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Back to Road Report Archive 2008

January 5-13, 2008: The FUN Show in Orlando, FL

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It is 5:57 AM here at Logan Airport in Boston – which of course means that it is time for our free FUN Preview which will begin in just a few words:

Today figures to be extreeeeeeeeeeeeeeemely long, as I get to schlep a number of heavy bags and an awkward show banner to Orlando, then directly to the pre-show (which runs today and tomorrow), at which time Dave and I will try to organize our inventory and collate an entirely new collection we just picked up. That last part will be fun (lower case letters), but will take forever.

Plus we have lot viewing for Superior, Stack’s and Bowers all day, and session 1 of Superior’s auction which kicks off at 6 PM.

Overall, my plan is to work myself to near-exhaustion, eventually succumb to the high heat and humidity and finally collapse, in a heap, in my hotel room at about midnight. If possible, I am hoping that my hotel reservation will somehow be screwed up and that I will have to stand in the lobby for 45 minutes before getting my key, and that when I do eventually get it, it will not work in my door and I will have to go back to the lobby at least 2 or 3 times to resolve the issue.

Also, I plan to eat dinner.

If any chatroomites will be at the pre-show, please stop by and say hi. I have no idea what table we will be at (though we do have one), but you will be able to recognize us as the two guys who are collating.

Our next report will be written from Florida, and will include something completely unexpected.

Day 1:

Actually, our first day here in FLA was not exactly as expected:

First, it was actually cool and comfortable down here, with none of the heat and humidity we’ve experienced in the past.

Second, we didn’t actually end up attending the Superior auction in the evening since we didn’t find anything we wanted to buy.

Third, we didn’t actually work to near-exhaustion either. It was, in fact, sort of leisurely.

On the other hand, we did go to the wrong hotel to check in at the end of the evening, which was a big pain in the neck, and forced us to haul our bags about 3 miles through a parking lot. But it could have been worse – and I’m pleased to report that my key actually worked when I finally got to my room.

And while these ancillary issues were surprising, the pre-show itself was not.

We arrived at the International Plaza venue at about 12:30 to a quiet room with about half of the 50 or so dealer tables set-up and a dearth of retail traffic.

Conveniently, lot viewing for Bowers, Superior and Stack’s was all right there in the same hotel, and so a lot of the dealer community was busy looking at 10,000 coins. And we did too, intermittently, but we also spent time cruising the bourse.

Given some of our recent acquisitions, we were not specifically looking to add inventory, but we did find 3 or 4 things anyway, and, per CRO policy, if we see something cool, we buy it. So we did.

We also saw a few familiar customer faces, and we sold about a half dozen coins – including one extremely sexy early half dollar that we recently bought back from another customer.

We were also pleased (and very surprised) to see that PCGS was set-up at the pre-show, allowing us to handle a lot of reholdering and grading (some of it extremely complicated) we wanted to get done for the FUN show next week. That was a huge help, as we figured we’d have to go find PCGS set-up in a hotel or somewhere in the convention center as is sometimes the case leading up to a show. But not this time.

That was it – the day ended with dinner with a dealer colleague at an out-of-the-way restaurant so we could talk shop in private and figure out how to handle a deal best characterized as “a very big deal” (and to which we alluded in the ‘Preview’ yesterday).

We did, and you just might be hearing about this in subsequent reports.  But not today.

And so, with that, I am going to close the book on Day 1.

Day 2:

We decided to have breakfast at the ‘cheapo’ convenience store-inspired snack bar in our hotel on Sunday, availing ourselves of the wide selection of crappy granola bars, single-serving containers of synthetic cereal substitutes, cold, weak coffee-flavored drinks, etc. And it turned out to be perfectly adequate for our needs, costing about $3 and thus representing a very fine value in our opinion.

It also supplied us with ample energy to drive over to the pre-show and spend another 8 hours behind the table, grading coins, and viewing lots in the next room – all of which we did enthusiastically.

Which may explain why it was another surprisingly good day selling. As of 3 PM today we had eclipsed our total sales volume at the last Long Beach show (and this is merely the freakin’ pre-FUN show for crying out loud). Frankly, we expected very little at this event and treated it as sort of a glorified security room – you know, a place where we could safely lock up our coins for a few days and then have them securely transferred to the convention center. But it has turned out to be considerably more than that, with strong (and welcome) sales. Who knew?

Not sure everyone here had the same opinion though. The dealer at the table next to us, for example, spent a good part of the day playing solitaire on his laptop. And others never actually set up at all, keeping their coins covered with a tarp and, we assume, viewing lots next door for the duration.

