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Back to Road Report Archive 2009

January 29-February 7, 2009: The Long Beach Coin & Currency Expo

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Day 1:

Unbelievably, our LB show is starting today(!), as we head across the country for some customer meetings, followed by a metric ton of lot viewing, a spate of auctions and, eventually, the show itself (which doesn’t even begin until a week from today).

But we aren’t complaining.

First of all, the weather sucks in New England at this time (unless you like ice dams on your roof – then it’s perfect), and any excuse to get the heck out of there is welcome.

Second, what could possibly be better than buying, selling, discussing, drooling over, flipping, grading, studying and generally reveling in rare coins?  Exactly.  Nothing at all.

Particularly these days, when you can’t turn on a TV or radio without getting blasted by non-stop discussions about layoffs and Rod Blagojevich.

And, in times like this, a fun diversion into hobbies is just what the doctor ordered.

Which is what we hope to provide in our daily Road Reports from the left coast, sprinkled with current market dynamics delivered straight from the horse’s (i.e. Dave’s) mouth, unvarnished, in typical CRO we-call-’em-as-we-see-’em fashion.

So stay tuned for that.

Day 2:

If you like coins, Friday was a really good day, as we had a lot of cool ones spread out all over the unusually high kitchen counter in my not-especially-luxurious hotel suite.  It was a little like viewing coins in an unpopular bar, which while not ideal, was better than doing it in the lobby.

Yes – it was customer meeting time here in California, as we haggled, traded, bought and sold coins over a few leisurely hours before heading for lunch in the mid-afternoon.  At which time the restaurant here was closed, relegating us to the lobby lounge in which we were the only diners in an almost entirely empty room with no windows.  Imagine the ambiance!

But despite the setting, it was a lot of fun, with some serious and some amusing conversation about coins and non-coins too.

Once concluded, I headed out to lock up the coins, then went back up to the room to do paperwork, answer emails and make a bunch of phone calls before dinner.

But I ended up crashing unceremoniously on the couch at about 6 PM instead.

And I might well have slept straight through ’til morning if not for the gracious hotel staff who delivered a complimentary fruit plate (with a bottle of Cognac!) to my room at about 7 PM by bursting through the door unannounced (i.e. without knocking or anything).

And while I like a complimentary fruit plate and some Cognac as much as you do, I was very pleased that they didn’t burst in when I was doing anything either highly secretive or terribly embarrassing (or both).  Phew.

Tomorrow the auction-related activities begin, as Dave arrives and we head off to what we expect to be packed lot viewing at Goldberg’s, followed by a special Goldberg dinner event at Morton’s with a number of other dealers, lots of collectors, and, very possibly, more Cognac.

And we will describe the goings on in vivid detail, right here, tomorrow.

Day 3:

Is there anything more inconvenient than switching from one hotel room to another in the middle of your stay?

There probably is, but I cannot think of it right now.  You see I had a suite for the first couple of days of my stay here so that I could meet people in my room without having them sit on my bed (as an aside, I remember being at a sales meeting years ago when about 5 of us were sitting on the CFO’s bed in a hotel working out some new pricing model.  I vowed then that I would never, ever do that again under any circumstances, and I’m proud to say that I haven’t).  But now that my meetings were over, I figured I’d move to a regular room and save myself the extra $100 a day.  Hey, why not?

Which required me checking out, hauling my stuff to the bellman, checking back into a new room and generally wasting about an hour in the process.

But once done, I was ready to head down the block to Goldberg’s for my first look at the Naftzger, March Wells and other items in their two phonebook-sized (but not big phonebooks) catalogs.

Upon arrival, it was pretty crowded, with most (but not all – some were conspicuously absent) of the usual suspects poring through the nice copper, apparently as slowly as possible.  Seriously.  If you’re in a hurry at one of these copper auctions, you’re pretty much out of luck, as these guys can spend an unbelievably long time looking at each coin.  I don’t fault them, of course – they should take whatever time they need to feel comfortable with what they’re looking at.  I just prefer not to be behind them in the lot viewing queue.

But eventually I saw everything that I needed to, including a slew of really amazing copper in the Naftzger consignment in all sorts of mega-grades certainly destined to bring new record prices.  Still, as I went through them there were many instances in which I preferred the coin(s) graded 65 to one in 66, for example.  And based on my discussions with other collectors and dealers present, that was not an uncommon view on a number of the pieces, and may very well be reflected in some seemingly counter-intuitive auction results on Sunday.

