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Back to Road Report Archive 2007

January 1-6, 2007: The FUN Show in Orlando, FL


Day 1:

Our story begins early, no, very early, on New Year’s Day, as we catch our flights from a medium-sized ice storm in New England to 82 degree Orlando.

Flights are pretty full on this day, suggesting that we are not the only idiots who eschewed late night revelry and woke up really early to get down here on the holiday, and we did see one or two other coinites en route. The flight itself is nice, especially if you like screaming children behind you who repeatedly open and close the folding tray-table 865 times in 3 hours.

Also of note on the trip were my efforts to transport the Coin Rarities Online show banner in a 44″ long Cabela’s fishing rod case. I’d post the details about that, but I’m still too aggravated about it and need a day or two to recover.

Anyway, on the agenda today: Lot viewing, and plenty of it. Dave had already gone down to Dallas for some viewing in December, but this was my first chance to see everything.

Viewing at Heritage was at the Convention Center, as usual. We were surprised to get there and discover that the room was pretty empty. I sat down, listed my boxes of interest and received all of them, in sequence with no waiting. Hmmm.

Most of what I saw was pretty tired looking, with just a few cool coins mixed in and sure to get plenty of bidding attention.

As an aside, and interesting to me, was that the Troy Wiseman coins in this session, along with others, are being sold sans reserve. Zippo. Nada. I guess we’ll see how well that works out for him and the other consignors, some of whom purchased these coins within the last 18 months at prices which are in many cases matters of public record.

But back to viewing – this time, different than at other shows or Heritage viewing sessions, was the dedicated ‘Platinum Night’ viewing area behind a velvet rope with a bouncer. We speculated that this was either a security precaution, or a marketing concept to extend the Platinum exclusivity to the viewing room, but in either case it was interesting.

I think we were there 2 hours, then rocketed over to the Stack’s and Superior viewing over at the Renaissance Sea-World where we found a slightly larger crowd which probably made sense since this auction would be kicking off earlier on Tuesday.

So we viewed, and discussed lots, compared notes, talked to customers and dodged unhappy Arkansas Razorback fans streaming through the hotels who were unable to contain their disappointment over yesterday’s local loss to Wisconsin as signified by some cute cheerleader type disgustedly firing her pom-pons into a trash can and narrowly missing our own Dave Wnuck.

And they say numismatics is dull? Ha.

Day 2:

OK – lets cut right to the chase. Today’s big event was actually a non-event – the non-sale of the Eliasberg-Legend 1913 Liberty Nickel.

The coin went off as the last lot in the Stack’s sale this afternoon, not with a bang, but a whimper. Now, we could say we were there and witnessed the whole thing, but we were actually in the rental car at the time, getting hopelessly lost while attempting to drive from the sprawling Convention Center to the Renaissance Hotel where the auction was held to witness the historic event. Hey, these roads down here are complicated. So this portion of the recap is second hand, which is, admittedly, totally lame.

Anyway, the coin opened at $4.5 million (with an ‘m’) with a somewhat timid “We’ll take anything over $4.5, anyone?” query by Chris Karstadt. One apparent phone bidder was given a minute to consider the offer, evidently declined, and that was it. Chris concluded with a cheery “Better luck next time!” and just like that this event was over.

So why didn’t it sell? And what does it mean?

Well, we don’t know for sure, but we can say with some confidence that $5 million+ is what economists call a ‘boatload’ of money and there evidently aren’t that many people on this particular planet chucking that much dough around for rare coins.

But there will be a buyer at a bit less we suspect – as there always seems to be someone out there chasing these mega-rarities, and that ain’t likely to stop now.

As for the impact of this result on the market, our view is that it doesn’t help. Mega-rarities have about as much in common with regular old coins as Ferraris do with our 1973 Coin Rarities Online Ford LTD Wagon – but this non-sale does have an undeniable psychological impact on the coin market. Some kind of new record Tyrannosaurus price would have created a euphoric halo on the enormously swelled head of numismatics, a highly publicized non-sale is certainly a deflating kick-off to 2007.

Many other items went unsold in the Stack’s sale, but frankly they were largely lousy coins and thus not much of a barometer of anything in our unsolicited opinion. The Heritage results over the next few days will be more telling – and we’ll reserve judgement until we see more data.  Our prediction is that the good coins will still go absolutely nuts. N-U-T-S.

So what else happened today?

We viewed more lots, calculated every last bid and ate quite well, thank you.

So far, we have purchased exactly 0 coins at the Stack’s auction, which is not terribly surprising considering that we didn’t bid on a single lot.

Tomorrow we should have plenty to say, as we’ll have multiple Heritage sessions and dealer set up.  Until then –

Day 3:

Fasten your blog seat belts people, Day 3 was A-C-T-I-O-N P-A-C-K-E-D.

We attended hours of auctions, bought many coins (and witnessed some simply startling prices) at Heritage, sold a bunch of stuff, set up our table and new enormous Coin Rarities Online banner (check it out!) at the show, ate a 5 course Japanese meal and got completely exhausted in the process.

Let’s start with the beginning.

