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Back to Road Report Archive 2010

May 29-June 5, 2010: The Long Beach Coin & Currency Expo

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Day 1:  Saturday

After an even more frantic than usual day-before-a-show of packing, paying last minute bills, shipping the last few coin orders out to customers and generally running around like crazy on Friday, I was actually looking forward to what I figured would be a more relaxed Saturday during which I would wake up at the crack of dawn, sleep peacefully on the cross-country flight to Los Angeles, sprint to the cab stand, race to Bonham’s and efficiently view 900 lots of colonials through gold and finding items of potential interest to CRO in a comfortable and well-lit viewing room (ominous foreshadowing).

So, as per my own personal standard operating procedure, I set my two alarm clocks for 4:45 AM Saturday, became paranoid that I would sleep through them both and miss the flight, tossed and turned all night as a result, got just about no sleep whatsoever and finally gave up and got out of bed at 4:15 (which turned out to be a good thing, since I realized at that point that I had accidentally set both alarms for 4:45 PM).

On a more positive note, this gave me plenty of time to get dressed and easily make my flight.  Which would turn out to be uneventful, though I must admit that as I was schlepping my laptop and 39 pounds of catalogs through the airport it was somewhat depressing to note that nearly every other person I saw seemed to be headed to some fantastic Memorial Day Weekend vacation (as evidenced by the women in big floppy hats, men in ridiculous shirts with pictures of parrots or big fish on them, and hundreds of children running around the terminal).

But this is nothing new for me, since the Spring Long Beach show and pre-auctions are always scheduled over this holiday weekend, which is a drag, of course, but a small price to pay for having a fun job like this.

Anyway, after a totally uneventuful flight I landed in Los Angeles, grabbed my suitcase as fast as was humanly possible, and raced to Bonham’s as quickly as I could.  And since lot viewing was scheduled for 12 to 5 at Bonham’s offices, and I walked in the door at 12:20 ready to go, I figured I was on track for a solid and thoroughly adequate 4+ hours of coin-studying.

Um, not quite.

You see, Bonham’s viewing room had just eight (e-i-g-h-t) chairs in it (a hard cap, with no possibility of adding any chairs).  And of course, by the time I got there, those 8 seats were already occupied.  And there were 6 additional (and equally exasperated) would-be viewers ahead of me in the queue.

Which, if you do this for a living (like all of the dealers present) is a sort of a big deal, and is likely to lead to circumstances such as the guy ahead of me paying the guy ahead of him $200 to jump one slot in the line (true).  Which I tried to do as well, but by that point there were no more “queue-slot-sellers”.  I also learned that the guy who accepted the $200 offer deeply regretted it afterward, as it ended up costing him more than an hour of precious viewing time (which is worth well more than $200).

Anyway, when I finally did get a chair, I had less than 2 hours to crank through nearly 900 lots of colonials through gold, many of them raw, and including lots of “trap” coins (wholesale items with hidden issues and problems that look good at first glance but not so nice under very close scrutiny) mixed in with fresh coins.   Which is the kind of session that requires a lot (l-o-t) of time to find the coins worth bidding on.

And then, of course, they booted us all out at precisely 5, and there would be no more viewing scheduled for Sunday prior to the sale (further enhancing the bidder-friendly atmosphere, he said sarcastically).

So I did the best I could in the time I had, identified some things worth chasing, and was unfortunately forced to ignore much of the sale that I did not have adequate time to view.  Which will be too bad for the consignors, I guess.

Tommorrow we’ll find out how we do at that session, and go check out the Dan Holmes Collection, Part II, at Goldberg’s, starting bright and early.

Which means I really need to end this RR and get some rest.

Day 2:  Sunday

I woke up early to be among the first viewers at Goldberg’s (at which there plenty of chairs and lots of time to view), and pored through the lots from the Dan Holmes Collection, Part II.  And the coins were nice, if not mind-blowing.  You see, Mr. Holmes focus was seemingly on completion, and while there were lots of solid coins (and even a few finest knowns of their respective die varieites), there were few Naftzger-esque super-gems in this session.  Plenty of things to bid on, though.

And when I finished up viewing those, I checked to see how the bids we had left at Bonham’s had done, since that session started at 10, was a 15 minute cab ride away, and I couldn’t go there and spend enough time on Goldberg’s viewing.

