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Back to Road Report Archive 2011

June 14-18, 2011: The Whitman Baltimore Expo

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June 14th:  Day 1

For CRO, our Baltimore Show began at precisely 3 AM on Tuesday as your author leaped out of bed, began packing like a crazy person, jumped in a cab and made it to the airport well in advance of the first flight to BWI departing at just after 6.

And even though the flight was slightly delayed, I arrived at the airport in Baltimore just in time to see an attractive older woman in the departure gate wearing a ball gown with a giant sash that read “Ms. Senior America 2011”.  Unfortunately, there was no time for me to get her autograph, since I needed to race down to baggage claim in time to stand there, like I usually do, for about 20 minutes waiting for the belt to start moving.

But it did, finally, and I eventually made it to town, dropped my bags at the hotel, made my way to the new show location in the convention center and then wandered around aimlessly for 20 minutes searching for the Stack’s lot viewing room before finding it waaaaaaay in the back of the building.

And though I was there pretty early, I think I got what at that time was the last lot viewing seat, then proceeded to pore through every single box in the US and World auctions and even checked out a bit of currency over the next 7 hours or so.

Which was mostly very productive, though occasionally interrupted by the staff assembling some shelves in the back of the room which evidently required a lot of pounding of one loud metal object against another.

But I did get through everything before heading back to the hotel, then comparing notes with Dave and figuring our bids, before heading to dinner before the auction.

Which seemed well-timed, though not exactly, since we got to the auction itself late, just about 20 lots prior to the start of the colonial session (since the tokens and stuff at the beginning of the sale on which we were not bidding had gone more quickly than we anticipated).

But that turned out fine, as we bought most but not all of what we wanted in a session that had what to me were a mixed bag of results:

Lot #164, the “Ghost Tree” Oak Tree Shilling in an NGC XF40 holder sold for a strong $12,650 vs the $9,775 this same piece brought at Stack’s in January of 2007.

Lot #177, a 1788 Massachusetts Half Cent in a PCGS MS63 BN holder, brought just $2,875, which is about half of what the last like-graded though admittedly more attractive example brought at auction in 2010.

Lot #229, the rare Washington President with the Plain Edge brought $37,375 all-in, a nice increase over the $29,900 this same coin brought at Stack’s Norweb sale in 2006.

Lot #234, the brightly toned Fugio Silver Restrike in a PCGS MS63+ holder brought a very robust $28,750, which is higher than this coin had been priced when offered for sale in recent months and more than 10x greater than the $2,415 this same piece brought when sold as lot #95 of Goldberg’s Fairchild Family Trust sale in May of 2001 (Note to self:  I should have bought that 10 years ago).

Lot #283, a beautiful, light brown and delightfully frosty 1810 Classic Head Cent that team CRO graded Choice AU (though it was housed in an NGC MS61 holder) sold for what we thought was a very fair $10,925.

Lot #429, a 1902 Indian Head Cent in a MS67 RD holder sold for $10,350, a bit less than the last record of a PCGS 67 of this issue, which we found surprising, since this piece was amazing and was housed in a first generation PCGS Rattler slab, indicating that the color was stable and that it hadn’t been futzed with at least since 1986, if at all (and we think it was the latter).

But by that time I was running on empty and could not stay awake for the rest of the session, so I headed back to the hotel and then unceremoniously collapsed on the bed with the lights and TV still on (which seems to happen a lot on these trips).

Anyway, Wednesday we are back for more follow-up lot viewing followed by session 2 of the auction in the evening, where your author intends to be sufficiently well rested to stay awake through the whole thing.


June 15th:  Day 2

Having crashed early on Tuesday, I was especially well-rested on Wednesday morning and figuratively dove back into work, responding to a slew of emails, pricing a deal of tokens we were offered, checking all of our late bids in last night’s auction (every one of which was a winner, I think, unless I was misreading the Stack’s-Bowers system, which is possible) and then writing yesterday’s RR in hopes of getting it done before I received any of those ubiquitous “Where the heck is the Road Report?” emails (of which I was delighted to get only one).