I woke up around 4 AM to the sound of someone across the hall from me in the hotel apparently testing the volume limits of their RCA color television. I’m at the Rosen Centre here in Orlando and, while I am admittedly not an expert in hotel construction, I’d say that they could benefit from some additional in-wall sound insulation in this building.

Anyway, after working here in the hotel for a few hours we decided to head over to the Convention Center-Zoo at about 11 AM for some final lot viewing before the 2 PM auction kick-off. While the crowds were sparse on Monday and merely regular on Tuesday, it was Tokyo-subway SRO on Wednesday with every viewing seat packed and tempers short as everyone waited for the last frickin’ lot box they needed. As an aside, I’m always amused in these situations where everyone is viewing coins to be ready for the same auction and yet some people try to invoke the ‘I’m in a hurry’ excuse in order to get their lots first. My advice in these situations: Chill.

Saw lot of dealer and collector friends in the process, most of whom were in reasonably good cheer and still talking about that absurd ending to the Boise State – Oklahoma game.

Finally rolled into the typically one-third full Heritage auction room at 2 PM for some 270 lots of colonial coins, neatly timed to conflict perfectly with dealer set-up on the bourse floor. That’s not cool IMO, but at least for us I was able to attend the auction upstairs while Dave went to the show one level down.

In general, Heritage colonial prices were robust, with some of the fresher better coins going crazy (literally) and some of the tired overgraded stuff languishing – but even some coins in the last group did just fine.

The session contained the Troy Wiseman colonials, most of which were purchased in the last 18 months and had appeared in relatively recent auctions. They weren’t fresh in other words. Also in the session were coins from ‘The Jones Beach Collection’ which had been purchased by the owner largely in the 2000 – 2002 era and, while they were generally traceable to earlier auctions, they were ‘fresher’. Plus some assorted other coins including a few of ours.

We had some 15 bids for items for inventory at what we thought were very healthy levels but left with 8 coins.

Of note were a few heady results:

Lot 155, a nice NJ ‘Head Left’ variety, apparently not from either of the collections described above, and housed in a non-descript NGC XF40 holder, beat all pre-sale estimates (in the same sense that the Bears beat the Patriots in the 1985 Super Bowl) and sold to a book bidder at $27,600 all-in.

Lot 202, an overgraded and uninspiring Fugio Restrike (a Copper Restrike!) in a PCGS MS66 BN holder sold for $9,775.

Lot 217, a pleasing (for the issue) Mott Token ‘Engrailed Edge’ variety set a new record for the type at a high altitude $13,800.

I think if you had mentioned these prices to Joe Colonial Collector in the year 2000 (particularly that Fugio Copper Restrike result) he would have laughed directly into your numismatic face, then fainted.

Anyway, after about 2 hours of good fun I headed on down to the bourse just in time to catch Dave multi-tasking, selling 2 coins to a collector while buying another and attempting to stand on a rickety bourse chair and hang our new banner (note this is the second plug for our banner in this report).

We actually did some business for an hour or so, submitted a few coins to PC, cranked through the bourse floor and then noticed that it was 5:55 PM and time to sprint back up to the auction room for Platinum Night at 6 PM. So I did.

Pretty much more of the same kinds of coins in this group from the same sources, but obviously at higher price levels (in general), and playing to a nearly full room of bidders this time.

In what will become a familiar theme in everyone’s show recaps, the good coins went nuts, the average coins did OK, and most (but not all) of the conserved and overgraded coins languished with a capital L.

Of note:

Lot 7022, the unusual and unusually nice Elephant Token ‘Diagonals’ variety in an NGC MS61 holder saw incredibly broad-based support from all sorts of bidders, including speculators, colonial specialists, Registry collectors and dealers alike and finally succumbed at $69,000 all-in.

Lot 7024, the second of two 1723 Hibernia Farthings in silver, sold for $13,800. This was a nice result, considering that it was our coin and had been on our website for 2 months priced at $11,000. But if people prefer to pay more at auction, that is their prerogative.

Lot 7046, the Albany Church Penny, PCGS VF35, saw similarly enthusiastic and broad support and finally landed at $74,750. This same coin had last sold in the May, 2004 Ford sale, raw, for $32,200. The result was strong but perhaps not surprising considering that this was the first example of this type ever sold publicly (EVER) in a slab.

Tomorrow will be a full day of bourse fun and we’ll look forward to recapping it when it’s done.

Day 4:

After waking up at 5:30 AM, I spent day 4 on the bourse floor, all day, with not even a lunch break, had dinner, went back to the auctions and got back to the hotel at well after midnight. Frankly, I am exhausted.

But it’s been worth it. Sales at the show have been quite strong, with the majority of our early silver and gold inventory now gone. The single most expensive coin we had remaining was our $50 slug, and that sold in the mid-afternoon at our asking price.

We also bought a really interesting small collection this afternoon including one piece that I had heard about, but never seen and always wondered if it truly existed. It does. And it will be on our site sometime next week.

