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Back to Road Report Archive 2016

April 14-16, 2016: The Chicago International Coin Fair in Rosemont, IL

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April 14th:  Day 1

I woke up on Thursday numismatically disoriented (as sometimes happens on these trips), first thinking I was home, then in Baltimore, and finally in my college dorm room before I snapped out of it and remembered that, no, we are at the glorious CICF show in Chicagoland, and it’s time to get going.

So I leaped out of bed, tripped over my suitcase (since there isn’t one of those elegant folding suitcase caddies to set it on), got dressed and ran down the street to the convention center.

Where I warned the lot viewing assistant at Heritage that I was going to view the entire auction “as fast as possible”.

Which for me is pretty darn fast for several reasons:

  1. Time is money, so there is no reason to dawdle.
  2. I don’t need to view all of the Chinese bullion coins or other issues that I have no intention to bid on.
  3. My overall assessment of a coin begins with a quick, arms length assessment of the obverse. If it doesn’t look good from there, I don’t bother louping it or studying it further. And if the obverse isn’t good enough, I certainly don’t waste any time looking at the reverse.
  4. But if a coin passes my quick obverse assessment, then I give it a thorough CRO once over, at which time I kick out most of the rest for some stray mark, striking weakness or other offense.

Typically leaving me with often just a dozen coins or so I want to buy in a typical phonebook-sized sale.

Which I did for the entire Signature session and select internet lots before dealer set up started at 10 AM.

With the show organizers having done a nice job prepping the bourse floor, so our table #409 was ready to go right on time, with empty cases ready to be filled.

Which, using our new tray display system was a breeze, allowing me to put everything out in literally 3 minutes, plugged in, locked, and ready for the onslaught of consumerism we expect here. Maybe.

With just one hitch, that being the fact that our row set up requires me to walk behind my next door neighbor’s table to get to my own, which is weird but acceptable to me if the other guys are OK with it, which they claim to be even if they have to inhale deeply so I can pass behind their chairs on my frequent trips in and out.

Including my regular tours of the room looking for NEWPS as most other dealers were still getting set up during the day, some of them with incredibly laborious displays featuring tons of raw coins on wooden racks and felt pads.

Of which I bought a few here and there that caught my eye, some issues that I know well, and others I’ve never seen before and just looked interesting.

Where I could not help but notice that the attendees at this world show tend to be a bit more elegant and better dressed than the U.S. coin counterparts.  Which may explain the presence here of a full time, professional shoe shine stand right on the bourse floor, as evidenced by this photo of PCGS stalwart Ron Guth having it on:

And with each additional pass I made down each aisle revealing additional coins on display, slabbed and raw, unc. and circ., ranging from a few dollars to a set of 12 Ceasars gold ancients at one table priced at $750,000.  Spoiler alert: I did not buy the latter. But apparently someone else did, as it was gone in the afternoon.

At which time I got a call from a guy who brought coins to sell here, went through three boxes of very cool hand-picked toners and bought about a dozen, including several from countries I’ve never owned before. Adding a few more new things as the day wound down.

With sales pretty decent in between all that buying, including some of the coins on the website, but also some raw stuff I bought just to wholesale here, and a few others I bought as recently as last week.

And then suddenly they told us it was time to leave in the form of a polite announcement, followed by a series of sharp buzzing sounds which I guess are the coin show equivalent of those series of grooves in the pavement that precede a toll booth on the highway.

Whatever it was, it worked, as I headed out to meet another dealer at Gibson’s which is always good, though seems to be in a pitched battle with the Capital Grill to see who can serve the most offensively large portions possible. And based on dessert, Gibson’s is winning, as it was sufficient for us to split, and then have our waitress give the remaining 85% to the valet staff out front (who I am sure then gave their leftovers to the valet staff at all of the other hotels in this area, possibly then mailing the remainder to hotels in other states).

So I was at least well fed when I got back to the hotel at 11 and called it a day in anticipation of a similarly active Friday.

With all of the action to be recapped here in just about 24 hours from now –

April 15th:  Day 2

In fine form I arrived at the show on Friday, clicked on our booth lights and then proceeded to buy and sell coins with alacrity for the next, oh, 8 hours in a room that was genuinely crowded and bustling with activity.

Where we sold and added lots of raw and slabbed coins from many countries, including a lot of gold, some well made 16th century Spanish pieces, some cool 20th century coins, our requisite, beautiful Pillars and Portraits and a stunning Canadian mint set in a Capital Plastics holder acquired from the guy who originally put it there decades ago.

We also met many old and new friends here, some pure collectors, others who opportunitistically buy and sell for fun and profit, including my friend Lee who is a smart college student who goes to school near our office, who knows exactly what he’s doing and who I expect we’ll see on the coin circuit for years to come.

Interestingly, I also saw several coins here that we used to own, some recently, some years ago, in various dealer inventories and in each and every case I was immediately drawn to them because they just had a look that I like. I guess this shouldn’t be surprising since I selected them the first time. And I bought a few of them back, missing out on one other when another dealer leapt on it first like a panther or other agile animal. Drat.

But another missed opportunity turned out to be fortuitous, as I saw a cool example of an issue I’ve never owned before on the floor, went back to buy it a few minutes later, discovered it had already sold and then won a better example in the auction later for a lower price.

