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Back to Road Report Archive 2010

September 29-October 2, 2010: The Whitman Philadelphia Expo


September 28th – Prologue:

Now that we’ve been back home for 2 full days since LB, and have not even unpacked yet, it’s time to load up the CRO station wagon and head on down to Philadelphia for what we expect to be 4 solid days of northeast corridor numismatic fun.  Which to us means serious buying and selling of colonial and early US pieces (and others), lots of neat stuff in the auctions and some fun nights out with our local collector and dealer friends.

We’re also looking forward to trying out our new table location, since in our experience over the last several years, tables near the door usually equate to all sorts of unexpected (but extremely positive) activity.

All of which will be described right here in the Day 1 RR on Thursday AM.

September 29th – Day 1:

We arrived in Philadelphia in the late morning, checked into our hotel and immediately raced to Stack’s lot viewing at the convention center where we found a completely full room and a couple more guys waiting for a chair and a lamp.

Which I found slightly surprising, until I overheard one of the currency dealers speaking on his cell phone and telling someone that (and I quote) “every currency dealer in the world is here”, all viewing the thick Americana Sale, Part I, containing a fresh currency collection which we frankly had not paid much attention to.

We were instead focused on the Americana Sale, Part II, which is chock full of 4,000 lots of colonials through federal issues, medals, cool counter-stamped coins, tokens of all kinds and some really neat ephemera related to the Eliasberg Collection.

You see, apparently Mr. Eliasberg never threw anything away, allowing me to spend time perusing lots featuring every bit of his neatly typed correspondence through the years with various dealers, attempting to acquire specific coins, arranging his Life Magazine photoshoot, trying to sell his entire collection to the government(!), etc.

Which was extremely cool, though very fragile (wth little fragments of brittle paper floating everywhere), and took a long time to pore through, and which certainly contributed to the log jam in the viewing room.

But after about 7 hours of concentrated study, we were pretty much done and headed to dinner, after which we figured everything we planned to bid on, at what levels, and by what method (i.e. on the computer, leaving them at the podium or standing in the middle of the room with a paddle for all the world to see), depending on what the item was and if we wanted to be seen doing it, or if we wanted to be sure to lock in a specific increment, etc.

And then your author went to bed, early, since he has a slight cold and wanted to be ready for the action beginning with dealer set-up at what they tell me is 8 AM Thursday despite the 9 AM start listed on the Whitman web site, which I frankly doubt and thus anticipate standing around in the convention center lobby for an hour cooling my heels.

On a more positive note, it is supposed to absolutely pour tomorrow and by going earlier I may well avoid getting as soaked as I would later in the day if the weatherman on the local channel 6 is correct, which I also doubt.

Until tomorrow –

September 30th – Day 2:

Racing against an ominous weather forecast, I slowly sprinted to the convention center at 7:45 AM on Thursday just before the predicted torrential rains and high wind, arrived just as the doors to the bourse were opened to dealers and briskly set up the table for what we anticipated to be a very busy day.

In nearly every way, however, your author was wrong.

First, it didn’t really start to rain until late in the day, and even then it wasn’t that impressive when it did.  That’s good, actually.

Second, it wasn’t really that busy.  Sure, there was better retail traffic than in Long Beach last week, but it was hardly anything to write home about (and even if I did, I’m positive my wife would not have given it a second thought).

Third, Dave didn’t show up until about 9:30 AM, only after I called to wake him up.

Turns out he had the right idea, arriving in the middle of the scheduled 8 AM to noon dealer set-up (early birds, too), and slipping right into “coin-buyer-mode”, perusing the floor and picking up a smattering of cool things from many different sources.

All while your author was either manning the table, mostly unsuccessfully searching for cool colonials, neat esoterica and early American coins, or sucking on disgusting black-cherry cough drops to quell an annoying and apparently incurable tickle in the back of his throat.  As an aside, I wish someone, somewhere would invent a cough drop that works, and that comes in a normal, acceptable flavor (like Guiness, for example).

Anyway, we ended up buying about 20 coins on the floor during the day, which put a medium-sized dent into our inventory requirements even before the start of the Stack’s coin session in which we expect to be ‘players’.  We know that because we spent a good part of our time working and re-working our bids on all of the lots of interest to us, and there are a lot of them.

