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Back to Road Report Archive 2008

November 18-22, 2008: The Whitman Baltimore Expo


On the Road Again:

I gotta’ tell you, this coin dealering thing is starting to feel an awful lot like my old life as a frequent traveler as we are on the road yet again, the shows are starting to run together and I’m getting tired.

In my experience, this can eventually lead to two things:

  1. Shingles.
    Ever had them?  I’m not a medical doctor, but my layman’s opinion is that you should try very, very hard not to get them.  Apparently they afflict worn out travelers with some frequency, as they did me on a Pacific flight about 10 years ago.  Believe me when I tell you that that sucked.
  2. Traveler’s Amnesia.
    This will first manifest itself when you find yourself trying unsuccessfully to open your hotel room door before realizing (often with the impolite assistance of the guy actually staying in that room) that this isn’t your room at all, but rather it is the room with the same number as the one you stayed in at your hotel last week.  When it gets really bad, you’ll probably be in an airport, maybe bump into an old friend and be asked “Hey, where are you headed?”  I distinctly remember that happening on a trip years ago and being unable to answer the question.  Seriously, I had to check my ticket to find out.

But we are not quite at this stage yet, and while we might be tired, we are looking forward to a good Baltimore show.  In fact, we find ourselves slightly reinvigorated this AM after a very good (albeit brief) Monday in which a couple of the coins that were circled (as in sharks circling their prey) but not purchased in Boston were subsequently ordered when we got home.  That’s always nice.

The other good news for us is the very cool stuff we’ve been able to buy of late.  Some people have divested some coins that just don’t come along too often, and we were very pleased to un-divest them.

Anyway, we’ll be at the Stack’s auction this AM and will recap it here in about 18 hours from now.

Day 1:

I arrived in Baltimore about 10 AM  and was immediately pleased to discover that every single passenger on my flight (including what seemed to be a large tour group from Korea in the midst of a multi-leg journey) retrieved their bags without incident, except me.

Which meant that I had to hang around in the little luggage claim booth for 20 minutes describing it to the attendant instead of, for example, racing to get to the Pier 5 Hotel for the Stack’s auction.

So I had plenty of time to imagine what it would be like to be here for 5 days with no clean clothes, or show supplies, or contact lenses, and where and when I was going to go buy a new wardrobe while still doing the job that I flew here to do, etc.  I also kept thinking about the time Dave flew from Long Beach to NY for a Stack’s auction, lost his bag and kept showing up everyday in a different color ‘I Love NY’ sweatshirt that he had just purchased at the gift shop next door for $70 each.


On the other hand, when I did get to the Pier 5 at least I didn’t have to lug a heavy suitcase all over the place prior to checking into our hotel across town (which was the original plan).  So that was good.

And I did arrive to find Dave immersed in lot viewing for a session that really didn’t seem to offer much for us.  The colonials were lean and mediocre (and in many cases very familiar looking, since we had seen them in multiple auctions before), and we didn’t see a lot of really choice early type that we liked enough to buy.  There were, however, some wonderful, pedigreed middle and late date large cents and some very nice looking territorials, and we would be players on those.

But they went very strong in a session in which a lot of very average material pretty much died, and a few isolated great coins sold for unbelievable money, including lot #3062, a lovely 1813 Classic Head Cent in MS65 BN [PCGS] with some original red which realized $207,000 in a spirited competition between a floor and phone bidder and prompted a well known dealer to turn around and tell me “There is no recession here.”  Nice coin though.

For coins we really want to buy we generally bid live in the room.  For coins in which we have an interest only at a price, we tend to leave bids on the book or via the internet (since that prevents us from getting auction fever, a malady which can affect even a seasoned dealer).  So we logged in our bids and left to go check-in at our hotel, check email, get another couple of orders, call the airline and sit, on hold, for about 15 minutes waiting for an update and then, miraculously, getting a call on the other line from the bellman telling me that my bag had arrived.

I honestly do not believe I have ever been happier to see a suitcase in my entire life.

Then it was off to dinner at our favorite Sushi restaurant and then back to work here at the hotel to answer email and check our bids before collapsing out at about 10 PM.

Tomorrow Bowers lot viewing starts at about midday at the convention center, which is where we will be for much of the afternoon, nicely dressed in clean clothing, none of which will say “Baltimore is for Lovers” or have large purple Baltimore Ravens logos on it.

Day 2:

Wednesday started off great, as I had the opportunity to sleep in, have a leisurely (and completely free) breakfast in the deluxe lounge here at our hotel and then take a pleasant walk over to the convention center for the start of Bowers lot viewing at 11 AM set up right there on the bourse floor.

And while it wasn’t crowded when we arrived, it quickly filled to the gills with most every prominent coin dealer in the business, indicating (among other things) that this might not be the place for a bunch of auction bargains.

It was also about 40 degrees in there and very loud, as the workers setting up the bourse floor had the large freight doors wide open on an extremely cold day, and were hauling chairs and tables around with fork lifts.  As you can well imagine, it made for a near perfect environment for careful and meticulous lot viewing.