Turns out we bought 5 coins there (could have been more with better viewing, he said beating a dead horse), including some colonials and federal pieces in a session which included 1) Some original, wholesome coins and 2) Some cleaned, damaged or otherwise troubled items.  And some coins in each of the two categories sold for really good money:

Lot #1064, a thoroughly original 1787 Nova Eborac Seated Right, EDS, graded PCGS XF40 with a touch of verdigris brought the extremely strong (in our opinion) price of $2,106.

Lot #1274, a cleaned, damaged, not especially attractive but extremely rare 1802 Half Dime brought a strong $30,420.

Lot #2155, a raw, gem-looking 1810 $5 oddly described in the catalog as “Details of Brilliant to Choice to Unc.” and “purchased from Abe Kosoff as GEM UNC.” brought the nice round number of $57,330 to someone who must have been absolutely convinced of the ‘gem’ part.

Once I had those results, I refocused my attention on the Dan Holmes sale, which, due to the large volume of bids, the fact that the coins were unreserved, and many lots opened at lower numbers than they might have in a “regular sale”, were selling at the rate of only 80 lots per hour, and took pretty much all day.  {Prices were pretty strong overall, though not in every case, including the catalog cover coin, lot #398, an 1834 1c Newcomb-7, graded PF64 RB [PCGS], which sold to a dealer friend of ours for the surprisingly cheap price of $48,300.

And while we didn’t get that one, we did buy our fair share, finally calling it a day after the catered dinner in the auction room.

Tomorrow I look forward to even more lot viewing, followed by more sitting in a hotel ballroom waiting for said lots to be sold, but thoroughly enjoying all of it in the process.

Day 3:  Memorial Day

Instead of planning Memorial Day activities, watching parades, and attending family picnics like most of the country, I was sitting in my hotel room surrounded by auction catalogs and research materials planning my bids for the Goldberg World Coin auction on Monday.

Just one problem with that though:  I had read the schedule wrong, and the Goldberg world coin auction was actually on Tuesday.

Which meant that I suddenly realized that I had very little time to get ready for Goldberg’s US Coin session that would be beginning in about an hour.

It also meant that instead of simply submitting our bids (our usual MO for one of these world coin auctions, since we tend to bid on very few lots widely spaced through a long session), I needed to be in the auction room in person for the US session, executing many bids, seeing who was buying what and for how much, etc.

So I quickly got organized, raced down to the auction room and hoped to find a seat near the one and only electrical outlet so I could plug in my laptop and follow along with the proceedings online.

Which I was able to do successfully partly because the session started about 40 minutes late due to some technical issues at Goldberg’s.

And I was surprised at the number of people that were there.  I would say that 80% of the chairs were filled, which is a good crowd for an “ordinary”(i.e. non-big name auction session like Holmes or Nafztger).   And the results were generally strong too:

Lot #588, an extremely rare Washington Born Virginia in Silver which had been holed and very expertly plugged hammered for a robust $57,500 hammer to a phone bidder.  Notably, there were 3 separate bidders “in” at the $50k level.

Lot #661, an attractive 1804 Draped Bust Large Cent graded PCGS AU55  hammered for $125,000 to a California specialist collector / dealer.

Aaaah, but I was really interested to see how lot #817, the “unique” and controversial 1959-D Lincoln Cent with the Wheat Ears reverse, would do.

I had not seen this coin since Goldberg’s last sold it at auction in February of 2003 (where it brought $48,300).  At that time I was baffled by it – the coin shouldn’t exist, and I was pretty sure it was fake, but I could find no definitive signs that it was not a genuine mint product.

Well, after viewing this piece on Sunday I can tell you that I reached my own personal conclusion about the coin.  Whether it was the intervening years of experience gained or something else entirely, I don’t know, but in any case I had the satisfying feeling of solving a numismatic mystery (though I won’t say it here – you will have to ask me in person if you want to know what I thought).  The coin hammered down for just $27,000 this time around.

After sticking around through the lots I was most interested in, I headed back to Goldberg’s offices for another few hours of lot viewing.

Then walked around the corner to the brand spankin’ new Heritage offices in Beverly Hills.

And it was a bit surreal walking in there for the first time, since the offices are new for Heritage, but had been home to Superior Galleries for about as long as I can remember.  But you’d never know it.  The interior has been completely remodeled and enlarged, and there are cool dinosaur skeletons and minerals on display, along with paintings and other objects d’art.

