Technology can benefit collectors in ways we haven't thought of yet.
About a month ago I read a short article about former ANA President Walter Ostromecki saying, “We have to start thinking differently and doing things in new ways. We shouldn’t misuse technology, but we can embrace it and take advantage of its strengths."
The article went on to mention the internet, but little else about technology. When I saw the headline I had such high hopes for an informative article, something that went beyond, "Hey, this important guy said such and such, but we didn't bother to think too hard about it," and was disappointed. Simply mentioning an old piece of technology (the internet as we know it is about 20 years old - that's ancient in tech years) and sprinkling with a few quotes doesn't make for inspiring reading.
So, with that in mind, let's talk Numismatic Tech.
I was scrolling through Twitter last night (I am writing this early in the AM on 6/18/16) and saw a Tweet from Stack's Bowers about their Summer Roadtrip Challenge. What happens is, Stack's Bowers (SB) will post various locations as the summer goes on, you have to take a selfie at that location and either, e-mail it to SB, post it on Facebook and tag SB, or post it on Twitter with the hashtag #Stacksbowers. Each e-mail, tag, and hashtag get you an entry into a drawing for a set of hardbound auction catalogs. I am actually pretty proud of SB for this idea. I have been critical of them for how they use their Twitter account to link back to their Facebook page (instead of their website to generate more traffic and thus improve SEO), but that is marketing related and another subject for another time.
The only thing that irks me about the Summer Roadtrip Challenge is the missed opportunity to really spread the word on social media. The problem is built into the contest. To get an entry, you simply have to post and tag the contest host, SB. It is a linear design that is not conducive to success on social media. You do not have to share or retweet a post about the contest, thereby alerting your friends and followers, which helps spread the word and would give SB a chance to go viral with this one, it is just, "Take the picture and let us know you did it." While this is a good contest to strengthen relationships with their existing customers/followers, the rules themselves negate any serious chance at pushing Stack's Bowers in front of new sets of eyes. That being said, I am still proud of them to running a solely online contest. It is a nice step in the right direction.
OK, enough judging! How about some new ideas?
What if there was an app that aggregated coin auction prices from major websites like Ebay and Great Collections, calculated an average selling price for coins in various grades, and spit out a FMV (fair market value) on demand? Not a book value, but a real-time price! It wouldn't be very hard to create, especially being strictly for coins. There would have to be a continuous crawl of major coin auction sites, an algorithm to weed out lots not big on, bulk lots, and poorly described coins (where the standard grade isn't mentioned and a more ambiguous descriptor like "BU" is used). An experienced coder (someone who writes computer code) could knock this out, in an unrefined state, in short order.
What if dealers at coin show brought along little QR codes for people to scan and see their entire inventory. A QR code is that square, pixilated looking bar-code substitute that you can scan with a smartphone. The dealer would bring the normal selection of show coins, but in addition have a page or two of QR codes. Say a potential customer is looking for high-grade wheat pennies and the dealer has a tone back at the store, but doesn't bring them to shows because they don't sell as well in that environment; it is foolish for the dealer to lose the sale simply for lack of space. The wheat penny collector could scan the appropriate QR code with their phone and instantly have access to hi-res images of the dealer's entire MS Wheat Cent inventory. Now the dealer stands a better shot at making the sale. The dealer could either agree to ship the coins (if their shop isn't within a reasonable driving distance) to the customer, or, better yet, has an online store set up where the customer can purchase them immediately.
What if there was a service in place to give you a second opinion on coins you were thinking of purchasing? I actually talked about this briefly with Daniel Malone (creator of coinHELP!). Essentially, you take a photo, or multiple photos, of both sides of a coin and upload them to the app. The app then sends them to a numismatist who is adept at photograding. Within minutes you get an opinion back of whether you should purchase at the price stated. Sounds simple right?
Not so fast! The service itself would be tricky to set up and depend on a few key areas. Lifting the veil, here is how I picture it working. When the user uploads photos they are dropped into worker's "bucket" (in this description a "worker" the numismatist offering an opinion and a "bucket" is the storage space for the photos and info they receive) along with the price being asked for the coin. The worker can access their bucket any way they like, be it from a PC, tablet, phone, TV - whatever they prefer. They examine the photos, checking pricing, and offer an informed decision within a specified timeframe of perhaps 10-30 minutes.
The user would have to pay for each opinion sought, this would help weed out gratuitous inquiries and keep all questions serious. I think a price point of $1.99 per opinion would work. The user would have entered credit card info to use the service and they would be billed when an opinion was delivered within the guaranteed timeframe. (Within 30 minutes or it's free!) To make that timeframe work, the service would need a large group of trustworthy numismatists. What do they get for the time spent giving opinions? A hefty chunk of the $1.99. As the overhead costs of this type of business would be minimal, it could almost be done exclusively through cloud computing, there is no reason a worker couldn't keep about 75%. During coin show season, a worker could earn a good amount of money. Each opinion would yield $1.4925 - and if they could render an opinion every five minutes (12 per hour) that equates to being paid $17.91/hr. Given, that worker would have to remained focused, it would be like a regular job, but it's not a bad way to go.
What if there was a 3rd party grading service that inserted a tiny devices (or otherwise encoded their slabs) with encrypted information. You could download an app to your smartphone that would allow you to swipe your phone over the slab and receive instant confirmation that it was genuine. Because, let's be honest, a barcode and hologram are too easy to fake. Ask China! That's 90's tech.
I hope you got something out of this article. Combining tech and numismatics is a pet passion of mine, so don't be surprised to hear more from me on the subject.