Anyway, the catalog is thick, especially compared to some of the recent Bowers’ offerings, and the coins themselves are a mixed bag ranging from crummy stuff we saw recently in Heritage sales (some of which we acquired as parts of collections and consigned to those earlier sales!) to some really nice, fresh looking coins we’d like to buy.

So we viewed for a while, then stopped for lunch at the Sheraton just down the hall from PCGS’ pre-show grading room.  Didn’t know that existed?  It does – usually in the same room every time we come here, and a great place to get a jump on grading and, importantly, to have a chance to get coins back in time to offer them at the show.

So we got all that done, ate at the sports bar in the midst of an Under Armor convention (with a bunch of people in spandex outfits drinking beer), then headed back to finish lot viewing at the convention center.  Until I realized I had forgotten to submit one coin and hoofed it back over to the Sheraton, then got to do it all over again when I realized I had screwed up one of the other submission forms.  That was annoying.

But I did eventually get that all squared away, and did then return to finish lot viewing.

And then, a few hours after that, we headed back to the hotel, caught up on emails and such and then availed ourselves of the free food in the lounge once again.

I guess the moral of this RR is two-fold:  1) Always wear a sweater to lot viewing, and 2) If you want to attract coin dealers, place free food in a lounge.

Day 3:

Thursday began with a short, relaxing blast of the hotel fire alarm at 4:09 AM (which would be a harbinger of things to come . . .), a cup of coffee in the room served in an unappetizing glass mug (I strongly prefer my large ceramic mug with the big capital ‘A’ on it that I use at home) and then an hour or so of blog writing before I’d start to get ready to meet up with Dave for breakfast in the “Sky Lounge”.

Which was entertaining, as we briefly met up with the person who owns the finest known 1813 Large Cent (that’s right, the one that just brought $207,000 at the Stack’s auction isn’t it) over scrambled eggs.  He was in a good mood, by the way, having bought his coin years earlier for considerably less.

Then it was time to head over to the convention center, carefully timed to arrive just as people were entering the bourse, and thus avoid standing in the interminable line in the lobby that typically forms 15 minutes before the doors officially open.

As we walked in, we noticed a few changes to our Aisle 300 bourse neighborhood:

The Don Willis table across from us was no more (not surprisingly, since he has a new gig), having been replaced by Americana dealer John Kraljevich, who had also spread out into the neighboring space of John Hamrick who was gone too, though I don’t know if that is a permanent move.

Which means that Aisle 300 is now colonial coin and early Americana central, featuring Tony Terranova, the aforementioned JK, HLRC, colonial currency dealer Stu Levine and team CRO at Table 304.  And this is a good thing for us, as it all but guarantees good traffic of collectors seeking such items at the show.

Then we set up and quickly walked the floor trying to find new and interesting material, and we did – including some mid-range federal and esoteric items and a few colonials.

It was a pretty decent day selling too, at the table, off the site and on a wholesale basis with some of the industry big-boys.  This last category is not really our focus, but it may surprise the reader to know that it accounts for a good-sized portion of our total sales.  Who knew?

And then we got our first grading results back, and they were completely, totally and thoroughly average.  No great surprises on either the high or low side, though another dealer showed me some superb pieces that he had walked-through at the show and which we both agreed had received the lowest possible grades for each coin.  Which made me feel better about our results.

We also found time to re-review the Bowers lots scheduled for this evening, finalize the roughly two dozen things we’d be bidding on, and return to the bourse to find our own Dave Wnuck standing on a chair at Laibstain’s booth attaching 4 enormous H-L-R-C letter balloons to the rail behind their table.  But not without incident, as on the first attempt the ‘R’ escaped, floating up to the ceiling and now stuck there.  Fortunately (and almost unbelievably), they brought an extra ‘R’ with them and the project was completed without further incident.

Then, before we knew it, it was time for the auction, held once again in a very long narrow room ill-suited for a coin auction, but which contains an elegant dining table and thus allows participants to bid ‘restaurant-style’, availing themselves of the nice buffet and casually dining and chatting with friends while raising their bidder paddles between courses.  Since I had dinner plans scheduled for later on, I bid using the traditional method, sitting in a chair facing the auctioneer and not eating anything.

And it worked, as I went 17 for 17 buying coins in the session before leaving the rest of the bids ‘on the book’ before heading out to Pazo with some dealer friends.

In all, it was an action packed day with some good results, and we look forward to more of the same on Friday as many of our local collector clients are scheduled to be at the show.

Day 4:

Our readers will remember that Thursday began here with a short blast of the hotel fire alarm at 4:09 AM.  Friday we were not as lucky, as the thing went off for a good solid 5 minutes at the exact same time, followed by an extremely loud announcement over the hotel intercom telling us to evacuate (which sounded a lot like those dire warnings which are broadcast in the villain’s secret hideout after James Bond has sabotaged some control panel and the entire structure starts to come crashing down).

And then, just as soon as I got dressed and started down to the lobby (not using the elevator from here on the 11th floor, of course), they told us to disregard it.  Excellent.