And, because it was their Open House today for dealers and other interested guests, they had a lavish spread which included a veritable feast of Cuban food, which I did my best to devour.

Oh yeah, they also had lot viewing in the rear half of the space, where I spent about 6 hours in total working on the upcoming Long Beach sessions before packing up at 7 PM and heading back to Goldberg’s auction room to participate in US gold coin session already in progress.

Which in total made for a very, very long day.

Tuesday should be less so, with just that World session noted earlier, and some last minute loose ends before we head down to Long Beach for the HA auction and the show itself.

Day 4:  Tuesday

Job #1 for today would be to pick up the lots we won during Sunday’s Bonhams sale. Sounds easy, you say? Au contraire, mon ami.  I have no idea why, but sometimes the simplest CRO numismatic errand seems to turn into an adventure approximately as exciting as canoeing down the mighty Amazon.  Sort of.

But let’s start at the beginning.

I woke up, ate a healthy breakfast and then hopped in a cab on this beautiful spring morning in LA.  It was so nice, in fact, that I briefly thought I would walk back to my hotel after picking up the lots, but when I saw how far it was (and knowing that I would be carrying our voluminous new purchases back with me), my bout with Spring Fever was quickly cured.

And then we arrived at Bonhams’ building located on world famous Sunset Boulevard.  I don’t know about you, but I can’t say the name of that street without thinking of the old movie by the same name, even though I saw it just a few years ago and frankly it was just so-so.  I’m not a professional movie reviewer, but in my opinion it relied too heavily on a lot of “acting”, and was sadly lacking in the explosions, car chases, product placement and CGI effects that make today’s movies so great.

Anyway, I walked into Bonham’s Spanish colonial style building to pay for the stuff and be on my way.  But first I would be asked to fill out a large and invasive stack of paperwork slightly taller than my 2007 tax return.  “Hmmm, that’s unexpected”, I said to myself.

Somehow, after all that, and having now spent a full 45 minutes of my life there, I STILL left without the coins.  You see, unlike everyone else in this industry (and we do business with most all of the firms and could provide references up the wazoo if necessary) they said they will ship the coins to us when our check clears.  And while this may not seem like a big deal, it kind of is, since it means that we will not have these coins in time for the show, or the following EB, or quite possibly the next show either in just a few weeks.  Which is not ideal when a business (ours, for example) relies on purchasing coins, and then being able to sell them.

On a more positive note, the cab ride back to the hotel sucked.  But not at first.  As soon as I got in, the cabbie and I started chatting pleasantly about the state of the taxi business in LA these days, which is pretty good, according to him.  Though that seemed to slightly contradict his next sentence, in which he told me that so far this week two people had run out of his cab without paying. Then, he mentioned that just 2 weeks ago a gentleman decided not to pay his $40 fare, and instead robbed him at gunpoint, getting away with the $60 my cabbie had on him.

Then we got into a conversation (actually a monologue) about his jewelry business, which is no more, it turns out.

Which led to an informative but now much more animated discussion / monologue about how the US government generates conflicts around the world so we can sell weapons, and how we originally backed Osama Bin Laden and now are paying the price for it, and how we Americans spend money as fast as we get it while in his former country they are always thinking about the future, and how thinking about the future all the time is actually a crushing burden to put on someone.

During this time I was mostly pretending to update my Daytimer and looking out the windows to search out familiar landmarks so I could figure out how much longer this ride was going to take and/or find a good spot to ask him to pull over and let me the heck out of there.

Then, when “we” started getting into the Iran-Iraq War part of the discussion, it got even better, as another cab suddenly pulled up alongside us at a stoplight and the driver shouted “YOU HIT MY CAB YESTERDAY!!!!!!!” in a loud and very scary tone.  To which my driver responded “I know, I give you $20!”.

Then we traveled 2 more blocks and the same incident repeated itself.  Same other driver, same exact lines.  At which time my driver turned around and calmly explained to me that he accidently tapped that other cabbie’s bumper yesterday because he was so tired, that he had not slept for 36 hours, that he is even more tired now than yesterday, etc.  None of which you really want to hear from your cab driver.  Further, he said he offered to give the guy $20 to get the bumper fixed so the other guy would not get his paycheck docked.  My cabbie remained strangely calm, even though the other cabbie kept pulling alongside us shouting and getting more and more agitated.  It was at that moment that I decided it was the perfect time to walk the rest of the way, so I announced that I needed to get out of the car immediately (and then braced myself for the inevitable argument).

