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Back to Road Report Archive 2011

March 29-April 2, 2011: The Whitman Baltimore Expo

rrbaltimore

Prologue

Today will be what numismatists refer to as a “very long day”, as we wake up shockingly early, head to Baltimore, view coins at Stack’s-Bowers for hours and then roll straight into auction session #1 starting at 7 o’clock and ending 700-something lots later.

After which we will head to the hotel and start recapping the day’s events for inclusion in the Day 1 RR which we will be posted here, possibly with a bunch of pictures in it, first thing tomorrow morning.

Just as we will do for the rest of the week, describing every single interesting thing that happens in Baltimore, in the auction and at the show itself, right here, in this space, every day.

So you might want to keep and eye out for that.

March 29th:  Day 1

(Editor’s Note:  This RR was written at high speed, since your author just realized that he forgot his laptop power cord and had 43 minutes of battery life left to get this done, spell checked and posted before we ‘went dark’).

Tuesday was as advertised: A very long day in which I landed in Baltimore on the first flight, cabbed it downtown, arrived at our hotel at about 8:30 AM, checked in, and headed straight to the convention center for Stack’s-Bowers lot viewing.

Which was about half full when I got there, and quickly expanded to SRO with a queue extending out into the hallway.

And it took a while to get through everything, with a thick US catalog and a cool foreign catalog of which I viewed every single coin pausing only to lean over and show something to Dave and say Hey, check this out!” or “Can you believe the grade on this thing?”, or “What the heck is that spot?”, or “Didn’t we use to own this when it was a 45? (while handing him a coin in a shiny new AU55 holder)“.

Somewhere along the way we went next door to the Sheraton for lunch, then kept plowing through lots until they kicked everyone out at 5 PM, since the Stack’s-Bowers staff needed to then convert the lot viewing room into the auction room (which looked like it would be a lot of work to me) prior to the scheduled 7 PM start of Session 1.

So while they were doing that, we headed over to the hotel to review our target list, hone it down to the coins we liked best, figure bids and determine how we would execute them (i.e. in the room with a paddle, on the internet, leaving them at the table, etc.).

Finishing up at 6:30, we headed back to the now completed auction room just before 7, were fully prepared to start bidding like crazy, but then had to wait about 30 minutes as the staff worked out some internet issues.

Which they did, eventually, and we started off with some medals and exonumia at modest prices with some scattered bidding until we reached lot #7, the silver Libertas Americana Medal featured on the catalog cover, which zoomed past my pre-auction guess with some very active bidding from multiple sources, finally hammering down for $70,000 to the delight of the consignor, who was sitting in the crowd.

We then wended our way through other mostly inexpensive tokens and medals, past some lovely Civil War Tokens which were reserved too high, and finally to the colonials, which started with some modestly graded Massachusetts silver.

But while the grades were modest, the prices mostly were not, bringing in some cases about twice what I expected and indicating that the market for relatively affordable Mass silver is about as strong as it has ever been.

The rest of the session was generally lively, with bidding from the internet, table, phones and floor on many items and, while I thought there were some decent deals to be had, nothing went real cheap, and, of course, there were the requisite couple of outlier super-high results that Dave and I did not understand.

For our part, though, we were pleased, as we bought 16 of the 25 or so pieces we targeted and, while some of those went for more or less than we expected, in total, we spent almost exactly what we had figured for those lots.

And then we left, heading straight back to the hotel where I watched The Good Wife, which I really enjoy, before collapsing into a deep sleep.

Wednesday will be a bit of a down day, as the auction does not begin until 7 PM, and so I will likely be doing paperwork at the hotel, though will try to also find something interesting to do so that the next RR is not a real snooze-fest.  And, of course, I will have to go find a new power cord.

More later.

March 30th:  Day 2

I woke up at 5 AM on Wednesday, realized that was completely unnecessary, and went back to sleep until 8-something.

At which time I rolled out of bed, wrote Tuesday’s RR like a rocket (as was well documented yesterday), ate breakfast and then talked to Dave just as he was heading out to view lots at a “secret” auction a half hour from here.

A secret auction?  Whoa!  Tell me more!

Well, if you promise not to tell anyone, I will ask Dave to reveal his extreeeeeeemely top secret experience right here in this space.  For the avoidance of confusion, Dave will be speaking in his customary royal blue virtual ink.

[10 second pause].

Thank you John,  OK – I assume that you, gentle Road Report reader, are now seated behind your computer and have solemnly pledged not to reveal any (and I mean A-N-Y) information about the upcoming secret sale.  If so, then please proceed to read the following words:

The Dave Wnuck Secret Sale Fantasy:  Arrive at an obscure action venue to find gobs of spectacular coins laughably under-described by some local antique dealer who has no idea of the treasures he has on offer.  And then to bid against local rubes and know-nothings who are all using the Bluebook (1967 Edition) to formulate their bids, win everything in sight, return home in triumph and attend a numismatic parade held in my honor.

