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Back to Road Report Archive 2009

August 3-9, 2009: The ANA World’s Fair of Money in Los Angeles, CA



I know what some of you are thinking.  You’re thinking, “Hey, the Stack’s and Heritage pre-ANA auctions started last week, and you guys didn’t post anything about them“.  And that would be correct.

You see, Dave and I did consign coins to those sales, and we did view lots, and we did bid on a number of things at both auctions, and we did buy some incredibly cool stuff (sort of like what we do at most every auction).  But since we weren’t actually physically present for either of them (preferring instead to limit our ‘on the ground’ time in LA to this coming week), we couldn’t really write about them here in a Road Report.

Instead, what you’ll be getting from us is a blow by blow description of the show itself, which starts with a long trip westward today for PNG dealer set-up at 5 PM, and continues on each and every day until Sunday the 9th.  And we’ll be there for every exciting moment of it, pausing only to post updates here on the site (like this) and occasional snippets of action on Twitter, and to find the best Sushi within walking distance of the convention center (of course).

OK, time for me to go pack.

August 3rd – Day 1:

It was a pretty cool flight out here today, as 5+ hours across the country goes quickly when you are tooling around on the internet and watching TV.  I was going to make a joke like “If they could just find a way to get my refrigerator onto the plane, it would be almost exactly like working at home”, but Virgin America has actually done that one better (sort of), by allowing you to order food anytime you want via your in-seat TV monitor and then having the flight attendant deliver it to you.  If this is the future of air travel, I like it.

We even landed early, and then made the quick drive downtown to the hotel just in time to cool my heals for several hours before dealer set-up in the late afternoon.

And before you knew it, we were standing in the lobby of the impressively large and thoroughly signed convention center shooting the bull with a bunch of dealer friends that we hadn’t seen in several weeks.

And at precisely 5 PM, we entered the bourse floor for the first time, suddenly remembering that at the ANA (unlike most every other show), there are no racks behind the table to hang the award winning CRO banner that I spent 15 minutes ironing early in the afternoon.  I also noticed that they have our booth number wrong, showing us as combined with good friend Julian Leidman all under table 619 as opposed to the 619 and 718 we have been showing in our ads and on our site for 2 months.  And while both of these things could combine to make us harder to find, I doubt that will be the case since we are pretty close to the front and facing the door.  So that’s good (particularly compared to last year’s debacle which was very, very thoroughly documented here in the RR).

But our location didn’t matter much during this day, as a smattering of PNG dealers were just getting set up, widely spaced in mostly the front 1/3 of the room.

A few people stopped by and looked through our coins, and we checked out a few things in other cases, but most of our time was spent trying to attach our lamps to the tables in a way that would balance Dave’s desire to get it done in 4 minutes with my obsessive desire to make everything symmetrical and positioned in exactly the right spot.  Which inevitably leads to me moving them fifty times while Dave hums the theme song from ‘The Odd Couple’.

But we managed to get it done, ask one dealer to hold one coin for us until tomorrow, put one of our coins on hold for another dealer, cover the tables, head out to dinner and then turn in early in preparation for what figures to be a very long week.

Tomorrow we get started in earnest and will shift our focus from lamp placement to trying very hard to find cool things to add to our inventory.

August 4th – Day 2:

Tuesday began with me trying to figure out how to operate the shower in my hotel room, which proved difficult since it has an absurdly modern control knob with no writing on it which seems to have just two water temperature settings:  43 degrees, or boiling.

I chose 43 degrees.

Wide awake at that point, I headed down to the lobby for a quick continental breakfast with Dave, followed by a brisk 10 block walk to the convention center.

Just a few dealers were there when we arrived, getting ready for the 10 AM official start of the day, which would consist of some exclusive sales and purchase ops with other PNG dealers, their invited guests, and a few early bird attendees (who paid what was variously reported as $150 or $200 for the privilege!) until 4 PM.  At which time the doors would be flung open to the rest of the dealer community and the activity and noise level in the room would increase by exactly 75%.

And it was a good day for us, with some moderate sales of mostly mid-priced items and some very nice colonial, federal and esoteric NEWPs of all price points.

We also submitted a few more coins for grading, viewed the rest of the Bowers lots, had a beer in the lobby (a first for us a coin show) and visited the Smithsonian exhibit.