Then I updated our inventory spread sheet, researched prices on some of the upcoming world coins in the Ponterio sale, and sent Dave my list of the lots in Wednesday’s Stack’s-Bowers session that I had flagged as ‘high interest’ (since he was heading off to lot viewing earlier than me), then I hit the gym, had lunch and eventually got to the convention center at a very relaxed 12:30 PM.

Where I ran into a much, much larger crowd than yesterday, rendering the viewing room SRO, and with dealers spilling out into the expansive hallway and seated in little groups in the small and extremely widely spaced chairs which look like they might fold into futons, but don’t.

Eventually though, I got a seat with a lamp, and began viewing in earnest between two well known dealers, one of whom kept looking at his catalog with a mildly bewildered look on his face before saying “Hey, was there an auction on Tuesday?”.  Yes.  Yes there was.

And I think he was not the only one confused by this schedule, since it used to be that the pre-show auction run by Stack’s was held early in the week, while the official show auction run by Bowers was held later in the week during the actual show.  But, since the two companies have now joined forces, they have spread the official show auction to fill both slots.  Sort of.

Anyway, since I had already viewed all the lots on Tuesday, I spent my time attempting to confirm my earlier opinions, which in 95% of the cases I did.  There were a few coins I saw differently this time, though, some better, some worse, until I was confident that I had my final list, which would then be compared and contrasted with Dave’s final list, thoroughly vetted, and ultimately used to determine what we would actually be bidding on.

For whatever reason, that often difficult process was easier and quicker than usual, as we were in violent agreement about most of the stuff.

Which gave us plenty of extra time to schmooze with the other dealers hanging around the lot viewing room, including many of the retail guys whose names are well known to the public, and a lot of the movers and shakers that no one outside the industry has ever heard of.

Most of whom had upbeat things to say about the market, their recent business activities and their expectations for this show, which leads us to believe that it might be a barn burner (provided that the public is actually able to find the show in its new location, which is no sure thing).

Which we actually got to see up close at 6 PM when they allowed dealers in to the bourse area for the first time to lock up our inventory.  What we found was a room that is not as big as the ‘regular’ Baltimore show, but big enough, with all of the booths laid out in exactly the way it usually is, which created the same odd feeling of déjà vu I got when I met my then girlfriend’s twin sister in college.

Anyway, then we left, deciding to leave our bids for the evening session on the computer and go back to the hotel before playing Russian Roulette in the form of having a late dinner at Roy’s, the first time we have ventured back there since an unfortunate food poisoning incident at their LA location during the ANA show in 2009.

Tomorrow I will let you know how that turned out, as well as reporting on our first day at the show itself, starting with dealer set up at 8 AM.

June 16th:  Day 3

I arrived at the convention center at about 10 minutes to 8 on Thursday feeling f-a-n-t-a-s-t-i-c (i.e. not violently ill from the previous evening’s dinner), then waited in the cramped area at the bottom of the escalator just outside the bourse door with almost every other dealer which would have been crowded, uncomfortable and hot even if had not been leaning against a heater which was inexplicably turned on (which it was).

I was relieved, therefore, when they finally let us in, and raced over to our table where our inventory was already in the cases (since we put it there Wednesday evening) and ready to be laid out in a less artful manner than usual (since we have so many coins with us).

Dave showed up a few minutes later since he flat refuses to ever stand in line if he can avoid it (though I believe he does make an exception for McDonald’s), and then we quickly got everything set up and ready for what we figured would be an active day.

And it was, almost right from the start, both buying and selling, at times about as hectic as our table has ever been at a show, with the second sale of the day being the 1995-W American Eagle Set in PCGS Regency holders that is in our current ad.  We figured that would not last long.

At one point in the afternoon we had (atypically) several different dealers all clamboring for us to make an offer on some spectacular coin or other, seemingly with intense time pressure, while we had a few customers at the table looking at coins in our cases to the point that I almost performed a Roberto Duran “No mas” maneuver and said we just couldn’t handle it all at once.  But ultimately we did, and hope that all of that will have proven to be worthwhile as early as Friday.

