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Back to Road Report Archive 2008

May 24-31 2008: The Long Beach Coin & Currency Expo

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Prologue:

It won’t be long now, as we are scheduled to arrive at the offices of Ira and Larry Goldberg sometime early this afternoon, bracing for the anticipated numismatic madhouse at lot viewing. By our calculations, it will be us and a few hundred other dealers from all over the world looking to pore through a few thousand lots of US and World coins, quickly, in a small, cramped U-shaped room with one very narrow aisle, limited lighting, and just the right amount of chairs to seat 40% of the attendees. So that should be great.

That ought to take us until late afternoon, at which time we’ll need to compare notes and figure out what we’re doing before running across the street to Superior and doing exactly the same thing so that we’re ready to bid the right amounts on the correct lots over the next several days.

We will also be eating dinner at some point today, though that won’t be any fun either as Dave is again doing the Atkins diet and can only eat large patties of raw ground beef and fist-fulls of fish oil tablets, while not drinking any alcoholic beverages of any kind (except for beer and wine).

Anyway, that’s the plan.

I’ll be posting late this evening California time with a recap of Day 1, though occasionally I am too tired and end up doing it the following morning. So if you don’t see an update the instant you wake up on the east coast, do not panic (and please do not call my wife). It will be OK.

Until later on –

Day I:

Everything went precisely according to our well choreographed plan on Saturday, as we enthusiastically arrived at the Goldberg offices at around 2 PM for what we figured would be a numismatic mad-house. But it wasn’t really that bad.

After navigating their double security doors (which requires being buzzed-in through an intercom system that virtually begs you to do a “land shark!’ gag) we walked into a room which was crowded, but not ‘crazy-this-is-ridiculous-hey-you’re-standing-on-my-catalog’ crowded.

Fully expecting to be placed in a lot viewing queue behind 25 other people anxiously waiting to view the same lots, we instead found the last 2 empty chairs just waiting for us, and immediately started rifling through boxes of Millenia and non-Millenia coins.

This Millenia thing is pretty cool, featuring all sorts of world crowns and gold coins, uniformly in high grade, many wildly rare and sure to be stratospherically expensive, but with some affordable pieces mixed in. And with the help of some really efficient lot viewing assistants (I’m serious), we cranked through our lots of interest in a few hours and saw everything we wanted.

I will refrain from commenting on the specific pieces or our impression of the level of quality and such until after the auction, but suffice to say that we did find plenty-o-coins we wanted to own.

That whole process took us up to dinner time, so we loaded up our bags with 45 pounds worth of catalogs and trekked up the street to our favorite Japanese restaurant where Dave insisted on ordering a large bottle of Sake, and then insisted I drink it all.  Which explains why I am typing this installment of the Road Report this morning, and not last night.

The very first Goldberg auction session (starting with colonials and federal issues) begins at 9 AM today, which means I need to throw some cold water in my face and ‘snap out of it’ pretty quickly.

And that is exactly what I intend to do.

Day II:

Good start to Sunday, as I woke up hungover at 4 AM (some three hours before my scheduled wake up call), then used the available 5 hours to get myself physically and mentally prepared for the 9 AM kick-off of Goldberg’s first auction session.

The good news is that Ira and Larry always cater a pretty good breakfast for these things, and today was no exception, as the scrambled eggs, ham and cheese on a croissant was de-licious in my opinion. Dave’s too, evidently, as he had about 4 of them.

But let’s not talk about food – let’s instead focus on what was a largely uninspiring auction of colonials through federal issues (don’t forget the esoterica!) in which we had identified about a dozen coins we liked enough to bid on, and bought 6.

But it wasn’t without a few interesting and/or educational lots:

Lot #3581, the New York Excelsior, Eagle Right was among the ugliest coins I’ve ever seen, corroded, hideous and that awful iridescent pink-black color you see on coins cleaned by people who aren’t good at cleaning coins. Still, it’s a rarity and sold for $6,900. Which apparently answers the question: How much is a disgusting example of a rare coin worth?