We also spent hours (literally) submitting new aquisitions at the PCGS table. Lines have been long there – perhaps as long as I’ve seen at any show – and the physical process of filling out forms on some of our more esoteric issues has been really time-consuming. We tend to submit the majority of our coins at shows (as opposed to by mail) and so we have come to Orlando with a bit of a backlog, but as of end of day we have just three more packages to go.

Friday we’ll hopefully have a lot of these new items back and on display, with an opportunity to satisfy what seems to be some genuinely enthusiastic demand.

By 7 PM we were dragging and went to dinner with some dealer friends who, as usual, managed to find some spectacular place. One thing I have learned on the coin show circuit is to eat light (or not at all) during the day since dinner is routinely spectacular.

We went straight from dinner back to the hopping Heritage gold session and bought a single rare $20 Lib at near midnight on behalf of a good client. In an active session with very strong prices, we were pleased to buy the coin at just 2 increments higher than our customer’s original planned high bid. The market is the market, and if he hadn’t been willing to stretch for that coin I am not sure when the next opportunity would come, or at what level.

Day 5 beckons – and you can read about it here in about 24 hours.

Day 5:

I got a pretty early start on Day 5, watching the movie Borat in my hotel room at 5:30 AM while updating our show finances on the computer here in the room. (I realize it would be more impressive if I said that I was watching Masterpiece Theater or something like that, but I wasn’t.)

Anyway, we got to the show at 8:30, got set up and then began scouring the bourse floor for interesting material.

Walking the floor looking for nice coins at the FUN show is not easy – partly because there aren’t that many really choice pieces, but mostly because dealers are arranged randomly, with a mix of specialties here, there and everywhere. We started at one end of the room and walked every row and looked over every table and poked around in dealer’s secret stashes hidden in the back cases for things that caught our eye as special, or unusually attractive or interesting that might appeal to our clientele and fit nicely onto this site.

It would be disingenuous to say there was nothing to buy, but we found precious few of the kinds of coins we are looking for. And when we did, the results were fascinating.

We bought two exceptional British coins from two different dealers – a 1754 Farthing and a 1774 Halfpenny in flaming, original, stunning, amazing gem unc., both in MS65 RD holders and looking every bit of that grade. We walked back to our table, placed them in the case and then had several people look at each and sold both within half an hour. We like to sell nice coins, but I must admit that we were really disappointed that we won’t get the chance to put those on our site.

And that’s pretty much how it went – we bought a few coins, sold a few more coins, and unless we identify some nice material today we are going to be heading home with significantly less inventory than when we started. Hard to complain when sales are strong.

We also received back the majority of our show submissions from PCGS and thought the grades were pretty tight. We try hard not to get caught up in too many grading gyrations or to obsess about whether a 200+ year old coin is a 62 or a 63 and I’m glad that’s the case, because otherwise one could spend the majority of the day cracking coins out of holders and resubmitting them. Frankly, that is not our definition of numismatics and it is not how we want to spend our time.

There will be just one more report from here before we hit the road for New England –

Day 6:

Sorry for the delay getting this last installment posted – I flew out on Saturday night and got back home at midnight feeling awfully tired and rundown. But now, laptop in front of the TV watching the Patriots, I can comfortably reflect on a record setting Saturday.

This was the first show in our experience where Saturday was our largest sales volume day of the show. But it was. We also sold the cool collection I hinted about in an earlier FUN recap, which was positive for business but sad since it won’t now make the website.

We got several of our coins back from PCGS and then sold those too, leaving us with a lean inventory position that was hardly by design. The good news is that with the NY show this week, several more auctions before month end and 2 collections in play, we are confident we’ll find some more choice coins to buy.

In all Saturday was hectic, as it usually is, getting everything packed up and reconciled and organized. It’s more hectic still when we are selling well in the midst of it, but we are not complaining.

As usual, we like to ship coins back rather than carry them, and based on the awful FUN robberies of the last couple of years that’s certainly something we’ll continue to do. But that then leads to other issues, such as having to wait in an interminable USPS line and deal with an incredibly cranky postal clerk using what seemed to be late 1970s vintage computer equipment in order mail anything. And that is to say nothing of the absurd shiny tape vs paper tape argument I witnessed while in the queue.

Even leaving the show with no coins in hand was disconcerting. There were some odd and out of place characters hanging around in the the sprawling Convention Center parking lot and I was reasonably sure they were ‘spotters’ for someone waiting on down the road.   There were police cars all over the place too, which was comforting – but they were all empty with police evidently inside the building at the time.  Driving out of the lot I couldn’t help but check the rear view mirror 700 times to see if we were being followed. I guess we weren’t.

Unless the security situation is addressed – aggressively – I have to believe that some of us in the dealer community will decide it’s just not worth the risk to attend. But enough about that.

In all, the show was terrific for us, and from our perspective the market for nice coins in our areas of specialization is stronger than ever.

We’ll be bidding on coins later today at the Heritage World session in NY, and then we’ll be in the city for the show later in the week. Which means I need to sign off now and get some rest, which will bring this series of FUN Recaps to a close.

I’ve had a lot of fun writing these, and hope you’ve enjoyed reading them.