We also managed to sell a few things over the course of several hours, though not as many as we hoped.

Somewhere during that period we also saw a neat photo taken by dealer Stuart Levine of Benjamin’s Franklin’s original, extremely precise renderings of the Fugio interlocking rings reverse design, a document which is kept under lock and key at a place called the American Philosophical Society (who knew?) right here in Philadelphia.

All followed by a fantastic dinner with a dealer friend and a serious collector at a place called Continental, a Tapas restaurant which frankly rivals Pazo in Baltimore and is now a new CRO favorite.  During which we ate extremely well and discussed important topics like if the first paper airplane pre-dated air travel, how clinical trials are run by pharmaceutical companies, how many coins we should buy at auctions and other important coin dealering topics.

Also, and on a more serious note, we drank too much.

Of course, tomorrow is another day, and we remain guardedly optimistic that we’ll buy all sorts of cool things on the floor while slipping in and out of the Stack’s auction winning lot after lot and selling neat things to many collectors who have made the trip to Philadelphia.

And if we do, you will read about it right here in not more than 24 hours from now.

October 1st, 2010 – Day 3:

Friday I woke up early, wrote Thursday’s RR, talked to a couple of customers, re-worked 72 auction bids and then walked to the convention center during a rain-free morning (but only because I had bought an umbrella yesterday – had I not purchased one, I’m sure it would have poured).

And, amazingly, Dave was already there when I arrived (though evidence suggested he had only been there for about 3 minutes).

Which gave us ample time to get set-up, and then split-up, with Dave tasked with buying a few cool federal coins, your author in charge of manning the table and executing our auction bids for the colonial session scheduled to begin less than an hour later at 10.

Which seemed to work pretty well overall, as Dave found some cool NEWPs from many sources, while I sat in the Stack’s session bidding occasionally (often via the book) and buying a bunch of coins in a session that was generally extremely soft, though with pockets of strong results:

Lot 1:  The Pillar Dollar in PCGS XF45 was our coin, and had been on our website, unsold, for $700 for about 60 days.  So I was pretty surprised when it sold in this session for $1,092.50.

But not everything worked out quite that well.

Lot 2302, the New Jersey Copper Maris 67-v with obverse attribution ink, has appeared in three auctions since May 2007, bringing, in order:  $1,840, $1,207.50, and, in this session, $1,035.

And that was one of a number of results, mostly in mid-grade circulated colonial state coins, that sold for less, or much less, than the same piece had brought in recent years either at Stack’s or at Heritage (and was very reminiscent of the results we observed for similar material at the Heritage session in Long Beach last week).

On the other hand, some issues are as strong as they have ever been:

Lot 2311, the Bar Copper in just OK AU55 sold for a very strong (in our view) $18,400 for that coin.

Lot 2321, a Washington Funeral Medal with Skull & Crossbones in pleasing F12, raw, brought nearly twice what we expected at $12,075.

While at the end of the session, a number of struck copies of colonial issues consigned from the Collection of Q. David Bowers, and all ex-Ford, struggled in this session:

Lot 2326, the “Novum Belgium” fantasy piece which had brought $8,625 in the Ford sale in May, 2006, opened here at $5,750 with no advancement, and was a no sale.

Lot 2331, the Clinton Cent Restrike in silver, one of 3 known (and handled by us several years ago), brought $9,775 in that same 2006 Ford sale, but realized just $5,750 here in Philadelphia.

Personally, I find it interesting that even the most famous numismatist of our time can buy coins and then sell them in an auction run by a company for which he is the Chairman of the Board, and lose a hefty percentage in the process.

All of which we file away as data points in where the market is at this moment, with prices realized 2, 5 and 10 years ago not really relevant to what we can pay or ask for colonial coins these days.

On the federal side, the results were also varied:

Lot 2536, an 1873 Proof Two Cent Piece in PCGS VF30 showed the intense collector demand for this proof only issue selling for $2,587.50 – nearly the price of a Choice example.

Lot 2606, a wholesome Half Disme with a hole at 12 o’clock brought a fair $34,500.  We wouldn’t be too surprised to see that resurface resurfaced (i.e. without a hole in it anymore).