And then Dave arrived from airport in the mid-afternoon and went through all of the same pieces much more quickly in the now far less crowded room.  Which left us a bit of time to compare notes and hone our bidding list before we had to head back to the hotel and get ready for the Goldberg function at Morton’s.

And that was terrific, with about 50 collectors and dealers hosted by the Goldberg’s and wined and dined in impressive (and much appreciated) fashion.

Which ended on the late side, but not so late that we didn’t finish the day in the lounge at the hotel shooting the numismatic bull with a collector friend.

Sunday cannot help but be action packed, as we’ll have the Naftzger and March Wells auctions, the latter finishing up as the Super Bowl is already underway in Tampa.  Which means that tomorrow’s RR will probably feature some good stories about multi-tasking.

Until then –

Day 4:

Good morning everyone – it is now 4:31 AM Beverly Hills time, I am feeling good after 4 hours of restful sleep, and it is time to write the blog!

And, of course, there is a lot to write about, since Sunday was Naftzger Auction day at Goldberg’s, with 476 deluxe middle date Large Cents which everyone knew would sell for strong money in any economy.  The question was how strong would strong be?

The answer turned out to be ‘Very’.

Most anything rare, or condition census, or with considerable mint red on it sold for a ton to a wide variety of dealers and collectors in the room, on the phones, and very occasionally on the internet.

Our first bid was on lot #2, the MS64 RD 1816 N2.  We liked it as a first year type coin and thought $12,000 hammer might be close (on a coin available in pleasing 64 RB for about $2,000, but never, ever seen in full RD).  And actually our bid was close, losing to a specialist collector by one increment (though we suspect he would have gone much higher had it been necessary).

The first really big number was the $110,000 hammer on lot #139, the first of two superb 1823 N-2s in the sale.  This was the MS65 coin, which many of us actually preferred to the MS66 example coming up next in the catalog (including the catalogers themselves, apparently, who chose to put the MS65 coin and not the 66 on the cover).

We actually thought the 65 had a chance to sell for more than the 66, but we were wrong, as that one hammered for juuuuuust a tick higher at $260,000.

Which left me wondering several things:

  1. Did the catalogers determine the lot sequence (and the cover coin) before they got the PCGS grades back?  That seemed possible, since in most every other case the “best” example of each coin (and there were multiple examples of many) was listed first.  And this is how most catalogers do it, letting everyone fight it out for the best coin, and then letting this inevitably high result influence the price of the next one(s).
  2. Would the 65 coin have sold for more if the 66 coin was auctioned first?  I’d say it almost certainly would have, since the immediate reaction after the 66 hammered for 260K was for a bunch of guys to jokingly ask if we could reopen the now seemingly very cheap MS65 lot.  The specialist dealer who bought it was not amused.
  3. Would anyone viewing these coins have considered lot #140 to be more than twice as valuable as lot #139?  The answer to that has to be no (with the possible exception of an extremely devout Registry collector).  If regraded, the 65 might be a 66 on a different day.  And vice versa.

Anyway, enough about that.

The rest of the coins went consistently well and occasionally wild, with certain results really notable in my mind.

Lot #398, the MS65 RD 1837 N16 being a good example.  Some of us thought the color was real, some of us didn’t, but the eventual buyer (a well known dealer who knows real red when he sees it) liked it enough to pay $31,000 hammer.  Indicating, once again, that old red copper coins are strongly in demand.

And then we came to lot #437, the amazing MS65 1839/6 (also plated on the catalog cover).  Which slowly made it’s way up from the mid 5 figures to well north of $200,000 over several minutes.  Which seemed like fair value in my mind, given that there is nothing else like it, and someone will always want to own it.

That was it for Naftzger, leading us directly (after a dinner break) into the March Wells sale of early copper.  These were in a very different category – not condition census material (by and large), just wholesome, choice coins including a very nice run of 1794 Cents and some lovely Classic Heads.

We liked a lot of these, and we formulated strong bids on nearly 2 dozen coins.  But we managed not to buy any at all in a session in which many sold for double our max bid, indicating that people are actively buying nice coins (and not just the once-in-a-lifetime type things in sales like Naftzger) for strong prices.

And with that, I headed out to catch the 2nd half of the Super Bowl (which turned out to be well worth the effort), leaving Dave to do the heavy lifting in the auction room.

Tomorrow we’ll be viewing, bidding and driving, as we head on down to Long Beach to get a jump on the Heritage sale.

Day 5:

Monday began back in the almost full Goldberg auction room, as we had a few bids in the morning on some nice type (and no bids at all on the other 98% of the coins in the session which were tired, cruddy, overgraded, etc.).  But again, even on things that weren’t once in a lifetime pieces (or pedigreed to Ted Naftzger, for example), prices on the small number of coins we wanted were really, really high.  Which meant we were swamped on most of them.

