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Back to Road Report Archive 2011

September 7-10, 2011: The Long Beach Coin & Currency Expo

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Good afternoon Road Report reader,

It should by now be obvious that team CRO was not in California for the festivities (i.e. coin auctions) at Goldberg’s, instead variously running 5K’s or making horrendous double bogies on Labor Day here in New England and thus saving our ammo for the robust Heritage sessions in LB.

Where we’ll be arriving this evening, rarin’ to go, and, more importantly, rarin’ to start writing about everything that happens, as it happens, in the only ‘real time’ show report in numismatics (because we do not like to get our news a week after stuff happens and assume you do not either – what is this, 1966?).

In any case, the Day 1 Report will be available for viewing right here, tomorrow AM – though note that with the time difference, east coasters who wake up before, say, 4 AM (and you know who you are) will need to cool their heels or go walk the dog or something until we post it.

OK?  OK!

September 6:  Day 1

Tuesday was what we at CRO call a “very long day”, as your author was up and out for a brief but successful, customer meeting at 7 AM on the east coast, worked until late afternoon during which we received several multi-coin orders (which is hardly the norm), then caught a loooong flight to California during which nothing especially unpleasant happened (if you do not include the absurd concept of them serving oatmeal for dinner, which I did not eat), landed at about 8:30 PM, made my way to the hotel and met up with Dave, whose day had followed a similar trajectory culminating with a different 5+ hour flight to CA.  And then, thoroughly refreshed at that point, we went out for a late dinner with a customer (during which no oatmeal was served) and then spent about 2 hours reviewing his superb collection, a set we have been trying to purchase for, oh, about 3 years.

Which is one of the most interesting and challenging parts of this job, as we get to see great stuff, but then have to find a way make an offer which is more compelling and a better deal for the owner than his myriad other options, including selling it a number of other people, or consigning it to one of the auction houses, in whole or in part.  Something we have been able to do with decent success through the years, but not always.

In this case, however, I think we really are the strongest buyers as we have more experience with this material than almost anyone, buy most of the similar items that come to auction, and have more active customers who would be chomping at the bit to buy it than anyone else (but of course every dealer probably says that).

Anyway, your author then went back to the hotel real late and collapsed just in time to wake up, write this RR and then prepare to race over to the convention center for some intensive lot viewing followed by dealer set-up on Wednesday.

All of which will be described in detail, right here, tomorrow.

September 7:  Day 2

Yes, of course we were tired on Wednesday, but not too tired to zip over to the convention center real early and start lot viewing everything in the US and world sales, floor and non-floor sessions, continuously for hours.

During which I made several observations:

  • There are not a lot of especially fancy coins here, though I predict the few isolated superb pieces will of course go numismatically ballistic, including the best of the Al Boka Large Cents.
  • While I made large, ornate X’s through most of the lots in the catalogs, I did find plenty of other stuff I liked, circled and wrote cryptic notes about (so that if anyone does sneak a surreptitious peek at my catalogs, they will have no idea what it says).
  • I noticed, much to my surprise, that the majority of the US coins were not CAC’ed.  I guess, based on viewing, is that some probably were, and were rejected, while others (seemingly a significant majority, in fact) were never submitted.  In my experience this is different than past HA sales, but I could be wrong about that (and if I am, I am positive I will be corrected vociferously).
  • Lot viewing was quite crowded, especially in the World Coin area, where I had to wait for service, and most every seat was filled the entire time with guys from all over the world.  I found this surprising as well, since a lot of people we know have opted to skip this show.

And then Dave and I went out for a quick lunch across the street at that place where they put the calorie count directly in your face, and then returned for another hour or so of final viewing.

After which we retrieved the CRO loot from the security room, and prepared to wait around until the convention center staff allowed us to enter the bourse floor at 2 PM.  When, suddenly, I overheard some guy telling his friend that the doors were already open.  Which I myself confirmed seconds later, dashing into the room a few minutes early unlike every single other time I have ever been to Long Beach when they kept the door locked several minutes past the official start time as a big crowd filled that area at the bottom of the escalator all checking their watches repeatedly.

