March 23-29, 2009: The Whitman Baltimore Expo
It is 3:41 AM, and I have now been up for an hour and 20 minutes, just enough time to pack, eat breakfast, tool around on the internet looking for rare colonial coins mis-listed in the wrong section of Ebay, and go to the airport.
After an impressively early start as described in our prologue this morning, it was a short plane ride down to Baltimore, a quick cab in moderate traffic to our hotel and then a brisk walk under sunny skies to the Pier 5 Hotel, site of the Stack’s auctions (and for the moment, the center of the coin dealing universe). Sort of.
Actually, and despite a very thick catalog of diverse material, there wasn’t too much in the way of interesting CRO-style coins. Mostly what we saw were dealer consignments – some which were considerably better than average (including ours!), and some that were hideous – mixed in with fresh stuff primarily in 20th century series that we don’t do much with. But with an occasional cool old coin that we liked.
So we cranked through lot viewing about as quickly as we could prior to the 1 PM start of the auction and scouted out some good seats in the back of the room.
And right from the outset, prices were relatively strong, as most of the nicer colonials brought more than we expected (including ours!) in a lively session.
The trend continued into federal coins, with the good stuff going quite well on the floor and in what seemed to be very active book, internet and phone bidding.
We managed to buy a few things for inventory but were swamped on a couple of others (including two coins that hammered down for more than twice our bids (and we thought we figured them aggressively . . .).
Somewhere along the way, though, I just couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer after a couple of weeks of traveling, staying up late and waking up early, and so I went back to my hotel and spent much of the afternoon sleeping while Dave continued lot viewing coins in the later sessions.
But not before we bought one cool thing privately in the lobby of the hotel as I left.
We’ll be back at it tomorrow at the Pier 5, then here at the hotel working on inventory, writing our next ad, updating the site and planning for the show itself.
It was an extra-super-long numismatic day on Tuesday, as we worked on the website, responded to emails and worked the phones in the early morning, spent the late morning / early afternoon back at the Stack’s session at the Pier 5 hotel, skipped lunch (!), then headed over to the convention center for some comprehensive multi-hour lot viewing at Bowers and Merena, followed by a long strategy session over dinner with a dealer friend. Phew.
We also got to look back and take stock, talking to a lot of other dealers (including the specialists in different areas who know exactly what’s what in their series) and got their impression of prices at Stack’s.
The conclusions of which were (as is usually the case) that the choice coins were almost uniformly very strong, and the sub-par dealer consignments mostly weren’t. And the fresh stuff got the most attention. And in cases where the fresh stuff wasn’t really technically that great, freshness trumped quality.
So what was fresh in this sale?
Mostly the Bob Entlich consignment, which consisted of lots of things, heavy on the 20th century series including Buffalo Nickels, Mercury Dimes and SLQs, all assembled by a serious numismatist (and former Stack’s cataloger) with a good eye over a period of many years (i.e. the right way).
And what wasn’t fresh?
Some of the worst, fixed up junk we’ve seen in any auction.
And how could you tell them apart? By looking carefully at lot viewing, since the catalog didn’t really differentiate clearly which coins were from which source, mixing them all up into a thick numismatic soup.
With a few notable results so far as follows:
Lot #3102, a silver Hibernia Farthing in a PCGS MS64 holder and looking stunning in the catalog photo (just like it did when it appeared about 2 months back in Stack’s Americana sale), but like a horrible, cleaned MS61 in hand (just like it did In January, and just as described here in our Road Report detailing the auction) did not sell.
Lot #3147, 1775 George III Counterfeit Halfpenny struck over a Mail Coach Conder Token, realized $4,600. That was a lot more than the $3,450 it brought last January in the Ringo sale, and quite OK with us, since we consigned it.
Lot #3221, a thoroughly original Sheldon-5 1793 Wreath Cent, went unsold. That coin looked good in hand, with a few old dings well blended in, but horrible in the catalog photo, indicating once again that viewing auction coins in hand (or having a trusted representative do it on your behalf) is essential to knowing what is what.
Lot #3480, a rare 1867 with Rays Shield Nickel in NGC PF63 was a little spotty, but brought $32,200.
Lot #3551, a 1916 Doubled Die Obverse Buffalo nickel in a PCGS AU55 holder, soared to $51,750 – which was well into mint state money. The coin was very sharp, but lifeless, which we think may not be the case next time we see it.
Ditto lot #3565, 1918/7-D Buffalo Nickel with a similar look yielded a similar result, bringing unc. money at $37,375.
Lot #3610, a 1926-S Buffalo in PCGS MS64 but with an excellent strike brought a strong $43,125.