But that’s OK – can’t win ‘em all, and it doesn’t do us much good to buy anything for more money than we would want to sell it for, so we headed out to view lots at the Superior sale being shown up the road.

And we found a couple of interesting pieces there in a very thin catalog which was half coins and half rocks.  Seriously.  We’re not sure what exactly is going on these days, but it seems like every time you turn around someone is conducting an auction of brightly colored minerals.

And while this must have geologists rejoicing, it wasn’t for us, so we headed out to Goldberg’s, picked up our coins, left our bids for the evening gold session with a dealer friend and headed down to Long Beach to get a jump on Heritage viewing starting tomorrow.

Which was a real good plan, except that we did not realize that Heritage wasn’t even here yet.  Instead, the hotel and the convention center were swarming with hair dressers here for the International Salon & Spa Expo.

And while this might sound intriguing, in reality it meant that every third person had blue (actually purple) hair, and every single person we saw all day was wearing tight, all black clothing.

As you can imagine, Dave and I fit right in.

So we opted for dinner here at the hotel, and then worked on our inventory in the early evening before crashing at about 11.

Tuesday we’ll (we hope) be lot viewing and working on the website.  We do not plan to get haircuts, but we reserve the right to do so if we see an especially exciting opportunity.

Day 6:

The first item on Tuesday’s agenda would be Heritage lot viewing.  But since they wouldn’t be set up and ready for us until about 11, that left plenty of time this AM to answer Email, work on our next ad, talk to a couple of customers on the phone, possibly sell two expensive colonials, watch CNN, and generally screw around.

But eventually it was time to meet Dave in the lobby and walk over to the convention center, during which we saw 41,337 red and black TED banners hanging from street lamps and on buildings throughout the city (for the ‘Technology. Entertainment. Design.’ conference going on at the same time as the coin show here in LB).

And while normally we wouldn’t particularly care what other events were taking place during a coin show (since there is generally at least one other convention going on in most of the convention centers we frequent as we travel the coin circuit from city to city), this one scares me.

First of all, it’s apparently huge – so big that it is being held all over town in multiple venues.  Second, some heavyweight guys will apparently be here, including people like Bill Gates (who I am guessing generates a massive geek-following wherever he goes).  Third, some of the roads in and around the convention center will apparently be closed over the next several days.  And finally, we’ve been told that nearly every restaurant in town is already booked for the rest of the week.

Which means there should be a ton of TED attendees, and media, and all sorts of other traffic which will likely make it either very difficult or impossible (or possibly just a big pain in the butt) for a regular old coin collector to actually get here.

So, let’s hope I’m wrong.

Anyway, we did eventually get to Heritage viewing, where we found a bunch of familiar dealer faces already poring through coin boxes.

And we joined them, but not with very high expectations.

Watching this sale build online on the Heritage site over the previous weeks, we didn’t see a great many really sexy or interesting coins – just a couple of things here and there.  But when viewing everything in hand, we were surprised that we liked quite a few of them, and over the course of 4 or 5 hours of viewing we compiled a list of at least several dozen pieces to bid on.

And, even though the market for some stuff is definitely down, I’d be willing to bet that every one of these we’ll be strongly contested, and I’ll be stunned if we’re able to buy more than a few.

Anyway, viewing completed, we headed out to a sensible dinner with a dealer friend which ran pretty late.  Which is why this blog is being written on Wednesday AM.

Our next RR will describe what happens next, including the all-important dealer set-up, during which we hope to sell some cool coins.  Possibly to Bill Gates.

Day 7:

Wednesday in summary form:

We had another not-that-early start, allowing time for leisurely blog writing and CRO ad finalizing before breakfast.

We needed only a last few additional minutes of lot viewing at Heritage, which we zipped through efficiently at 11 AM.

We had a pleasant outdoor lunch with a couple of dealers we don’t normally have lunch with.

It appeared to me that the throng of people waiting to get into the bourse floor at 2 PM for dealer set-up was not as big as it was at some previous LB shows.

I was surprised that we didn’t see more cool coins on the bourse floor.  In fact (and this might sound self-serving, though I believe it to be true), the coolest stuff I saw was ours.

But we still managed to buy quite a few neat things on the floor.

Someone walked off with all of our booth chairs during the course of the afternoon, indicating that regardless of the state of the coin market, you’ve really got to keep an eye on these people.

We submitted a bunch of pent up grading, resulting in a hand cramp from filling out a big pile of grading forms as quickly as possible.  I doubt that will help the results though.

