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Back to Road Report Archive 2010

January 30-February 6, 2010: The Long Beach Coin & Currency Expo

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It seems like just a few days ago that we were in NY, viewing lots, discussing coins with the Stack’s team, eating enough hot pastrami for a family of 7 (actually, that was Dave), and then bidding enthusiastically in the Americana sale.

But that is now pretty much ancient history at CRO, as we set our sights on the next big thing:  The Long Beach Expo, preceded by a chaotic trip to the airport, a very long flight, a serious schlep to my hotel, some concentrated lot viewing and then a Goldberg auction which, this time, notably, does not include a Naftzger or Holmes consignment (none of which has actually even begun yet, except for the chaotic trip to the airport, which explains how I got to the gate where I am typing this right now).

But once everything else gets started, it should be very, very exciting, providing rich fodder for a full week’s worth of Road Reports in which we will attempt to provide an interesting balance of abject hilarity, serious numismatic discussion, a recap of the auctions, a look at what Dave orders for dessert, insights into coin grading, and, of course, how we do at the show on both the buying and selling side.

The Day 1 installment of which you can read right here first thing tomorrow morning – keeping in mind that we are in California, and ‘first thing tomorrow morning’ for us may be about 10 AM for our readers on the east coast.  So no nasty emails please.

Day 1:

Good morning fellow numismatic enthusiast –

I am pleased to announce that I have successfully flown across the entire country, and then retrieved my suitcase in what was, I believe, the fastest airplane to baggage claim to in-a-cab transition I have ever experienced at any airport anywhere in the world at any time.  Seriously, the bag was waiting for me the instant I got down there, and I was in a cab speeding toward my hotel exactly 8 minutes after the flight landed.  True.

Which gave me a bit of extra time here at the hotel to fill out 87 insurance forms for my new coin policy, make all my last minute prep notes for Sunday’s Goldberg sale, redo our EAC Penny Wise ad (because Dave discovered a typo in it), answer our voluminous customer emails, attempt to track down a misrouted Express Mail package (which fortunately contained only paperwork, and no coins), write this brief Day 1 RR (since frankly not that much has happened since we last spoke), and then collapse in a numismatic heap at about 1 AM local time.

No rest for the weary though, as Sunday I’m off to lot viewing bright and early, then straight to the auction, which I will be sure to thoroughly recap right here on Monday AM.

Day 2:

I had an especially peaceful sleep on Sunday evening, and after I got up, got dressed and headed out I figured out why:  In the hall, right near my room is a sign telling guests to please keep quiet including (and I quote) “NO LOUD SINGING IN THE SHOWER”.  Which immediately made me think of three things:

1.  I have never before seen a sign like that at any hotel, ever, anywhere in the world (unless it was in a foreign language that I couldn’t read, which is possible).

2.  That would explain why I only heard very quiet singing emanating from the other rooms.

3.  I wish I had seen that sign before my particularly energetic rendition of ‘Where the Streets Have no Name‘ by U2 in the shower this morning.

Regardless, I was feeling especially good as I walked down the block to the Goldberg offices for lot viewing, passing the new Heritage Beverly Hills offices on my way (in the former Superior Galleries building).  “Hmmm, that should increase the competition for consignments in the area”, I said to no one in particular.

Anyway, I was apparently the first Goldberg viewer of the day, and had my choice of the 15 or so lot viewing assistants who were poised and ready to start pulling boxes.  Which we did immediately and continuously for the next 3 hours or so, running through the entire auction, very slowly through the material of highest interest, and like a rocket through the stuff we had no intention of buying, such as the long run of late date Large Cents by die variety, or the apparent mini-hoard of 14 high end 1972 Double Die Lincoln Cents, all graded 64RD, 65RD and 66RD, but housed in a slew of different vintage holders (actually, those were sort of neat).

On the other hand, I went at a numismatic snail’s pace through the Conder tokens (named for James Conder with an ‘e’, but variously described in the catalog, erroneously, as Condors with an ‘o’, which I think would be some kind of token with a big bird on it.  I guess).  That was interesting, though, as it was, as far as I know, the first such consignment of slabbed Conders (with an ‘e’) that have appeared in a major, mainstream American auction (if I am wrong, I am positive someone will email me post haste, and I’m pretty sure I know who it will be).

I viewed everything else too, but frankly after perusing this catalog before getting here I didn’t think there was a huge amount of material with CRO written on it, and I was right.  Best to be sure in person, though.

