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Back to Road Report Archive 2008

July 26-August 3, 2008: The ANA World’s Fair of Money in Baltimore, MD



After a brief delay, we are off to Baltimore for ANA week this morning, looking forward to a full day of lot viewing, schlepping heavy bags in 93 degree weather, shooting the bull with coin dealer friends, eating sensibly and quite possibly transacting something significant.

And we’re definitely expecting big things here – partly because these oddly named ‘World Fair of Money’ events are always big, but especially due to the fact that in the last 10 days we have done more volume (on and off the website) than in any other 10-day period in CRO’s illustrious history. Seriously.  We did not expect that in the weeks leading up to the ANA (and including multiple major auctions), but apparently the public is collecting coins with an extremely high level of enthusiasm lately, and we are happy to help.

We’ll be Road Reporting each and every day for the next 8 days, with an occasional special feature, at least one guest blogger, and exciting news which will almost certainly appeal broadly to people who think coins are cool (like you, for example).

Day 1:

We arrived at around 10AM to a fine though hot day, and looked forward to the cab ride into town on the uncongested weekend highways. We did not, however, look forward to a cab driver who asked waaaaay too many questions about what we do, where we’re going, etc.

And since we take security seriously, we normally make up some extremely uninteresting non-numismatic story about why we’re in town, specifically designed to ensure that the driver (or any other curious questioner) will really want to talk about something else.

To that end, I decided it would be a good idea to say that I was corporate photographer in town for some vague company seminar (don’t ask me why – it just popped into my head). Well, wouldn’t you know the driver was an amateur photographer, and proceeded to ask 20 question that I couldn’t answer very convincingly, and which undoubtedly made him think I was either an extremely bad photographer, are a complete moron.

Which is substantially better than being a coin dealer from a personal security perspective.

Anyway, we did make it to our hotel, dropped our bags and headed straight over to the Pier 5 Hotel to began furiously viewing roughly 5,000 lots of pedestrian colonials, nice federal coins, absolutely spectacular patterns (including a number of things that I have never seen before), nice currency and, finally, pretty cool Hard Times and other tokens in the two Stack’s catalogs.

Though lot viewing was packed (with several guys in the queue waiting for the next available seat), Dave and I managed to view everything, compare notes, argue, ridicule each other, eat lunch re-view, scratch a few lots from the list, waive our arms around in animated gestures, add one or two new lots and eventually narrow down the group to about 30 coins which we thought were ‘us’.

Then it was back to the hotel for about an hour to sort out a cryptic voice mail from DHL in which they explained that they could not deliver a package to our office. It took 30 minutes for me to figure out what the heck they were talking about (since they had the sender, the origin city and our address wrong), but we got through it.

And just in time for sushi on the porch at Edo’s across the street.

That was about it.

We’ll figure bids tonight, rethink them in the AM and be ready for the start of the 1 PM auction session on Sunday.

Day 2:

It was time for the Stack’s auction in earnest today, and we were there hours early for the 1 PM start, thereby securing extremely good seats.

Which afforded us an excellent vantage point for a marathon session which featured a number of interesting story lines:

First of all, we tried to buy hundreds of the coins in this session as a group, privately, several months ago, but the owner rejected our offer and opted instead to consign many of the better pieces to this auction.

And today we got to see what they sold for compared to the prices we had offered.

So far, some of best of these have gone for very strong money (in some cases a lot more than we offered), while the majority of more mundane pieces have gone for less. We can’t compare a bunch of the others, since they were largely raw, less expensive items that wouldn’t make the auction minimum value and thus weren’t consigned.

At the end of the sessions tomorrow we’ll be able to make a total comparison, but at this point we’d guess the owner will come out about 10% ahead on the coins in the auction, though it will likely take much longer to sell off the rest of the pieces and get paid in total.

Second, there were some head scratching results in the colonial session that we are very hard-pressed to explain:

Such as lot #1032, a a common Washington Draped Bust Restrike in homely and scratched NGC MS61. This is an issue that is available at most every show in better shape than this for less money, including a nice PCGS PF65 we sold in the last month for $1,250. This coin was well below average for the issue in our opinion, yet sold for an inexplicable $2,012.

