Baltimore Show Report

I went to this the November 2008 Baltimore show with limited expectations. Having spoken with a number of dealers whose opinions I respect, I knew the buzz wasn’t exactly encouraging. I would say that my overall impression of the show was that it was a little better than I expected but had I gone with normal expectations I would have returned disappointed. You can’t fault Whitman for anything that went wrong as the show was very well run (as usual). But collector attendance was unquestionably lower than what I would have expected for the last major show of the year and many familiar faces were either absent or were speed-walking through the aisles trying not to be tempted by the coins in the cases.

What was most noticeable at the show was dealer uncertainty and a clear dichotomy in market savvy. While most dealers did want to purchase coins, they were extremely cautious with their purchases. If a coin was fairly priced, something out of the ordinary or appeared on a valid want list, it probably sold. If it was priced at summer levels, not especially attractive or rare and not terribly desirable, it might have been used as a Numismatic Frisbee.

I mentioned a “dichotomy” among dealers. What exactly does this mean? There are a number of dealers (currently around 20-30%) who understand that the economy is lousy and that coins are harder to sell and have adjusted their prices accordingly. But there are still many dealers who appear to be in denial and are either not willing to sell old inventory at lower prices (and take losses) or are pricing new coins based on what a comparable piece might have brought at auction earlier this year. These dealers will either learn the hard, cold realities of a new market or they will be supersizing your value meal by the spring.

How much is the market down since the heady days of late spring 2008? I’d say in many cases between 20% and 30% and in some cases a bit more. But not all coins are down. In fact, I think there are areas of the market that are just fine. As an example, I would be happy to purchase as many nice EF40 to AU50 No Motto New Orleans half eagles and eagles as I could find at levels comparable to what I was paying four or five months ago; as long as the coins are choice, attractive and dates that I consider to be desirable.

Clearly, the real test of the market is going to be the 2009 FUN show. It looks like a potential perfect storm where there are going to be a bazillion coins for sale at the various auctions, numerous cash flow issues with dealers, a clearly Recessionary economy, a new Presidential administration and a clear schism between those dealers who “get it” and those that do not.

My November Baltimore show was, as I mentioned above, not really all that bad. I was able to purchase some really exceptional coins, all of which are already posted on my website ( My wholesale sales were lower than usual for a Baltimore show but I did sell three mid-five figure coins and have strong interest from dealers in two other relatively expensive pieces. I should also point out that I was extremely selective with which dealers I showed coins to as there are certain firms whose checks seem potentially bouncy to me and the last thing I want to do over the Thanksgiving week is explain to my banker why so-and-so’s check was returned for insufficient funds.

As I was flying back from the show, I read the New York Times. It’s probably a real sign of the times that we live in that instead of turning right to the sports section, I read the business section first. One story, in particular, made my neck hair stand-up: a report that the stock market is experiencing its worst year since 1931. Most blue chip stocks are down 40% and many have lost 60%, 70% or even 80% in value. This really makes me believe that collectors who have a little discretionary cash right now might do a whole lot worse than considering buying a few nifty coins. My guess is that the really neat stuff is going to remain hard to find and it won’t be a whole lot cheaper than it was a few months ago but the level of competition among buyers has certain dropped, creating an excellent opportunity.

Hopefully you have had a chance to check out all the new features of my improved new website. I would greatly appreciate your feedback and am always looking for ways to make your web experience with DWN more pleasant and user-friendly.

Have an excellent Thanksgiving holiday!

2008 Baltimore ANA Show Preview

Am I the only person who finds it astonishing that another ANA is upon us? Jeez, it seems like I just got back from last year’s Marathon in Milwaukee. But here we are already in late July and it’s time for the Battle in Baltimore. What can we expect from this bellwether show? If you are of a certain age, you remember when ANA was THE coin show of the year. It still is a critical event on the coin circuit despite being somewhat watered down; with pre-shows and a zillion auctions held before, during and after. This is my 26th consecutive ANA (I have attended every one since the 1982 Boston show) and I still feel a tinge of excitement as the days countdown.

My gut feeling is that this year’s ANA is going to be very strong from a wholesale standpoint and decent but not great from a collector standpoint.