But not us, which once again points out the advantage of the CRO two-man tag team, where Dave and I can share the load (while continuously attempting to stick each other with the unpleasant tasks, such as hanging the CRO banner at the show).

After our full day at the pre-show, it was time to jet over to our favorite local Japanese restaurant for the Shogun dinner, approximately 33 bottles of hot sake and an impromptu strategy session to figure out what to do in the auction on Monday.

It was an early evening though, as I am now back in the hotel at 8 PM watching TV and typing this blog.

Tomorrow will be hectic, as we are back at the pre-show in the morning and then (finally) over to the convention center for our first shot at Heritage lot viewing starting at 10 AM, then back to the pre-show hotel for the Stack’s auction, then back to the convention center, then out for another award winning dinner, etc., etc.

So far so good down here, and based on the early returns it seems like the FUN show is going to be an ab-so-lute blockbuster.

You read it here first (unless someone else already said all of this, which I seriously doubt).

Day 3:

I know we tend to frequently mention getting up early in our Road Reports, but in this case it is truly warranted.

Monday got off to a rousing start as I woke up, inexplicably and unplanned, at 3:30 AM. Excellent.

And then couldn’t fall back asleep. Even better.

Perhaps it was because I had to get up at this time on both Friday and Saturday last week, and have now trained myself to get up at that ungodly hour even when there is absolutely no reason to do so.

But I tried to make the best of it, first by watching Sports Center cycle through about 6 segments of identical highlights. Then by ordering room service – until I discovered they didn’t open for another 2 hours. Which pretty much left me no choice but to go down to the 24 hour convenience store again and sample their superb selection.

In any case, I managed to occupy myself until my 8:30 AM meeting with Dave.

Monday would be a day which would include no buying or selling or grading of actual coins – just eating, driving, packing, cleaning up loose ends, hauling, viewing, bidding, eating, driving, viewing, resting, driving, eating, talking on the phone about our aforementioned deal for about 3 hours, then writing.

It started with the short drive back over to the pre-show so we could pack-up and arrange to have our coins shipped over to the convention center.

Which freed us up to clean up some loose ends with a few other dealers, and then scoot over to Bowers lot viewing across the hall to see their entire 600 lot session in which we identified a grand total of one (1) coin to bid on. Hey, we’re picky.

Then it was time for a quick lunch before bidding at Stack’s, followed by the trip over to the convention center for some marathon viewing of the almost (but not quite) overwhelming number of lots in the Heritage Signature and Platinum Night sessions.

Which we did for about 5 hours, finding pockets of very cool coins and plenty of things to bid on before completely running out of numismatic steam in the late afternoon.

So we headed back to our hotel to relax for a few minutes before tonight’s dinner at the highly recommended Vito’s Chop House.

That turned out to be a lot of fun, as we were joined by a good client who had come down to FLA to view a couple of auction lots. And while the lots were impressive, they paled in comparison to Vito’s dessert cart which contained what may well be the largest piece of chocolate cake I have ever seen in my life. I honestly believe it could have comfortably served a family of 7 (even if that family included 2 coin dealers). But we didn’t order it.

Then it was back to the hotel at about 11 PM for some pretty productive telephone wheeling and dealing, followed by some high powered blog writing.

Which suggests that even though we are currently in limbo between the pre-show and the FUN show, we are not exactly sitting around down here doing nothing.

Which is good, because if I am sufficiently tired I may be able to sleep until at least 4:30 AM on Tuesday.

Day 4:

They don’t actually call it ‘Tuesday’ here at the FUN show anymore – instead it is referred to as ‘Heritage lot viewing day’ as most everyone piles into the vast Heritage viewing room at the convention center filling it to capacity.

Upon entering, this is what they find:

At the door, the security guard will verify that you are a registered bidder. If you are, you can proceed directly to the lot viewing tables. If not, you are ushered to the far left side of the room where the helpful staff will assist you.

The Registration Area
New bidders are asked to fill out brief registration forms and are then assigned bidder numbers, while returning customers discover that pre-printed registration cards with their name already on them are waiting for them, neatly arranged in alphabetical order. It’s a small thing, but I always appreciate the fact that Heritage ‘remembers’ you and, unlike my dentist, doesn’t have you filling out new forms every time you walk in as if you were some kind of stranger seeking to scam free dental work.

The Viewing Tables
Once you have obtained your bidder number, you are free to view lots arranged in four distinct sections:

The Signature Sale
Occupying the central portion of the room, and accessible by regular people with no special stamp on their bidder cards, this session consists of just under one gazillion lots of colonials through esoterica and included a wide variety of things like the high-quality Westmoreland Collection of Early Bust Half Dollars by die variety, a smattering of modern coins and dozens of Classic Head Half Eagles, each one looking pretty much exactly like all the others.