But while it was delightful to get in a little early, we all noticed right away that it was hot as hell in there, mostly because they keep the loading bay open during dealer set up allowing the unseasonably warm weather to roll into the room (with an occasional lost bird) so that nearly everyone I saw all day was sweating.  Fortunately, your author had shorts on, which is of course too casual for the elegant restaurant from which we just returned, but perfect for this particular bourse floor.

As evidenced by our activity today, which included selling several relatively expensive coins in deals which all involved some component of a trade-in, and which worked out well for everyone.  We also did some decent buying to the tune of about a dozen coins from several different sources.  That number would have been higher, too, except that one guy left us some coins to ponder, but never came back to consummate the deal.

Which, in all, we thought was a pretty good result in a room that was, as noted, hot meteorologically, but not numismatically, without much if any buzz, and filled with a seemingly increasing number of empty tables where east coast (and even some west coast) coin dealers used to be located in past years.  Further, a couple more well known dealers seemed to have trickled (as in relocated) to the cheap tables at the back of the room in a cost saving measure (where it was even warmer, incidentally), something team CRO would not do.

Still, there are plenty of people here, and business to be done, with considerably less competition for us than their used to be, which is just fine thank you.

And later, while your author was filling out his 11th grading submission form of the day, it was announced on the loud speaker that free beer and Mexican food was now available in the main aisle, causing a minor frenzy of activity right in front of our table during which we did not see any shoving.  A lot of eating, though.

But not by us, since we would be heading to dinner shortly thereafter with a dealer friend at that place where shorts are not appropriate, during which we discussed various numismatic topics, including the ANA and Larry Shepard, the prominent east coast coin clubs, the disposition of the Steve Tanenbaum collection and some wickedly cool stuff from the last Bonham’s auction that most people probably never saw.

And then we called it a night, looking forward to tomorrow during which we will begin our bidding activities in the Heritage sessions, meet with some local customers who will be arriving in the AM, and aggressively comb the floor for more cool stuff to add to our inventory.

More later.

September 8:  Day 3

Since your author likes to get an early start (and also because I am stuck on New England time) I was up at 3:49 AM on Thursday, giving me plenty of time to write yesterday’s RR, make sure we were tracking all of our HA lots of interest, visit the hotel gym (which was surprisingly completely empty and must indicate how full the hotel is this week, i.e. not very), eat breakfast, call several customers and then make my way to the convention center just in time for the 8 AM opening, and weeeeeeeeeeell before Dave showed up.

So when he finally arrived I ridiculed him, and then we went through all of our bids and finalized all that stuff so we wouldn’t have to worry about it later, then finished that deal that was not done from yesterday, submitted those and another 15 or more coins to PCGS until I got a cramp in my hand from filling out forms, then tried to submit coins to NGC and was told they are not doing show grading here (first time I had heard that).

Right after which we heard the announcement that the public would be coming in now, and I looked up to see a genuinely large crowd (about twice as big as I would have predicted), streaming down the main aisle right in front of our table and quickly dispersing around the room.

And then over the course of the next several hours we saw many familiar faces, most of whom stopped by to chat, ogle a few coins and offer us some too.  And while we did a bit of business, nothing really big happened.

And so we spent much of our time scouring the floor looking for cool stuff, some of which we were surprised to find at the table of a dealer I had never heard of before, ultimately buying 6 colonial and federal coins in holders that were all different, but all uniformly scratched up and beat to heckwhich somehow made me want to buy them more.

Of course, we also came across another one of those coins that is sitting in a dealer’s case, that we really want to buy, but can’t since the guy is somehow never at his table during any of the 43 times I walk over there (though of course there is another guy working at that table, who is always there, but claims this is not his case and does not have the key).  Inevitably, when I return on Friday, the owner will be present, and will have the key, but the coin will have sold to someone else 4 minutes earlier.

Despite that minor annoyance, we did pretty well commercially before eventually focusing our attention on the evening Heritage auction session, which would begin with the much publicized Al Boka Large Cents and included some pretty cool stuff.