With the uncertainty in the economy (and that’s putting it a bit mildly with today’s headlines...) I have the feeling that some would-be buyers are either going to avoid the temptation of the ANA or, if they do attend, it will be more for social and educational purposes than for buying.

Does that mean that there won’t be any action on the bourse floor? Hardly. Really good coins sell very well if the economy is soaring or circling the drain. The pool of potential buyers may not be as great in a bad economy but the number of great coins is much smaller now than in the past. Any dealer who has a case full of interesting coins at the ANA will certainly do retail business. Just not as much, I think, as two or three years ago.

Remember when I mentioned above that I think the show will be good from a wholesale perspective? Coin dealers making a living dealing coins and, at this point in time, nearly all dealers are short of useful inventory. Whether they can pay for these coins is an entirely different kettle o’ fish but I think the wholesale demand for coins right now remains strong.

What will sell at ANA? The Usual Suspects. Very high quality, choice original coins in nearly all categories will be easy sellers, as will key dates and rarities. Early gold and Proof gold continue to be in demand and examples for sale on the bourse should be very actively sought since the auctions do not contain as much of this material as usual. CAC certified coins appear to be readily gaining in acceptance and popularity and many dealers will have long want lists for CAC’d material.

What will sell at ANA? The Usual Suspects. Very high quality, choice original coins in nearly all categories will be easy sellers, as will key dates and rarities. Early gold and Proof gold continue to be in demand and examples for sale on the bourse should be very actively sought since the auctions do not contain as much of this material as usual. CAC certified coins appear to be readily gaining in acceptance and popularity and many dealers will have long want lists for CAC’d material.

For a number of reasons, I am not nearly as focused on the various pre-show and during-show auctions this year. The sales are not without interesting material. Stack’s is selling the S.S. New York shipwreck gold coins which include some great branch mint pieces and they have a Hard Times Token collection that—if I collected this series—would excite me greatly.

Heritage has their usual high value sale with a seemingly unlimited number of rarities. I found a few things of interest among the pages and pages of lots. Someone has been hoarding 1834 Crosslet Half Eagles and 1863 Double Eagles over the years and they have decided to sell their holdings. There are five 1834 Crosslet 4 Half Eagles ranging from VF30 to AU55 and I personally can’t recall having ever seen more than two examples in any one auction. Even more remarkable is the hoard of thirteen 1863 double eagles ranging from EF45 to AU58. I’m not sure if these all belong to one collector but even if they don’t, this is a remarkable aggregation.

If you are coming to the coin show, one thing I would urge you to do is look at this year’s Smithsonian exhibit on Proof coinage. Having just read about the coins in this exhibit even I am excited and look forward to seeing some of these priceless Gems.

2008 Baltimore & Phoenix Show Reviews

Two weeks. Two shows. Too much? Read on for a quick overview of the recent Baltimore and Phoenix coin conventions.

I love the Baltimore show. Unlike some conventions that feel like they are in a death spiral, you can clearly sense that this show is fresh, healthy and on the upswing. And this year’s first edition was excellent.

The only negative about this show, at least for me, is the epic day-long schlep that entails getting to Baltimore from Portland. If anyone reading this would like to exchange trips on their private jet for U.S. gold coins please feel free to propose a trade immediately.

I spent two full working days in Baltimore. The first, a Thursday, was essentially a wholesale-only day. As you will probably guess, the usual “it was hard to buy and easy to sell” mantra held to form. Except that this time it was exceedingly hard to buy and really easy to sell. Every dealer I chatted with, even those with reputations for exaggeration confirmed this. In the world of nice, interesting coins it’s as dry as the Mojave on the bourse floor!

My second day, a Friday, was more of a retail day. From the opening of the show until the end of the day I had a constant stream of serious buyers at my table. Most walked away with a new purchase or two and most seemed very enthusiastic about the show.

If I had to make one negative comment about this Baltimore show it would be that, while full of the usual Cast of Collecting Characters, there didn’t seem to be many new faces. I’m guessing that this can be attributed to the fact that many of the new breed of upscale collectors do not attend shows and acquire coins primarily through auctions or via the Web from dealers such as me.

