March 20-24, 2007: The Baltimore Expo
The alarm went off at a most unwelcome 4:00 AM this day, signaling the official kick-off to the Spring Baltimore show, 2007. And it was hectic right from the start.
Here I was, at home in New England, with just a few hours to get down to Baltimore, view lots and be ready to bid at the Stack’s auction starting at 11:00 AM.
My original plan was actually to fly out yesterday, which would have allowed ample time for relaxed lot viewing and schmoozing with other dealers. But I couldn’t get a hotel room for Monday night, so that didn’t work. Now, to be clear, Dave had viewed the lots last week in New York, so we wouldn’t be bidding blind regardless, but it’s always best for us if we both view.
Fortunately, the flight was uneventful and I made it to the lovely Pier 5 hotel for viewing at 9:30 AM, giving me an hour and a half to look at everything in every which way. And here’s what I saw:
A mixed bag of colonials, which included a bunch of crap and a small but very interesting group of really fresh coins which had clearly been squirreled away for decades . Those were cool.
The US copper was generally not very nice or interesting, with maybe one or two exceptions.
And the US silver was all over the place, with some nice pieces, some weird and unattractive pieces and a number of coins which had been sold in the last couple of years in various auctions in slabs and which were now being offered in this auction raw. Sort of retro-like.
The one gold coin I was most interested to see was the 1808 quarter eagle, a piece last offered as part of the Oliver Jung sale in 2004.
And then the fun began.
The colonials were predictable; the so-so coins sold for so-so prices, while the cool, fresh stuff went really strong:
Lot 38, the Vermont Ryder 27 in AU was lovely (though nothing like the photo) and sold for a new record $19,550 to a phone bidder.
Lot 54, a really choice uncirculated New Jersey Copper Maris 15-T variety hammered at a not too surprising $25,300 to the book.
In copper, one piece was especially interesting to see:
Lot 170, an 1801 Draped Bust Cent which had been recolored in a relatively convincing way. To their credit, Stack’s described the piece as such. It went unsold.
Skipping ahead to silver and the aforementioned newly raw dollars, we watched with interest to see how the dealer community and bidding public would react to coins formerly sold in MS slabs now raw.
There were others, but lots 1027, 1030, 1052 were most readily identifiable – former Cardinal Collection coins, slabbed as PCGS MS61, PCGS MS61 and NGC 63 respectively in that sale and called Brilliant Uncirculated, nearly Choice-61, MS-62 and Choice Brilliant Uncirculated-63 here. And all closed to the book this night, unsold. That really didn’t surprise as much. It’s one thing if a coin is new and fresh to the market, offered raw in a sale. It’s another thing when it used to be slabbed and now isn’t for no particular reason. Obviously, high opening bids didn’t help.
And that brings us to lot 1441, the Jung 1808 quarter eagle. It hammered for $370,000 as compared to the robust-for-that-time $280,000 less than three years ago. A lot of money, but not unreasonable in our opinion for a very nice example of the ‘rarest American type coin’.
That was about it. Other than a few notable exceptions, the session was pretty lackluster and a lot of pretty good coins went cheap.
Wednesday brings more from Stack’s, as well as our first look at the Bowers auction over at the convention center.
“What in the hell is that noise?” I asked myself at about 3:30 this morning.
And there it was again. And then again. The unmistakable metal-on-metal screech you hear when you open the hatch of a submarine.
After a brief period of disorientation, and some thorough mechanical investigation, I realized it was actually coming from the fan in my room. A very brief 90 minutes later, after the hotel engineering team had dismantled the unit and removed something long and gray, the problem was solved.
Of course I was up for good at that point, which meant I had some ‘bonus’ time to think about today’s auctions and the CRO plan of action. Excellent.
Plans in place, I went back to the Pier 5 Hotel early and re-reviewed a few Stack’s lots in the morning session, picked up a few lots from Tuesday’s session, then headed on over to the convention center to check out the lots for the Bowers and Merena auction scheduled for Thursday.
Aaaah Bowers and Merena. We like these guys, and we’re rooting for them, but I frankly went into lot viewing with low expectations. The catalog was late (at least compared to the schedules kept by the other auction houses) and I only saw it for the first time at lot viewing. That’s not ideal. And when I did see it, it was surprising:
Surprise #1: It was very, very thick. Phone book thick.