Yet that was a little less baffling than lot #1036, a Fugio United Over States variety ex-Ford which last sold in June of 2007 at Stack’s for $24,725, but sold today for a $10,925(!) mega-bargain faster than you could say “why the heck wasn’t this thing reserved?” No idea what happened there, but it was just about the only coin in this auction that sold for much less than we figured. Much, much, much less.

But the most interesting coin of all would have to be the which one which was also sold last year, but has since been repaired, dipped and, of course, upgraded (he said sarcastically) and sold for twice as much this time around (and we’re talking about a 6-figure item here). I think that everything that is wrong with numismatics is encapsulated (literally) in this one coin.

Third would have to be the generally robust prices on most everything (the aforementioned Fugio notwithstanding), including the S.S. New York shipwreck coins.

The story of the New York is an interesting one. As described in vivid detail in the Stack’s catalog, it went down while en route from Galveston to New Orleans in 1846 with a cargo which included a wide assortment of US and foreign coins. But while we appreciate the history, the coins offered were not attractive at all in our humble opinion, exhibiting harsh evidence of long term sea-water exposure coupled with heavy conservation (evidently inflicted by mechanical tools on some coins before NCS got hold of them). But prices were still sky high on a group on which we didn’t bid on a single coin.

We stuck around for many of those in the evening session, then decided to call it a night and gear up for a busy tomorrow which will include the final Stack’s sessions, our first crack at Heritage viewing and PNG set up in the late afternoon.

Until then, then.

Day 3:

Monday was a real hoot, as we got to get up early, race from our hotel to the Pier 5 (for Stack’s lot pick-up), then back to our hotel to pick up the show materials and then directly the Convention Center for our first crack at the Heritage lots in a vast and generally pretty crowded viewing room.

And within the 4 Heritage auction sessions (Platinum Night, Signature, ‘No Floor Session’ and the Ed Price Collection catalog) there was quite literally something for everything, including some great coins, many, many overgraded and otherwise undesirable pieces, some baffling CAC stickered coins that we’re sorry to say that we wouldn’t buy for any amount of money, and at least one coin on which we will be executing a gigantor-bid.

It takes a while to see all those coins though, and after 4 hours of intensive viewing we were only about 1/3 done. Which means we’ll have to squeeze in lot viewing on the rest of the coins between bourse floor activities and other Heritage auction sessions during the next few days.

Did you say bourse floor activites? Yes, I did, and coincidentally we got our first taste of those as well, as we decked out our gigiantic booth space during the PNG set-up period from 5 to 7 PM. And while we accomplished most of our objectives (get the cases set out and fill them with coins, get organized, find matching lamps, etc.) we were miffed by a few things:

1. It was Africa-hot on the bourse floor, perhaps indicating that they don’t turn on the AC until the show opens to the public (I guess).

2. Our location on the bourse floor is a-w-f-u-l; miles off the beaten track and all but unfindable for anyone not specifically looking for us.

3. Our plan to be found was based on hanging two of our deluxe, visible-for-miles CRO banners high above the table (like we do at every other show), but of course there are no booth racks to hang them from here. So we’ll have no banners at this show (except on the front of our table), which makes me glad I spent all that time ironing them yesterday morning.

4. We barely had time to scour the floor for any cool coins, as the 7 PM end came upon us suddenly, like a quiet freight train.

Before you know it, it was time to head off to Pazo for dinner with a few dealer friends for one of the best dining experiences in Baltimore.

And then some late night checking to see that we made out quite well at the last Stack’s sessions thank you, landing the one single coin we really, really wanted at 20% less than our max bid – which was a fine way to end the day.

Tomorrow we’re back at it at 8 AM, at which time buying and selling will begin in earnest.

Day 4:

With Tuesday came an extremely full 8 AM to 7 PM day on the bourse floor, first for PNG Day, and then for all-dealer set-up starting at 4 PM.

And it was good, though disjointed.

First of all, the PNG portion of the day consisted of about 20% of the ANA dealers widly scattered throughout the bourse area (including us, waaaay out in aisle 1000, not really near anyone else) and a pretty large group of early bird collectors and non-PNG dealers who paid a hefty fee to get in at 10 AM to walk the floor.

Coincidentally, I happened to be sort of near the door at precisely 10, when seemingly hundreds of guys came sprinting into the bourse area in a frightening mob not that different than a herd of Wildebeests fleeing from a predator. Except that in this case many of them literally ran directly to Sheridan Downey’s table for first shot at a fresh Capped Bust Half deal. Must have been some good coins there.