Surprisingly, there wasn’t one.  The driver pulled over, I left him a generous tip and walked the remaining 8 blocks back to the hotel in the beautiful 70 degree California sunshine during which I had 2 thoughts running through my mind: 1)  We in the coin business live in a very insular and protected little world, and are lucky to live in such a great country that allows us to prosper by trading little bits of 200 year old metal; and 2)  I am absolutely thrilled beyond belief not to be in that cab anymore.

OK – back to coins. Today was a day for cleaning up loose ends, such as putting the finishing touches on our next Coin Commentary for the website(!), and insuring all of the coins we bought for the Long Beach show are priced and prepped (though not the lots purchased from Bonhams, of course).

Also, I sat in on some of the Goldberg world coin auction sessions today, but we won nothing of significance.  And then I spent a brief time figuring a small deal we were offered yesterday.

All in all, a wonderful day in which I accomplished very little, but at least I cannot say that I did not meet any interesting people.  And the show doesn’t even officially start until tomorrow!

One can only imagine the adventures that await us in Long Beach.

Day 5:  Wednesday

While Dave was goofing off over the last several days in California viewing lots, attending various numismatic auctions, working on wholesale deals, meeting new cab driver friends and unsuccessfully attempting to pick up our winning bids, I was home in New England observing from afar (i.e. golfing, and watching TV).

Until today, when I shoved my clothes into my suitcase in 4 seconds and headed to the airport for my own cross country flight to Long Beach.

Surprisingly, the trip went very smoothly, and I landed in CA at about noon.  After which I headed down to baggage claim just in time to watch the first few bags emerge on the carousel followed by something I have never seen before in years of flying:  A big pile of clothes strewn directly on the conveyor belt, just slowly rotating around with the other luggage.  Evidently they had escaped from someone’s suitcase, though I was positive they were not mine, since I had not folded my own clothes that neatly.  Also, there was a pair of plaid pink shorts in the pile, and I would never wear something like that.  Sure enough, some lady started screaming “WHAT THE HECK?????” a few seconds later, which I think indicated that they were hers, and that a massive argument was about to ensue.

Thankfully, my own bag came out a few seconds later, intact, so I grabbed it, and left for my hotel as fast as I possibly could.

About a half hour later, I had checked in, dropped my stuff in the room, and headed straight to the convention center for some quick Heritage lot viewing, saying a few hellos to dealer friends and then parking myself in the lobby waiting for the doors of the bourse to open at precisely 2 PM.

At which time Dave and I entered, slowly got our table organized and surveyed the scene in which a lot of dealers were now in new and different locations (like HLRC, who we were surprised to see is now our next door neighbor).  On the other hand, a fair number of other tables were vacant (at least on this day, though I guess that may change tomorrow).

We also walked around a bit looking for cool things to buy and actually found some, mostly of the federal variety.

And there was of course the usual discussion about who had bought what at the auctions over the preceding days.  We always like to find out (out of curiosity and for real business reasons) who bought certain coins, and, if they went to a dealer, he had purchased them for a customer, or for inventory (in which case they might thus be available to us).

But frankly most of the discussions I heard were about the new PCGS lawsuit against coin doctors, including whispered comments from some of the named guys themselves.  Certainly, it seems like PCGS did get everyone’s attention.

Somewhere during that time we ended up selling 3.5 coins (one was a split deal) and buying a half a dozen others before calling it a day and heading out to Famous Dave’s (no relation to our own Dave Wnuck, apparently) for ribs with some dealer friends.  And that turned out to be a lot of fun, with some free-wheeling conversation on a range of topics from Remoulade (which I learned last evening is a creamy sauce typically made with mayonnaise, mustard and horseradish) to famously doctored rare coins each of us had seen through the years (which was fascinating to say the least).

Thursday we are back at it at 8 AM, with the show then opening to the public at 10, followed by the Heritage Auction starting at 7, and a dinner scheduled with a collector friend at 8:30.

Which means that we need to go get some rest right now, because it is going to be a loooooooong day.