So I finished up, walked down the street to the Crown Plaza Hotel where the Goldberg Auctions are always held, helping some lost tourists on the way,  At which time it occurred to me just how many times I have been to this place, since I was able to give them very detailed directions and knew all the street names in the surrounding area.  As an even further aside, that reminded me of a discussion with another more senior dealer years ago in which he told me he had spent more than one year of his life in Long Beach California while attending the show 3 times a year for decades.  Yikes.

Anyway, the auction finally started at 2 PM, and there I was in the way back sitting next to one of the major Conder (with an ‘e’) dealers ready for the first session to begin.  Astutely, I leaned over and said that I expected a bunch of new record prices on this material, since it was slabbed, it was being exposed here to a mainstream audience (like a bunch of the guys in the ¾ full room, who were dealers and/or collectors of US coins, but said that they saw this stuff in the catalog and thought it looked neat), and I did not think Ira and Larry would spend an hour and a half auctioning these tokens if they were only going to bring a few hundred bucks each.

But in a lot of cases, I was wrong.

In fact, prices were low enough on most things that the aforementioned Conder dealer next to me bought quite a few of them, which must mean something.  And a lot of the less interesting pieces with ‘regular’ motifs went wanting.  Also meaningful was the fact that a few of the ones that were graded very highly and that I liked in the catalog and planned to bid on were just not nice enough in person for us to buy.  So we didn’t.  Finally, on at least four different occasions Ira pointed out that the photos of two adjacent lots had been switched in the catalog, which might well have confused some bidders, and perhaps explains why lot #95 sold for $437, while lot #96, the same issue in far better condition (though curiously graded exactly the same by NGC) brought $356.  Which is another reason why it’s always good to bid in person.

On the other hand, some of the really cool ones went for good money (such as lot #99, D&H-239 depicting a guy swallowing the earth, which brought $2,012.50), as did the real gems of most any variety (regardless of what grade was written on the holders).

In total, we bought just two (2) for considerably less than our max bids, which worked out very well.

The rest of the session was a very mixed bag, with some of the colonials that I thought were pretty ordinary going for real money (like lot #283, the cleany but absolutely-not-a-restrike Castorland Half Dollar at a strong $4,600), while others went cheap-ish.

I stayed through the early copper, seeing the two double struck Large Cents in lots #334 and 337 bring precisely and slightly curiously $9,300 each, since that is hardly a round number.  Both seemed reasonable, though, since they were totally cool, and very original.

Then I left and went to dinner, returning to do paperwork at night.

Tomorrow’s session begins at 10 AM, and I will be there, though I have no idea if I’ll actually buy anything.  But if I do, or even if I don’t, you can read about it here in about 24 hours from now.

Day 3:

Typically on the road I do not sleep well, and if I had to pinpoint one reason why (aside from jet lag, or drinking too much, or the guy in the next room singing too loudly in the shower) it would be the horrible pillows they give you at these hotels.  I don’t know about you, but at home I have one pillow and it seems to work just fine for me.  But here (pretty much like every other hotel on the coin circuit), there are seven (7) pillows on the bed, several of which are gigantic, and none of which are what I would call a normal shape and/or firmness.

Which explains why I was up early on this day after thrashing around repeatedly in a continuous and unsuccessful attempt to get comfortable.

But once up, I felt OK, and started variously typing / drinking coffee and otherwise trying to get everything done here before the start of the next Goldberg session at 10.

And I did, including a trip to the hotel gym, a healthy breakfast, a marathon email and then phone exchange with a customer, then Dave, then the customer again as we try to sort out a cash and trade deal for a cool colonial on our list, and then some last minute auction prepping which proved to be just about useless, since everything I had targeted in this session (and it wasn’t much) rocketed past our max bids in short order.

And that was fine, since I would characterize our bids as unenthusiastic, and it’s very hard to buy anything that way.  As a well-known dealer friend of ours always says, you have to really want them and be prepared to bid accordingly for anything really nice or desirable, or you have just about zippo chance to get it.  True.

In all, some wildly toned (and well photographed) items in high grade holders brought very strong money, while most other things were sort of anemic:

Lot #841, an 1882 PF Indian Cent in a P66 BN holder with some wild toning brought a ton of money IMO at $6,037.50.  I knew that would go strong, but that was still more than double my expectation.

