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Back to Road Report Archive 2009

January 3-11, 2009: The FUN Show in Orlando, FL


The FUN Show Preview:

Good news everyone, I just finished packing and will soon be off to the airport.

But since it has been so long since our last Road Report (waaaay back in November of 2008 to be exact), I thought it would be a good idea to get the RR rust off by previewing some of the things we expect to do during the next week+ in Orlando.

So let’s get started:

  1. View about 15,000 auction lots, and then not bid anything at all on at least 14,935 of them.
  2. Eat at that Japanese restaurant on the strip no less than three (3) times, possibly ordering the ‘Shogun Dinner’ once.
  3. Drive a crappy rental car in an unpopular color.
  4. Catch up with all of our dealer friends who we haven’t seen since Baltimore.
  5. Make fun of Dave while he tries to hang two CRO banners while standing precariously on a rickety table.
  6. Get not more than 3 hours of sleep each night for the duration of the trip (which is pretty much how it always goes).
  7. Buy at least one thing for yours truly.
  8. Fight through waves of tourists in the hotel lobby, a large number of whom will be in some sort of school group, will be carrying large instrument cases and will be attempting to do something at the front desk that takes forever and forces all of the people who just need another room key or forgot their toothpaste to stand there, like an idiot, for about 45 minutes.
  9. Finalize the purchase of a big-time deal.
  10. Submit (almost) one gazillion pent-up grading submissions we have been accumulating for the last 45 days.

That’s about it.  Our next RR will be in earnest, as we will actually be in FL at that time.

Day 1:

We assumed this would be an action packed and very long day, but it didn’t turn out that way.  Why not?  Let’s find out . . .

Things started just fine, as we loaded up the car at 9 AM and cruised over to “The First Show” at the International Plaza Resort & Spa (a hotel which looks a lot like it sounds, with lots of open verandas, palm trees and large tropical drinks with umbrellas in them near the pool).

Conveniently, this is also the venue for the Stack’s, Superior and Bowers lot viewing and auctions, which means that coin dealers (like us, for example), could camp here all day long, set up inventory on the manageably-sized bourse floor, casually go view lots, head upstairs and bid, pop into the poolside restaurant for lunch etc., which is exactly what we planned to do.

And we did manage to set up, make sure all the inventory was priced and in order (no mean feat since we are hauling all sorts of stuff with us), and then availing ourselves of the free coffee.  Interestingly, Dave noted that there were free donuts too, and that a lot of them were still left, which is an unusual state of affairs at a coin show.  Normally dealers would mow them all down in about 3 minutes, so perhaps this is some sort of proxy for the state of the market?  Not sure.

Anyway, things were pretty quiet, as perhaps a dozen or so collectors and dealers stopped by the table, kicked tires, considered a few coins, etc.

So I kicked back in the quiet room and watched the pre-game show on the enormous TV set up directly across from our table (first time I’ve ever seen that at a coin show), while Dave went up to view lots and place bids in the Superior sale.

Then he came back and I went to view Stack’s.

Then I came back and he went to view Bowers.

Then he came back and I went to have lunch outside by the pool (highly recommended, by the way) with a dealer friend at about 1 PM, which is where I was when the hotel power went out.  Did I mention the hotel power went out?  It did.

Now, this wasn’t a real big issue for us sitting outside in the sunshine (except that the ceiling fans on the veranda went off, and the kitchen couldn’t cook anything), but it apparently got very, very dark in the windowless bourse floor.  And when the power didn’t come back on after about 45 minutes (the whole block apparently went out), the show security staff decided to call it a day, forcing us all to pack up, lock up and leave (which is obviously not good for business.  It’s also not good when you’re trying to run an auction and show lots, so that obviously couldn’t have helped any of the auction houses).

And so we headed back to our hotel, watched the Ravens throttle the Dolphins in the hotel bar and then did some work in the room before dinner.

Total tally so far:  1 sale, 0 auction lots won, no donuts eaten, 5 Miami turnovers, 16 phone calls and one fantastic Japanese dinner.

Day 2:

Monday started auspiciously, as I woke up at a normal hour, efficiently polished off yesterday’s blog, and then met Dave in the lobby for the trip back to the First Show.

This is what we found when we got there:

First of all, I noticed that the TV was gone.  I guess the organizers figured there was no risk of people skipping the show to go watch a game show or something on a Monday morning (as opposed to the very real risk of same when the NFL games were being shown on Sunday afternoon).

And there were just a few people milling about, with about half the tables not really set up or displaying any coins, to the extent that it wasn’t really clear if the show was open or not (which is not usually a good sign).