Our business too was pretty active throughout the day, both on a wholesale and retail basis, and we ended up selling quite a bit in all categories, with a few other big deals pending. We didn’t buy very much, though, as we didn’t see a whole lot that we had to have – though that is very likely to change tomorrow when all of the dealers here are fully set-up and we have an extra 1 gazillion coins to choose from.

By closing time we were completely spent (though not financially), having been in near constant motion for 11 hours interrupted only by an absolutely disgusting pizza lunch and a slew of phone calls from collectors seeking various coins and information.

Afterward it was off to Morton’s in the Sheraton for a medium-sized feast with a collector and dealer friend (in which we pretty much saw everyone else from the bourse floor). And I am pleased to report that none of us seems in danger of going hungry.

Anyway, the show begins in earnest tomorrow, with everyone present and an utterly massive, airplane hanger-sized room completely filled with coins awaiting us (not to mention final preparations for the Heritage auctions, which will take plenty of time too).

And now, I’m going to bed.

Day 5:

Breakfast-less, I arrived at the convention center at the crack of 8 AM and began the long trek from the door to our table (stopping once for supplies, and then a second time for a brief rest) before finally dumping my catalogs and laptop on our back case at about 8:10.

But enough about that – let’s instead focus on all that was good and positive about the show, including decent sales in colonials and federal issues, reasonable grading results, one mega-purchase, an all-but continuous meet and greet with scores of collectors we know, and a much healthier lunch than yesterday.

But the highlight for me was the various exhibits (both formal and informal):

Yes, I did go and view Stewart Bay’s ‘Red Copper’ display at the PCGS table and it was exactly as advertised: Gem, hand-picked red copper everywhere, condition rarities and ‘Pop-Tops’ assembled over a couple of decades of serious collecting. And I did spend extra time lingering over the 1919, the highest graded early Lincoln in existence and looking pretty good in an MS69 holder, as well as the ridiculously pristine MS66 RD 1807 Large Cent and the wild gem 1807 25c in an old MS67 holder.

But while Mr. Blay’s set was impressive Alan Weinberg’s display of Massachusetts silver coins in the Exhibit area of the bourse floor was absolutely off the numismatic charts. Several dozen utterly superb coins (all raw, of course) represented the Oak Tree and Pine Tree series (don’t forget the New England Shilling!), including many finest knowns and spectacular, lustrous uncirculated coins, many pedigreed to a ‘Whose Who’ list of major colonial collections that put most of what trades in the marketplace (including coins in high grade holders) to shame. Mr. Weinberg had the foresight, the eye and the means to buy the best for four decades, and it shows. If you have a chance to go view it, do it.

Also of note would be Tony Terranova’s display of coins struck, topically, in the great state of Maryland – including superb examples of Chalmers colonial silver coins and a gem Standish Barry 3 Pence. As an aside, that makes 3 Standish Barry’s here at this show, including 1 for sale and 1 being shown as an upcoming auction highlight – certainly that has to be the most examples of this rare issue ever in one place, right?

There were plenty of other things to see (including the PCGS MS69 Wreath Cent, for example) but they are too numerous to mention and widely scattered throughout the bourse.

Suffice it to say that the ANA shows bring out some of the best pieces that people have to offer in a gigantic celebration of coins. And we’ll be back bright and early tomorrow to celebrate some more.

Day 6:

I’d love to begin today’s recap with something amusing, but unfortunately the start of the day was anything but.

Minutes after I arrived at the show I heard a tremendous racket and turned around just in time to see the big wooden bookcases behind the Whitman table (filled with heavy books and with a big lighted sign on top) come crashing down. I was so stunned I didn’t realize that the woman who was setting up their booth was trapped under all of that, but people came running from all directions to help dig her out. She was pretty banged up, I’m afraid, but quickly whisked away to the hospital. I do not know how she is now, but I do know that that was incredibly frightening to witness. Let’s hope it wasn’t as bad as it looked.

After that, we were in a bit of a daze for a while, but eventually got back into the swing of things sufficiently to cruise the floor, sell some coins, buy some neat things and then get ourselves ready for the first Heritage session starting with colonials at 1 PM (which seemed to come up incredibly quickly).

We ended up buying some neat things in the session, including two nice pieces of Mass silver and some other cool coins, then headed back downstairs for more coin buying, selling, discussing, grading and schmoozing, all to good effect.