I was actually curious to see what all of those 1972 Double Die Lincolns mentioned yesterday would bring since there were multiple example of like-graded coins of substantially different levels of quality, with some 66 RD’s, for example, way better than others.  It didn’t seem to make any difference, though, as all examples in each grade brought basically the same prices.  Which is another reason why it’s good to come and bid in person.

Lot #955, the 1846 Seated Dime in PCGS AU58, brought $13,225, considerably less than the $23,000 it brought at a different auction in June of 2008.

Lot #994, a very flashy 1867 Seated Quarter in PF66 CAM PCGS CAC ex-Benson went kind of nuts, selling for $16,675.

Then a long line of Barber Half Dollar proofs, all in very high holders and with wild multi-colored toning (and I mean W-I-L-D), had a lot of bidding interest on the floor and on the phones and internet, bringing mostly strong but not crazy numbers.  The last one, lot #1129, a dramatically toned 1915 in an NGC PF68 holder, brought $21,275, which seemed strong compared to the other dates preceding it, and compared to recent sales of PCGS 67 CAC examples, but downright el cheapo compared to the white NGC PF68 which brought just under $49,000 at Heritage in 2008.  Admittedly, that high auction record was for a CAM coin, but still.

I stayed only through the early dollars, leaving the bevy of Morgans for the other dealers and collectors to fight over, choosing instead to go do paperwork, talk to a few customers and get all wrapped up in another possible trade deal before dinner.

Tuesday is shaping up to be not very eventful, as the Goldberg session doesn’t start until 6 PM, leaving a giant paperwork window for your author.  Which is necessary, but which is unlikely to provide many interesting tales for the next RR.

Which means I will really need to go out and do something fascinating during the course of the day, and then write about it tomorrow in this space.

Day 4:

It might have been mentioned here yesterday that someone affiliated with CRO would possibly be doing something fascinating today, and that is true, if by fascinating you mean that I spent most of the day with paperwork spread all over my hotel room finalizing, finally, our year-end financials.

Which was only necessary because I could not find the time to get it done last week, and thus hauled all of it to California with me so I could focus on it with almost no distractions (except for that 20 minute span where housekeeping came in, vacuumed all around me and fluffed all 7 pillows).  Interestingly, this working in the hotel room idea turned out to be pretty successful, and may be the start of a new process here at CRO, as we travel around the country with reams of invoices and crank out spreadsheets while everyone else is out having fun.

Anyway, the festivities continued until 5:30 PM or so, when I went to the Goldberg gold sale, which was preceded by what was, in my opinion, a fantastic western-style dinner with the best BBQ sauce I’ve had since the Houston show in January of 2007.

As soon as I was done with that, it was time to watch a bunch of coins hammer down for more than I expected, including a few very expensive ones that looked very familiar and had been in multiple previous auctions.  Then I went to bed.

Wednesday I am off to LB for some Heritage lot viewing, dealer set-up and a day that is certain to be considerably more exciting than this one.

Day 5:

After a fairly busy morning getting organized, packing up and checking out of my spectacularly ordinary Beverly Hills hotel, I was in a cab and en route to LB through moderate (for the area) traffic being driven by a guy who was paying attention to the road and not weaving in and out like a maniac (both of which are unusual in my experience driving around here).

Efficiently, we arrived at my hotel at precisely 11:43 AM, giving me just enough time to check in and dump all of my stuff in a room which, just like every other time I’ve been here, is as far from the elevator as possible even though I always ask for one that isn’t.  So I schlepped everything down the long corridor, and then schlepped my show stuff back a few minutes later as I headed off to the convention center.

Having timed this whole thing extremely well, I had about an hour a half to view Heritage lots (perfectly adequate for this session), pick up our table ribbons, hang out with some dealer friends and then calmly explode onto the bourse floor at 2 PM for dealer set-up.

Not 45 minutes later we had already sold a total of 11 coins to three different people, which was a good result but not totally surprising since we had a lot of cool new federal type coins with us.  On the other hand, we thought it was not unimpressive considering that we also had to run around and get several more booth chairs, another table and a show case and hang the CRO banner in that same period, all of which were accomplished seamlessly, except for the banner hanging, which is Dave’s job (since I can’t reach it), and during which he darn near fell off a rickety show table, pulled down the metal bars that define our booth space and injured me in the process.  But ultimately he hung the thing, and I feel fine.