So we spent the time submitting all of our show grading, and then lot viewing everything we hadn’t seen the previous day.

Which took us up until lunch time back at that outdoor restaurant by the pool, and then directly into the Stack’s session starting at 1 PM (or thereabouts).

It was an interesting session, containing a number of great rarities and higher end coins which had all been on the market in relatively recent years.  And a few of them might have been of interest to us if not for the opening bids which had been posted a few weeks ago, which were mostly sky high and which had caused us to eliminate most all the coins from consideration.

So much so, in fact, that we didn’t bid on a single coin in the colonial session (which is extremely unusual for us).

Nor did a lot of other people in the about-half-full room, as we all sat on our hands as lot after lot opened and then closed “to the book”.  I figured nothing at all was selling, but upon checking the prices realized afterward it looks like some of those were real sales to internet or podium bidders.

A few results of note:

Lot #9, a pleasing example of the rare Chalmers Sixpence opened and closed at $30,000.  That’s a good coin, and something we might have bid on, but it realized $19,550 in the Ford sale in 2004 (a pedigree not noted in the catalog for some reason) and we didn’t want to pay $34,500 here to inventory it.  So we didn’t.

Lot #15, the exceedingly rare Washington Born Virginia / Eagle Reverse ex-Norweb opened and closed at $150,000 (compared to the robust $212,750 this same piece brought in the Norweb sale in 2006).  Seemed fair enough.  And maybe it was, as this is truly a rare and great thing for specialist collectors, and apparently the only one in private hands.  Unfortunately, it is so rare as to be almost uncollectible for most people, and probably requires a specialist buyer who 1) Endeavors to complete the entire Washington series (a monumental undertaking), and 2) Has almost unlimited resources.  Apparently such people are pretty rare too.

Lots #47 and 50:  The Chain and Wreath Cents in NGC MS66.  Heady stuff here, but in our opinion both of these were very, very aggressively graded, reserved at wicked high levels and neither got a bid.

Lot #51, the celebrated and finest known Strawberry Leaf Cent (which re-appeared on the numismatic marketplace with great fanfare and brought record price of $414,000 just a few years ago) was listed here with an opening bid of $800,000(!).  And it seemingly did not to sell in the session, opening and closing at that number.  But midway through the next lot, this one was re-opened at $750,000, and apparently sold to a phone bidder.  We think.  At least that’s what it indicates in the prices realized of $862,500.  For those scoring at home, that’s more than double the coin’s previous result.

Heads spinning, we left after the copper and headed over to Heritage viewing at the convention center.  Where we encountered a pretty full room, but still managed to chug through most of the coins of interest in 4 or 5 hours.

Followed directly by a below average dinner here at the hotel.

So what sweeping conclusions can we make about the market based on today’s experience?

Hard to say.  A much better test and indication will be at Heritage, where there are more coins of all shapes and sizes either unreserved, or reserved at more reasonable levels.  So by the time those sessions are completed (and we’ve been on the FUN Show bourse floor), we’ll all know what’s what.

Day 3:

Our day began with a quick trip to Walgreens where your author broke down and bought reading glasses for the very first time (as indicated in our 2008 Year in Review article).  Dave thought this was hilarious, until he saw how distinguished and intelligent I look with them on (I think he was even a little jealous, though he won’t admit it).

We did not, however, buy any of the sushi that they had on display there, since buying raw fish at 8 AM in a Walgreens just didn’t seem all that appealing to us.  Call us crazy.

Anyway, with that little errand completed, it was off to the First Show where we picked up our initial grading submissions (no surprises in any of those), then packed up everything and hauled it over to the convention center security room so that we’d be ready for Wednesday’s FUN Show dealer set-up.

And then it was back to lot viewing next door, where Dave and I did our customary swapping of lot numbers in which I re-review everything he liked and vice versa.  This is always fun, and inevitably results in several “Are you insane?” and “Why in the world would we want to buy that?” type comments.  Fortunately, we both have extremely thick skin (sort of like a Walrus), and accept such comments from each other as good constructive feedback (and then hammer each other in return with something even more abusive).

But in the end it always seems to work, and we narrow down the target list to a group of coins we both like enough to bid on.

Then we scooted back to the First Show to pick up our Stack’s winnings, then had lunch, then went back for even more lot viewing just to be extra sure, finishing up at about 5:30.

Which gave us just enough time to make a few calls, check emails and get ready for an incredibly fantastic dinner with a group of collectors (and even an industry big wig) over at the Peabody.