Lot #3676, an 1811 Classic Head Large Cent graded MS63 NGC realized $36,800. What was especially interesting to us was that this coin was described in the catalog (in clear black and white lettering and much to Goldberg’s credit) as cleaned and retoned, and then graded accordingly as XF40 by Del Bland. What was also interesting (and probably related to that last bit of information) was the extensive pedigree chain for this coin listed in the catalog which included its appearance in multiple nondescript auctions (perhaps suggestive of dealers’ consignments) in which it failed to sell or was withdrawn. I can’t ever recall seeing that written in a pedigree chain before (again to Goldberg’s credit).

Lot #3908, the 1937 3-Legged Buffalo in MS63 PCGS, sold for a not-unexpected $4,025. What was more interesting to us is that the previous lot, another 1937 3-Legged Buffalo in another PCGS MS63 holder, sold for $18,400. And while the respective prices were vastly different, the difference in quality of the two coins might have been even more so. So put that in your price guide and smoke it (but not in my hotel room, since they told me at check-in that there would be a $300 fine assessed if I smoked in the room).

And when our work was finished here, we headed over to Superior for a brief look at their 1,237 lot sale which included a whole bunch of thoroughly uninspiring coins and 3 big ones: A ‘quintuple Stella’ and 2 highly graded ‘regular’ ones. By my calculations, those three coins exceeded the value of the other 1,234 offered by about this much (hands held far apart).

And, as a result, that viewing session didn’t take very long, giving us plenty of time to venture back into Goldberg’s offices with trepidation (since we were expecting a zoo) for a second look at the Millenia coins of interest. But again it wasn’t that bad. And, as an aside, and as mentioned before ad-nauseum on this site, viewing coins more than once before an auction is certainly recommended, as it pays to be very, very sure before buying something. Sort of the equivalent of the carpenter’s mantra: measure twice, cut once (except in our case we do not wear tool belts, and we make less of a mess).

Anyway, we finished up there mid-afternoon, giving us a little downtime before dinner at 5 at a just-slightly-above-average steakhouse around the corner. Followed by blog-writing and Spurs game watching, as here.

Tomorrow will be an excellent day to sleep-in, as we don’t have anything going on until the 1 PM start of Goldberg’s Millenia auction of European coins, followed by what figures to be a wickedly late evening at the Millenia ‘New World’ session.

Which means I will almost certainly not be writing Monday’s installment of the Road Report until Tuesday morning.

So my advice to you is this: Don’t wait up.

Day III:

I set the alarm for 7 AM today, and then woke up at 4 AM so that I could exercise, get some work done, test out the absolutely inept in-room coffee maker and then turn off the alarm before it rang (which is, unfortunately, my usual MO).

But that’s fine, as it ensured I would not be late for the start of the Millenia session, Catalogue One, at 10 AM, and I wasn’t – perfectly positioning us to sit through 273 lots of ancient coins and hammered Anglo-Saxon pieces in this first of three sessions, including lot #78, a Roman coin commemorating their seizing of Egypt, and doing so by showing an image of a very realistic crocodile. As an aside, I didn’t realize there were crocodiles in Egypt, and frankly I’d like to see some proof. If someone can verify this, please email us.

Now, you may be wondering why we would sit through an entire run of ancient and Anglo-Saxon hammered coinage in Session One when we really don’t deal in such material at all. Good question – and one with obvious answers: 1) There was nothing else going on, 2) We thought it would be educational / entertaining, and 3) We knew that unless we got down here and secured seats from the start that we wouldn’t get any for the European and New World material to be auctioned later in the day in sessions two and three.

And that proved prophetic, since a lot of guys showed up later and ended up sitting in the back in a make-shift, table-less row, or standing in the doorway looking annoyed. There was even one anti-social guy sitting out in the hall peering at the action through the doorway. But not us.