The Bowers and Merena sale conducted at Baltimore had some nice gold pieces and prices for the most part seemed to be quite strong. My two favorite gold lots were a really fresh 1840-O quarter eagle in an old green label PCGS MS62 holder that sold for $20,700 and a seemingly way undergraded 1843-O Large Date quarter eagle graded MS61 that brought a robust $17,940.

What was hot at the show? Early gold and Proof gold were in great demand, particularly nice quality material. I noted a lot of demand for interesting, choice items in the $1,500-7,500 range but even in bad markets coins like this is always easy to sell. Without a doubt the weakest area of the market was low end generic gold. In fact, price premiums are so low on coins like AU55 to MS61 common date $20 Liberty gold that there is a strong possibility that people will start melting these soon.

After what seemed like 45 minutes at home I turned around and went to Phoenix to attend the Spring ANA. Note to ANA Officials: great choice of venue but bad choice of dates. If you want more dealer enthusiasm for this show in the future DO NOT hold it the next week after Baltimore.

Because of the fact that most major dealers had recently attended Long Beach and Baltimore, the Phoenix show had many no-shows from the East Coast. Not only was there little enthusiasm, there were almost no fresh coins. Which meant that I wasn’t able to buy much and which meant that I had minimal enthusiasm.

I wound-up leaving the show early due to a combination of boredom, fatigue and the fact that I am preparing to fly out of town to pick-up a nice collection that I just bought. This collection has nice runs of Carson City double eagles, New Orleans eagles and Three Dollar gold and I expect to begin listing these coins on my website within a week or so.

There are no other coin shows of note between now and the Central States show in mid-April so I expect that demand for nice coins will be extremely high within a month and that the result will be an exceptionally good show in Chicago.

November 2007 Whitman Baltimore Coin Expo

Even though it involves a schlep of Biblical Proportions, I really enjoy the tri-annual Whitman Baltimore Coin Expo. I can count on three shows each year that will be professionally run, well-attended and extremely active from both a wholesale and retail perspective. In many ways, Baltimore is the new Long Beach. Prior to the beginning of the show, Stack’s conducted an impressive 3,800+ lot auction. I made the decision not to attend this sale in person as I did not want my Baltimore Experience to stretch into a nearly one week marathon. I did have a Trusted Agent look at a small number of coins for me and I placed a group of what I thought were strong bids. And I proceeded to get blown out of the water. While I can’t comment on the entire auction, the coins that interested me went for numbers that were pretty insane, to say the least.

The first day of the Baltimore show (Thursday) is dealer-only and, to tell you the truth, I like this very much. Having only wholesale business on this day let’s me get more done and it lets me focus strongly on buying.

But because of the fact that I had some interesting fresh coins with me, I spent most of Thursday selling. And selling. And selling some more. I had around fifteen CAC-stickered type coins and with the exception of two that I was asking very strong prices for, they all sold quickly. I can’t say for certain that it was because of the CAC stickers or because type coins are suddenly in demand. My guess is that it is a combination of the two.

So what sold? As I mentioned above, type coins that were attractive or scarce dates or, better yet a combination of the two were in great demand. I would look for this to be a very strong area of the market in 2008. I sold a number of great Carson City coins at the show including two nice AU 1870-CC half eagles, a Condition Census 1871-CC, a solid AU 1875-CC and a really cool secret coin from the 1880’s that I promised the dealer I sold it to that I wouldn’t tell anyone. I also sold a few big-time early gold coins, two proof gold coins and a group of New Orleans gold including some scarcer date eagles.

Generic gold was very active at the show. From what I could tell, demand was high but prices were quite volatile. As an example, at the beginning of the show on Thursday, MS65 Saints were bringing $1,400. But after a few people were short, prices slowly climbed and by the end of the show they were bringing $1,475.

The doors opened to the public on Friday and a Thundering Herd of Serious Collectors stampeded through the doors as the clock struck 10:00. OK, maybe it wasn’t a stampede but the room crowded up quickly and I ran into a majority of the serious collectors from the East Coast that I know by the early afternoon. People at this show definitely come to buy and not to tire kick and I sold a number of very interesting coins.

I typically leave a Baltimore show on Friday but business was so brisk that I rebooked my flight and stayed for the rest of the day. I continued being busy right up until the end of the day and left the bourse floor tired but very satisfied.