There was one significantly disappointing moment mixed in as well, as I walked up to another dealer’s table just as a friend was buying a bunch of extremely cool stuff that I would have snapped up myself had I been there 90 seconds earlier.  (Note to self:  Next time, walk faster).

Later Dave came back with our Stack’s auction winnings, which were robust, and included a long run of colonials and, I believe, all but one of the federal coins we had bid on, which might be about the best yield of purchases vs coins bid on we have had in recent memory.

So, it was a busy and largely successful day commercially, during which we also heard some interesting things from visitors to the table:

  1. In a span of a few minutes early in the day, two dealers in separate conversations volunteered that they no longer bid in auctions at all, since they feel like they get better deals on the bourse floor.  We don’t agree with that, and think our best approach is to buy cool coins wherever we find them, but maybe it is different in other specialities.
  2. We had several people try to sell us coins today in the most aggressive manner I can ever recall, citing non-existant auction records, flinging BS like crazy, etc.  Oh well, I guess you have to expect some of that.

Then we worked on one last, hectic deal late in the day before packing up, leaving our bids for the Stack’s-Bowers sale and heading out for a sensible dinner, at which time it occurred to me that I had forgotten to eat lunch on Thursday.

And there could be no more profound measure of how busy we were than that.

Friday we expect similar activity, and look forward to reporting about it right here in just about 24 hours from now.

June 17th:  Day 4

As I was running a little bit late on Friday morning, I decided to grab a cab from my hotel to the show and ended up sharing one with a couple of other dealers who were apparently on the exact same schedule.

Which was pleasant enough, until the cab driver, possibly in some sort of protest, suddenly and violently turned the radio up almost as loud as my brother used to crank “Aqualung” by Jethro Tull in his bedroom when we were in high school.  Back then, my mother used to come upstairs and scream at him to turn it down, and while I was tempted to do the same thing to the driver in this instance, I didn’t, instead just sitting there while that crappy new Jennifer Lopez song pounded in my ears until we arrived at the convention center.

Even worse, I found myself humming that tune (though more quietly) as I strolled to the bourse, passed the auction room on the way, casually peeked in and suddenly realized that the world coin session that I thought would be on Saturday was actually beginning at that exact moment, so I raced downstairs to our table, got my catalog and bidder card and sprinted back upstairs to bid.  Fortunately, they started with the ancient coins in which we had no interest, so I had about 30 minutes to go next door and re-review the lots of Mexican coins just to be sure which ones to stretch for if necessary.

Then, in an excellent example of cramming 10 pounds of numismatic activity into a 5 pound bag, Dave actually came up and reviewed those same lots as well, we figured out exactly what we were doing, and I walked into the auction just about 1 minute before our first target lot would be coming up.  Phew.

But it was a complete bust almost right from the beginning, as they were going really, really slowly, and every single thing we liked was selling for 2 or 3 times what we were prepared to pay.  Causing me to leaf ahead in the catalog and realize that, at this pace, and with our target lots so widely spaced, I would be sitting here for about 2 hours, missing important stuff on the bourse floor and probably not buying anything anyway.  Not a good use of time in my estimation.

So, in a huff, and without humming any Jennifer Lopez music at all, I left my bids at the podium (where I figured there was a 50-50 chance they would be executed at all), and disgustedly walked out.

Frankly, I’m glad I did, since when I got back to our table it was genuinely busy, and Dave needed the help as we bought and sold all sorts of stuff over the next several hours, both on a wholesale and retail basis.

One of the best things about this show has always been the steady stream of visitors to the table, as many of the regular customers we see in Baltimore stopped by, chatted, and bought a coin or two during the course of the day.  But there were some new customers too, some who happened upon our table by chance, through the referrals of other dealers on the floor (which we always appreciate), or saw our info about this show on our website and specifically sought us out.

Also, at some point during the day, a collector-investor we know came to the table and told us that he had just finalized a deal to sell a coin for $500,000 that he had purchased in 2006 for $132,250.  A result that financial analaysts would describe as “a very good result”, and an indication that the high end of the market is moving along just fine, thank you.