We sold a few inexpensive things during the afternoon, and have one high five figure item ‘in-play’.

Had dinner by the harbor and ate too much.

Thursday marks the first full day of the show with actual attendance by members of the collecting public, so we look forward to seeing some familiar faces at the table.

And it’s also the kick-off of the Heritage colonial session at 1 PM, in which we will be active bidders on a bunch of stuff.  How successful we are will be reported here, in this space, 24 hours from now.

Day 8:

There was some interesting market information on Thursday in the Heritage 1 PM colonial auction session, so I thought I’d devote today’s RR to this topic.

First, the room was about typically full, and all of the typically seen suspects were there in person or were being represented.  But the results were not that typical at all:

Lot #2, the Oak Tree Shilling, Noe 4 variety in an NGC 63 holder, realized $21,850, as compared (according the Heritage archives) to the $29,900 it brought in February 2006, and the $23,000 it brought in May 2008.  So the 3 year trend on this item looks slightly like a ski slope.   What is not shown on the Heritage site is that this coin originally brought ‘only’ $18,400 in the Ford sale in October 2005, making the ski slope look a little more like a glacial moraine.  Also, it is interesting to note that this coin was purchased at the Ford sale by our very own Dave Wnuck, who did so by mistake while really meaning to bid on a different lot (hey it does happen occasionally).  But in those heady days of rising prices, all you had to do was slab a coin and consign it to the next auction to make an outsized profit.

Lot #9, a pleasant looking St. Patrick Farthing in a PCGS XF40 holder brought $9,775.  That ties the highest price ever realized for a coin in this grade matching the $9,775 for a different coin in September 2006.  What may not be known is that the coin sold in 2006 was significantly better, and immediately upgraded to XF45 back then.  So by all accounts, Thursday’s result was a very strong one.

Lot #17, a 1724 Hibernia Halfpenny in an NGC MS64 holder, brought $948.75, a surprising result given this coin’s history.  Our story begins in January 2005, when this same piece sold raw for $1,840 as lot #88 in the Ford sale.  It next appeared in Heritage’s July 2008 auction in a PCGS AU58 holder and realized $1,955.  Nothing unusual there.  And then it was ‘upgraded’ from PCGS AU58 to NGC MS64, losing much of its originality and half of its value in a little more than 6 months.  I’m not sure what that tells us other than that upgrading a colonial from an original PCGS 58 to a less original NGC 64 might not be the best profit maximizing strategy at this point.

Lot #64, a 1773 Virginia Halfpenny in a PCGS MS65RB holder ex-Ford, brought a robust $4,600.  This was a very nice example of this issue on an unusually broad planchet with full denticles on both sides, which may explain why it brought a new record price for one of these – more than double the $2,070 it brought in the Ford sale in January 2005.

Lot #87, a Vermont Baby Head in a PCGS VF20 holder, sold for $2,530.  As compared to the $4,312.50 this exact same coin brought in January 2007.

Lot #95, a 1787 Fugio Copper in a PCGS MS65 holder, brought a very robust $11,500.  That coin was decent, but nothing spectacular, yet still managed to set what I believe is a new record price for a coin in this grade level (by nearly 20%).

Lot #117, a striking 1783 Washington Draped Bust Restrike in silver in a PCGS PF65CAM holder with a CAC sticker, realized $8,050.  That’s quite a bit less than the $9,775 this same coin brought in January 2008 as a PF65 without the CAM designation or the CAC sticker.

What can we conclude from all of this?  I have several thoughts:

1.  On balance, I thought this session was stronger than the FUN show auction.

2.  It’s getting quite a bit harder to predict prices in these sessions, even if you have the amount of historical information and background knowledge of the coins that we do.

3.  It appears that the coins are generally (but not in every case) selling for what they are actually worth in today’s market, and that, at least in the colonial realm, the holder grades, CAM designations and CAC stickers are generally (but not in every case) not making much of a difference.  If true, I’d suggest that this is a positive development for people who collect coins, as opposed to plastic.

4.  Some people are continuing to pay strong money for the coins they really want, though they aren’t always picking the best pieces in our humble opinion.

So what does this mean for CRO?  It means we’ll be continuing the strategy that we have been using all along, trying hard to find nice, original coins and selling them to collectors who appreciate them as such, which we believe makes sense in any market environment.  Especially this one.

Tomorrow’s Road Report will focus mostly on what’s happening on the bourse floor, which has been pretty active so far.

The End.

Day 9:

Let’s talk about the bourse floor today.

