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About Alaska Coin Exchange

 

    Alaska Coin Exchange was formed in 1992 by Mike Nourse, a collector of United States coins since 1974. In the beginning, I started out by running 1/6 page ads in Coin World, but quickly moved up to 1/3 page ads, then full page ads placed once a month. Back then, Coin World was seventeen inches tall compared to the current fourteen, so I was able to list about 1300 items in my monthly full page ads.

The top half of my August 1993 ad in Coin World

 

    In addition to the ads, I acquired a large mailing list by participating in Coin World's reader service program, in which interested individuals would circle numbers on a card to request information from a particular advertiser. Within a year, I had a mailing list of 1000 collectors receiving my monthly catalog.

    The catalog started out as a 24 page booklet the size of a sheet of paper folded in half horizontally. In fact, the catalog was constructed from five sheets of white paper and one piece of colored paper which functioned as the cover. The six sheets were printed on both sides, and the coins were listed in three columns on each page. The six pages would be folded horizontally, stapled twice in the center, then stapled shut for mailing.

The front cover of my 24 page catalog.

 

A typical inside page of my small catalog.

 

    It was quite a process each month, constructing the catalog on my 1992 Gateway computer, bringing it to the printer, then getting it home, assembling the five pages, folding them, then stapling the center. Each one was just a shade over one ounce, so I had to trim the outside edge of each catalog so I could use just a regular one ounce stamp on each one. Repeat this process 1000 times, and you have one big project!

    I liked the booklet format, but the Post Office didn't. My catalog was considered 'non machineable', and invariably a number of them were eaten each month by automated postal equipment. I switched to using three sheets of 11 X 17 paper, printed on both sides, then folded and stapled in the middle. These would then be trimmed to reduce their weight, folded in thirds, and put in a standard envelope and mailed out.

    Sales were decent, but the reality is that I just did not have enough inventory to support such a system. The monthly advertisement in Coin World, combined with the cost of the reader service, ran $2000 per month. Each catalog cost $1 to produce and mail, bringing expenses to $3000 per month. There was no way that my small inventory could cover expenses like that, so mail order operations were ended at the end of the year 1997. Catalogs continued to be produced for several years after that, once a year, primarily to function as an inventory list for my own records. Distribution of these later lists was very limited, only to a few select active buyers.

    While trying to figure out the best way to operate a small coin business, along came the internet. Once again, I connected up with Coin World and became one of their online dealers. I built a database in Excel listing all of my inventory, and made scans of many of the items I had for sale. Scans were limited to 32 kilobytes in size, and a number of those Coin World scans can still be found on this site.

    It was good to be listed on the Coin World site, as I had more exposure there than I could have ever hoped to get otherwise without spending all sorts of money on advertising. The only downside was that Coin World charged a 5 percent commission so I had to pad all of my prices by 5 percent.

    While listed on the Coin World site, I always had the idea in the back of my head to construct my own website so that I could avoid their commission. That idea really took hold in May of 2003, when Coin World announced that in one month they would be discontinuing hosting dealers on their site. I scrambled to build my own website, but the task turned out to be vastly more complex and time consuming than I had ever imagined. It ended up taking until August 2003 to get a website built and running, and that is the site you are looking at now!

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    Now that I have my own website, here are a few of the things I am trying to do. I want to list as many items as possible, and make it very easy to navigate around the site so that customers can find what they are looking for quickly and easily.

    I use a lot of scanned images of the coins. since it is important for the customer to see exactly what he/she will be receiving. It was a complex decision to use the thumbnail images that you see throughout the coin listings. Thumbnails allow you to look at lots of coins in a very short time, just like in a coin shop, but the downside of that is that it slows down the speed that the website operates at, especially for folks using 56 K modems. In the end, the benefits seemed to be worth the slower speed, and so the thumbnails remain.

    One of my big objectives since the beginning has been to keep shipping costs reasonable. I cringe when I see what some coin dealers charge for shipping. Outrageous! I use recycled cardboard for my coin mailers (my mailers are actually stronger than the commercially available mailers), and use rubber stamps to create personalized envelopes and forms rather than having them custom printed. That way I only have to charge a reasonable amount for postage, without charging for 'handling', whatever that is.

    Take a look around my website, and as always, feel free to send comments, questions, and suggestions to: Mike@alaskacoinexchange.com .

Mike standing among the pressure ridges on the polar ice cap in the Bering Sea off the coast of Nome

 

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