The good news about this show, as I mentioned, was that my sales were pretty exceptional. The not-so-good news is that my buying was good but not great. I loved what I bought but I would have liked to have spent a lot more money.

For me, the year is essentially over. I will still be buying and selling coins but my travel is done with the exception of a quick trip to Dallas before Christmas to view Heritage 2008 FUN sale auction lots.

My guess is that from now until the end of the year, things will be reasonably slow in Coin Land although if gold continues its upward ramble towards the $1,000 mark we might see some surprise rare coin activity.

November Baltimore Show Review

Great crowds, a strong gold market, a daily ration of Lobster rolls from the nearby Legal Seafood Restaurant, amazing Spring-like weather…what more could you ask for at the third and final Baltimore show of the year? It was an excellent show and one of the few in some time that had me wondering if I wasn’t leaving too early when I boarded the plane at BWI airport late Friday evening. Baltimore has clearly become the #3 coin show, trailing only the FUN and ANA conventions and the Fall edition is, in my opinion, easily the best of the three held each year. Thursday was a day given over primarily to wholesale trading and it was one of the busier days I can remember having at a coin show all year. From the minute the show opened until it closed that day, I was busy buying and selling. In the course of one three hour burst in the middle of the day, I sold three six-figure coins including a Stella in PR66 and a very rare piece of Proof gold.

It was really easy to sell coins at this show, provided that the coins were interesting or fresh. Given the fact that I had a number of interesting, fresh coins in my inventory, it was clearly a great selling show. Buying was another story altogether. There were just not a lot of interesting coins at the show. I spent much of Friday pounding the pavement looking for interesting gold coins. I did find a few great items (all of which are listed on my website with descriptions and images) but would have liked to have purchased more.

If you collect Carson City gold coinage, I have a major announcement to make. I am working on acquiring two important collection of Carson City gold with an emphasis on eagles. I hope to have these available in a few weeks and when I do, you will have the opportunity to acquire numerous important coins including a few Finest Knowns and many Condition Census pieces. For more information, please feel free to email me.

The Stack’s/ANR sale held prior to the show did not contain much in the way of rare date gold coinage. It did contain some amazing Washingtonia from the fabled Norweb collection and prices were, in most cases, remarkable. Still think that a good pedigree doesn’t make a difference to buyers? Try explaining that to the room full of buyers at this sale.

One of the most remarkable items in the auction was a unique presentation medal awarded to Zachary Taylor and struck from the first gold found in California in the original Gold Rush days of 1848. It was massive (weighing a pound), it was gorgeous, it was fresh to the market (having been consigned by descendants of President Taylor) and it was accompanied by its original presentation box. It sold for $460,000 which is almost certainly a world-record price for a United States medal.

I did not participate in the Bowers and Merena auction held during the sale because it contained virtually no gold coins of interest to me. I was told that a number of Registry Set quality 20th century coins sold for very strong prices including a PCGS MS67 1941-S half dollar which brought an amazing $90,800 (!). Its probably not my place to comment here about this purchase and I’m certain that the new owner is happy with his coin but $90,800 is A LOT of money for a 1941-S half dollar, especially given the fact that a nice MS66 can be readily bought in the $2,000-3,000 range. This is an example where I think two bidders kept pushing and pushing in a display of who is more macho and the winner may well have been the loser. (But you have to think the consignor, at least, was thrilled…)

Gold jumped up quite a bit right before the show began which gave generic issues a nice little upward push. The generic market is still not exactly healthy but buyers were more active than at any show since ANA in this area and this translates to greater overall liquidity in the market with more money available for rare coins. It will be interesting to see what generics do in the next thirty days and if they continue to trend upward, I can’t help but think this will be a good thing for the coin market in general.

For me, the 2006 edition of the coin market is pretty much drawing to a close. I am not attending any more shows until FUN in January 2007 and plan on taking some much-needed vacation time in December. I do plan on going to Dallas in mid-December to look at FUN auction lots in what, rumor has it, could be the most valuable coin auction of all time.