The Final Session (previously known as the Online Session)
Smaller, and less busy, the Final Session consists of 4,000 lots of coins deemed too inexpensive for the Signature sale, including a lot of coins in ANACs and NCS holders and a large cent on which someone scratched what appeared to be a preliminary design for the New Jersey Nets logo.

Platinum Night
Against the wall, behind the airport check-in line style rope (complete with bouncer) was the viewing area for the gigantic purple Platinum Night catalog. Accessible only to those with the Platinum Night stamp on their bidder card, this section contains the ultra-rarities and high value items. Mostly. Because even though the threshold value for this session is said to be $10,000, and there are a number of spectacular coins in here which will exceed that number by a factor of a hundred or more, there always seem to be a couple of coins that wandered into this section of the sale despite being worth about three grand. I don’t why.

Also of note this time was that the Platinum Night catalog was thicker than the Signature Session, which despite the fact that the Platinum coins are listed one per page and thus take up far more room, seems surprising. Based on that, I imagine that the Double-Platinum catalog featuring only coins worth $100,000 or more can’t be too far off.

Last, but not least (except to me) was the currency table, which was generally less crowded and featured a bunch of guys I’ve never seen before all holding notes at arms length and studying them in the same way that a doctor looks at an x-ray on a TV show.

The Computers Available to Check the Heritage Website
At the end of the registration table are a couple of computers, available to anyone, where you can access the Heritage site, check on your consignments, bid on new items right then and there, etc. That’s very convenient, though I am always too afraid to log on there for fear that I’ll forget to log off, and the next guy to use it will bid on dozens of identical looking Classic Head Half Eagles using my bidder number. That would be a bad.

The Little Coffee Maker by the Door
The only other thing in the entire room is the 10 cup coffee maker, a stack of little styrofoam cups and enough sugar and non-dairy creamer to supply all the auction lot viewing rooms in the world for a period of 13 years. But nothing to stir your coffee with.

So if you are planning to go view lots today, my advice would be to bring a little plastic straw.

Day 5:

First of all, my apologies this morning – there was a computer glitch in my hotel and I wasn’t able to post the blog before leaving for the show. Then too busy to finish it when I got here. Until now. So, without further ado, let’s get started:

Enough with the rehearsals, and the preparations, and the waiting around – Wednesday we finally got to enter the actual show.

But first, it would get incredibly hectic.

It started at lot viewing in the morning, when Dave and I viewed and re-reviewed a few coins about 6 times before deciding that some just weren’t worth bidding on after all. Maybe we’re too picky sometimes, but we concluded long ago that it is better to occasionally pass on some decent coins than it is to own pieces we are not sufficiently excited about. This goes double when we view coins on behalf of someone else.

With that completed, it was time to sort out and finalize all of our bids for Heritage’s 1 PM Signature session. And while this seems straightforward enough, it would get interrupted pretty much continuously by calls and questions requiring our immediate attention and sending us in different directions. Which resulted in us just about running out of time before we had to retrieve our coins from security, haul all our case display materials from the car and drag them into the auction room for the start of the colonial session.

But we made it.

And there I was, comfortably seated in row 4 with my laptop cruising HA-Live, following along in my catalog and wielding my bidder card while attempting to eat a tiny PNG roast beef sandwich. This proved to be a challenge, as HA-Live disconnected a few times forcing me to reboot and wiping out all of my subsequent bids, I kept losing my place in the catalog, and twice I dropped my card. Also, I got crumbs all over my shirt.

But we still managed to buy a few coins in a session in which prices were mixed and there was at least one notable result:

Lot #50, the 1787 Massachusetts Half Cent graded MS64 BN [PCGS] and pedigreed to the Garrett collection realized $10,925. And while that may not seem particularly remarkable, it was when one considers that the exact same coin in the exact same holder realized $23,000 when sold in as lot #20 in ANR’s New York Connoisseur collection auction in March 2006.

Hard to imagine a coin purchased at public auction could lose 50% of its value in less than two years in a robust and rising market, but evidently it can.

We stayed through the early copper, then zipped on down to the bourse floor for an especially hectic set-up, which is without a doubt the worst part of coin dealering in my opinion.

It’s always controlled chaos, as we try to set up our inventory, wrestle with broken case locks and try to find lamps that work while helping customers at the same time. In this case, we were also attempting to set up special inventory for a couple of other dealers promised first shot which threw a medium sized monkey-wrench into the works and delayed us from getting our lamps. When we finally did get a chance to pick them up, we were told they were the last 6 lamps available at the show. Literally.

