I first thought about writing this last week and when the question of “what are my expectations for the September Long Beach show?” popped into my mind, the immediate answer was short and sweet: “Expectations? I have no expectations.” But that was before gold made its inexorable sprint towards $1,000. Suddenly, the no-go coin show might grow some legs.
Do I think that $1,000 gold is going to bring a stampede of buyers into the show? Possibly but this answer has a big asterisk. And this asterisk is as follows: there will probably be a larger than average crowd at Long Beach but that vast majority of these people will be browsers, tire-kickers and lookie-loos. Will some of these newbies (or resurrected buyers) come prepared to spend? Possibly but I would assume that the typical man-off-the-street at Long Beach is looking to buy a Saint or two and not a piece of Proof gold or even—gasp!—a Dahlonega half eagle.
The most noticeable effect of gold’s sudden spike will be felt on the wholesale level.
Many collectors don’t realize this but gold prices have been driving the wholesale coin market for quite a few years. The reasons are simple. Many of the biggest players in the wholesale rare coin market are also big players in the generic gold market. They have clients who are marketers and these marketers sell a lot of coins like MS65 Saints and MS63 Indian Head eagles. When the gold market is hot, orders for these generic coins skyrocket. The position of generics that the wholesale dealers own suddenly increase in value and cash flows improve accordingly. And fat, rich, happy coin dealers tend to buy more rare coins.
The retail segment of the market tends not to realize that dealers, in some ways, are the biggest coin weenies of them all. Every dealer has a list of dates or types that he/she is a sucker for and they will buy these coins purely on “spec” just because they like the coin. As an example, I am willing to support the market for a coin like an 1861-D gold dollar not because I necessarily have it pre-sold but because I like the story behind the issue enough that I want to own nice examples of this issue when they become available. But in a generics-on-steroids market like what we are in right now, dealers who typically might pass on an 1861-D dollar could have interest in this coin.
The serious, hard-core collectors that attend every Long Beach show are probably not going to feel a lot of difference between this show and any of the past ten editions. As usual, they will see a lot of “stuff” in dealer’s cases and very few neat or fresh coins will be available. When they go up to the larger dealer’s tables they might not get the undivided attention they got in the past because many of these dealers will be busy doing generic gold deals. And I predict that at least five collectors will storm away from the concession stand because they are outraged at paying $4 for a small bottle of tepid designer water.
For gold collectors, the pre-show and Long Beach auctions don’t have a ton of interesting material available. Now, if I were a Large Cent collector the coming week would be Penny Nirvana as Goldberg is auctioning two of the greatest Cent collections of all time: the Dan Holmes set of early dates and the Ted Naftzger late dates. I expect that prices in these sales will range from strong to absurd and with good reason: these are two simply amazing groups of Cents.
Most dealers I’ve talked to in the last few weeks say that their rare coin business has been pretty slow since ANA. I would attribute this more to the end of the summer/adjusting-to-get-the kids-back-in-school-time period than a slowdown in the market or the economy. While I don’t think the coin market has totally “recovered” from the slump of earlier in the year, I do think that the next few months will be strong(ish) especially if gold continues to increase in value. And I’m thinking that 2010 could be a very, very good year. But more on that in another blog....
I have generally sworn off writing show reports as, to be honest, they are as boring for me to write as they are for you to read. At this point, I figured I’d do reports on the Big Two shows (FUN and ANA) and leave the other reports to my fellow Bloggin’ Numismatists. The recent Long Beach show, however, was interesting enough that I thought it required a little bit of ink.
As you may or may not know, Long Beach is a show that I’ve come to dislike in recent years. It’s become very slow from a business standpoint, I’m not crazy about the way its run and, quite frankly, if I hear them playing the Oldies soundtrack one more time I think I will rip out my inner ear canals.
But this Long Beach seemed a little bit different. Dare I say it actually had a bit of a buzz (?!?) and I think the crowd at the show, at least on Thursday when it opened to the public, was as large as any Long Beach that I can recall going back to the 1990’s.
Why was this Long Beach different from the last edition(s)? My guesses would be three fold. The first had to do with the fact that gold has risen around $50 in the past few weeks. There are a lot of bullion/generic buyers in Southern California and a strong gold market always seems to bring out these buyers. The second is better publicity. I don’t know this for a fact but I would assume that the show promoters tried something new to get buyers through the doors and it worked. Attendance was reported to be up by at least 30%. The third is renewed interest among collectors who have been on the sidelines for the last few years.
If you are a serious collector who has been in the market for at least a decade the last few years was the classic good news/bad news scenario. The good news was that the coins you bought in the early 1990’s probably increased in value. The bad news is that your market niche was probably flooded by deep-pocketed new collectors who trusted their advisors (be they auction firms, dealers or other collectors) but often got poor coins at inflated prices. Now that many of these new deep-pocketed collectors have fled the market, serious collectors can, once, again, buy coins without Nimrod Competition. This fact is, I believe, responsible in getting some of the collectors who had been on the sidelines for a while back in the coin game.
I’m not saying that the coin market has suddenly turned around and that the Good Ol’ Days are back. There is one major issue in the market that needs to be addressed before things become all warm and fuzzy again. There are a lot of truly awful coins overhanging the market. By this, I mean coins that are severely overgraded or coins that have really poor eye appeal or coins that have been laughably processed. Right now, it is hard to find anyone to buy these even at a major discount. This has created the sort of exaggerated two-tiered market that we haven’t seen in a while.
Let me give you an example. I saw Charlotte and Dahlonega gold coins at Long Beach in AU55 and AU58 holders that, in my opinion, are worth less than coins that are choice, original EF45 or AU50. This scenario is certainly not limited to the dated gold market. My point is, until some of the crappy low-end coins that seemed to be everywhere at Long Beach are taken off the market, they will act as artery cloggers that continue to make the coin market unhealthy.
That said, I thought it was a very pleasant surprise that the recent Long Beach show turned out to be as strong as it did. True, I came to the show with absolutely zero in the way of expectations, but it was nice to stay busy for a few days and sell a few coins.
It’s always been tough to buy at Long Beach and this show was no exception. After a few days of slogging and grinding, I was able to purchase a few neat items, including the following:
*One of the finest known 1854-O Quarter Eagles, graded MS63 by PCGS *A rare and choice 1798 half eagle in an NGC MS62 holder *A lovely, fresh 1840-D half eagle graded MS60 by NGC *The nicest 1884-CC double eagle I have owned in years, graded MS62 by PCGS *An interesting selection of affordable C+D mint coinage in EF and AU grades
All of these coins have been described and imaged and are on my website just waiting to go to nice new homes. Please visit me at www.raregoldcoins.com and look for the inventory that is marked “new.”