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Back to Road Report Archive 2008

February 26-March 2, 2008: The Whitman Baltimore Expo



It’s been a fairly full day so far, as I’ve been up for hours, traded emails with some dealer friends (at 4:00 AM, which must indicate something about the lifestyle of a coin dealer) and I’m now camped at the airport waiting for the first flight to Baltimore.

It’ll be straight to the Stack’s auction when I get there (which ideally will be before it begins), and I look forward to a marathon session in which I plan to sit through thousands of lots in order to buy about 7.

I’ll look to check in here periodically during this trip and focus on extremely serious and hard-hitting numismatic topics, such as noteworthy auction results, grading, market trends, the prevalence of CAC coins and the fantastic items which we will inevitably buy, sell, trade, just miss, argue about, etc.

Today will also mark the return of our own Dave Wnuck, who has announced to me his intention to “attack this show with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind”.

And when Dave says that, he means it.


Day 1:

I did make it to the Pier 5 Hotel in time to view lots and bid in Stack’s Rich Urich auction.

And I did buy a few things in the colonial session which was a mixed bag of the extremely mediocre, the pretty good and the downright exceptional.

In the first category, we had coins like lot #1007, the extremely crusty Pine Tree Shilling described as XF which has now appeared in at least 4 or 5 Stack’s auctions dating back to September, 2006. And for the 4th or 5th time it went unsold. For those interested, we’re pretty sure the coin will be available in the next Stack’s catalog (and probably the one after that).

In the second category, we saw things like lot #1044, a wholesome XF New Jersey copper with pleasing color. Unfortunately, it was in an NGC AU55 holder and sold for AU money, which was more than we thought it was worth.

And in the downright exceptional category, there was lot #1061, a superb uncirculated Washington Born Virginia. We loved the coin (though we again thought the NGC grade was a liiiiiiittttttttttle bit on the aggressive side) and bowed out at $140,000 hammer.

We also traipsed through the virtually complete (amazingly so) federal offering, but found very few superb, eye-appealing coins of the sort we like to buy (including a few homely CAC stickered coins in the session).

Hey, we’re picky – and because we are not trying to assemble a complete set of anything here on the website we can focus our attention strictly on the sort of beautiful pieces our customers seek. So we decided to opt out completely and instead focus our attention on a few collections we are contemplating at the moment.

Which left plenty of free time to shoot the bull in the lobby of the Pier 5 with a bunch of similarly bored coin dealers before heading back to the hotel to price, re-price and then review our show inventory before dinner at the hotel.

Until tomorrow –

Day 2:

Wednesday was good, but not exactly like we planned.

Except for breakfast, which was precisely as agreed at 8:00 AM in the restaurant overlooking the extremely scenic harbor in Baltimore (the viewing of which I consider to be a nice perk of this job).

Dave and I ate quickly and then spent a good 2 unplanned hours talking about everything going on lately, what customer developments we’ve had, collections available, a couple of wildly complicated trade proposals in the works, auction strategies, our pre-ANA arrangements, etc. Which was all good, since we haven’t had the chance to do that in a few weeks.

And though our cell phones were ringing off the hook during the meeting even those were good news, as we had a couple of pretty big deals come to fruition and a few more which looked like they might.

So far so good, and it wasn’t even noon yet.

Then it was time to haul everything over to the convention center where we could (finally) lock up everything at security, and then grab a quick, unplanned and utterly massive lunch at the Cheesecake Factory with a dealer friend who really, really likes that restaurant. Personally, I don’t understand it. I’m not sure what exactly is the purpose of them serving those humongous mega-portions suitable for feeding whole villages of numismatic professionals – and this was the lighter ‘lunch menu’ for cryin’ out loud.

Full, we headed back to the convention center for lot viewing at Bowers, where we found a whole new assortment of coins which were not exactly what we were looking for.

So we breezed through that, received one more very, very (very) good phone call and then headed back to the hotel, walking with the staff of Larry Whitlow Ltd., including our good friend Mike Printz who specifically requested that I mention him in this blog. So I have decided to include him in this paragraph right here.