Lot #3673, an attractively toned 1844-O Seated Half Dime pedigreed to the Atwater and Pittman collections brought $19,550, which was not that much more than the $16,500 it realized in the Pittman sale in 1997.
Lot #3851, one of the highlights of the session, a 1927-S Standing Liberty Quarter graded by PCGS as MS66 FH (but not really looking to us like it had a FH), landed at $149,500. We suspect that would have realized a very different number as a raw coin, but as a Pop Top coin its value was reasonably assured even in the new “modern market”.
Lot #5264, the 1794 Flowing Hair Dollar which looks like it has been run over by at least one train (and which I think I have seen more frequently in recent years in various auctions than my own family), went unsold. Good news for everyone who hopes to see it again soon at another auction in a month or two.
Wednesday we’ll be heading over to the convention center in the afternoon, submitting some pre-show grading, working on a couple of wholesale deals at a nearby hotel and looking forward to seeing some good customers later on, all to be recapped here in just about 24 hours from now.
Since the Stack’s sessions began Monday, instead of the usual Tuesday, we had sort of an extra day here on Wednesday with no auctions to attend, no more lots to view and no urgent business.
So we spent the morning working our inventory and then hauled it to the convention center at about noon, locked most of it up, picked up our dealer ribbons, walked over to PCGS at the Sheraton and submitted a few high-powered coins to none other than President Don Willis, and then had lunch.
Then we went back to the Pier 5, peeked into the colonial currency sale and took stock of the gold auction (which was actually Tuesday, but which we’ll cover now in an otherwise slow news day), with a few notable results as follows:
Lot #5850, a quite decent 1795 Small Eagle $5 in an NGC MS63 “star” holder realized $166,750.
Lot #5852, a 1798 $5 with the rare 14 Star Reverse in an NGC AU58 holder realized a healthy $35 big ones.
Lot #5872, the 1834 Capped Head $5 (one of the Fat Head variety that Dave is always waxing poetic about) brought a very reasonable $46,000, while the other two impaired examples of this rare type did not sell. In this auction (as in most all coin auctions so far in 2009), the owners of rare-but-impaired specimens have to heavily discount such coins vs. their wholesome counterparts to have any realistic chance of selling them.
Lot #5893, the beautiful and original 1843-O Small Letters $5 in NGC MS64 sold for a strong $48,875, while lot #5896, a just-about-identical 1844-O $5 also in NGC MS64, brought an equally robust $26,450.
Lot #5989, the really nice 1838 $10 in PCGS AU58 pedigreed to Harry Bass brought a deluxe $54,625, while lot #5990, the more ‘commercially graded’ (euphemism alert!) PCGS AU55 example of the same date brought just $16,100. Which the serious collectors would understand, and the guys slavishly following the sheets would think is ‘wacko’.
Lot #6026, a 1901 $10 Lib in a PF64 Rattler, was great coin, completely unconserved and uncorrupted, with a light film of natural haziness on the surfaces, as opposed to the store-bought stuff we see slathered on most expensive gold coins in holders. It takes some time to see the difference, but once you ‘get it’, it becomes obvious. And at least a few people did ‘get it’ to the tune of $37,375 (though our fear is that it will be bright, shiny and in a higher holder the next time we see it).
Lot #6100, a rare but frankly horrendous looking 1870-CC in NGC VF30 brought a powerful $172,500.
Lot #6126, the NGC XF45 1881 business strike (that was likely from the same collection) brought $25,300, which seemed about right to us.
Same theme as yesterday overall: Good stuff in demand and generally strong, off-quality material generally anemic.
Anyway, after a few emails and calls in the late afternoon, we ended up eating an extreeeeeemely sensible dinner at the Japanese restaurant on the harbor before calling it an early evening. Because the show starts tomorrow at 8 AM, and we really need to rest up for that.
We had what seemed like a really good plan Thursday morning: Dave and I would meet in the hotel lobby at 7:45 AM, pile all of our show supplies into a cab (since it was raining), zip over to the convention center (just a few blocks away) and arrive, well rested and completely dry, precisely as the show opened at 8:00.
It didn’t occur to us, however, that it would take 40 minutes to get there (especially since it took about 5 minutes on Wednesday). I guess it was a function of the weather, and maybe the mad rush hour traffic, and possibly the fact that we had an extremely bad cab driver, but by the end of it, your author was really getting ticked off (especially when the driver asked if he could, after all that, drop us off at the Sheraton Hotel, so we could walk the last block in the rain).
But eventually we did arrive, flung our bags behind our table, hung the now famous CRO banner, picked up our coins from security, set everything up, and then walked the floor, seeing some cool coins, some of which we bought, others which we didn’t buy (yet).
And then we sold a bunch of coins during the course of the day, mostly of the moderate variety, and showed a bunch of expensive ones to lots of different people, including several who we knew only via email and met, in person, for the very first time at this show.
