do you have any other ideas about how to increase the ANA’s membership, and more broadly about how to encourage people to become coin collectors?
S – Show that the ANA is proactive and cares about ALL collectors. People are not stupid. When there is something worthwhile, they know it and will come.
G – Are there any other areas or programs you would focus on as ANA governor?
S – Consumer protection is my #1 issue. Then the conventions.
G – How will your role at Legend change if you are elected?
S – I will cut down my activities significantly at Legend. I promise to make every meeting and conference call I need to be at.
G – You mentioned you own some “cool coins.” Are there any specific coins or series that really interest you personally?
S – I am very fortunate. It’s a true story that when I was in high school I went to the NY ANA Show in 1976 and asked to hold (and did) the 1913 Liberty 5C that I got to own a piece of! [Author’s note: Later in her career Ms. Sperber purchased a 1913 Liberty nickel.] Save for one major coin, I have owned or handled every major classic rarity I wanted too. My all time favorite series is $2.5 Liberty gold, DMPL Morgans ( I still shake remembering when Jack Lee choose us, then really an unknown [company] to buy his DMPL Collection), and Half cents (in that order). But then show me any really wild coin and I’ll like it!
G – Do you have any advice for collectors who are trying to get the most out of their numismatic endeavors?
S – BE PATIENT. Wait for the “right” coin you really want. Do not try and play dealer or play crackout genius. Just enjoy the hobby.
G – What do you think about modern collectible coins from the Mint? Do you have any suggestions for areas in which you think the Mint should make changes?
S – I have NEVER EVER been a fan of the Mint. It’s all exploited marketing. Yeah, maybe in 50 years this stuff will be something. Today to me, its hyped overpriced and overgraded (how the heck is everything 69 or 70) junk.
A final comment: I have been disgusted that dealers are not caring about the future of this hobby. They feel if there are bad coins, just pass on them and that ends the problems. Part of why I am running for ANA is to make sure the hobby does have a good future. I do care. Nothing angers me more than the dealers who “steal” from it every day and give nothing back. I feel very strongly that working with the ANA and its 30,000+ membership, the collector will be king again. It’s time to shake things up!
Louis Golino is a coin collector and numismatic writer, whose articles on coins have appeared in Coin World, Numismatic News, and a number of different coin web sites. His column for Coin Week, “The Coin Analyst,” covers U.S. and world coins and precious metals. He collects U.S. and European coins and is a member of the ANA, PCGS, NGC, and CAC. He has also worked for the U.S. Library of Congress and has been a syndicated columnist and news analyst on international affairs for a wide variety of newspapers and web sites.