October 25th, 2010

My Two Cents’ Worth: Award to the Wise

COINage Contributing Editor presents Beth Deisher with an award from the Numismatic Literary Guild. Deisher won this year's Zerbe Award.

by Ed Reiter

The American Numismatic Association chose wisely and well in selecting Beth Deisher, editor of Coin World, to receive this year’s Farran Zerbe Award, the national coin club’s highest honor.

The Zerbe Award recognizes long and dedicated service to numismatics, and Beth meets that standard superbly. To some, though, her qualifications probably seemed more obvious afterward than beforehand. That’s because she’s so low-key about her contributions to the hobby.

Beth took the helm of Coin World, the hobby’s weekly newspaper of record, in 1985. It was a tumultuous time in the world of coins. Overgrading and overpricing were serious concerns. U.S. commemorative coinage had recently resumed, but major problems already were raising doubts about its future. And a movement was afoot to authorize U.S. gold and silver bullion coins, even as skeptics voiced grave reservations about the idea.

The challenge was formidable, but the new editor soon made it clear she was up to the job. Her straightforward manner, attention to detail and workaholic habits set very high standards for others on the staff.

Beth had joined the Coin World staff in 1981, working under the dynamic Margo Russell, who had been the paper’s high-profile editor since the early 1960s. When Margo retired, the daunting task of filling her shoes went to Beth.

Looking back today, it’s clear that both women have been enormous factors in Coin World’s development and success. And both have become extremely important figures in the hobby–as evidenced by the fact that collectors far and wide refer to both by just their first names.

In a number of ways, however, they’re a study in contrasts.

Margo, now 90, was a whirling dervish during her editing days. She was outgoing and effusive, and made many friends both within the hobby and at the U.S. Mint. Her entrée at the Mint built a useful new bridge between the federal government and the nation’s coin collectors. At one time, it is said, Margo was the single most influential person in the hobby.

While far from aloof, Beth is more reserved and more likely to be seen in professional–rather than social–settings, camera or notebook in hand as she takes copious photos or notes for yet another <i>Coin World</i> story. Like me, she comes from a journalistic background, and I sense that she shares my drive to get every detail just right in every story.

Beth took over at Coin World in 1985, the year before I became COINage senior editor. We have been friendly competitors for a quarter-century now, with strong emphasis on “friendly.”

Beth has led the way in giving hobby news a sharper focus and harder edge. She was in the forefront, for example, in exposing apparent transgressions by a high-ranking ANA official who eventually stepped down in the face of mounting outrage by many members.

In 1995, her testimony before a congressional subcommittee helped bring about reforms in U.S. commemorative coinage, which was suffering at the time from numerous abuses, including overproduction and inappropriate themes. She was also influential in gaining support in Washington for the 50 State Quarters® Program.

My admiration for Beth stems not from her ability to score important “scoops,” although she’s had plenty of those. Rather, it’s based on her impeccable judgment, firm commitment to fairness and unfailing professionalism in bringing every story to her readers.

Others might boast that their presentation of news is “fair and balanced”–but without any fanfare, Beth’s actions speak far more loudly than their often-empty words.

 Beth was characteristically modest when I sent my congratulations after learning of the award.

“I was astounded when ANA staff informed me,” she said in her e-mail reply.

The award came as no big surprise to me and many others. After decades of quiet excellence in covering hobby news, Beth Deisher richly deserved a headline affirming how vital she has been in putting that news in perspective for everyone else.

2010 . Blog . Issues . My Two Cents . News and Notes . November