We had two fine chairs by the electrical outlet and we used them from the first call of lot #1 at a little past 10 AM until lot #1206 (since we skipped the last couple) in the New World catalog hammered down at about 11:30 PM, with just a few minutes of breaks mixed in. And through that entire period, every single lot was called by Ira Goldberg using voice intensive small bidding increments. I can only say that he must have more robust vocal chords than I do, since he was going strong even after more than 12 hours at the podium.

And in that long, long period, there were some rather notable results:

Lot #126, the finer of two-known examples of the Roman Coliseum Aureaus of Severus Alexander, hammered for $800,000 – a price quickly confirmed by the Goldbergs as a new record for a Roman coin (against an estimate of $150,000 – $175,000, and thus signaling that the estimates in the catalog really had no correlation to the actual value and ultimate sale price of any of the coins in this collection).

Lot #354, the 1703 Great Britain VIGO 5 Guineas opened at $150,000 and finally hammered down at $360,000 generating a buzz in the room that took several minutes to subside.

Lot #477, an absolutely stunning 16th century Austrian 7 Ducats sold for an equally stunning $550,00 hammer and seemed worth it.

Lot #517 was notable in that Dave swears he heard a baby crying as the bidding progressed, but at that point we weren’t sure if we were just punch drunk and perhaps ‘losing it’.

Lot #801-817, the Russian section, went berserk (just like they always do in recent auctions) prompting all of us in attendance to wish we had loaded up on the stuff 10 years ago (just like we always do whenever these coins are sold for wild prices).

Lot #840 gave me the creeps, as it featured lions on it with monkey-like faces.

Lot #1091, the 1749 Pillar Dollar in an NGC MS66 holder, hammered down for $14,000. If that coin was offered to us raw we would have passed on it since it was bright white and had prominent adjustment marks, and graded it about MS62. But that’s not what the plastic said, and the bidding followed suit.

In total, prices were robust on E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G, and there were multiple floor bidders for nearly every single coin in all three catalogues. That’s impressive.

But while this event would be sufficient for most numismatists, it was not for us, and so while I stayed at the Crown Plaza throughout, our own Dave Wnuck walked down to Superior in the early evening ostensibly to bid on some gold coins in their evening session (though I suspect it was really because the catering at Superior is pretty darn good). And so I’ll turn the keyboard over to him (where he will be typing in his signature Wnuck purple ink):

Thanks John.

So anyway, I walked down there, grabbed a bite to eat off the buffet (which wasn’t anything great this go round, I swear) and then parked myself and waited for our few lots of interest to come up, quickly slipping into a deep, trance-like state somewhere between being awake and La-la land.

And right then a so-called dealer ‘friend’ sitting behind me tapped me on the shoulder and asked me what that stuff was on my arm.

I snapped out of my trance, said “Wha…?” and looked down at my arm just as he grabbed it and hoisted it in the air.

The auctioneer saw my sudden (involuntary) gesture and said “We have 975. Do I hear ONE MILLION DOLLARS?”

We happened to be on the 1879 Quintuple Stella, which opened at $950,000, making me the defacto high bidder. Now, the auctioneer (a true friend, in this case) knew it was a gag, but I did pay better attention for the rest of the auction session, and it was good that I did, as we were able to buy a fairly expensive coin (well into the 5 figures) for about 60% of our max bid. It doesn’t happen very often (and, apparently it never happens at sales called “Millenia”), but half the battle in this business is knowing not just what to buy, but where to buy it.

And so, invigorated, I slowly sprinted back down the street to Goldberg’s as they progressed through the New World coins.

Back to you John.

Thanks Dave.

And so we followed along, bidding occasionally, but not often, as the room gradually thinned out and the auctioneering pace increased. For a while there we honestly thought the auction would end at about 4 AM, but ultimately it was a fairly civilized evening ending well before midnight.

So what did we think about the whole affair?

No doubt there were some great rarities, and many, many superb pieces throughout the day – and the bidding interest and prices realized reflected it. But in our area of specialty (i.e. pieces with some relationship to early America), the quality was mixed, the material was largely unoriginal, grades were absolutely maxed-out and we really didn’t love many of the coins. We tried to though, we really did.