Back at the hotel, Dave and I had just enough time to answer emails and, happily, sell a bunch of coins until it was time for a late dinner at our old haunt Pazo with a dealer friend.

Which turned out to be pretty good, as they seem to have now re-modified their menu, reverting back to the way it used to be when we liked it. And so we liked it again.

Tomorrow the fun begins at the crack of 8:00 AM, as the convention opens for dealer set up and we get to try out our shiny new table for the first time.

And if the day and a half we’ve been here so far is any indication, it’s going to be a really, really good show.

Day 3:

The good news is that our new booth is just a few steps to the left of the entrance to the bourse floor, meaning that our black & white Coin Rarities Online banner would be plainly visible to the throng of visitors pouring through the door on dealer set up day.

The bad news was that not that many people actually showed up today, and so we didn’t get the full-on impact of our A+ location. For whatever reason, it was sort of a slow day, with a frankly disappointing level of sales. I don’t know why.

On the other hand, we bought a number of incredibly cool, mostly rare and generally expensive colonials which our customers are really going to dig (and which we never would have expected to find here), split a medium-sized collection of federal coins with a couple of other dealers and brought home one huge, wickedly rare coin which will not be on our site. Ever.

We also submitted a lot of coins to PCGS and got a couple of good (i.e. accurate) results back, giving us some confidence that we will receive enough useful results to make grading worthwhile at the show (and that’s not always the case).

The rest of the day consisted of walking around in a gigantic continuous loop from table to table seeking out cool things to buy, talking to dealer friends we hadn’t seen in a while and generally shooting the numismatic bull.

In our travels we also saw a concentration of CAC stickered coins in the sponsoring dealers’ cases and a smattering elsewhere, mostly nice pieces (though I would frankly say that the proportion of CAC coins we like seems to be much higher in some series – like $20 Libs – than it is in others – like colonials, or Draped Bust Half Dollars). In conversations with other dealers, there also seems to still be a lack of clear understanding of exactly what the sticker is supposed to signify (PQ? Merely solid for the grade? Etc.).

Whatever it means, CRO’s approach to the sticker is quite simple: We will buy CAC stickered coins if we like them and the price is right, and we won’t buy them if we don’t and it isn’t (which come to think of it is exactly the way we’ve always bought coins).

Anyway, that was about it for today, as we ducked out early for dinner at Morton’s with the dealer who sold us a bunch of that cool stuff we mentioned earlier.

Friday the public arrives, which means (we hope) a sharp increase in traffic, and a whole bunch of people who will see the CRO banner as they enter the room and then magically gravitate toward our table.

Who knows, maybe you’ll be one of them.

Leap Day:

Remember the slow sales we were talking about yesterday? Well today they got better. A lot better.

And it started pretty early, included coins in all categories, and continued pretty much all day (except during lunch).

We sold a few pieces of early copper, a bunch of cool colonials, some nifty silver and, all of a sudden, one heavy-duty territorial.

And the buying continued apace, as we picked up another fantastic and very rare colonial (one of 19 now known of the issue) and a smattering of neat, affordable coins, including one purchased primarily so we could write an ad about it. Seriously.

But one of the esoteric coins we had committed to buy yesterday got uncommitted real fast when it got rejected by the grading service as NG. As in No Good. Fake. Counterfeit. Bogus. And while that was interesting, it was also terrifying, as several of us looking at it (and a bunch of other dealers experienced in this area who saw it) thought it was as real as can be, and only a few wondered if it was a little too good to be true. Which it was. Highlighting once again that the services’ guarantee of authenticity is a pretty handy thing.

We also got a ton of grading submissions back today, with many fair and useful ones mixed in with a few cold slaps in the numismatic face. I guess they do that to make sure you’ll really appreciate the good grades when you get them. And we do.

So that just left dinner, which tonight was at ‘The Wharf Rat’ (a bar I’ve passed by 100 times over the last few years in Baltimore and always wondered about), with a client and dealer friend, a whole bunch of weird beer and a gigantic taco salad. I know that doesn’t seem like a good combination, but I’m proud to say that I made it work.