Tomorrow is a big day, as we have the first Heritage session starting at 1 PM, dealer set-up starting at 2 and a whole bunch of people to see about deals to buy and to sell (and possibly a trade or two, too).

Which will all be recapped right here in about 24 hours from now.

Day 4:

As noted earlier, we had a minor technical glitch Wednesday night which included the errant locking up of our official CRO Road Report laptop to our bourse table, which made it impossible for us to crank out an entertaining RR as scheduled.

To all of our loyal readers we apologize, and commit to you that it (probably) will not happen again.

Anyway, the plan was to then write the Wednesday RR at our table on Thursday as soon as we had a lull, but we never really had one.  Not that it was swamped all day, but it was just busy enough to make that impossible until now at 11 PM.

Anyway – here’s a quick recap of the Day 4 (Wednesday) action before I move on to Day 5 (Thursday):

We began Wednesday with some more lot viewing, final strategy prep for the auctions and then headed downstairs to the seemingly-closed-but-actually-open-restaurant on the first floor for a quick lunch.

And since it was only about 12:30 PM when we finished, we were surprised to see a huge throng of people already massed by the doors waiting to get into the bourse floor as soon as it opened at 2 PM.

Frankly, we thought those people were insane to be standing there for an hour and a half, but that’s OK, as we wouldn’t be joining them – instead we’d be heading into the Heritage auction to get a good seat for the 1 PM kick-off of the colonial session.

The pre-bidding on most of the coins (including a number of pieces we consigned) was fairly anemic, so we didn’t expect very strong results.  And by and large that proved accurate, with the results best characterized, in our opinion, as follows:

  • Crummy coins brought low prices.
  • Good coins were mixed, with some weak and some strong (including the two we bought).
  • A couple of coins sold for prices I simply don’t understand at all (and probably never will).

Anyway, after that interesting, informative and, at times, perplexing session, it was time to go stand in the even more massive line (which had grown like a fungus since lunch) to enter the bourse floor.

When we finally did get inside, it was a bit of a frenzy to get set-up, then hit the floor to see what was what, scout out the cool coins, etc.

And it was pretty active, with a good crowd and some actual activity.

We ended up selling a few things, buying some, having a few pretty expensive colonials in play and generally keeping busy until 7 PM – just in time to run upstairs for the sale of the Lemus patterns.

We didn’t stay long though – just long enough to see that the room was completely packed and that prices were very strong on some really rare and desirable things that had been off the market for a long time.  Which is definitely the not-so-secret formula for getting extra-strong bids on coins these days.

And then it was off to the Capitol Grille for a deluxe dinner, followed by the discovery that my laptop was chained to the table back on the bourse floor (and I think you know the rest).

Day 5:

Thursday would mark the first official day of the show complete with a ribbon cutting ceremony at 10 AM, which I unfortunately was unable to witness, but which I heard was extremely long.

And as soon as it was over, a large herd of coin collectors stampeded in an orderly fashion into the bourse floor and pretty much filled a lot of the aisles.  It was impressive.

And we had our share of visitors, including those who arrived to see the DAyers5000 Quarter set just as it went on sale at 10:15 AM.  It wasn’t a big crowd, but the reaction was good and we sold a number of the coins.  The remaining coins will be offered as per our normal inventory at the show and on the site (which we’ll be updating today from the bourse floor).

In other areas, we had a pretty continuous stream of visitors checking out federal and colonial coins alike, buying a bunch, selling us some, putting others on hold, etc.

In total, it was a pretty decent day across all categories, which would end with us frantically getting ourselves organized and then heading upstairs for Platinum Night and the start of the ‘big’ colonials at 7 PM.  To us, this was an important session and in our view a litmus test about the state of the market.

And it would be a fair test, as the very large auction room was almost totally full of dealers and collectors alike all ready to bid (or not) on the cool stuff about to be offered.

It was then that we learned that the sale of the colonials would be preceded by the sale of Jim O’Neal’s $10 Indians.  And Mr. O’Neal was there, introduced by Heritage’s Greg Rohan, standing to acknowledge the crowd and then wearing a poker face as his coins hammered down for prices which either delighted or horrified him (I have no idea which).

Anyway, with that completed, it was time for the group of colonials, which included some horrible coins which had no business in a Platinum Night, some utterly magnificent things which are among the finest, rarest and highest graded colonials in existence, 1 coin we consigned and 1 coin which came off Ebay about 3 months ago.

But let’s get specific:

Lot #3533, an attractive Oak Tree Twopence in a PCGS MS62 holder, brought $16,100.  This same item sold for $13,800 in the Ford sale in October 2005.