And given coins that we really didn’t have to have, and sky high prices on all of them, it seemed like a really good time to sit comfortably on our hands for most of the day.

But most people weren’t doing that.

And as a result, the market for world coins is apparently stronger than it has ever been. Ever.

Finito.

Day IV:

Monday: Literally full to the brim with numismatic activity.

Tuesday: Not so much.

In fact, there was so little of interest to us in the Goldberg ‘non-Millenia’ world auction that we decided to leave Beverly Hills early and get a jump on lot viewing at the Heritage sales in Long Beach.

So we did, as we had our travel department (i.e. Dave) make a last minute hotel change, caught a ride with some dealer friends and rolled into Long Beach at 11:20, the precise time in which Heritage opened the doors for lot viewing at the Convention Center.

And it was probably good that we got here early, as the catalogues are thick (no surprise there), and filled with tons of good stuff (surprise there) that we will be trying to buy.  In fact, on at least two occasions I pulled a coin out of a Heritage box to view it and literally gasped (in a good way) at how spectacular the coin was.  Seriously, and that doesn’t happen very often.

We continued viewing all the way up until 7 PM with just a few brief breaks to pop into the Irish Pub across the street (highly recommended, though neither of us was convinced that the bartender’s Irish brogue was legit) and to make extensive and highly complex dinner plans.

That was pretty much it, except for the part where I walked down the extremely long corridor to my hotel room only to find that my card key did not work three separate times, which is always extremely annoying (and, in my experience traveling all over the world for years and years, the chances of this happening are directly inversely proportional to the distance that your room is from the elevator multiplied by the weight of the luggage you are carrying).

But I managed to solve that problem just in time for the aforementioned dinner at one of our usual hangouts with a dealer friend, then head back here waaaaay too late to write a blog, which is why I am doing it now.

Wednesday we will be viewing even more, then setting up at the show late this afternoon and actually bidding on coins starting at 6 PM.

And we’ll tell you what happens there in our very next Road Report.

Day V:

OK, let’s begin:

It was a somewhat disjointed morning at Heritage lot viewing, as only the world coins were available starting at 8 AM. The US lots would not be viewable until 11 (after they were moved from the first floor room used for lot viewing yesterday down to the specially designated lot viewing area on the bourse floor (separated from the rest of the floor by large steel fence sections almost exactly like what you use to lock up your bicycle in college). But that worked fine for us, since we had some additional world lots to re-review before we coasted into the US viewing at about 11:30, snagging the last available seats.

And we stayed there for a solid two and a half hours, looking at almost every coin in every catalog until the bourse opened at its customary 2 PM. At which time the dealers charged from the entrance to their designated tables much like wildebeest moving in unison whenever a lion appears on ‘Wild Kingdom’.

Set up was typical, as in relatively uneventful, as we struggled to get organized quickly so we could walk the floor real fast and make sure no one had anything great we needed to buy before it disappeared. But we didn’t find anything really noteworthy.

Instead we ended up selling a few coins and submitting a few others for grading or reholdering at PCGS.

Next thing we knew it was 5 PM, which meant we needed to pack up, get organized and head upstairs for session one of Heritage’s Signature sale, which is where we are seated at this precise moment.

And a fun sale it’s been, with some simply spectacular pieces all pedigreed to something called the ‘Silbermunzen Collection’ (note that there is supposed to be an umlaut over the ‘u’ in Silbermunzen, but I do not know how to make one in our website management program). Anyway, the collection contained some of the most amazing pieces I’ve seen in the early quarter and half series, all in various types of ancient PCGS and NGC holders, all remarkably eye-appealing and exactly the kind of coins any specialist in these pieces would want to own.

And, not surprisingly, they weren’t inexpensive:

Lot #295, a breathtaking 1818 Quarter in an MS66 PCGS Rattler holder, hammered down at $70,000.

Lot #380, a simply stunning Barber Quarter in an MS65 PCGS Doily holder, hammered down at $28,000 (juuuuust a bit higher than any price guides) to a well-known specialist in the series (who gave every evidence that he had absolutely no intention of stopping bidding until all others succumbed, regardless of the price).