Anyway, tomorrow we enter the home stretch and hope for some continuing sales mojo this weekend, though we honestly expect the crowds to thin out dramatically come Saturday afternoon.

But whatever happens, you’ll be able to read all about it right here.

Day 5:

Saturday was a little like Friday, as sales continued to be strong, our final grading results came through in fine fashion and we bought a few more interesting pieces primarily in the esoteric category.

Until about 4:30 PM that is, when the place started to clear out and 150 coin dealers dashed for the exit like those huge herds of Wildebeest you see on old episodes of Wild Kingdom.

But we were not among them, as we smartly arranged to stay until the absolute bitter end on Sunday.

Which meant that we had plenty of time to get ourselves organized in relaxing fashion, collate a ream and a half of paperwork and then sit around and chat with a few other dealers and straggler collectors as the day wound down. Sort of the numismatic equivalent of having a doctor-recommended ‘cool down’ period after exercise (as opposed to an abrupt and sudden stop to coin dealering, which can be an unhealthy shock to the numismatic system).

As of the end of day, our sales tally was inching into the solid A range, with some notable pieces placed with collectors and one fantastical coin sold to another dealer, which is good, though we’d certainly prefer to place our primo coins with collectors who will like them (and, as a result, us) and may one day sell them back to us. I fully expect to see that coin back on the market, possibly upgraded, likely at 50% more than our ask, and what could still be a pretty good deal for the eventual buyer.

We ended our night not at Pazo, but instead at the Sushi Bar across from our hotel where Dave set what may be a new record for Unagi consumption, and I drank just enough sake to make writing this blog impossible last evening, which is why I am doing it now at 6:00 AM on Sunday.

Speaking of which, I think it will almost certainly be a ghost town in the convention center today, which means that if anything really cool shows up Dave and I will probably get a shot to buy it (since we will literally be the last guys left).

You’ll find out if that happens in tomorrow’s Road Report.

The Exciting Conclusion:

Well, we weren’t the only people on the bourse floor on Sunday, but about 75% of the dealers had vamoosed and the collector traffic could be best described as ‘hardly anyone was here’.

In total, I found myself wishing that I had either stayed in bed, or gotten up early, gone immediately and directly to the airport and boarded a flight home in time to play with the kids and say hi to my wife.

But of course I did neither. Which left Dave and me a good, long day to slowly pack up our things, leisurely-like mail a few boxes, shoot the bull with even more dealers and buy a grand total of 2 coins for about $900.

We sold one sort of medium-sized coin late in the day and did one wholesale deal with one specialist dealer and that was it – though there was one fleeting moment where it looked like something big might happen.

That would have been at about 2 PM, when an elderly couple came to the table, asked sheepishly how they could determine the value of some ‘Dahlonega coins’ they had inherited and then proceeded to reach into a bag (as imaginary dramatic music started to play in my head) and pull out a coin which I could tell from the reverse was in an old green label PCGS holder.

“Hmmmm”, I thought to myself, “these nice people are now going to pull out a collection of hundreds of lovely original gold coins and I am going to be rewarded for hanging out here all-day on Sunday instead of going home, playing with the kids and saying hi to my wife.”

But it wasn’t to be. They had just a few coins which were decent, but not great, and so we gave them input about realistic values, answered their questions about how auctions work, and ultimately directed them to the Heritage table.

I remained convinced, however, that one day a gigantic deal will walk up to the table and much joy will be had by all. Just not today.

We headed off to the airport a bit later so that Dave could catch his flight and arrive at home before my flight even left, which would explain why I am still sitting here at BWI waiting for the last flight out, cleverly booked by me weeks ago to depart at a time that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever and which must have been the result of either my serious confusion about the schedule, or an errant click (or twelve) of the mouse button while I was trolling the Travelocity site.

Overall, and despite a slow Sunday, things were good in Baltimore. We sold plenty, bought some spectacular coins and are looking forward to the next adventure, which will be typed about right here in this space as soon as it happens.