Surprise #2: The photos inside were (mostly) black and white. I can’t remember the day that most company’s catalogs became largely all-color affairs, but I think it was about 2003. And, if memory serves, it was Bowers and Merena who started that trend (I could be wrong about this; if someone knows the correct answer go ahead and email me and I’ll fix this section and base a character on you in tomorrow’s Road Report). Anyway, it was interesting to see that they had reverted to black and white, and it was even more interesting to see how nostaligic that looked.
Surprise #3: There were a lot of pretty nice coins in this catalog, to the point that during lot viewing Dave said that he thought the average quality level was higher here than at Stack’s. Who knew? Having said that, there were some funky coins too, but there always are in every auction.
After some power-viewing (and a very serious lunch), we came back and checked in for the show itself. In past years, I would always forget to check in in advance, and would instead have to stand in an interminable line to get my ID badge on Thursday AM, getting more and more ticked off watching early birds entering the show (and presumably buying all the good coins) before me.
But not this year.
We checked in early, got our badges, and then were pleased to discover that, unlike past years, we could lock up our bags in the newly established Whitman security room inside the bourse area. And that’s when we realized that Whitman’s stamp on the show had brought with it other changes, including some tweaking of the bourse floor set-up and some generally good vibes.
One bad vibe: Whitman added large hanging rods behind each table (similar to what had been in place at other shows) and perfect for hanging the now famous Coin Rarities Online banner. Unfortunately, we didn’t bring it with us this year because there was no place to hang it last time. Next time we’ll know.
We finished lot viewing in the late afternoon, went back and answered email and filled a couple of customer orders and then headed off to dinner with a dealer friend.
Tomorrow figures to be a very busy day, so I am personally looking forward to an evening of sleep uninterrupted by even one submarine hatch being opened at 3:30 AM.
These are our internal CRO ratings for Thursday:
Sleep: D-. Woke up again in the middle of the night, though this time for no apparent reason. Very quickly this week is turning into some kind of numismatic sleep deprivation experiment. Perfect.
Breakfast: F. Didn’t have any.
Show Kick-Off: F. I thought dealer set-up started at 9:00 AM (which is what it said on the signs and on the Baltimore Coin & Currency website I checked before going to bed), but that wasn’t quite right. So after going to the effort to secure my ID badge in advance, and then planning to launch myself into the show as soon as it opened, and despite the fact that I was awake for hours here in my room waiting for the start, I blew it. Only when Dave rang me from the show at 8:20 with the requisite ‘Where are you?” call did I realize it actually opened at 8:00. Aaaaargh.
Sales: B+. When I did finally get there, the getting was pretty good.
Wholesale activity was genuinely brisk, and we also received a surprising number of phone and email orders off the website (though given the spotty email and internet service on the bourse floor, that wasn’t clear until we could check messages late in the evening). This is something we are frankly not used to, as normally email and phone activity ebbs during a major show.
And while we are delighted with the orders we are receiving, we are scrambling unsuccessfully to keep up. So if you are waiting to hear from us, we apologize and ask for your patience – every inquiry will be answered in the order in which it was received.
Purchases: A-. We bought quite a bit on the floor. It’s hard to predict – often we buy from long-time trusted sources. But sometimes we bump into good things in the most unexpected places. Or maybe find something a few minutes before another dealer and snatch it away like some sort of numismatic bird-of-prey (kind of). Whatever the case, we ended up with a lot of interesting things that will hit the website before too long.
The Bourse floor itself: A. Elephantine, and getting larger every time we come here. An embarrassment of riches. It’s gotten to the point where walking the entire floor and seeing every table may no longer be physically possible for your average coin dealer or show visitor. I would now equate it to visiting Disneyland and having 3 hours to see everything. Not likely.
Cool things seen: B. Jut a few wild coins have appeared so far, including a matched set of Oak Tree and Pine Tree Shillings in PCGS MS64 holders, and a Paquet reverse double eagle. Now that’s something you don’t see everyday. And at least we were able to buy that last one.
But the best thing we saw wasn’t an actual coin, it was an iphoto slide show of one of the finest collections of early American coins ever assembled, proudly displayed by the collector-owner. I’d say we were speechless, but that’s not physically possible.
Numismatic camaraderie: A. The gangs all here, including most every dealer we know and a bunch of early bird collectors. Can’t beat it.
Lunch: F. Didn’t have any.