I’m not sure what the guys behind us in the lamp line did, or what we would have done had they already run out, but I’m pretty sure I’d have been royally ticked off.

Anyway, we then engaged in some high performance buying and selling until about 7:30, when it was time to begin seriously thinking about dinner reservations with a dealer friend we had not seen since the last Long Beach show. The results of which had us back at the Japanese restaurant, not surprisingly, for a spirited discussion on many topics, including stress relief – the tenets of which I look forward to applying at dealer set-up at the next show.

Unless they run out of lamps.

Day 6:

As I was getting organized early Thursday morning I decided that I was going to be positive, and that it was going to be an exceptionally good day.

And then within about 3 seconds my laptop crashed and I lost yesterday’s Road Report (which was a real hoot and which I had just spent about 45 minutes writing) before I loaded it on the site. Gone. Poof. Fortunately, because I had decided that I was going to be positive, I did not fling my laptop out my 19th floor window hitting a parked car or injuring a numismatist.

Just a minor setback, I figured, as I could write one later at the show.

And there were no further glitches as we made our way to the convention center and started to get organized for the scheduled early arrival of several of customers there to see colonials from the Stockbridge Collection.

And then it got busy, with a lot of people stopping by, a lot of neat coins sold (or on hold) and some cool purchases of US type and frankly weird esoterica.

We also had the usual spate of arguments over who gets first shot, something that typically comes up anytime we have anything especially interesting.

We always offer our best coins to our best retail customers, and often bend over backward to accommodate them. Even if it means ticking off other people in the process, which I managed to do several times in the course of three hours. I guess it’s part of the job description.

Aside from that unhappiness, things went well all day and I even managed to re-write that Road Report in the afternoon with no glitches, accept for when the dealer at the next table dumped a bag of raw mint state Morgans all over the floor at my feet as I was typing. Seeing those things hit the concrete and end up in the dust around the electrical outlet was disconcerting, but they managed to retrieve them all and none seemed too much the worse for wear.

Which I cannot say for the coins we submitted to PCGS at this show, as we received some of the crummiest, tightest grades we’ve had in a year or more. One notable box of 14 really cool pieces came back with one coin graded at the level we expected, and every other one between 2 and 8 points worse. As I was flipping through that box at the PCGS table surveying the assigned grades for the first time, I felt a little like a Morgan Dollar which had been dropped on a hard concrete floor.

But I didn’t have much time to worry about it, as we had customers at the table and work to do.

So there I was, having a pleasant chat about a few coins with a collector friend when I noticed, across the aisle, one Laura Sperber of Legend Numismatics seated behind her table having a long conversation with David Hall of PCGS. I have no idea what they were saying, but I was frankly surprised to see that. And that’s all I have to say about that.

Anyway, it was then time to plan our strategy for Platinum Night, which didn’t take very long since we essentially opted out. There were some neat coins there, but the prices were bound to be super strong on anything choice and we just didn’t want to overpay to inventory them.

We did however enjoy seeing lot #2641 sell well, because we consigned it. That would be the Nova Constellatio in MS64, a coin which was listed on our site for 2 months at $14,500 with no takers, but which brought $17,250 in the auction. Once again, if people wish to pay more at auction, that is their prerogative, and we certainly appreciate the business.

We stayed only through the colonials to survey the scene, then headed out to Dux for dinner at the Peabody with a group of dealer friends for another meal which could best be described as amazing.

That was about it. We look forward to a strong Friday with, we hope, good sales, fewer arguments, less dropped coins, no computer crashes and, with any luck, some halfway decent grades.

Day 7:

Friday ended in surreal fashion, with Dave sitting in the front row of the Heritage auction at about midnight, turning around and suddenly realizing that he was the only person in the room (other than the 7 or 8 members of the Heritage team working the auction).

Maybe that’s not too surprising though, as it was nearly midnight, and all of the other bidding activity was on the internet, HA Live, Ebay, bids left on the podium, etc. But we thought it was important that one of us be there in person just to make sure on a few important lots, as the other bidding methods are not always 100% foolproof.

Which meant that Dave (who had drawn the short straw) had to leave dinner early to get there, upsetting the delicate balance of wine per diner at our table and resulting in the rest of us drinking way too much, getting extremely silly and not actually getting back to the hotel until well after midnight ourselves (but please do not tell Dave that).

I guess we needed that R&R time, since it was a long and tiring day at the show and a full week of coin dealering in Orlando is really starting to take its toll.

Which may explain why Friday was only marginally productive overall.

Traffic was downright light in the afternoon, and not a great deal happened.