And Mr. Boka was there too, standing to acknowledge the crowd at the prompting of auctioneer Sam Foose, and then sitting back with the rest of us to watch (and, at times, participate in) the proceedings which contained some results that surprised us:

Lot #3001, the Chain Cent, Ameri. in XF40 [PCGS] brought less than we expected at $63,250.  That coin was not perfect, but it was a well-pedigreed example of a very desirable issue.

Lot #3002, the Wreath Cent in AU55 [PCGS] ex-Eliasberg with lovely golden brown color, on the other hand, went very strong, finally selling for $92,000.  We were genuinely shocked to see the Ameri. sell for less than the Wreath no matter how nice the latter was.

Which brought us to lot #3003, the celebrated 1793 Liberty Cap Cent in AU53 [PCGS].  Dave and I had a side bet on this piece, with me predicting it would sell for $420,000, while Dave guessed $170,000.  Many would remember that an AU55 example of this type brought $632,500 in the Husak sale a few years ago.  And those that did not remember, were reminded of that figure by Sam Foose during the actual bidding, which started a little slow, then ramped up, but quickly petered out at $253,000, making Dave righter than me on this one.  I’m sure Mr. Boka did very well on this coin having purchased it years ago, but still, it didn’t seem like a strong price based on the Husak number.

The next lot of interest for us was #3009, the finest known 1794 S-58 Cent, which was not part of the Boka Collection, was housed in an old NGC slab bearing a CAC sticker (unlike any of the other coins) and brought a robust $69,000.  Of note, the winning bidder was a gentleman named Al Boka, who in the midst of selling most of his cents, took the opportunity to add to his collection of 1794’s (which he is continuing to collect).

As the auction continued, prices were decent but not extremely strong for coins that were nice but mostly of somewhat mixed quality in our opinion, with the exception of lot #3069, the 1844/81 Cent in MS64 RB [PCGS] which opened and closed at $29,900, prompting the major copper dealer next to me to remark that the opening bid had taken “All the fun out of that.”  That coin was described as tied for finest known with the Naftzger specimen which had brought $33,350 in Goldberg’s auction of two years ago.

And while we did not come away with any of the really hifalutin stuff, we picked our spots and bought a few Boka coins for what we thought were good prices.

Then as soon as that portion of the auction concluded, about 90% of the people in the room got up and left, with just a small number of us hanging around for the colonials and the rest of the federal offering in a session in which there wasn’t too much that was especially notable or interesting.

After which we strolled down to the waterfront for dinner in weather that had gotten much cooler, before calling it a night and the end of a very long day.

Friday we’re expecting a few more local customers to arrive with the potential for some bigger deals, which, if they happen, will be described in tomorrow’s RR to be posted in just about 24 hours from now.


September 9:  Day 4

So I get to the show for the 9 AM start on Friday, quickly get set up and meander purposefully over to that table where the coin I want to buy has been locked up since Wednesday and see that the guy is, of course, still not there.  On a more positive note, I note that he has placed a chair upside down on top of his case like coin dealers do at the end of the day, which at least indicated to me that 1) He does exist, and 2) He must have been at the show at some point late on Thursday to do that.

So I go about my business for a while, and then walk optimistically back over to that table and note that the upside down chair is still there at 10 AM, fully 1 hour after the bourse opened.  Which would remain the case, quite literally until about 2 PM (seriously – it was the only table in the entire frickin’ room with an upside down chair on it at that point).  But all of a sudden, at 3:30 or so, I notice there is some guy working there and a couple of customers hanging around.  So I dash over there fully expecting to be disappointed (and maybe to scream at the guy), but instead I simply buy the coin without incident at a very reasonable price, indicating that persistence does pay off in about 1% of these cases (and is a complete and utter train wreck every other time).

And that piece, with a bunch of other things I found on the floor Friday, brought our total bourse floor haul for the week to a quite respectable 3 dozen or so coins in all categories.

Friday was also a pretty busy day at the table, with a number of collectors we know stopping buy, but also some new faces who found us accidentally and hung around chatting for a while.  We also spent a long time discussing a deal to sell 2 of the best coins we have ever offered into the set in which they most belong, which might happen, and would be extremely cool if it did.