Lot #3540, a clearly repaired and damaged Maryland Groat inexplicably holdered by NGC as VF30, still managed to sell for $17,250.  Go ahead, check the photo.

Lot #3542, the rare Elephant Diagonals in an NGC MS61 holder, brought $37,375, which was ~$32,000 less than it brought in this same FUN Platinum session 2 years ago.  Does this mean that the market for rare Elephant token varieties is down 50%?  Gosh, I think it means that the market for these very rare and esoteric items is thin, and that the entrance or absence of a few buyers at a given session can have a dramatic impact on prices.  Prior to the appearance of this coin in 2007, the last time anything even remotely similar came to market was in a July 1997 Bowers auction.  So if someone does want one of these (or other comparably rare and unusual items), you pretty much have to pull the trigger when you get the chance every decade or so (and hope the competition isn’t too fierce at the time).

Lot #3543, the magnificent Rarity-8 proof Rosa Americana Penny ex-Garrett-Ford and slabbed by PCGS as PF65 (and looking every bit of that) brought $40,250 vs the $48,875 it realized at Stack’s in May 2005.

Lot #3551, a lovely 1787 Massachusetts Cent in a PCGS MS65 holder, realized $32,200, which was almost exactly $26,000 more than the same piece realized on Ebay on September 9, 2008.

Lot #3554, a very sharp and high condition census NJ Head Left in a PCGS XF40 holder, sold for $23,000 to a specialist collector with a well known NY dealer as the underbidder.  This same piece brought $27,600 at the FUN show 2 years ago and seemed like a pretty good deal to me.

Lot #3558, the Standish Barry Threepence in a PCGS AU55 holder did not meet its reserve price of $184,000 all-in.  That was especially disappointing to me, since we consigned it.  Oh well.

Lot #3562, the silver Myddelton Token in a heady NGC PF66* holder realized $31,050 to a NY specialist.  That was a nice coin, but the mega-N grade didn’t seem to impress too many people and I suspect it would have brought more in a lower grade PCGS holder.  I think.

We could analyze this to death, but overall I would say prices were generally weak except (in a recurring theme) in the case of really fresh pieces new to the market.  Also, as a general rule, NGC colonial grading continues to garner little respect in the marketplace, though we all know there are exceptions to every rule.

Anyway, with that part of the sale complete, we headed off to the Japanese Restaurant for a late dinner with a dealer friend and got back to the hotel (with my laptop!) just in time to watch the 2nd half of the BCS game.

We look forward to Friday armed with new information about the state of the market which will influence what we buy and sell, and at what levels.

Day 6:

Friday began uneventfully, as we arrived at the convention center at about 8:45 and calmly set up the booth for what we hoped would be a decent day.

And it started off well enough, with lots of visitors coming and going, checking things out, buying a coin or two and often chatting with each other while at the table and discovering that they either knew each other, recognized each others’ names or had once offended the other party with something they had posted in a numismatic chatroom.

Usually at these times I am struck by the incredible dichotomy of collectors and dealers we see, where two guys from otherwise completely different worlds can find a common interest in coins.  Sometimes it’s visually striking, with some neatly dressed professional type seated next to a guy in sweatpants and a beanie (not that there is anything wrong with that) discussing the merits of a lovely early quarter.

Anyway, we had lots of relatively smaller transactions during the day, as the $5,000 and under items seem to be the sweet spot at this year’s show, but there is the potential for bigger things to come.

We actually spent most of the day working on a couple of big deals which end up resembling those 7 player 4 team trades in basketball, involving multiple people, all sorts of discussions, advance scouting, team physicals, etc.  I have no idea if anything will happen here, but probably something will since everyone seems to want to do it.  One thing is clear – there is a lot of trading going on at the moment and less straight cash deals for expensive coins.  And if that is today’s reality, we are going to go with the flow.

On the lighter side of the news, the HLRC balloon display (quickly becoming a highlight of every show) was most impressive, with a gigantic arc of blue balloons extending high above their table in a formation which all but shouted “Hey, why not buy a coin from us”.  I think.  On a less positive note, we understand that late in the afternoon the convention center staff informed them that their display would require a “Balloon Variance” (of course), just in case one of them detached, floated to the ceiling and interfered with the convention center fire safety system.  Seriously.

Fortunately, there were no detachments yesterday.