Though we did sell 10 medium to low priced coins during the day, most were in the morning when the crowds were larger and the buzz was greater.

Which left us time to start to tackle the mountain of paperwork we have amassed here in Florida, which is really not very much fun. But if we don’t get it done and organized now, it has a way of spiraling out of control in short order, causing our bookkeepers back home to go ballistic, and no one needs that.

Anyway, we look forward, rejuvenated, to a good Saturday during which we expect to see some new weekend show attendees, to buy and sell cool coins, to finalize a few pending deals, and then to watch football afterward with reckless abandon with some collector friends at a local sports bar.

See ya’ tomorrow!

Day 8:

Saturday looked promising as we entered the convention center, with a huge throng in the parking lot representing, we assumed, thousands of new attendees who could not get there during the week and who would all, almost certainly, come directly to our table and buy multiple coins each.

And even though it didn’t turn out exactly like that, it was still a pretty good day, with moderate to heavy retail traffic and some reasonably good sales.

We also nailed down the last pending deals with a few collectors and dealers at the show which is not always easy to do. At most shows, we leave with a few loose ends and then spend the subsequent two or three weeks tracking down payments, waiting for coins, pulling our hair out, etc. Not this time.

But while we were doing that, the same can’t be said for about 40% of our dealer colleagues, who packed up and shipped out either at the end of day Friday or sometime early on Saturday despite the show organizers warning that any dealers departing before the end of day Sunday would risk losing their prime table locations.

Not sure I can blame anyone though, as many dealers have been in town since last Friday or Saturday and 8 or 9 days in Orlando is a meaningful commitment of time and energy. More so when you consider that many people will be going directly to New York for the Stack’s auctions tomorrow and then staying there until Thursday (and no one wants to be hauling their inventory with them).

Including us. So while we will be at our FUN table and open for business on Sunday, much of our inventory will not. Anything unsold at this show as of the late afternoon on Saturday is being shipped home per CRO SOP, which is highly recommended when leaving a coin show in the greater Orlando area.

Sunday should be pretty quiet, as we expect light traffic and many, many empty tables. But you never know what last minute deals might be possible or what interesting coins might walk in the door – and if they are, or if they do, we intend to be ready.

Day 9:

In addition to our normal commercial goals at a show, our plan for Sunday was to finish shipping out coins, tie up the last remaining loose ends and methodically complete and audit our show paperwork.

And things were going swimmingly in that direction at about 11:30 AM, when we shipped the last of our boxes at the Post Office and I had just spread all of our show invoices and receipts into neat piles on our back table so we could make sure that they were ell entered correctly in our system, verify that we had received checks for all sales, etc.

There was simply no way we could have known at that time that in just 3 minutes all hell was going to break loose.

But it did, because that is precisely when Dave got an email from the airline informing him that his evening flight home had been cancelled due to the impending snowstorm in New England.

Now, while that may not sound like a big deal to you, it is when you’ve been away for 9 days, especially when your intent was to get home for just one night before repacking, grabbing different coins and zipping down to New York for a series of important client meetings on Monday (followed by the Stack’s sales Tuesday and Wednesday).

So the mad rush to find another flight began. And of course the answer was inevitable: There is one seat left, but it is on a flight which leaves in about an hour. Which meant we had to leave RIGHT NOW.

So Dave took immediate action, first by panicking, then by indiscriminately shoving things into his duffel bag and finally by swinging his arms wildly and spilling a 20 oz cup of coffee all over the floor, and then slipping in it in much the same way that Fred Flintstone would slip on a banana peel.

As you can imagine, it was thoroughly entertaining.

But it did not stop the two of us from having everything packed up and ready to go in about 6 minutes, then dashing out to the rental car for a high speed romp to the airport.

Shockingly, we made it.

Which is to say that Dave made it – I, on the other hand, was 5 hours early for my flight, giving me just enough time to lose my wallet and cell phone in airport security, not realize they were missing until I was on the tram to terminal A, swear my head off in front of a group of startled strangers and then discover they weren’t missing after all. As such, I’d like to apologize to the other people on the tram for my behavior, and offer my special thanks to the member of the security team who moved my wallet and phone from the small pocket on my bag and shoved them into the bottom of the main compartment. That was very helpful.

The good part of that disaster was that I was so relieved to find them that I was 40% more relaxed as I sat in the airport bar and watched the San Diego – Indianapolis game amidst a group of surprisingly enthusiastic Charger fans.

And now I’m home and about to go to bed, hopeful that our trip to New York this week is only eventful in positive numismatic ways, and not so much with the high-speed car rides, lost wallets, spilled coffees, etc.

Oh, did I mention that the FUN show was really excellent overall? It was.