But it hasn’t been all serious stuff in here, with one of the lighter moments coming on lot #321, with the entire room coaxing well-known dealer Bobby Hughes to keep going as he hesitated in the face of persistent bidding from the podium. But the shouts of ‘C’MON BOBBY!’ didn’t seem to help, as the podium took it.

But while I wanted to stay (based on the number of lots Heritage was doing per hour, it might be another 5 hours before they finish), I had to head back to the room for a pre-arranged, extremely late night phone call from an east coast customer which i expect will take two hours.

Just another very, very long day of coin dealering out here at the LB Expo, with tomorrow virtually assured of being even longer.

Day VI:

There’s no clock in my hotel room.

Which means that when I do wake up, I have to find my watch to figure out if it’s 3 AM, or if I’m late for the show. Fortunately, today it was the former, giving my ample opportunity to plan the day’s activities, review the Heritage bids 600 times, iron, leave 75 voicemails, etc.

And then it was finally time to head over to the Convention Center for the 9 AM show opening with the only problem being that it actually opened at 8. Which meant that despite waking up 4 hours early, I managed to be late.

Not sure what we missed, if anything, but that really ticks me off. But I got over it, and things turned out OK anyway as we sold a bunch of stuff to other dealers in the AM, and a smattering to collectors, then bought 5 or 6 coins on the floor in the afternoon.

But a lot of our attention this day was devoted to the series of Heritage auctions, including world coins in the afternoon and a huge colonial session in the evening (with even more world coins going off next door at the same time).

We spent a lot of time figuring bids, arguing about figuring bids, writing bids in our catalogs in codes so elaborate that we ourselves would not be able to read them during the auction, etc.

And then we started off in the world session at 1 PM bidding on some widely spaced lots. As an aside, world auctions are hard to manage for us, since coins are sold in alphabetical order by country. Which means that, hypothetically, if we only wanted to bid on coins with some colonial American relevance, we’d have to bid on a coin or two, then sit there through a numismatic mile of stuff we don’t care about until the next relevant country came up and we eventually got to something interesting again. The end result being that we usually have one or two bids every 45 minutes in these sessions, and are either cooling our heels waiting, or are continually leaving the room and coming back hoping they’ve made it to the next lot we want to bid on by then. The alternative would be to leave bids, but we really don’t like to do that.

Anyway, we ended buying 5 or 6 coins during a marathon session that ran right up until 5:30 or so, a scant 30 minutes before the scheduled start of the aforementioned 6 PM evening sessions. Leaving us just a half hour to finalize everything, get a seat in that room (a crummy one as it turned out, right in the front where everyone can see you) and eat the Heritage buffet dinner which by then had run out, forcing us to snarf the food from the world coin auction next door.

But we made do, and ended up buying about 30 coins in an eventful and unpredictable evening session during which some good coins went cheap, while some horrible, cleaned, doctored and frankly awful pieces went for strong money as follows:

Lot #1819, the low grade and plugged but still desirable Willow Tree Sixpence sold for a cheap $25,300 to a prominent dealer. That same piece last sold for $54,625 in January of 2007, and so the new owner was rather pleased. Probably not the consignor though.

Lot #1862, the New Yorke Token in PCGS F15 brought a robust $32,200 to a collector, well exceeding our pre-sale guesstimate and trumping (by roughly $24,000) the price this coin last brought at auction in 2002. You can’t be too choosy on these, though, as they never trade.

Lot #1913, the 1773 Virginia Halfpenny in NGC MS67 RB (but looking essentially like any other Virginia Halfpenny and, if raw, a coin Dave and I would have valued at about $1,750) sold for $13,800 – exactly the same price it brought when last sold just a few months ago in November of 2007. To me this was among the most surprising results, as I assumed it would bring less than half of that this time around. Conclusion: People like the grade ‘MS67′.