Then, during a brief lull, I noticed that we had received by email a series of updates from Stack’s-Bowers showing the results of the bids I had left, which indicated they had actually entered all of them.  And while most of them showed we had been outbid (in some cases by a multiple of 3 or 4), we actually won 5 coins – including, amazingly, the two that we wanted the most.  “That’s surprising“, I said to myself.

And then we got busy again, and continued that way until about 4:30 when the show started to quiet down and the crowd thinned out, at which time we picked up our grading, bought a last coin or two on the floor and started making dinner plans, which ended up with us at Sullivan’s with a collector and dealer friend and an extremely delicious Cajun Ribeye which looked like it was on fire (exactly the way I like it).

Saturday will probably start out much like Friday, as we try to balance bidding in another world coin session with maximizing our activities at the table, buying and selling as many coins as possible, picking up checks, paying everyone we need to pay, dropping off some consignments for the ANA auctions and settling all other business before we head to the airport late in the afternoon.

Whatever happens will be described here on Sunday morning after we are back home in New England.

June 18th:  Day 5

Even though I was well aware that Saturday’s Stack’s-Bowers world auction session began at 9 AM, and therefore should have been ready for it, it wasn’t that simple.  You see, I also had all my luggage with me (since I had just checked out of the hotel) and had to put it behind our table as soon as the bourse opened (also, coincidentally, at 9) before I could head up to the auction room.

So by the time I did that, and raced up to the auction, they had just closed lot #8007, which was, unfortunately for me, our first target lot.  So I frantically yelled “Is it too late to bid on that?” from the doorway (in a way that would have annoyed me had I been anyone other than the person doing the yelling) and managed to buy it (totally out of breath) with literally seconds to spare.

Then it became more relaxed, since our next lot of interest wasn’t for a while, so I went back down to the bourse and got things organized as Dave arrived a few minutes later.

After some time, and some wholesale deals, I went back up to the auction thinking our next target lot would be up soon, and so I was very surprised to see that the lot I bought 30 minutes earlier was still showing on the screen.  Apparently there had been some sort of computer glitch delaying things for a while, and so rather than kill the whole day going from the bourse on the 1st floor to the auction on the 3rd floor, I once again succumbed and left my bids at the podium so I could focus on activities on the floor.

Which I believe was a good decision, since we were busy again, and sold quite a few coins in all categories, including 2 more pieces of Massachusetts silver, a couple of NJ coppers, a few commems, and some assorted federal type coins in the $1,000 to $10,000 range.

Then Dave picked up the federal and world coins we had purchased in Friday’s Stack’s-Bowers session which we put with all of our other NEWPs from this show, some of which will be unleashed in our next Early Bird this Tuesday.

But we weren’t done buying yet, finding a couple of more colonials, including one very expensive piece, and choice early copper that walked up to the table in the early afternoon.

Then we checked the progress of our bids on those aforementioned world coins and saw that we won some and we lost some, which might have been different had I been there in person.  Oh well – can’t be everywhere at once.

Fortunately, Dave was at the table late in the afternoon and thus got a first hand view of what he thought was a not very appealing piece of melted chocolate on the floor in front of our table.  You can imagine his surprise, therefore, when it turned out to be a live bat (I’m not making this up) which then took off and flew into the rafters of the convention center.  This would be the first time we’ve seen anything like that at a show (and is another reason not to send Dave to the store next time you need chocolate).

And then, suddenly, the show was over.

In total, we’d rate it an A- if only because we did not sell any of the reeeeeeaaaaaally expensive stuff we had with us.  In other areas, it was terrific, with a lot of activity in all categories, great sales, many hats given out (actually, more than at any show we can recall), cool NEWPs, good contacts, fun times, and an excellent kick-off to our fairly extended summer hiatus from shows, since our next scheduled event is not until the ANA in August.

But while we will not be hitting the road anytime soon, there will be plenty to do around here, starting with the EB which will go out on Tuesday (the first of several we’re planning over the next month or so).

Before we begin that, however, it is time to go play golf.