And not until after that flurry of activity was over did we get to walk around the floor at all, though we didn’t see too much of great interest, and one of the things we did like was ‘not open yet’.  I didn’t know what that meant, either, but at one table of a dealer I do not know I saw a cool world coin, but when I asked to see it I was told “Come back later, I am focusing on US coins right now.”  So I accommodated him by leaving and not causing him to lose focus by, for example, handing him some money.

I don’t really understand that, especially since there was only one other guy at the table and it was hardly busy, but whatever.

Back at our table (which was open for business for both US AND world coins) we sold a few more things in the afternoon, bought none, and then packed up and headed out to Gladstone’s by the harbor for dinner, running into another dealer in the process, hanging out there for a couple of hours, chatting about a range of numismatic and non-numismatic topics, not eating too much and then calling it a fairly early evening.

Tomorrow we’ll be back at it at 8 AM, or maybe 9, or whenever they let us back into the show, and look forward to seeing many of our local customers and friends for the first time since the last LB show in September. 

Also, I might possibly go back for that world coin provided that the dealer who has it is sufficiently prepared on Thursday to ‘focus on it’, which in this case would mean to open the case and hand it to me.

Tune in tomorrow for an important update on this issue.

Day 6:

Amazingly, Dave actually arrived at the show well before I did on Thursday, something that has happened on just one or two other occasions that I can recall in the last several years.  Of course, I had the keys with me, so he couldn’t actually sell anything before I got there, but soon enough we were officially open and ready for business.

The first order of which was to head back to the table discussed in yesterday’s RR and see if that dealer was now ready to sell that frickin’ world coin we wanted.  But of course he wasn’t there yet, and his cases were still covered and had chairs piled on them.  Great.

So we spent the time organizing and pricing a commemorative collection to offer to another dealer, finishing up our PCGS and NGC submissions, working on some convoluted dime deal that has about 20% chance of working and then looking up just as the public strolled in.

The crowd was fairly typical at first, but they just kept coming, and after a while the room seemed as about as full as I can ever recall it.  A notion which was seemingly confirmed by several collectors who came to the table and told us that the line to register was extremely long, and it took them more than 30 minutes to get in.

And while that sounded positive and upbeat, it had no impact whatsoever on the several different dealers who came by our table to lament that gold was ‘tanking’ (it was down about $40 at that point) and then make long-term economic predictions which were mostly depressing.

And while your author always enjoys a long and depressing economic forecast, he especially enjoys it while in the men’s room (for the avoidance of confusion, this sentence is meant to be sarcastic).  Which is what happened at about 11:30, and was delivered by a guy who is normally upbeat, but on this day was a real ‘downer’, and apparently needed to convey an enormous amount of information to me in a tiled room while I tried extremely hard to escape.

Which I eventually did, getting back to the table and focusing on numismatics for a long stretch, with a lot of collectors coming to the table, and a lot of people looking at coins, but just a few purchases and sales.

At about this point I realized we had forgotten to go back and try to buy that world coin again, and so I zipped over to that table and discovered (of course) that every coin that had been in that dealer’s case was still there, except the one we wanted.  Great.

With that unfortunate episode over, I went back to the table where Dave and I spent some time reviewing a customer’s new copper purchases which were high grade, but raw, and covered with lacquer, and tried to figure out what sort of conservation would best to remove it.

Then I spent a good long time with a collector friend huddled in a strategy meeting, returning to the table just in time to buy a cool coin that is weirdly similar in a sort of ‘separated-at-birth’ way to a piece we already own, and which we thought would make a really neat pair.

That was pretty much it, so we headed up to the late-starting Heritage auction at 7, sat through a very quiet colonial session (in terms of the material being offered, not the auctioneering style) and then headed up the street for dinner with some dealer friends.

Friday we’re hoping to finalize the sale of the aforementioned commemorative collection, do the dime deal, quite possibly buy something expensive we saw on the floor and avoid, at all costs, anymore discussions about anything in the men’s room.

Day 7:

Friday morning was pretty hectic, as I had to get up, write Thursday’s RR, hit the gym, eat breakfast, pack up everything, check out of the hotel and still beat Dave to the table like a piñata.  Which I most certainly did, by nearly a full 15 minutes.

And it was pretty good and pretty active right from the start.

Interestingly, again, 100% of what we sold (to be both dealers and collectors alike) were federal coins, from wholesome 19th century type in AU holders for a few hundred bucks each, up to and including some proof gold in the low to middle five figures.

