March 31-April 2, 2016: The Whitman Baltimore Expo
After an extreeeeemely busy couple of weeks in the CRO offices (which included a brief buying excursion at the Manchester, NH show) we are about to embark on what might be the the most jam-packed April in CRO history, starting in Baltimore and then continuing on to Charlotte for the EAC show, then Chicago for CICF, then home, then in Chicago AGAIN for CSNS.
But here, today, we are focused on Baltimore where we are expecting good things to happen at a show that usually delivers big on both the buying and selling side.
And we fully expect to do a lot of each at our usual deluxe table location from where we will be unleashing our latest NEWPs, including plenty of new things that have never been on the website. Ever. E-V-E-R. While also trying to buy as many cool, fresh, new-to-the-market coins as we possibly can.
So if you have any coins that fits that description we sure hope you’ll offer them to us so we can hand you a fat check at a time when a lot of other dealers aren’t so freely writing them.
With whatever happens being described right here in our daily Road Reports posted each and every morning while many of the nation’s other coin dealers are still sleeping, or have not yet returned to their hotels after an evening of carousing (not that there is anything wrong with that).
More later –
March 30th: Day 1
Good morning coin enthusiast, and welcome to Baltimore, Maryland where the weather is crisp, the Stack’s-Bowers lots are ready to be sold and the entire dealer community has punched the clock (and occasionally each other) and is ready to get to work.
Including your author, as I showed up here at a civilized 9:30 AM (part of my stamina preservation plan to get trough this busy month by avoiding those 3 AM CRO wake up calls, skipping the crazy-early flights, etc.). And so far that seems like a good idea, as I had time to drop my bags at the hotel, hit some of the wholesale rooms to check out a few coins, buy a dozen or so, memo some things to another dealer, sell a 4-coin deal that had been in the works for a while and then casually stroll into lot viewing at about 10:30 feeling fine.
Where I found a SRO crowd and a thicker Stack’s-Bowers sale than I expected, including a number of coins in the colonial area I’d seen before, some cool federal material I hadn’t, and thousands of tokens and medals and things, some of which would probably work well on the site.
So I waited patiently for my lots of interest, carefully studied and marked the ones I wanted to bid on, went back to the hotel, checked the schedule of when they’d be sold, and figured bids so I could enter them all on the shiny new Stack’s-Bowers site in one fell and efficient swoop and then try to focus on other things for the rest of this week. Such as responding to a bunch of customer phone calls and emails, and then looking to maximize our opportunities here at this show.
But not before having dinner with a couple of collector friends at Sullivan’s (where we could get a table), and not the Kona Grill (where we couldn’t) where we variously discussed ‘cursed’ coins, the best ways not to pack and ship anything to anyone and other exciting numismatic topics.
And then turned in early so I’d be rested and ready for the exciting start of dealer set-up bright and early on Thursday AM.
The resuts of which will be described right here on Friday morning.
March 31st: Day 2
I don’t recall a day on the bourse floor more frustrating than this one, as I saw a number of things of potential interest at various unmanned dealers’ tables, made a mental note to stop back again shortly when they were back and in three different instances returned only to find that the stuff I wanted had already been vacuumed up by someone else in the intervening few minutes.
Which is of course no ones’ fault other than me, since I could have been more aggressive when I first saw those coins and employed any of three tried and true coin buyer tactics:
- Call the dealer repeatedly on his cell phone until he shows (which of course only works in instances where I know the dealer and actually have his number).
- If I don’t know the dealer, I could ask everyone setup in the vicinity if they know him, know where he is, etc. though honestly that never seems to work and usually gets you one of those vague, unhelpful “He’ll probably be back soon” non-responsive responses.
- Employ the ‘camp out’ strategy, and simply wait for the guy to return (though this could have been hours later if he was at the Stack’s-Bowers auction, or having a leisurely lunch with a customer).
Regardless, any of those might have worked better than what I actually did, which was nothing.
So it is something of a numismatic miracle that I managed to spend as much money as I did on the bourse floor yesterday, buying neat colonial, federal and world coins that will all work well on the site, offset by a big, complicated, world raw coin deal which I regretted even before I wrote the check. Hey, maybe it will work out great, but I think missing out on that other stuff earlier may have caused me to be more aggressive on this one.
At the end of the day though, I always harken back to something another dealer once told me, which is that you never really know where your profits will come from in this business. Certainly some things I’ve bought through the years that seemed fantastic have turned out to be duds, while other coins that seemed like nothing or were mere ‘throw ins’ at the end of some other deal have turned out to be great. So I’ll hope this is the latter.
In other news, sales at the show were decent enough, across all categories, and including, among other things, a killer Morgan toner and a deluxe Argentinian 4 Reales, neither of which made it to the website.
With things winding down in the late afternoon before the calm was interrupted by the early start of the Stack’s-Bowers Rarities Night (actually Rarities Afternoon) session where we bought our second Pine Tree Shilling of the day, which slightly, maybe, just a little bit, helped make up for the missed opportunities earlier in the day and put us in a better mood for dinner with some collector and dealer friends.
And that turned out to be a hoot, except for that part where one of the guys took his shirt off for reasons I still don’t understand. And while cell phone photo proof of this exists, you’re going to thank me for not posting any here, since if I did you would never be able to unsee them.
