The E-Sylum:  Volume 6, Number 49, November 16, 2003, Article 12


  Your editor spent a few days this week in New York City
  on business.  With a couple hours to kill I took a walk uptown
  for my first visit to Stack's.  At 123 West 57th Street, the
  storefront has some famous neighbors, including piano maker
  Steinway and Carnegie Hall.  The narrow little shop looks just
  like many of the other coin shops scattered around the nation,
  but for the discerning visitor, many telltale clues note that this
  is no ordinary coin shop.  For one, security is formidable, with
  two burly (but friendly) armed guards milling about.  And just
  how many U.S. Fractional Currency Shields does one shop
  need to stock?   The back wall displayed five of them,
  suggesting that perhaps there was stack of others somewhere
  in the back room.   No time to visit, unfortunately, and the
  staff was noticeably busy in preparation for an upcoming
  auction.  So off I went on my merry way.

  The next morning (Thursday) I stopped briefly at the
  American Numismatic Society's exhibit at the Federal Reserve
  Bank of New York downtown.  It was very nicely laid out and
  filled with a number of gems that would wow any knowledgeable
  numismatist.  The U.S. highlights were featured in a case in the
  center of the hall, including an 1804 dollar, a Confederate Half
  dollar, a Brasher doubloon and other colonial-era gold coins
  stamped with Brasher's "E.B." countermark.   The ancient coins
  in the exhibit were in superb condition.   Having witnessed a
  huge crowd viewing a free Brittney Spears concert off Times
  Square on Monday, I was sad to see that I was the solitary
  visitor to the exhibit that morning.  It's hard to sex up a
  exhibit, but it was chock full of things of beauty.  It was nice to
  see a group of schoolchildren arrive as I was leaving - hopefully
  some of them will come away with a new appreciation of our

  My next stop was the New York Stock Exchange, where I
  was treated to a visit to the floor of the exchange for a first-hand
  view of how it operates.  The post-September 11 landscape
  was eerie, made more so by street resurfacing that had Wall
  Street and adjacent streets scraped of asphalt and devoid of
  traffic.  Two NYPD vans were parked out front, and two
  officers with riot gear and machine guns patrolled the street.
  George Washington's statue in front of Federal Hall surveyed
  the scene, which was oddly quiet as the wind kicked up and
  rain began to fall.

  Once inside and past security, my floor trader friend escorted
  me through the floor to his work station.  I'm not the excitable
  type, but it was truly a thrill to walk that famous floor, which
  held more computer and communications equipment per square
  foot than than I'd ever seen in my life. (and I've been to the
  belly of the Internet, visiting key hosting centers for search
  engine server farms).  And the number of people crammed
  into that space is equally amazing.  Brokers and specialists
  each have what amounts to a couple feet of allocated space,
  and no one would bother to sit even if they had a chair -
  everyone is on their feet and constantly interacting with others.

  As I looked up past the matrix of hanging conduits I noticed
  the ornate old ceiling above.  A beautiful architectural feature,
  but one obscured by the practicalities of doing the exchange's
  business.  I would be surprised if any of the traders, even those
  who've worked there for years, ever noticed the ceiling.

  The wooden floor was reminiscent of a high school gymnasium,
  and yes, it was littered with scraps of paper and other trash
  (and it was only 11am).  Workers' cubbyholes, although
  bedecked with the latest electronics, were built of well-worn
  wood which looked like they had been installed in the 1970's
  and never repaired or touched up in 30 years.  Very institutional.

  It was a bit sad to realize what an anachronism the place is.
  Computer technology has already automated much of the
  process, and the human element which remains could just as
  well be automated, too.   Many of these people would still have
  their jobs, but they could work from cushy offices blocks,
  miles, or continents away.  Someday the exchange could be
  just another musty tourist attraction, with actors going through
  the motions of trading like the "technicians" at amusement park
  "movie studios."

  Technology has eliminated the need for toll tokens, which have
  disappeared from the New York subway system and many
  highways around the country.   Physical stock certificates are
  on the way out, and the exchange itself may be next.  Coins
  and paper money are still with us, but credit and debit cards
  are gaining share rapidly.   Someday numismatists could no
  longer have anything new to collect - we'll have to content
  ourselves with the old.

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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