2009 FUN Show Report

As I stated in my last Market Report (and you have no doubt read on many other numismatic websites) the 2009 FUN show promised to provide interesting insights into the State of the Coin Market in 2009. What happened and what numistidbits did I glean from my week in Orlando?I decided to arrive a day and a half earlier than usual this year for two reasons. The first was to get out of the awful weather we’ve been having in the Northwest and to get a little Florida sunshine and the second was to give myself a bit more time to get prepared for the show. When I arrive the night before an East Coast show starts it’s hard to face the first day of trading when I’m still on West Coast time and have woken-up at the equivalent of 4 a.m.

I went to the pre-show for little more than a cameo appearance and found it extremely depressing. I hate the FUN and ANA pre-shows because I think they mentally drain dealers. I understand why they exist. Wholesale-oriented firms like these shows as it gives them an opportunity to engage in some serious dealer-to-dealer trading. The problem is that encourages dealers to leave the “real” show early. For one-person operations like myself, the thought of attending a two to three day pre-show and following this up with a four to five day regular show is a bit of Numismatic Hell that I’d rather not subject myself to.

I also made a cameo appearance at the Stack’s sale and noted what seemed to be an inordinate amount of buybacks (i.e., coins not meeting their reserves and going back to their owners). I don’t attribute this to a weakness in the market as much as I do the auction firm not vetting the reserves as well as they should have. There were some great coins in the sale but many of them had been in other auctions within the last year and were reserved for numbers higher (or even much higher) than their last sale. In this market, that dog ain’t gonna hunt...

The show opened to dealers and collectors with early admissions badges on Wednesday. These opening hours were an interesting buyer vs. seller dance. Most dealers seemed unwilling to pull the trigger on any interesting coins but, conversely, there didn’t seem to be much available to buy and the consensus seemed to be “let’s wait until the Heritage auction(s) occur to see exactly how bad the market is.”

On Wednesday night, Heritage sold the Quellar-Lemus collection of Pattern coinage. While I don’t really deal in patterns anymore, I did attend the sale for a few hours mostly for educational purposes. I thought this was an important auction for a few reasons. It was a “fresh” deal, it was a highly specialized collection and it involved very rare coins in a very thinly traded market. The results were extremely impressive. The collection brought at least 20-30% over pre-sale estimates and the bargains that many bidders thought they’d be able to find in pre-sale discussions were, for the most part, non-existent. Something that I found especially interesting was the activity for the extremely rare but very esoteric patterns. There were a number of issues that weren’t especially attractive or historically important but they were R-8 (meaning that an estimated one or two were known) and buyers had to pay record-smashing prices for these. This proved to me that the market is still there when it comes to seemingly irreplaceable coins.

Thursday was the opening day for the public and, at least for me, I found it to be the slowest first day at FUN that I could remember. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the crowds were excellent and collectors were most definitely out in full force. The feeling I got from most of my encounters with collectors and dealers during the early part of Thursday was that their buying was curtailed but not necessarily for the “right” coin.

Something interesting happened to me later that day while I was looking through a dealer’s boxes. I pulled out about six or seven coins to ask for prices. As he was figuring out levels he said to me: “You’re one of the few people all day that has actually pulled out anything numismatic. It seems like all everyone wants to price is cheaper stuff.” This made me reach a conclusion: if this is indeed the case, the current market malaise is tailor-made for collectors who still appreciate rarity.

The Thursday night Heritage Platinum sale was interesting as it contained a mix of coins that ranged from fresh and highly desirable to not-so-fresh and not-so-desirable. For the most part, I’d say the prices and the sell-through rate were about what I expected. Coins that I knew had sold within the last year or so generally brought around 10-20% less this time. Expensive faux-rarities did better than I would have expected (these same coins were very, very hard to sell on the bourse floor). As recently as a few weeks ago, I had wondered if the Platinum Night session was going to be an unmitigated disaster. Because of Heritage’s exceptional Internet presence I’d have to say it was better than I would have imagined although still not the blockbuster extravaganzas of FUN 2006 or FUN 2007.

Friday was my last day at the show. And for some reason, the vibe seemed a lot more upbeat. I sold three expensive coins to collectors and had a few nice wholesale transactions. I left feeling a lot better than I had when I left the show on Wednesday and Thursday.

So what was my overall take on FUN 2009? I’d say that it was bit better than expected. All markets are psychological in nature and as long as the participants in the coin market are relatively upbeat, the market will be OK. Until the economy turns around (and I think we are looking at another year of Recession) people will likely cut back on their coin purchases. But most collectors are unwilling to totally give up their purchases. The bottom line was that at FUN, collectors were active but more selective than I can remember.

What sold and what didn’t sell at the show? For me, interesting coins in the $5,000 and under range were good sellers as was anything with choice, original surfaces. I noticed strong demand for CAC-stickered coins. And I was surprised at the number of people looking for New Orleans gold. Expensive coins were hard to sell. This wasn’t always the case at the auctions but on the bourse floor you literally had to plead with dealers to look at your “big boy” coins. I expect that this will continue for the next few shows as well, if not longer.