Which I think is what triggered another dealer’s epic case of the hiccups, which was so loud that I would have assumed the guy was faking except that no one would continue a ruse like that for half an hour like he did. For all I know he’s still going, as he ended up in a separate Uber back to his hotel.
Which all made up for a long, interesting, frustrating, unusual day here in Baltimore I will try really hard to improve upon on Friday.
Until then –
April 1st: Day 3
“I’ll give you $1,500 for it”, said the dealer standing in front of my table as he fondled the raw coin in his hand.
“OK, I’ll do that” responded your author, all the while wondering if I was making a mistake, and if I should have just gone ahead with my original plan of submitting said item for grading at the end of this show, where it may have come back MS62/3 and been worth $2,000-$2,500. Or plodded through the grading process for 45 days, been called 58, and been worth $875.
Which would turn out to be just one of literally dozens of S, M and L buying and selling decisions I could second guess at this show (or any show, actually) as I ponder counter-offers like the one above, weigh trade proposals, consider buying things which are offered to me by the stream of collectors and vest pocket dealers who come to the table, or which other dealers are displaying around the room.
Sure, some of these decisions are no brainers. But a lot of them aren’t, need to be evaluated carefully and can disappear quickly. With some in the far corners of the bourse floor, and others literally three feet away.
Such as the coin at the table next door which I viewed earlier in the show. But when I overheard an astute dealer ask to see it late Friday, I was suddenly wondering if I had missed something obvious I should have bought that was right under my numismatic nose the whole time. Alas, I felt a sense of relief when that guy too decided to pass.
All contributing to what seems on the surface to be a simple business but which is actually quite different than others I’ve experienced, where you often find yourself having to make split second decisions, mostly going by gut feel, in an ultra competitive environment, surrounded by the sharpest dealers in the country, frequently wondering what the other guys knows that you don’t, hoping your knowledge and experience will carry you through.
And, at least as far as I can tell, it did on Thursday, as we sold some expensive coins, bought some very cool NEWPs (including one that I know of at least 3 or 4 instant homes for), got some good grades back, ate a healthy yogurt, bought something great in the auction for well less than our max bid, was uninterrupted by hiccups and was generally pleased with nearly everything.
Followed by a raucous dinner at Morton’s with three dealer friends all in fine form, before actually getting to bed at a civilized hour. Or at least I thought I did, not realizing that the people next door would be having a party from midnight to 3 AM, occasionally spilling out into the hall, sometimes screaming and forcing your author to make elegant earplugs out of an old Kleenex.
I generally get the last laugh though, cranking my TV extra loud at 4:30 AM while having a coffee and typing this blog. Aaaah the pleasures of traveling the national coin circuit.
More later –
April 2nd: And in Conclusion
While we specialize in different areas, have different business models and see individual coins very differently, a number of other dealers I spoke to summed up their selling experience in Baltimore pretty much exactly the way I would. Namely that they too wrote a bunch of small to medium sized invoices and then had a few big deals that made their whole show.
And while I don’t know exactly what those others guys sold, or whether it was retail or wholesale, I can tell you that our own efforts were in three general categories:
The Random Collector Impulse Buy
Including new things we just acquired, as well as coins we’ve owned for a loooong time, mostly (but not all) in the few hundred to $5,000 range, in each of our categories, that collectors saw, pondered and bought in relatively short order. Historically this was the largest part of selling at shows, where collectors in the early-internet era (before so many of us had websites with deluxe images) would attend a show specifically to go shopping, peruse all dealer offerings, see thousands of coins for the first time and then make their buying decisions. There are still people doing this, or course, but a lot less than 5 or 10 years ago. Now, if we chose to introduce 100% of our NEWPs at shows we could probably increase sales in this category, though at the expense of our EB volume, and while not allowing many of our long time internet customers to ever see them, neither of which makes sense to us.
The Pre-Arranged Coin Marriage
On three more expensive item(s) that different collectors saw on the website, contacted us about, asked us to hold and wanted to try to finalize a deal in person. We do quite a bit of this as we travel around the country, with local collectors or others who have made a special trip to attend, are prepared to buy or may want to work out a trade using any of a large group of potential coins that would have been harder to manage by mail. Which is the kind of deal we love to do at a show.
The Wholesale Snag
Most of them U.S. coins, the majority old-holdered, purchased by dealers who had a ready customer for something, or crack out guys, even though we don’t actively cultivate this kind of business, don’t set up in the wholesale rooms that precede every show and don’t give coins to any of the sales teams widely known in the industry who carry around inventory supplied by a variety of different dealers and then show them to other dealers anonymously (i.e. without revealing who owns them, though in many cases the coins have been around a while and are readily recognizable).
Making this a fairly typical show for us, with the rest of our time spent tracking down new coins, laying the groundwork for future deals, lot viewing, bidding, grading and then finally packing and schlepping to the airport so I could then cool my heels in three different bars with a local dealer friend waiting for our much delayed flight to depart.
Which it eventually did, allowing your author to get home at about 10:45 PM and then immediately collapse, wake up late, write this blog and then start preparing to do it all again just a few days from now at the EAC show in Charlotte.
And since we will be on the road again so soon, there will be no time for an Early Bird this week (or next actually, as we then go straight on to the CICF show in Chicago).
Which means we may sprinkle some new coins directly onto the website during this period to give our online customers a shot at them too.
So you may want to keep an eye out for that –