By the end of the day, we also got back about 90% of the coins we submitted for grading, with the great majority of results just as we had expected and/or hoped, which is seldom the way it turns out.  While at the PCGS table I was also pleased to be told by Ophelia that she liked (and I quote) “the highlights in my hair”, which is most definitely the first time I have ever heard anything like that, since I do not have highlights in my hair, I have no desire to have them, and I would not how to obtain them if I did want them.

After that I started doing paperwork like crazy, sold a gem Mexican ½ Real, and then went upstairs to do some last minute lot viewing (actually re-viewing) for the evening Heritage session, which went fine until I needed a box which was being viewed by an extremely slow guy who was studying each coin for 5 minutes (which was at least understandable), but also chatting up the lot viewing assistant and taking phone calls in the process, which was really starting to tick me off since I was in a hurry.

But eventually he finished, I saw what I needed, and later stormed into the auction room, buying several of the things we wanted, but getting trumped by another dealer (but not the slow guy) on the most expensive coin, which is a darn shame, since he’s going to crack it out at which time I will not want it anymore.

Oh well.

And then I went back to the hotel, made a few late calls and then collapsed in anticipation of another long day on Saturday, the details of which will be written about in vivid detail right here in this space.

September 10:  Day 5

As I was scheduled to take the red-eye back to New England on Saturday night, the morning was typically hectic, as I was up early blog writing, doing some paperwork and then packing up everything, but still finding time for a quick visit to the gym and I was glad I did, since I ran into several other dealers there along with a crazy woman who was walking on a treadmill with headphones on seemingly unaware that she was occasionally singing out loud sounding a lot like those early round people on American Idol who think they are extremely talented, but actually suck.

Entertained, I checked out of the hotel right on schedule, stashed a bag with the bell desk and casually strolled over to the show for what figured to be a fairly uneventful Saturday.

Which I believe it was for anybody who was not selling bullion, Pandas, or silver state quarters (since nearly everyone who stopped by the table asked for one of these three things).  Of course, there was the lady who came to the table, asked to see a Liberty Seated Half Dollar in our case, scrutinized it for several minutes, and then wanted to know if it was a Russian coin.  Um, no.

In fairness, there were a couple of people inquiring about older federal coins, but they were few and far between, and none of the ones who did inquire actually bought anything.  Making our sales total for the day pretty easy to add up:  2 coins sold to other dealers.  Which sounds meager, but was still 2 coins more than I was able to buy.

But not for lack of effort, since I did walk the floor mutliple times during the day, asked to see many coins up close, but found a fairly obvious reason (like a big scratch or something) not to buy almost every single one of them.  Which was frustrating, since I thought some looked pretty good from a distance.

Unlike our final grading results, which continued nicely with the last 2 coins coming back just fine.

After which we packed up and headed out, trying to get to LAX extra early since everyone (including the show organizers in an announcement over the PA system) warned us that security on the eve of the 9/11 anniversary would be extreeeeeeeemely slow.  So of course I got there 3 hours before my flight and found the place completely empty, moving from curbside to the gate in a grand total of about 15 minutes, which was better than the alternative, and gave me plenty of time to watch football in the airport bar with a number of Notre Dame fans who were intermittently euphoric and suicidal.

Anyway, and in summary, I would say that hanging around for a Saturday at Long Beach is not a very productive use of our time, and we probably will not do it again, which virtually guarantees that someone will show up at the next LB show in the spring with a huge collection to sell and we will miss it.  At this point, however, I think we are willing to take that chance.

Despite the slow last day, however, the show in total was pretty decent and worth the loooong trip, with enough buying and selling, and several big deals which we progressed further while we were here.  We also bought some pretty nice coins in the Heritage US and World auctions, though it will be a while before we get them in hand and can unleash them in an EB near you.

But don’t worry, we have plenty of other cool NEWPs from other sources to offer, starting this week at the Philadelphia show.

For which we will begin getting ready in just a few hours.