Getting back to the Baltimore show for a second, I’d like to answer a question someone asked me the other day. Why has this show grown and prospered in the past few years while the Long Beach show seems to have lost some its luster? I think the Baltimore show is doing a great job of promoting itself and it has, at the very least, doubled in size in the past year or two. In addition, it is now for all intents and purposes the only show of any consequence on the East Coast. When I was growing up in New York, there were major shows in New York, Philadelphia and Boston every month or two. Today, all these shows have fallen by the wayside and the many thousands of serious Eastern collectors are left with Baltimore as their closest convention. One has to wonder if someone isn’t missing the boat not trying to put on a good another good show on the East Coast; perhaps in Philadelphia or a site close to Manhattan.

2006 Summer Baltimore Show Recap

There are three Baltimore coin shows held each year. It is a general consensus that, of the three, the summer edition is, by far, the least active. This year’s summer Baltimore show held true to form and, was for the most part, sparsely attended and void of much activity. To be honest, the only reason I went to this show was the fact that I was very low on inventory and hoped to buy a few new pieces. From this standpoint, I was not unhappy with the show. I attended it for only a day and a half and didn’t have a table or anything to sell.

Here are some observations from the show:

As I stated in my recent newsletter, many dealers are using this current lull in the market as an opportunity to recharge their batteries. Many of us have worked virtually non-stop for the past two to three years and a slow period lasting a few weeks is not a bad thing.

As usual, there was a conspicuous lack of interesting, fresh material in most dealers’ inventories. I looked at just about every dealer’s inventory at the show and was amazed at just how few nice coins there are available. That said, I was able to buy a few really interesting new coins which are, shameless plug, listed in my current inventory with descriptions and images.

My gut feeling is that the next few weeks will continue to be slow but that things will pick up steam at the ANA and the pre-show which occurs right before it. It will be very interesting to see how the escalating tension in the Middle East will affect the economy and the coin market. With oil prices soaring and the stock market getting pummeled, will gold and silver be strong or will they be dragged down as well? The next few weeks are going to be very revealing, to say the least.

While I was at the show, I was able to view the lots in the forthcoming ANR auction. There are some very interesting gold coins in this sale including the Old West collection of Carson City half eagles and eagles, a superb run of Territorial gold and a large selection of Charlotte and Dahlonega coinage of all denominations. I will be going to Dallas early next week to view lots for their August auctions. I urge you, if you would like me to represent you in these sales, please contact me as early as possible.

I am always looking for suggestions for blog topics (it can be hard to come up with three or four interesting topics every week…) and welcome your input.

Baltimore Coin Show Report

The Baltimore coin show opened to the public on Thursday and to the public on Friday. Thursday was one of the more active days at a coin show that I can remember. I had a steady stream of dealers looking through my coins and made a number of sales, including some to other dealers that I have not done business with in a number of years. Areas that seemed most active with dealers included early gold, New Orleans half eagles and eagles and Indian Head eagles.

Has anyone else noticed that Indian Head eagles in MS63 to MS65 grades have dramatically increased in price in the past two months? A little birdie at the coin show told me that prices in this series could see even more dramatic price increases in the next three to six months.

Public attendance on Friday was excellent. The size of the bourse floor was much bigger than in past versions of this show and, at times, it felt like being at a cavernous ANA or FUN convention. I met a number of new collectors including one gentleman who had just spent over $1 million at the ANR sale and appeared to be buying at a furious pace from dealers. Clearly, coins have reached a new level of popularity.

Both PCGS and NGC “made” more coins that at recent shows. I was pleased with most of my grading results and other dealers I spoke with felt both services were making a better effort to grade according to market standards than at other recent major shows. Because of this fact, it was possible to buy a few interesting coins. But it was clearly a grind to buy and I generally was able to purchase just one or two interesting pieces at a time.

Overall, I would grade this show an A- for Douglas Winter Numismatics and a B for most other dealers. It was a great show for selling and it turned out to be a bit better for buying than I expected. After the uneventful February Long Beach, the coin market got a nice little shot in the arm and seems to be in good health as we approach the Spring.

Coming up in April are two important shows: the Spring ANA in Atlanta and the Central States in Columbus. The sale of the Duke’s Creek collection of Dahlonega gold coinage is going to be a major test for the high end of the Southern gold market while the repercussions of the State of Ohio Coin Scandal should make this year’s edition of the CSNS interesting to say the least.