Lot #1988, a Rhode Island Ship Medal in PCGS MS64 with a hidden scratch in the ship’s rigging, brought a very robust $21,850. Notable since this coin was last sold in September, 2007 when WE consigned it to Heritage and it brought only $12,650. Not sure what happened between then and now, but obviously there has been a slight increase in demand (and we are ticked off about it).

I could go on and on here, but then this blog wouldn’t get posted until about noon, and we can’t have that.

So I’ll wrap it up here and post more sordid details tomorrow.

I will mention, though, that while all this colonial stuff was happening, we also bought one world coin next door (thus ‘paying’ for our dinner) and felt pretty good about ourselves as we packed up to leave at about 10:30 PM.

Day VII:

You just never know.

For example, we didn’t know that we would buy an exceptionally beautiful rainbow toned Hawaiian Commemorative Half Dollar today (especially since we weren’t looking for one, and, even if we had been, they never seem to come like this).

We also didn’t know that we’d end up buying most of the coins we wanted in the Heritage world sessions this afternoon and evening at consistently well below our max bids.

Or that grades at this show would turn out to be very fair (i.e. appropriate). That’s not always the case.

What about the fact that we sold a whole bunch of coins here that weren’t on the site, that we brought here only to consign to a future auction and that we had no intention to show anyone? True (and most welcome).

Or that our auction consignments would go pretty darn well overall in sessions in which lots of other stuff seemed to go cheap (see above). No complaints here.

In total, it was really a good day commercially on the selling and buying side for us and the show is shaping up as a solid A-, so far, as Long Beach Expos go (and who knows what Saturday will bring).

But while none of that stuff would have been easy to predict, dinner was – as we headed off to the Madison with some dealer friends for some late night revelry resulting in me being too tired to write a very long Road Report when I got back.

So I didn’t.

We’ll be heading back to New England tomorrow with our final Long Beach recap, right here, in about 24 hours.

Day VIII:

I have a little more time to write today, so brace yourself for a full dose of Road Reporting.

Even though today was abridged (we high-tailed it out of there around noon, instead of sticking around all day and taking a horrendous red-eye flight home as we’ve done in the past), we managed to squeeze in some intensive coin dealering activities:

I met with one of our favorite clients and got to review and compare notes about his recent submission which did not quite yield the results he expected. And though it would have been great if everything worked perfectly for him, it was an interesting opportunity to review and discuss why the graders graded the way they did (and which I agreed with, by the way).

While that was happening, our own Dave Wnuck was picking up the last of our Heritage lots and then numismatically oohing and aahing as he removed the raw coins from their double thick plastic lot viewing flips (which suck the life out of any coin) to reveal better more lustrous pieces than we expected (and we expected them to be pretty good).

Then it was time to mail home our disused catalogs, including all of the Goldberg and Heritage stuff. Total weight: 17 pounds.

Which left me a few minutes to walk the floor chatting up some other dealers and learning, usefully, which guys bought which key coins in some recent auctions just in case I want to go chase them down later (and sometimes we do that).

And then, just when it seemed like nothing else was going to happen, we were offered a nice piece of Mass silver which is going to look really, really good on the site.

Bringing us to the very last act of the May 2008 LB show; breaking down the booth display and arranging everything neatly in our bags (i.e. chucking them in there indiscriminately), leaving the booth area as neat as when we found it (except for the crumpled papers, rubber bands, water bottles, food wrappers, old auction flips, PCGS blue boxes and precariously piled garbage everywhere) and, as instructed by the show promoter repeatedly over the intercom, leaving the keys neatly in the empty cases ( and not, for example, shoving them into our pockets unnoticed until 10 minutes ago at security screening in the airport).

And after all that (and everything else that preceded it) we’re tired – it’s been 8 days out here now, most of which have been spent either sitting in an auction room squinting at a barely visible screen, filling out grading submission forms, or standing on a hard concrete floor.

But now we get to kick back, relax and take it easy for a solid 24 hours (six of which will be on the flight home), and then start preparing in earnest for the Baltimore show next week.

Our next RR will be posted on Thursday, June 5th, and it will feature a new twist never before attempted on this site.

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