But while the selling was all federal, the buying was all over the map (in a good way), including a bunch of tokens (one of which is an especially cool piece which will be appearing in an upcoming ad just as soon as it is photographed, graded and we think of a cool enough caption), a couple of early dollars and two very nice colonials.

Not everything worked great though (and that might be an understatement).

We cracked out a spectacular coin in an NGC MS64 ‘Fatty’ holder at the request of the owner (but against our better judgment) after a well-known dealer made a huge offer for it which we rejected (also at the request of the owner and also against our better judgment), then submitted it to PCGS where it graded MS64 again, then cracked it out, again, and submitted it to NGC (again at the request of our customer who was becoming increasingly aggravated, but now figured he had no choice but to see this thing through to the end) where it came back as AT, which it absolutely isn’t (as validated by NGC in the past, and PCGS and, earlier, CAC).

And while this story is apparently a long way from over, we can conclude the following so far:

  1. Several very knowledgeable specialist dealers who have seen this piece love it and want to buy it for 65++ money (as did the sharp-eyed owner).
  2. Now is not a good time to have toned coins graded.

Which was again confirmed (even though at this point it was no longer in doubt) when we submitted a different raw coin for grading on behalf of a different customer.  This one was a cool early silver coin which the owner purchased in a Bowers’ auction 20 years ago for really good money, and has kept raw in an Air-Tite holder ever since, and which today maintains the same rich blue and green toning it exhibited in the high quality color photo in that old catalog.  Unfortunately, that ‘look’ (which we firmly believe is original, and which has not changed one iota in two decades) is simply not market acceptable these days, and was returned in a Genuine holder for questionable color.

We guess that while the owner of this piece will end up keeping it as is, the inevitable fate of many other such color coins might well be a date with a dipper, and eventual holdering as a bright white piece (probably in a really high grade slab).  We don’t like it, but that is apparently the numismatic world in which we live (at least for now).

Late in the afternoon, with all of that entertainment behind us (or at least on hold temporarily) we made one more cool new raw purchase (no, not a toned silver coin), talked about some cool new stuff with PCGS Pres. Don Willis, and Ron Guth, and did a long status update with our dealer-partner on some expensive coins we jointly own.

Then your author summarily packed up and headed to the airport, leaving Dave with the Saturday show duties (in return for me getting out to CA early and handling the Goldberg auction solo last weekend).

Which means that our next RR will be written by Dave, since I won’t be there to see what happens on Saturday.  And so I too look forward to hearing what he has to say (unless it’s more crappy news from the grading services).

Day 8:

For those of you who expected this last installment of our LB Road Report to be written and up early on Sunday morning, please note that I did too.  But that was before my flight home was delayed in nearly every way possible, finally landing in New England at 4:30 AM.  At which time I went home and then straight to bed.

It could have been worse, however.  As was the case for many other dealers, including our good friend Jim McGuigan.  He was booked to leave at midday on Saturday, but when I walked by his table late Saturday morning and saw him putting his coins back into his display cases I figured he was one of the unlucky ones impacted by the massive snowstorm on the east coast.  In fact, his flight had been cancelled and the soonest he could get another one back home to Pittsburgh was Monday.  Oh well, I guess Long Beach is not the worst place to be stranded for an extra 2 days.

As for the show itself, quite typically the crowd was pretty decent, but most seemed to be novice collectors, families with young kids, or people who were apparently just curious to see what the heck was going on in that very large building.

I know this because I spoke to a few who came by the table, though most of my time Saturday was spent cleaning up business from the show, writing checks, picking up checks, paying for the table for the May 2010 Long Beach show and discretely trying to find out who bought one of the gold coins at Heritage last night for a customer who wanted it since it went way, WAY cheaper than he expected in the auction.

And even though we might want to, let’s not forget those last few grading submissions, which, like all the other ones from this show, were returned to us in the absolute lowest conceivable holder, or, even worse, as no grades.  Resulting in this being without a doubt the worst grading show we have ever had (by a considerable margin), and making us wish we had taken all the money wasted on fees and used it for something more productive (like buying lottery tickets, or flushing it down a nearby toilet).

But even taking into account crummy grades, a mostly unproductive Saturday and a horrendous flight, the show was good overall, with strong sales, enough cool new purchases, and a few interesting collection opportunities to follow-up on in the coming weeks.

Which ought to keep us busy cranking out EB’s and chasing new coins until the Baltimore show in early March.

And, unless we make another interesting but currently unplanned trip before then, that is where our next EB will be posted from on or around March 1st.