Dave checked out the amazing rarities on display there and was soon joined in a discussion of the merits of the 1933 Double Eagle (of which they had an example) by a host of numismatic luminaries: Larry Shepherd (the Executive Director Of the ANA), Jim Hughes – Museum Specialist at the Smithsonian and Dave Akers (dealer extraordinaire – who has handled just about every rare US gold coin there was in his distinguished career), joined later by Rick Snow and David Lange.  The gist of the conversation was that the government will have a very difficult time winning its case, and that it was common practice by the dealers and collectors of the day (i.e. the 1930’s) to exchange coins of the current year for a like amount of other gold coins (remember – they made 500,000 of the darn things – a 1933 $20 was not considered a great rarity).

Then, of course, everyone speculated about what a 1933 $20 will be worth when the 10 coins in dispute come to market – the conclusions of which I will not reveal here, since it is not beyond the realm of possibility that we could be bidding on one of these 10 coins in the not too distant future.  Hey, you never know.

And that was about it for today.  We look forward to the start of the full-blown show tomorrow, which we firmly believe will include a healthy dose of buying, selling, grading, viewing, bidding, and schmoozing.

August 5th – Day 3:

So we’re walking into the convention center this AM, minding our own business, when we see Ron Guth of PCGS hauling a large piece of Yap stone money (later confirmed to weigh 42 pounds) under his arm.  Which immediately made me think of three things:

1.    There’s something you don’t see everyday
2.    Ron must be bringing this in for one of the ANA exhibits
3.    It must have been a huge pain in the neck to go shopping on Yap

Once we got inside, things were a bit more normal (or at least we didn’t see anyone else carrying a 42 pound rock), and we quickly got the table ready for the 9:30 opening of the show to the public.

But 9:30 came and went without a really noticeable increase in floor traffic, which suggests that a huge throng of people did not burst through the door (or at least they did not burst through the door and come to our table).  Rather the traffic was (perhaps not surprisingly) pretty much like most of the Long Beach shows we’ve attended in recent years.

Which is to say that it was relatively quiet, though not for everyone.  Some dealers seemed to be really busy, some sat idly and others (like us, for example) had light but steady traffic and bought and sold a few coins in an uncrowded and unfrenetic environment.

Things picked up for us during the course of the day though, and in the afternoon our federal inventory – including some NEWPs as well as old favorites – was moving at a good clip.

We also bought a few more colonials and esoteric items, submitted a slew of additional coins for grading and toured each and every one of the ANA exhibits, including the aforementioned Yap stone money and a gigantic display of high end Connecticut coppers by Breen number assembled by a very serious collector.

Once that was done, we coasted to the finish, which left only planning dinner with some dealer friends at Cicada, a fantastic but nearly completely empty restaurant a few blocks from the show.

From which we have just returned in time to write this blog and then collapse so we can do it all again on Thursday.

August 6th – Day 4:

As you may know by now, our website imploded on Thursday morning, so no matter how many times you hit ‘refresh’ or scream at your monitor, it will not come up.

So while the IT guys are hard at work (I hope), we’ll be posting the Road Report here on the PC boards where we are unencumbered by Twitter’s 140 character limit.

So, without further ado, let see what happened on Thursday:

Everything was just great as we worked the phones during breakfast here at the hotel, and then headed out into the lovely weather for a pleasing walk to the convention center and immediately encountered a shady looking guy who I was absolutely convinced (in an un-paranoid way) was about to mug us, but who was apparently just out for a creepy stroll.

Unscathed, we arrived at the show at exactly 7:55 – just in time to be told that the doors would open to dealers at 9 AM.

Now, we’ve posted here in the past about the importance of reading show schedules, and we obviously dropped the ball on this one (I blame Dave, actually, even though I was at least 50% at fault), but it would be helpful if show organizers had the thing start at the same time everyday so that we wouldn’t have to sit on a hard bench by the janitor’s closet waiting for an hour, for example.

The time went pretty quickly, though, and before you know it we were back at it at our table 718.

The first order of business was to pick up some additional show grading from PCGS, the results of which have been pretty consistently good.

