Long Beach Show Report Feb. 2009

Even in the best of markets, I go to Long Beach with limited expectations. I love the convenience factor (it’s one of my few sub-two hour flights) but this show has, in my experience, really lost its luster. Keep on reading for my thoughts on the Decline of Long Beach and a recap of the show. I think there are two significant reasons why Long Beach has gone from a great coin show to a so-so one. The first is the high price of the tables. Back when tables were more competitively priced, there were tons of small coin shops, Mom-n-Pop dealers and vest pocket dealers who had their own tables or shared them. This was a great source for fresh coins and it meant that there was a lot of coin trading as items went up the numismatic food chain. Now, these dealers no longer attend and this means that there is very little fresh material.

The other reason that Long Beach has suffered has to do with the draconian California tax laws. I’m not going to address these at length but let’s just say that Baltimore has become a great show in large part because Maryland’s tax laws are not quite as “zealous” as our friends in California.

As I said, I went to Long Beach with low expectations. I actually think the show was a bit better than I would have expected. The crowds were decent and my sales were not bad. I was happy with the limited number of coins that I bought and virtually everyone who I spoke with had a good—if not great—show. I think a lot of a dealer’s success right now has to do with what he deals in and his or her desire to sell older inventory at new levels. Simply put, if you have nice quality collector-oriented coins in your inventory, they sell. If you have a bunch of expensive, esoteric coins or boring widgets in stock, you aren’t selling much. If you have coins in stock that have been sitting around since June and you haven’t adjusted the prices downwards, you aren’t selling anything.

I have already posted descriptions and images of many of my new purchases. Some of the highlights are as follows:

-A superb 1897-O eagle graded MS64 by PCGS -A choice NGC MS63 1839 half eagle -A rare and popular PCGS AU50 1838-C half eagle -A very rare PCGS MS61 1846-O half eagle -An underrated and high end 1846-D Normal Mintmark half eagle graded AU58 by NGC

I still don’t think I have a really accurate handle on the coin market but given the awful state of the economy, I think things are holding up far better than I would have expected. Trust me, I have experienced some truly dreadful coin markets and we aren’t even close to any of these. Every dealer is feeling the effects of the economy and everyone is reducing (or wants to reduce) their inventory. But all things considered I am pleasantly surprised. At least so far...

The Heritage auction contained a boatload of rare date gold and I figured it would be an interesting test of the market. Some of the coins were not especially high end for the grade and there were certain dates that were represented by multiple examples. Given the fact that the traditional bottom-feeder buyers for coins like this are either saddled with large inventories, large debt, large headaches or all three I figured that there would be some very cheap prices. I was proven correct.

Many of the not-so-nice Charlotte and Dahlonega coins in the $5,000 to $10,000 range sold for the lowest prices I can recall in quite a while. There were instances where coins sold for less than half of Trends. But (and this is a BIG but) there is a good reason for this. Buyers of these coins have become sophisticated enough that they will not pay good money for a bad coin. If a coin is in an AU58 holder and it is a bright-n-shiny piece with the eye appeal of an AU50, that’s what it is going to trade for, regardless of the holder. That’s the beauty of knowledge. If you learn what a coin is supposed to look like you do not have to use the grading services as a crutch.

The irony of the sale was that some nice coins got dragged down with the not-so-nice ones. There were some exceptional Charlotte quarter eagles that were pedigreed to important collections such as Dingler, Elrod and Eliasberg and they sold for 15-25% less than what I would have thought. As I had expected, this sale represented a great opportunity for a savvy collector to get a great head start on a world-class Charlotte quarter eagle collection at prices that haven’t been seen since the mid-1990’s.

Not everything in the sale went cheaply. The New Orleans eagles were strong. An 1841-O graded AU55 by PCGS brought $25,300, the Bass 1847-O eagle graded MS64 by PCGS sold for a record-setting $51,750, an NGC MS60 1856-O set a record for this date when it sold for $15,525 and a PCGS EF45 1883-O brought an amazing $29,388 - far and away a record price for this date in this grade.

The affordable, collector quality coins in the auction that were nice did pretty well. There were a number of instances where a solid-for-the grade EF45 or AU50 brought nearly as much (or as much) as not-solid-for the-grade pieces in AU50 or AU53 holders. The market for solid $1,500 to $3,000 Charlotte and Dahlonega gold, in fact, seems much stronger right now than it does for the more expensive coins. The one exception is when the more expensive coins are popular, rare or just plain old spectacular.