The Bowers auction: B. We actually found some things we liked, and we were able to buy them at what we thought were pretty decent prices. That is what numismatists call a ‘nice combination’.
Dinner: A+. We were back at Pazo again (we’re addicted), this time with a couple of dealers and a long time serious collector. In all, it was great food and nice conversation in a cool atmosphere. And we are pleased to announce that we solved all of the problems facing the ANA between bottles of Rioja. So that was productive.
Late night: B. Just trying to stay awake as I pore through messages here in the room and bang out another exciting edition of the Road Report.
Friday should be great, as the coin buying public will arrive. Now only if I can get a little sleep before then.
Tan seats? I don’t remember our car having tan seats.
And this is strange – who put these hard hats in the trunk?
And that valet parking guy is a complete j-e-r-k – who does he think he is telling me to shut the door and get out of the car?
It was at that precise moment that we all realized that we were trying to get into the wrong car. Sure enough, an identical car then pulled up (ours) confirming that, yes, we had just walked out of the restaurant, assumed that the valet had brought our car around, and had all tried to climb into some guy’s car as he just happened to pull up in the same kind of car we were driving.
First time that’s ever happened to me, possibly due to the four bottles of wine we had just downed at (you guessed it!) Pazo. Our third consecutive fantastic night at the same restaurant at this show.
But, embarrassed as we may have been, we managed to pull ourselves together, apologize to the other driver and skulk off very discretely.
Fortunately, we didn’t have any need to skulk off at the show earlier in the day, as things continued to go pretty well over at the convention center.
We ran all over the place looking for cool stuff to buy, sold a couple of pretty big coins and are inching closer to finalizing a good-sized deal which has been in the works for about two weeks.
And we sure saw an awful lot of familiar faces at the table today, and we met many new people heretofore known to us only by their chatroom handles. That’s fun.
Our sales overall were decent, buoyed by a nice deal at the very end of the day (always satisfying to drain a long putt on 18), while buying was again strong. In total, the show is shaping up as a solid B, with the final chapter yet to come.
I’m late this morning, so I’ll have to cut this off now – but I’ll write a grande Day 5 report from home on Sunday AM.
Until then –
We were about half packed up, organizing paperwork and just about ready to head out the door late Saturday afternoon when it walked up to the table:
A coin prominently listed on a number of our customer want lists, available right then and there and looking pretty good, raw, in an old tattered envelope. Really old. It took me exactly nine seconds to produce my checkbook and finalize the deal.
And like the sale to close Friday that had us in a good mood, this was similar, and capped a Saturday which continued the solid B trend of the previous days.
So what can we conclude from this Baltimore show? Not much that hasn’t been said before, by us and others, on dealer sites and various chatrooms:
- Anything really cool and high end instantly found mutliple vying buyers almost regardless of prices. We just can’t find enough of such coins.
- Average coins typical for the grade are just sort of hanging around.
- Low end coins lousy for the grade are death.
- The market for distressed coins (not our forte’, obviously) is especially weak, and a number of dealers who do buy such material commented that they were reluctant to be too heavily invested in such coins at this time. The one exception would be coins of such significant rarity that they aren’t really obtainable any other way.
- PCGS grading at this show was as strict as I’ve ever seen it, to the point that some dealers tossed in the towel and just stopped submitting, figuring they’d wait until next time.
- Whitman’s stamp on the show was a major improvement in every area that I could see. In particular, the process to get badges and case keys was smooth and easy this time around, as compared to the absolute abomination in past years. That was always one of the most frustrating things on the coin show circuit, but now we don’t have to worry about it again.
- As much as I like Pazo, I simply can’t eat at the same restaurant every night.
- Every coin we saw at this show that we liked, we bought right then and there. I have learned my lesson about waiting too long on the sexy stuff, and then having someone else walk up to the table and say “hey, look what I just found!” as they show me a coin I intended to go back and buy.
- If I see one more great old coin which has been stripped, dipped and ruined by someone I’m going to have a numismatic cow right there on the bourse floor.
- Not that we are the largest players in the industry (we aren’t), but I do find it mildly frustrating that some coins owned by collectors that we know are sold to other dealers who then come and offer them to us (now marked up again, of course). If you have something to sell which is in our area of specialty, you might do yourself a favor and offer it to us first and see what we’re willing to pay. It can’t hurt, can it?
And that, ladies and gentlemen, concludes this series of reports on the March, 2007 Baltimore show.