Anyway, we kept going until right around 7 PM, unexpectedly finding an exceptional example of a coin on a customer’s want list right at the very end of the day (after almost exactly 2 years of searching and several close-but-not-quite examples).  Perhaps THIS will be the one, though it will require crossing the coin (always an adventure) so it can fit into a Registry Set.  So wish us luck with that.

And then we headed out to a sensibly-sized dinner outside under a heat lamp at one the local restaurants, which was quite nice and most welcome after a couple of days of excessive feasting.


Day 7:

Hang in there everybody – after being here more than a full week at this point, we have just two 2009 FUN Show Road Reports left (including this one) before we shut this thing down and head north.  Fortunately, we still have enough energy left for some productive coin dealering in the ‘stretch run’.

As was evidenced on Saturday, as we had another pretty steady day of sales in the $5,000 and under range, including a lot of coins that had been in inventory and some we bought at the show earlier in the week and will thus not be putting on the website when we get home.

But don’t worry about that, we also managed to buy quite a few cool coins on the floor, including a last minute shopping spree where I went around and bought a number of the pieces I had seen earlier in the show which all had the same basic characteristics:  Originality, pleasing color and a price tag in that same active range.  Hey, if coins in this range are selling well, then I am going to make sure to have some in stock.

But don’t take my word for it – you’ll see them next week, as we plan to rev up an exciting new Early Bird next Thursday or so (as soon as we are back from Stack’s Americana auction).

Not a great deal would happen otherwise, as we had no breakfast, no lunch, and witnessed no especially bizarre or entertaining behavior.

We did have a few interesting conversations along the way with other dealers though, in one instance commiserating about how difficult it is to give a client your honest opinion about a coin they are considering without mortally offending the unknown dealer who owns it (who will then later be incredibly ticked off at you and hound you at subsequent shows).  I think this is one of the reasons that some dealers are reluctant to provide any substantive opinions on any coins that come to the table.

Oh, and another long time collector friend told me I need to eat more salad (and less enormous cheese cakes).  I could have been offended, or made some clever retort, but of course he was right.

The other thing of note on this day was the stream of dealers packing up and leaving the show starting in the mid-afternoon despite the stern warnings from the show organizers that if you do not stay through Sunday you will be relegated to an even worse table location (possibly adjacent to the guy selling movie posters, or directly behind the hotdog cart) next year.

So, as we are going to be camped here all day on Sunday, we fully expect to move up in the world and into the prime real estate such that the CRO banner(s) will be visible from the parking lot in 2010.

That would be great.

Day 8:

And at 2 PM, mercifully, it was over.  But not with a bang, it was more like a slow creeping death like when a plant gets sick.

It ended with a half full room, but not with the original dealers who set up.  By the end of Sunday, many of the original booth-holders had been gone for more than 24 hours, with the smaller local dealers (some offering jewelry, knick-knacks and other non-numismatic items) having moved up from the far reaches of the room into the prime show real estate.

Which means that anyone entering the show on Sunday would find themselves in what must have looked like a flea market, with all sorts of weird offerings right up by the door, and a bourse map that must have been very frustrating to use (since very few dealers were still where they were supposed to be).

But we were, right up until the final bell, which allowed us to meet lots of typical Sunday show attendees.

Like the nice elderly couple who came by our table and asked if we could give them a value for their 1909-S Indian Cent.  Dave said sure, and was handed a corroded, low grade coin in a 2×2 that would have been worth about $150 had it not been missing that pesky ‘S’ on the back.  Making it a corroded, low grade 1909 Indian Cent worth almost nothing.  Usually people in this situation react to learning that their coin is not rare or valuable by attacking the messenger, though in this case we were pleased that they instead went to ICG for a 2nd opinion.  Perhaps they ended up taking the heat.

In total, on Sunday, we bought 1 coin for about $7,000, and sold absolutely nothing.  No one even looked at anything.  No one even looked like they might look at anything.  Which may explain why a lot of dealers don’t like to hang around on the last day of a show, as it typically isn’t economically justifiable to do so (though you never know, and that’s what keeps a couple of us here waiting for something exciting to happen).

And though there were no last day fireworks, the overall show was pretty decent, with excellent show traffic and a really significant amount of activity at the moderate price points to a lot of serious collectors.  We also have the potential for a big deal or two discussed at the show to get finished this coming week, but that is often the case after a show and it only happens about 50% of the time.  So we’ll see.

But for now, we’re home, giving us one whole day to get organized and recharged before heading down to NY tomorrow morning for the Stack’s Americana auction.  Which means I need to stop typing this, and start doing that.

Our next RR will be about the results of that session and will appear, here, on Thursday AM.

The End.