The Dave Wnuck Secret Sale Reality:  Finally arrive at a very inconvenient destination, step directly into a disorganized mess of a lot viewing room already filled with every other national dealer, struggle to view a handful of inferior coins in dim lighting while intermittently being ignored and yelled at by the staff, get ticked off, and then leave before the auction even starts.

Guess which type of secret sale this was?  That’s correct.

It started with me in a cab en route to Towson, MD, where the sale is being conducted by an auction house that specializes in antiques. 

And while it seemed like a decent place, and was pretty good-sized compared to some others I have been to over the years, they clearly were completely overwhelmed by the throng of dealers that all descended upon them today to view lots, and seemed angry that so many of us wished to participate in their auction.

While I had hoped to find a chair, table and lamp which I could use to view coins, I instead found the 600+ coin lots in seemingly random order on the glass shelves of two 4 foot high jewelry display cases.  To view anything, you had to get someone to wait on you, with a strict limit of one staff member per customer.  In addition, they had a view-only-one-coin-at-a-time policy, which meant that the group lots (which comprised almost the entire sale) were doled out one piece at a time, in that same super slow-motion they use to review questionable calls during NFL telecasts.

Even better, my designated staffer was a real estate agent who had been called up for duty as an auction helper (apparently under duress) on this day.  She was clearly not happy about it, and spent most of here time fielding calls from her ‘real’ clients on her cell phone as I stood around looking at my watch.

To add to the effect, the owner of the auction company, a well-dressed older man, would pace back and forth haranguing lot viewers to keep all their briefcases and backpacks away from the coins.

So, since a lot of sharp dealers were already there, and it was fairly obvious that nothing would go cheap, and considering that I had, up to that point, spent an hour there while managing to view only about 10 lots of potential interest, I decided to throw my hands up in disgust (figuratively speaking) and storm out while muttering to myself (literally).

My one stroke of luck was that as I was about to call a taxi to get back to Baltimore, another well-known dealer pulled up in a cab (having arrived straight from the airport with, I’m guessing, visions of numismatic parades on his mind).  So he got out, I got in, and I bid him adieu (which would be the only bidding I would do in this auction).

So, after $80 in round-trip cab fare and wasting three hours of my life that I will never, ever get back, I decided to focus on more productive activities.  Such as humming, or staring out a window, for example.

Thanks Dave – that sounded totally excellent, precisely the sort of experience that draws people into the exciting world of coin dealering.

Kidding aside, next time we hear of a secret sale, I’m sure one of us will still attend, since you never know what you might find, and we are always on the lookout for cool stuff for the site.

Anyway, once back, we worked on bids for this evenings auction session, sorted out a security room mishap of the non-heart-attack variety, had dinner and called it a night.

Tomorrow should be better (heck, it couldn’t be any worse), as we will be at the convention center at 8 AM for dealer set up, followed by a full day of activities and even more Stack’s-Bowers auction sessions.

All of which will be discussed right here tomorrow in black ink.

March 31st:  Day 3

The show opened on Thursday for dealers at 8 AM, so I made sure I got there at precisely 7:35 so I could stand in the huge line in the lobby for at least 25 minutes.

Amazingly, however, they let us in about 5 minutes early, the first time I can ever recall that happening at any show, anywhere in the country, ever.  Though I suspect that was because the official door opener’s watch was wrong, and not because they felt sorry for any of us standing in the lobby for at least 25 minutes.

Once inside, I set up everything as fast as possible and then went on a mission to buy all the cool stuff on the floor before anyone else could get it.  And while I am not sure I got everything, I did pretty well, buying things in all categories, cheap and expensive, colonial, federal and esoteric, raw and slabbed, from many different dealers around the floor.  Including one piece I saw at the last Baltimore show, and tried to buy then, but was told it was not for sale since it was part of the dealer’s own collection.  But this time I made an offer which was accepted much to my surprise and delight.

Meanwhile, back at the table, Dave was doing some pretty good wholesale sales, and buying a few other things that had walked up to the table.

And by then traffic started to pick up and we had our first retail visitors, some buying, some selling, some doing a little show and tell of some cool stuff at the table, including an old-holdered gold coin extravaganza which was sufficiently cool to catch the eye of a nearby dealer who came over later and wondered if it was for sale.  It wasn’t.

Somewhere along the way Dave picked up our Stack’s-Bowers auction winnings, and we both checked them out again with a level of enthusiasm reminiscent of kids on Christmas morning (except that in this case we had to buy all of the gifts ourselves, which is admittedly not as good).

For the rest of the day there was nice, steady business during which we bought and sold coins at a good clip (including the $5,750 item described in our Sacramento RR on which I received an offer of $50 at that show), with the very last deal happening just as the show organizers were dimming the lights repeatedly as an indication that they wanted us out of that room ASAP.