Day 6:  Thursday

Jet-lagged, I woke up at 3 AM on Thursday, went back to sleep, woke up at 4, then repeated this process every 11 minutes before finally getting up for good at 6:30.

Which left me more than enough time to finish up some work in the room, eat a delicious breakfast and stroll over to the convention center for dealer set-up at 8.

And it was reasonably active when we got there, with a respectable buzz in the room that increased gradually until 10 AM, when the public would arrive in what seemed to us to be pretty decent numbers.

Including many who were there to buy, evidenced by the fact that we sold quite few colonial and federal coins over the next 8 hours, among them the proof nickel in last week’s ad, several high end colonials, a bunch of gold, and some cool silver type coins in old NGC Fatty holders that we had just purchased here in Long Beach hours earlier.

And then, just when everything seemed to be going so well, it got better, as Paul Song of Bonham’s arrived out of nowhere and delivered our purchases from their recent (and thoroughly discussed here in the RR) auction.  So thanks to Paul for the yeoman work on our behalf, and our apologies for ever doubting you guys.

Also of note on Thursday was the incredible level of activity at the PCGS table, with a gazillion people lined up submitting coins and milling about all day.  This was especially striking, since Wednesday seemed to be so quiet there (and at NGC as well), which had us wondering if the well-publicized PCGS anti-coin doctoring lawsuit had spooked everyone about grading.  Apparently not.

So, in all, we had a really good day about which I cannot think of anything negative to say, ending with a trip to the Heritage auction room at 7, the purchase of one very nice coin, and then a quick walk over to the Madison for a deluxe dinner with a customer friend which ended late and with your author starting to fade out after a very long and productive day here in CA.

Friday we look forward to (and hope for) more of the same.  So check in here tomorrow and see if that actually happens.

Day 7:  Friday

It was another pretty decent day here on Friday, during which the following things pretty decent things happened:

When I woke up, there were messages on my phone from two customers confirming that they had received coins I had shipped earlier this week, liked them and would be keeping them.  This is what is known in our business as a ‘good start’.

We arrived at the show at 9:30, relaxed and ready for the action that would begin with the opening to the public at 10.

We found that a few of the bids we had left at Heritage the previous evening were successful on a couple of additional cool NEWPs that will look extremely good on the website.

It was genuinely busy.

Nearly all of the grades we got back from PCGS were just what we expected (which is good thing – we aren’t looking for gift grades, we just want fair results that allow us to market the coins for what they are).

A number of our west coast clients stopped by the table, including a few we had not seen since the forgettable LA ANA waaaay back in 2009.

We sold a lot of coins, and everyone paid us.

PCGS President Don Willis stopped by and told us all about developments at their new office in Paris.

We purchased a fantastic Zeppelin.

Our last sale took place at about 5:30, well after most of the crowds had left and at a time when we figured we were pretty much done for the day.

Dinner was very delicious, not enormous and ended at a thoroughly reasonable hour.

Saturday we will be checking out, tying up loose ends, finalizing (we hope) a few last pending deals and vamoosing from the show early in the afternoon.  So if you want to see us, best stop by the table early.

Day 8:  The Exciting Conclusion

Actually, it was exciting, as we did a little more business on Saturday (including selling a fantastic PCGS 65+ Saint we had acquired at this show), picked up our last Heritage lot, then began the process of packing everything up like crazy, pausing only to reflect on the week that had been.

Which was fun, since, in summary, this turned out to be about our best LB show in a year or more.  And based on the conversations we had with other dealers, we were not the only ones who did well here.  Which is especially surprising since most of us showed up with relatively low expectations AND this was the generally-least-attended of-the-three-LB-shows June installment, which a lot of dealers skip altogether.

As for trying to explain why, all I can offer is that a lot of people apparently came here to buy coins.

And then Dave and I headed our separate ways back to New England, an extremely long trip that eats up an entire day no matter what flight you take.

I selected one so unbelievably bumpy that I began to develop a cramp in my hand from squeezing the armrest as hard as possible for about 4 hours, so when I finally landed in NY, I quickly sought out a bar called the New York Sports Grill and ordered one of almost every single thing they were serving.

Which made the connecting flight home considerably easier to take.

And that was about it.  Our next show will be in Baltimore, from where our next RR will be posted in a bit more than a week.