But we also saved time for some coin show schmoozing with other dealers and collectors, though we needed to put the kibosh on that whenever we had actual numismatic work to do.
Which was fairly often, and made the day fly by until it was suddenly 6:15 PM and they announced over the PA system that we had to be out of there in 15 minutes. This was surprising, since I thought the show ended at 7 (note to self: Make sure you read the show schedule just like we advised everyone in our recent “So you’re going to a coin show, eh?” Coin Commentary). Plus everything was a mess, and Dave was at the Bowers auction.
So I packed up, locked up, dropped Dave his laptop at the auction and headed out for dinner (with no booze!), followed by some serious blog writing (as seen here).
Friday should be fun, as some of our regulars will be at the show and some exciting buying, selling and trading could very well take place. But there will definitely be no cab rides.
Friday, as promised here yesterday, we walked.
And upon arriving at the convention center, we set down our bags, uncovered the table and then pretty much had non-stop activity for nearly 10 straight hours (pausing only to have some frankly pretty good chili for lunch).
Along the way we bought quite a few federal and colonial coins, sold a bunch too in the $500 to $25,000 range, did one large scale trade involving a top-secret, high-end NJ copper, picked up our auction lots, submitted a whole bunch of coins to PCGS, received some halfway decent grades, and generated a very, very impressive pile of paperwork.
And, just like in Portland, we saw lots of collector friends and met some guys in person for the first time after knowing them for years only via email and numismatic chatrooms. Most brought some coins for show and tell too, which is always one of my favorite things at any show.
But as the day wound down and other numismatists began looking forward to happy hour, team CRO was focused on some late afternoon lot viewing, leaving some bids at Bowers, scooting off to the Japanese restaurant again for dinner, heading back to our hotel for a while and then trekking all the way back to the auction later in the evening to vie for some of the better $20 Libs.
Which, in total, would make for a very long and tiring day here at the end of a long and tiring week.
But we’ve got just one day left in Baltimore, and intend to make the most of it tomorrow.
Our next RR will be posted from home in New England, and I predict that it will be a hoot.
It’s not like we go seeking unusual or amusing experiences on these trips, or that we are especially perceptive people who notice things others don’t. But somehow a lot of bizarro things seem to happen to us.
Such as Saturday morning, when, at about 6:30 AM, I heard some violent pounding on a door down the hall in my hotel. And this wasn’t a “Pardon me sir, you didn’t respond to your wake up call” sort of noise, it was more like the urgent sound of police about to burst in on a suspected drug dealer on TV.
Now, I was already working (of course), so it’s not like it woke me up – but it was disconcerting. Especially when additional pounding (accompanied by frantic shouting) started taking place on doors that seemed to be getting closer to my own, which made me think it was either some sort of emergency, or there was a drunken numismatist loose in the hotel.
So I was surprised when I looked out through the peep hole and saw (I swear I am not making this up) a 65 year-old guy in what looked like a Salvation Army uniform carrying bag-pipes.
It turned out it was some NY City Fire Department marching band or something, and bag-pipe man was trying to make sure all of their guys were up and assembled in the lobby, apparently for some urgent musical business.
And eventually I guess they did, because it got very quiet out there.
So when I left about 20 minutes later, I was again surprised, this time because I found a large snare drum lying in the hall in front of my room, and no one around, indicating that the drummer was possibly still asleep (or that he was extremely forgetful).
Anyway, we finally made it over to the show, set up and walked around like crazy, buying a few more coins, seeing some interesting people and calculating some potential trades of all shapes and sizes.
Then it was off to lot viewing at Heritage, mailing a few boxes, packing up and heading to the airport for the short flight home. Or so I thought.
Instead, the flight was cancelled and I’ve ended up in Baltimore an extra night here at some extremely mediocre airport hotel with a crappy bar filled with other people whose flights were cancelled. Meaning I’ll now be home on Sunday, which while it sucks, is still better than some of the other guys on my original flight who were bumped to new flights on Monday.
On a more positive note, I did have a chance this evening to sort through our show invoices and conclude that it was even better than I thought (and I thought it was pretty good), with really good sales and a lot of cool new purchases, including some of the really choice and original Seated Dollars and $20 Libs in the Bowers sale, all sorts of esoterica and some fantastical colonials.
Some of which you will be seeing shortly in our next EB in just a few days from now.
I did finally make it home, by the way, but not before my cab from the airport was pulled over by the police for speeding (a first for CRO) and a massive 45 minute argument erupted while your author sat in the backseat, quietly wondering what the appropriate etiquette is in this situation.
So if anyone knows, please email me and I’ll be better prepared next time it happens.