So we obliged, packing up, heading out and going to dinner at Pazo with some dealer friends and discovering to my shock and horror that they had completely changed their menu AGAIN.  Still, we managed to eat extremely well, have some fun conversation, and get back to the hotel just in time for me to fall asleep fully dressed, with my contact lenses in, and the TV and lights on.

Friday we expect more retail visitors and lots of activity, all of which will be described in this space in 24 hours from now.

April 1st:  Day 4

Someone asked me on Friday how I knew I had fallen asleep the previous evening with contact lenses in, TV on, etc.  Easily, since I wrote that RR when I woke up, which was at 2 AM, and I could see the TV, and it was on.

And I never was able to fall asleep again, so I figured I’d use this bonus 3 or 4 hours of extra time to get a lot of work done and answer email, including one that I thought I should mention here, since it was from a customer who had ordered something off the site just before we left town to come here, and wondered why it had not been shipped out yet.

The reason is that we have been here all week, and, since CRO is just a two-man operation, whenever we are at shows we don’t have an opportunity to go to the Post Office, get the mail and ship things out right away.

So, if you order something from us either just before or during one of the shows listed on our website in the “Shows” section, I am afraid it will be a few days before we can ship it out.

Anyway, we eventually made our way to the convention center for the 9 AM start, got set up and then proceeded to be unbelievably busy for about the next 7 and a half hours buying, selling, grading, trading and doling out CRO hats in what has turned out to be an excellent, no, totally excellent show.

And it’s not like any particular area was strong or weak, as we bought things of all kinds, from a 17th century world coin to a Franklin Half Dollar, from under $100 to the high 5-figures, while selling a similarly broad, eclectic mix, including coins we have had on the website for a couple of months, and a number of brand new things we just bought and which we had planned to put on the EB next Tuesday.

The good news is that we bought so much here that we will still have plenty of very cools coins to offer when we get home (unless we sell all of them on Saturday, which I guess is not impossible).

We also saw an old friend, as a customer brought back a coin which we had sold at the 2006 ANA in Denver, which was spectacular then, and which was described by a very knowledgeable collector who saw it here as, and I quote, “The best coin on the floor.” (and keep in mind that the floor here in Baltimore is very, very big).

Next thing we knew it was about 4 o’clock, and things started to quiet down quite a bit, with a few more transactions but not the frenetic pace of earlier in the day.  Which was good, since by that time we were exhausted.

Eventually it was time to leave, so Dave and I capped off a busy day in nearly ideal fashion, which means of course that we worked on our 2010 taxes over dinner.  I’m not kidding.  Which is precisely what happens when you procrastinate during the year.

Anyway, we got through most of it and then finally made our way back to the hotel so we could start to gear up for our last day here, which I expect to be subdued, but might not be.

Whatever happens will be described right here on Sunday morning where your author plans to be typing the final installment of the RR from the comfort of his very own couch.

Finito

April 2nd:  Day 5

In my experience, and as well documented in our Road Reports through the years, Saturdays at coin shows are typically pretty quiet, with mostly families and tire-kickers walking around, and not much business being done.

But that is not what happened here.

Our first indication that things might be different on this day was the flurry of activity during dealer set up.  And then the large queue waiting to get in when the show opened at 10.  Followed by the genuinely large crowd roving the aisles and the many people coming to the table to buy coins.

And we sold a lot of everything, including colonials, colonial notes, copper, early silver, commems and one piece of deluxe gold.  Even the guys who had considered items earlier in the show, and said they might come back later to buy something actually did (even though most people who say that they will never do).

But perhaps the best indication of the volume of business we did at this show was that at about 11:30 AM we actually ran out of invoices (and believe me, we brought a lot).

And I don’t know if most dealers had planned to stay on Saturday, or changed their flights based on the activity here, but most of the tables were occupied and open for business into the later afternoon (unlike many past shows here, where the place turns into a ghost town at noon).

From what I could tell, most of the other dealers who offer material sort of like ours did very well too, with Tony Terranova mentioning that it was as though a “switch had been turned on”.  I am not positive what that means, but I am pretty sure it is a good thing.

So, in all, this was a fantastic show for us, with exceptional sales, great purchases, including the one single item we wanted from the Stack’s-Bowers-Ponterio world auction and, as our last new purchase of the show, the “best coin on the floor” we mentioned yesterday.  Plus we have a couple more cool deals pending.

But while all that activity was a hoot, reconciling all of the paperwork will be a massive undertaking, and will probably take us several days to get squared away.

Our first priority, however, will be the upcoming Early Bird, planned for Tuesday at noon, which will have a lot of extremely cool coins in it.

So if you have not yet signed up for our EB, now would be an excellent time to do so.

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