Then we spent an hour or so working on a couple of deals, with Dave getting close to selling something über-expensive, and yours truly spending just about the same amount of money on some exceptional new colonial rarities at the same time. Which, despite no such specific plan, is often the way it goes at these shows, as we find ourselves buying and selling in roughly equal amounts. But not without a lot of debate, which is what we are usually doing as we huddle up behind the table discussing the merits of a particular coin, reviewing recent auction or private sales comps (if there are any), and threatening to “buy it myself you idiot” if the other person disagrees. Quick, cue the Odd Couple music again.

We strongly agreed, however, that the tomato bisque at the concession stand was the definitive choice for lunch, waaaaaay better than the cold hard sandwiches or the greasy pizza, and prepared us for another afternoon that was more like a big Long Beach show than an ANA.

During which we had an interesting but not uncommon experience, as we happened to have two pairs of rare coins at the table, and in both pairs the coin we and most other dealers preferred was in the lower grade holder. Which highlights again the degree of subjectivity in numismatics, calls into question the wisdom of paying a massive premium for a grading point, and really ticks us off.

We got over it though, and spent the last part of the day on a mini buying spree, adding some nice, affordable federal coins and some really cool tokens to our lean-ish inventory.

Then we made a quick stop off at the Bowers auction before heading out to dinner at Zucca, the same restaurant we went to on Tuesday, and another great meal which featured the normal-sized portions I personally prefer (seriously) and not the enormo-plates you tend to get on the east coast.

So, taking everything into account, we’d rate this experience so far as about a B, with enough sales and purchases to make the trip worthwhile, which I would dare say is how many of the dealers we spoke to feel as well.

If we can conclude a couple of bigger deals in the next few days we’ll be very happy, but that is no sure thing at this point.

In the meantime, we will be planning to arrive at the show at precisely 9 AM on Friday.

August 7th – Day 5:

I felt absolutely fantastic this morning, had a nice breakfast, strolled confidently to the convention center and proceeded to become unbelievably nauseous and dizzy (and not in a good way) until about 2 PM, possibly a reaction to the fact that our website is STILL down, or to the robust burgundy we had at dinner last night (not sure which).

Whatever the cause, it was bad, slowing me down to the pace of an economy grading submission, but not stopping the CRO train from roaring down the track on what could have been a sleepy Friday. Despite light floor traffic (especially for an ANA), we had some surprisingly good sales results of the small, medium and even mega-variety, bringing this show up from the “It was pretty decent” level almost (but not quite) to the “I just sank a long putt” category on the patented Wnuck Show Rating Scale.

Of course, it could have been better. As noted, attendance has been disappointing, which is almost certainly due at least in part to the not very convenient and not very popular location here in downtown LA. On the other hand, I’m hard pressed to think of a location and facility anywhere in the country that nobody would complain about (including next year in Boston). So we’re doing what we usually do, which is to try to make the best of it and have some fun. And so far, we are.

Such as when we were buying some relatively affordable mid-grade colonials and federal issues today, then selling a bunch of those a few hours later, and then immediately trying to reload again for our next EB which will go out Tuesday of next week (assuming the website is up by then, which I am pretty sure it will be).

We also had a good time chatting with a slew of collector friends who seemed to be enjoying the show as well.

A less fun part was losing the giant set of keys to all of our display cases, which had become buried under a pile of show paperwork sometime during the day. But eventually they turned up after a few minutes of frantically tearing the place apart 5 minutes before closing.

After that wonderful experience, we figured we’d take it easy and have a quiet dinner a few blocks from the convention center, but walked outside to discover about 10,000 teenage girls (and, in some cases, their parents) lined up outside the Staples Center (right next door) for a Jonas Brothers’ concert. Assessing the situation quickly, we decided to get the heck out of the there without screaming “Hey everybody – it’s the Jonas Brothers’ Manager!” while pointing at Jim Matthews of Stack’s (who happened to be walking by at that exact moment, minding his own business, but dressed like, well, the Jonas Brothers’ Manager). It’s good that we didn’t yell, though, since it probably would have caused a mini-riot in which two middle-aged coin dealers were trampled by 10,000 autograph-seeking teenage girls (and, in some cases, their parents).

Instead, we weaved through the crowd inconspicuously and made our way to dinner, and then back to the hotel just in time for your author to narrowly avoid a collision in the lobby with a woman who looked suspiciously like Penelope Cruz.

And people say this isn’t a good location? Ha.