Friday was a pretty busy day, with quite a bit of show traffic, including most of the usual suspects and a number of new faces all coming to the table and looking at all sorts of things.

But, like at FUN, a lot of the things we are selling are in the more moderate range, including some nice affordable type and colonials at the few hundred to several thousand dollar price points.

It wasn’t like people weren’t interested in the expensive stuff.  They were, including some superb early type and several seldom seen colonial issues we have at the table.  In particular, our NE Shilling certainly drew oohs and aahs from collectors and dealers alike, including even the most experienced numismatists who apparently don’t see one for sale that often.  But while we did sell one colonial coin for just under $100,000, and another in the low 5 five figures, there are just not a lot of people spending big money for fantastic coins at this time, no matter how fantastic they are.

Instead, most of the people interested in such items just decided that they weren’t comfortable making such a hefty purchase right now.

We did however receive a number of inquiries and proposals from various collectors to trade other coins for one or more of these big-ticket items (most of which were not of interest to us, but a few were compelling enough that we are seriously pondering them).  And while this always goes on to a certain extent, there is no question that it is more prevalent now than at anytime in the recent past, once again indicating to us that cash is tight (which is no great surprise for any of us who watch the news or read the paper).

Even taking all of this into consideration, I would say that the consensus view from other dealers we talked to was consistent with our own:  Sales so far at LB have generally exceeded most of our admittedly low expectations.  And, by most accounts, the market seems to be stronger than it was at FUN (which is not something we would have predicted at all).

Note though, that this is what we see from our vantage point (and have gleaned in conversations with other dealers).  Someone else in a different specialty, or set-up on the other side of the room (or at a different show in some other state) may have a totally different perspective.  Which is why we would not advise anyone to draw any sweeping conclusions based on one show, or one show report.

But it wasn’t all serious market analysis on Friday – there was also the fun bourse conversations and sightings.

Such as the appearance of at least one former NBA star and one well-known 80’s rocker at the show today.

And then there was the collector who stopped by to tell us how much he enjoys these blogs, though I don’t think he said it just to be mentioned in this sentence (since he insisted on remaining anonymous).  But I told him I would, and so I did.

But the most interesting interaction was with the man who stopped by our table with a black tee shirt with the word “ANARCHY!” printed on it.  Perhaps I showed my age (or my questionable taste in music) when I said to him “Cool – is that a Sex Pistols shirt?

He responded: “Um, no.  ‘Anarchy’ is the name of a winery.

Oh well.

But while we missed the boat on that one, not so for some of our purchases from the show, which we stumbled upon serendipitously (as opposed to specifically seeking out).

For instance I found a realy nice colonial while dropping off a coin at another dealer’s table.  And John bought a beautiful foreign coin he spotted in some unknown guy’s case as he walked to the snack bar.

Yet when we methodically went up and down the aisles looking for such coins we both came up dry for new purchases.  Fate is a fickle mistress, I guess.  And once again we have seen that this is an amazingly inefficient business in which buyers and sellers may not find each other (unless they take a particular route to the snack bar).

But it seemed to work out for us in this case, contributing to a pretty good Friday.

Our last day out here is tomorrow, and so we’ll be recapping that and offering some final thoughts about the LB show in this space in just about 24 hours from now.

The Exciting Conclusion:

Truth be told, it wasn’t that exciting.  Rather it was sort of a typical Saturday in LB, with mostly families and visitors looking around, and not too many serious transactions taking place (at our table or anywhere else that we could see).  In fact, in all the years we’ve been coming here, we’re hard pressed to think of a single major transaction that we’ve done on a Saturday at this show.

Usually it’s a lot of sitting and waiting, then collecting a few last checks and some final grading submissions, packing up and heading out to catch our flights.  And that’s what happened on this day.

Lack of Saturday fireworks aside, the show was pretty decent for us overall, which meant that it was, as reported here earlier, better than we expected.  Considerably.  And that’s encouraging.

Also encouraging are the cool NEWPs we have from the show (and before) which we will be unleashing in a new EB on Tuesday.  Contained within will be all sorts of interesting things from the low hundred dollar range to a max of $335,000.  So there should literally be something for everyone (unless you had your heart set on spending more than $335,000 for a single coin, in which case we cannot help you).

Looking ahead, our next scheduled event is not until the ANA in Portland in March, but that doesn’t mean we’ll be hanging out in the office in the meantime.  We have several trips planned to meet with customers this month, and if all goes well we’ll have some very cool new stuff to offer in future EBs that has not been on the market in years.  And when we say years, we mean Y-E-A-R-S.

So you might want to keep an eye out for that.