So auctions are the way to go then, right? Not always, as we also consigned coins to this sale, some of which we had ironically purchased from that exact same dealer at a previous show because they seemed too cheap, sent them directly to Heritage because they were not good enough for the site and then watched them realize much more.

What does that prove? Absolutely nothing, other than a theme we have written about before in the RR many times:  Good deals and not so good deals can be acquired in any venue at any time, and you have to make those decisions on the fly, often with limited information, relying on your gut. And while we try to be right more often than we’re wrong, sometimes we don’t know which is which until after the fact.

In total, however, we were very pleased with what we have accomplished here on Friday.

And frankly we’d have sold a lot more if we had brought our entire colonial and U.S. inventory with us, since there were multiple requests during the day for specific and general items currently on the website. Alas, the organizers of this event tell us that “dealers participating should have inventories of a primarily world or ancient numismatic material or antiquities”, and we toed the line.

The good news is that we’ll be back here in less than two weeks for the CSNS show so I hope a number of the table visitors this time will come back and see us in Schaumburg where we’ll have all of that other stuff with us.

But before that, we have another day to go here and my gut is telling me it is going to be a busy one.


April 16th:  Day 3

Forthwith we present a numismatic smorgasbord of thoughts about CICF:

  • I spent more money on Saturday than the previous days combined (which was no mean feat).
  • The dealer at the table next to me recognized a show attendee who had been caught stealing coins here last year, informed show security and had him unceremoniously removed. That’s obviously a good thing, especially for the many dealers here with raw coins on display in bins and albums on top of their cases.
  • I bought what I believe are the best two purchases at this show in the last hours of the day before packing up to leave. One of them had been sitting there all show up the aisle; the other was apparently acquired here privately and I never saw it until it was handed to me.
  • They really need to get thinner pillows at my hotel, or next time I am going to have to use the Heritage Internet Session catalog instead.
  • Speaking of which, I viewed the rest of that session at breakneck speed at midday and found about 10 more coin to bids on.
  • A visitor to the CRO table wanted to see a coin which was literally the least expensive one I had brought with me, asked the price and then held up his hand and said “that is waaaay beyond my budget” when I told him $150. I felt awful when I heard that.
  • And then literally 30 seconds later a low key dealer widely known as a connoisseur walked up and showed me a breathtaking and breathtakingly expensive Dekadrachm he had just acquired. The juxtaposition of those two events was simply stunning.
  • Not stunning: The selection of Spanish and Latin American colonial era gold coins on the floor and in the auction with choice, original surfaces and nice color. I think I bought every single one of them, and left with less than 10 pieces in total. But if you want the sea salvaged or hairlined versions, you had your pick of hundreds.
  • Including the above, total CRO haul of coins acquired here: 44. No, 45. But 6 were sold before we left.
  • A bunch of different dealers ordered pizza and then left a half eaten pie behind. Conclusion: I could have saved a lot of money on lunch had I simply waited a half hour. And if I desired cold pizza which had been gummed by whoever.
  • Coolest things I saw here: The 12 Ceasars gold coins, that Dekadrachm, and the Rolls Royce Wraith parked in front of Gibsons (come to think of it, those things might have been related).
  • Fantastic money making idea for next year at this show: Buy a table, leave all the coins at home and instead sell bottles of water for $4.00 each, thus undercutting the concession stand by 50¢ a pop.
  • Coins we regretted buying here: One raw coin that likely won’t grade, and some wild speculative play targeted for an auction, but those often turn out to be the big winners. So I guess I’ll let you know in a few months.
  • Coins we regretted not buying: Maybe a couple of things in the auction, but they were in areas in which we do not specialize, like Indian coins with wild toning and some Russian proof I’ve never seen before. On second though, these are the kinds of things that frequently get us in trouble, so nevermind.
  • I’m still amazed by the number of blast white silver coins I see being offered at these shows, some dating back to the 17th century. I guess there is a market for them, but we won’t be participating in it.
  • I’m still looking for one of those Swiss Talers with the Bear on it in decent shape. I’ve never had a chance to buy one that was better than VG or Fine.
  • One dealer at the show displayed an entire case full of coins in old time stapled 2×2 cardboard holders, some of which had the (apparently former) grade and slabbing service name written on them. I have no reason to doubt the veracity of those grades, and also no idea if that marketing approach works, but I give the guy high marks for originality.
  • All due credit to Connor Falk of FW Media who did a great job managing the bourse floor.
  • I was offered a piece of some kind of private, fractional paper money here that I’ve never seen before, and frankly never expect to see again, representing the sort of wacko things that somehow seem to gravitate to the CRO table at shows.
  • I was especially intrigued by those early 19th century El Salvadoran coins with the big volcano on them at this show, so I looked at a bunch and bought one really nice one.

All of which combined to form a quite successful show, with the fertile buying opportunities we expected, acceptable sales, a good auction coming and going and some deluxe schmoozing with an international flair.

Now we’ll head back to the office and leap directly into the mad rush of activity as we prepare our first Early Bird of April which will go out on Tuesday even if it kills us, which it might.

The End