And, as can almost be expected at an ANA, we handled another wild less-than-10-known coin later in the afternoon before heading back upstairs for the Heritage Platinum Night session starting at 6:30 with the Ed Price Collection of Early Dimes and Quarter Eagles.

Upon arriving we found another impressively packed house reminiscent of the January Husak sale for that, with not one single seat available, and a couple of dozen of us lining the walls watching the high-priced proceedings (later announced as $5.7 million dollars all-in) while waiting for the other coin offerings to follow.

But let’s not forget the first lot of the post-Price session – lunch with Heritage’s Jim Halperin. After a few amusing announcements by auctioneer Same Foose (who explained that lunch could either be tomorrow, or at the FUN show in January, or at any other show which Mr. Halperin would be attending), and then an impromptu but abbreviated stroll around the podium by Halperin himself, the auction opened at $5K and finally hammered down at $11K to dealer Tony Terranova (who then announced he was bidding in partnership with Laura Sperber). It was good fun, with all proceeds (including the buyer’s fee) to be donated to the ANA’s education programs.

And while we weren’t dime or Halperin-lunch buyers, we did manage to snag another fancy colonial in the evening session before heading back to the hotel for reasonably healthy, much smaller meal this evening.

We look forward to Friday, as another few collectors from the local area are scheduled to be in town, bringing with them the promise of more cool coins to buy, more cool coins to sell, followed by more cool auction lots to bid on.

Let’s just hope for a less eventful start to Friday than we had today.

Day 7:

We wanted a less eventful start to the day today and we got it – just a smooth easy walk from the hotel to the convention center, no trouble at all getting the booth organized, and nothing heavy falling on anyone. And we heard good news re yesterday’s accident at the Whitman booth; apparently the lady trapped in the wreckage was OK.

On that positive note, we got ourselves organized for what we hoped would be a busy Friday.

And it was, with considerably more traffic than yesterday and more people buying more coins from early in the AM until closing time at 7 PM, along with lots of people stopping by to talk coins, offer pieces for sale, shoot the bull, etc.

The PCGS Luncheon was also today, as was a colonial seminar which many of our clients attended (and told us all about), but there would be no time for that for us – we were too busy at the booth, picking up Heritage lots, getting back more pretty decent grades, buying another (our 5th of the show) piece of Massachusetts silver while selling 3 other ones, etc.

But that wasn’t what occupied most of our time on Friday – that was reserved for brainstorming possible deals to buy and/or trade for coins (for our own inventory or for clients) that have become available at the show.

This is not uncommon at shows, and usually involves something really good, priced at a sufficiently high level that we wouldn’t simply buy it outright. But some of this stuff is available so infrequently that we hate to just give up without considering every conceivable angle or exhausting every possibility to acquire it. And often we do get there – sometimes it’s as simple as negotiating a better deal, or better terms, or sometimes trading with the seller, or pulling off some convoluted Manny Ramirez-to-the-Dodgers 3-way trade (or possibly something we haven’t even thought of yet) to get it done. In any case, that’s a fun part of the business.

And today that fun went on for hours, continued through the end of the show and directly into dinner and finally spilled out onto the sidewalk on the way back to the hotel. And while nothing has been concluded or resolved, it feels like we made some pretty good progress.

And then it was back to the hotel, late, just in time to review show paperwork, check on our Heritage bids and sales, write this blog, watch TV and collapse.

Our last full day is tomorrow, and we look forward to making the most of it.

Day 8:

Five collectors, two dealers (Dave and me) and one kid (Dave’s) started Saturday off with a PCGS numismatic chatroom breakfast at our hotel hosted by a collector friend who usually organizes a similar dinner at the FUN show. And just like those, this was good fun, though with not quite as much show and tell as usual (since most of us didn’t bring any coins, which was probably just as well since we were seated in the middle of a crowded, well-lit room and passing expensive coins around cavalierly is just not a good idea for security).  We could have stayed there for another couple of hours, but the show beckoned, and so we headed over to the convention center, arriving exactly at 10 AM and ready for action.

And there was action, the sum total of which added up to a good but not blockbuster day, with lots of sales of mid-range coins, many of which we purchased since arriving here.