The good news (as I always say whenever I get up at 4 AM) is that I was thoroughly awake at that point, and had plenty of time to write yesterday’s blog, finish our next CW ad, answer a bunch of email and do a big write up for a customer about the Bowers auction results before meeting Dave once again in the lounge here for breakfast and heading to the show at 9 AM.

We were hoping for a good day as many of our local area customers were planning to come on Friday this year, and most everyone made it, stopping by the table to chat, kick tires, look at coins, consider trades, offer us coins and buy one or two.

We ended up selling a fair number of colonials and silver and gold type in the $15,000 and under range, including the really nicely toned 1844 Dime we bought about 30 days ago and for which we had an extremely good ad planned for next week.  Alas, we will not be running that one now.

We also bought a few things selectively on the floor, including the highest graded Pistareen I’ve personally seen, a couple of pieces of nice gold and only our second ever Russian coin just so that when someone inevitably comes to the table and says “Excuse me, do you have any Russian coins?” (which happens at least 3 or 4 times at every show) we can say “Don’t be ridiculous, of course we do.”

Not everything worked though, as two coins we placed on hold for customers at the beginning of the show didn’t ultimately sell.  Now, we’re happy to do that for someone seriously considering an item, and we realize that there is no commitment, but in one instance we were offered a trade for one of our coins early on Thursday, declined because the trade items were things we do not deal in and which were therefore of no interest to us, then were asked to put the coin on hold (not offering it to anyone else during that period), only to have the customer return at the end of the day Friday and offer us the exact same trade proposal we originally declined.  Not surprisingly, we declined the offer again, removed the coin from hold and went on with our business.

Which consisted largely of cleaning up some last minute loose ends, buying one coin from my next door bourse neighbor to fill a customer want list, picking up our last straggler coin from grading and then heading off for a quick dinner at the Japanese restaurant before I would head back to the room for a customer call and Dave would go to the auction to buy a nice $20 Lib.

Saturday isn’t usually action packed here in Baltimore, as a lot of people start packing up at midday for evening flights, but we’ll be here hoping for some last minute deals and hoping to see a few more customers.

Our next RR will be posted from home and will feature the exciting conclusion.

Day 5:

I thought for a minute there our show was going to end on an extremely high note, as it appeared we were close to selling an expensive federal coin in the waning moments (during the packing up phase of our departure, right after our second lunch, but before Dave scaled the back table for the ceremonial removal of the CRO banner), but alas if it is going to be, it will be happening by phone later, and not here in person.

Even so, it was a pretty decent day today, with more activity on the selling and buying side than we anticipated for a Saturday in Baltimore.

I walked around the floor in a continuous loop late in the morning, finding a few more mid-range colonials in series that we have not had in a while, and a really nice choice AU Pillar Dollar – an issue we have been trying to find in that grade (with the right look) for months.  While I did that, some crust-o-rific early gold walked up to the table and Dave grabbed it.

As an aside, that’s a nice benefit of offering coins on the site and in our ads – if people have similar items, they tend to offer them to us.  And, if they meet our standards, we try very hard to buy them.  Like we did with a couple of collections of different types, which will fit into our current ‘portfolio’ quite well and give us a nice range of grades (from collector level circulated pieces to mega-grade stuff) and price points (from a few hundred dollars to the mid six-figures) in colonials, federal issues and territorials.  In total, that ought to keep us plenty busy from now until the FUN show, I suspect.

Sales were consistent, again mostly in the mid-range, but importantly across all categories to a variety of different collectors.

We also had one of those unfortunate (but not infrequent) incidents where someone comes to our table randomly (not having sought us out) with a coin they think is extremely rare and valuable, and we get to be the one to tell them that it isn’t, and it isn’t.  In this case it was a relatively common undated Washington Liberty & Security Penny (colonial) with a gigantic rim ding and unoriginal surfaces in a PCGS XF40 holder.  The coin Redbooks $1,100 in XF, but might be worth only $500 looking like this one (but not to us – we wouldn’t have been buyers at any price).  So I was surprised when the owner told me he wanted $8,000 for it.  As it turns out, he was looking on the wrong line in the Redbook and thought he had the 1795 (dated) Liberty & Security Penny, which is a totally different issue, is not pictured in the RB, and is a really rare item with only about a dozen known.  The ironic (and frankly unbelievable) thing is that we happen to have an example of one of those in stock, and so I was able to show the guy exactly what he had, and what he didn’t have.  He understood, thanked me profusely, and left, as I thought to myself that there is no other place he could have gone at this show (or almost any other in numismatic history – literally) and seen that side by side comparison.  So I guess it’s good that he chose our table to bump in to.

Anyway, as things wound down we started to assess the last three weeks and realized the daunting task we face over the next month with plenty of things to get done.

We will start by getting ourselves organized and shipping orders received during the show on Monday and Tuesday, then we’re off for the holidays, then back with a numismatic vengeance (and a shiny new Early Bird) on Tuesday, December 2nd.  And believe me when I tell you that it will be a good one.  A very, very good one.

Our next Road Report will not be for quite some time though, as our next scheduled event is not until the FUN show in 2009 (though we reserve the right to go somewhere unscheduled in the meantime and write about it if we want to).

The End