Lot 2676, a lovely 1796 Draped Bust Quarter, sold for what we thought was a pretty strong $172,500.

Lot 3702, a key date 1887 $5 in PCGS PF65 CAM brought $97,750 vs the $103,000 this same piece brought at the absolute peak of prices at Heritage in January 2007.  We actually thought this close result was a healthy sign for the market.

And then it was back to the table, where we sold quite a bit of gold and some scattered type to collectors and dealers alike, punching large holes in our already depleted inventory.

Offset by the acquisition of some neat esoterica on the floor and then a few medals in the later Stack’s session where we availed ourselves of a free dinner and watched with interest as the Gold 250th Anniversary of Jewish Settlement Medal brought $69,000 in a pitched battle between a dealer representing another dealer, and a phone bidder.

Followed by the entertaining sale of Eliasberg’s set of gold Abraham Lincoln Medals, which he purchased from Stack’s intact in 1945, and kept in a custom made display case housing the entire set, but which Stack’s had, surprisingly, parsed up into individual lots (including the empty case as the final lot).

We were actually trying to buy one of these pieces, but it became obvious, very quickly, that we had no chance whatsoever against the mysterious phone bidder #504, who, successfully, and frankly against all odds, bought all 15 medals in consecutive lots (many against quite stiff competition, and then, finally, the case, reassembling the entire set.  We thought someone else might try to buy the case at the end and hold it hostage, but that didn’t happen.

Also of great interest were the Eliasberg ephemera lots, including various documents related to the collection, an ornament he used to keep on his desk, a little trophy he was awarded by the Numismatic Gallery, and, very odd in my opinion, some ID cards he used to keep in his wallet.

There were some very interesting tidbits in some of those lots, though, and Dave and I actually bought a couple of them.

And then we left and had a drink with another dealer in the hotel bar before heading out to figure a few more lots for Saturday during what we hope will be pretty good day.

Our next RR will be posted from home on Sunday AM, and will summarize this show with interesting anecdotes, and will also include, we hope, news of something great we bought on Saturday.

October 2nd, 2010 – Day 4:

Did you know that the coverage of the Ryder Cup golf started at 3 AM on Saturday, east coast time?  It did, and I know that because I was awake and watching it after sleeping poorly and not for very long.

But once awake, I tried to use the time productively, first by searching every arcane section of Ebay, then perusing every numismatic website I have ever bookmarked that never have anything good, followed by the ones that have not been updated since 1994.

The good news is that somewhere in that morass of coins we did not want / coins that no longer exist, I actually found something interesting, and we ended up buying it later in the afternoon.  True story.

After that bit of fun, I started packing up everything, as of course this was our customary get-away day in which we have to haul everything from the hotel to the show, which is usually a royal pain mitigated only by the fact that I am usually doing so in jeans, and not in a suit like in my former working life.

And once I arrived, we actually did some good work, picking up auction lots from Stack’s, selling a number of coins (mostly to other dealers), including two really exceptional old-holdered Randall Hoard Large Cents we had purchased recently (one in LB, one here), but which will now grace someone else’s website.

Still, we leave this show with plenty-o-NEWPs in every category, from the unusual and esoteric to the mainstream Morgan Dollar (actually two of them).  We did not, however, buy the great thing hinted at yesterday.  At least not yet . . .

But we did, for the 4th day in a row, get lunch across the street from the convention center at the Reading Terminal Market, quite possibly the finest conglomeration of absolutely delicious but extremely unhealthy food stalls this side of Wrigely Field.  From Philly cheese steaks, to great delis, to pizza places, to sushi, to bakeries to, your author’s favorite, the Greek place with exceptional $7 gyros (though I recommend you get a big pile of extra napkins if you go there).

Which provided the necessary energy to carry us through the home stretch of last minute sales, just under the wire purchases and the final hectic packing up of everything which, this time, went off pretty much without a hitch.

And with that, it’s time to close the book on the Philadelphia Expo, 2010, start work on our next EB which will go out this Tuesday, finalize the graphics for our next ad due Wednesday, and then pore through the utter mountain of paperwork we have now amassed here and in Long Beach.

And while we’re doing that, you can look forward to our next EB which will be written from Coinfest in Stamford, CT in a little more than 3 weeks from now.

The End