One notable piece was a beautiful Lafayette Dollar in MS64 [PCGS] with lovely toning that we had in the case for 2 days, was looked-at by about half a dozen people during that period before selling to a dealer here on the floor. We were looking forward to imaging that and listing it on the site with a giant photo and extremely clever description, but that’s not going to happen now.

We sold lots of other type, did two trade deals, sold some cool colonials on the floor and by email, including one rare piece which we had graded at the show and which we believe is now just the 2nd slabbed in any grade (since we submitted the first one last year).

We also kept moving on two big deals, and may have figured out the way forward on at least one. We’ll see what happens with that on Sunday, as finalizing either would bump this show from the solid ‘good’ category into what numismatists call the ‘big time’.

We ended up winding down at 6:30 or so, then headed off to dinner with a contingent from HLRC which involved some good wine (as usual), amusing banter (yes), people drawing on menus (first time I’ve seen this other than when I’m out with my kids) and juggling (first time, period).

Normally I would have headed back to the hotel at that point and started this blog, but I bumped into a dealer friend in the lobby on the way back and instead headed to the bar for a while. Which explains why I am now hungover, and this blog is being written on Sunday morning.

The show will be open from 10 to 2 today, with most of that time probably geared toward cleaning up loose ends, packing, shipping and saying so long to everyone who we will next see in Long Beach.

Which means that our next RR will be a post show wrap-up written from the comfort of my den in New England with my feet on the coffee table.

From our perspective, the impact of a CAC stickers on coins in the various auctions wasn’t significant. Admittedly, we were focused on coins in series we know well, including colonials and early type (and not other series which may have behaved differently), but our conclusion was that coins brought what they were worth whether they were stickered or not. And this jibes with our overall experience – some coins with stickers are really nice and worth a premium, and some coins with stickers aren’t nice at all (either objectively or for the grade) in our humble opinion.

That’s pretty much it.

Our next scheduled show is in LB in more than a month, which means that we will have plenty of time to come up with some extremely clever concepts for our next RR.

And in Conclusion:

It seems like about a month and a half ago we were sitting in the Stack’s ANA pre-show auction buying some cool coins, and it feels like a few weeks ago when we sold our first coin on the floor on Monday during the ANA PNG-Day set-up, and just a few hours ago when we sold our last coin (a red unc. colonial) at the tail end of Sunday. Actually that last colonial was just a few hours ago, and was our last commercial act at the 2008 ANA before packing up and heading out last night.

And, as promised, I am now in my den, in New England, and I do have my feet on the coffee table as I type out this last Road Report, exhausted, from the ANA show.

And here is how I would summarize the goings-on:

We had a very good but not record-setting show.

We sold a lot of mid-range coins (an unusually large percentage of which were paid in cash, for some reason).

We sold 4 pieces north of $25,000 each, with two others pending, but two gigantic deals (for us) which might have happened didn’t (at least not yet). Which I believe is the precise dictionary definition separating ‘very good’ from ‘record-setting’.

Most everyone we expected to see at the show did stop by and most everyone bought at least a coin or two (or three or four), though our overall impression was that collectors are being a bit more careful these days and looking to pay over time, or pay via trade-ins to a greater extent than we’ve seen in past months.

Much more than is typical for an ANA, we have some pending activity with collectors who didn’t come in person but shopped by phone and email and who might be buyers of some significant coins, so we’ll see how that shakes out. If everything in play actually gets consummated (possible) that would be a massive boost.

A lot of collectors sold us coins, and we bought a lot of neat pieces on the floor and in the auctions that will look good on the site, but we did not come away with any ultra-rare, almost-never-seen coins that we’ve come to expect at an ANA. The scant few things we saw in that category were priced at at least double what we felt they were worth (and, in some cases, quadruple or quintuple), so we can’t say that we were even tempted.

Our table location was lousy, which didn’t seem to impact visits from our regulars who were actually looking for us, but which almost certainly reduced our traffic and business overall.

Show grading was fine. We submitted a lot less than is typical for us at a major show (not by design, but simply because we didn’t have too much that needed submitting) and got more or less the grades we expected. If there was one bit of unexpectedly good news, it was that the obscure colonial we submitted was graded at the show, which allowed us to sell it the very next day (unlike the last obscure colonial, which we submitted in Long Beach and which took more than a month to come back to us, which isn’t ideal for a business in which a coin tied up in grading is essentially dead inventory).