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!

Long Beach Report

The Long and Short of It - My short (but productive) stay at Long Beach means that my Long Beach report is going to be short (but productive). I didn’t arrive at Long Beach until Thursday afternoon and I was severely jet-lagged after having just returned from Japan. I had originally intended to totally skip Long Beach but a lack of coins meant that I had to try my best to quickly and efficiently restock.

After I landed and cabbed down to Long Beach, I called a few Trusted Suppliers and asked about the show. Their replies were nearly unanimous: it was a bear finding anything of interest and I was certain to be frustrated. My mood, as I headed down the freeway, was not good.

One thing that is good about being at a major show for just over a day is that you don’t have a lot of time to mess around. So as I hit the floor at Long Beach and began to scour I was very focused.

My day at Long Beach turned out to be amazingly productive. I was able to buy over thirty interesting coins; which is about triple the amount that I expected. I sold a few older, expensive coins that I was happy to move out and in the eight seconds that I was actually at my table, I had productive retail sales with new clients.

I spoke with a number of dealers about their Long Beach Experience and got fairly mixed reviews. One dealer told me he had an excellent show and the dealer that I share a table with had one of his more productive shows in some time. Other dealers I talked to told me that they had shows that ranged from fair to poor and most complained about a lack of interesting material (surprise, surprise). I’m not sure why I was lucky and found so many good coins other than the fact that I worked my little fanny off searching for them.

My take on the coin market is that it has clearly slowed down in the last month or so with the exception of very high end items. But there are some areas that remain strong across the board. Decent to nice early gold is in strong demand and choice, interesting Seated Liberty coinage (which I’ve been begging people to buy for about ten years...) is blazing hot.

In the realm of dated gold, I’ve noticed that nice quality Dahlonega gold is virtually impossible to find right now; my current inventory is virtually non-existent. Charlotte seems to be perking up a bit (in anticipation of my new book?) and I noticed a few mid-five figure Charlotte coins selling at Long Beach. Carson City half eagles and eagles are very strong, especially Registry Set quality issues. New Orleans gold continues to be hard to find and with the exception of the odd coin here or there, I have noticed a real shortage of high quality, interesting material since the beginning of the year.

What’s not selling right now? Anything that isn’t regarded as being, at the very least, medium to high quality for the grade. And generic gold....well let’s just say generic gold isn’t exactly a big seller right now.

My guess is that the Baltimore show will be decent but not great. This is the one Baltimore show that many West Coast dealers traditionally miss but the caliber of this show is now such that even the least interesting of the three Baltimore shows is still better than the most typical conventions.

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.

February 2008 Long Beach Show Review

As I left for Long Beach last week, I wondered if this edition would be different from the last few Long Beach shows I have attended. The answer—and some random observations about the market—are included below. Unlike some of my competitors, I have made the decision not to attend the various and sundry pre-Long Beach auctions. I figure that at this point in my life I do not need to be spending an extra three weeks each year at Long Beach sales that are full of mostly uninteresting (to me) coins. This year’s sales did have a few interesting individual consignments including a nice run of Proof Bust Dimes at Superior and some better gold at Goldberg but, again, I was gearing up for the actual show itself.

On the Winter Show Grading Scale (WSGS) I would give the recent Long Beach convention a “B” which is actually better than I thought it would be. I did not bring many coins to sell and was more interested in buying new inventory. It was a struggle to find coins (surprise, surprise...) but some neat material did surface and I was pleased with what I purchased. Some of the highlights are:

-An original, evenly matched 1860 Proof Set graded PR64 to PR66 by PCGS

-An incredible NGC PR67 CAM 1904 half eagle

-A lovely Condition Census 1847-C half eagle graded MS62 by NGC

-An 1857-C gold dollar in PCGS MS61; the highest graded example of this date

-A number of crusty, original Southern gold coins in the $1,500-5,000 range

On at least three occasions I saw really interesting coins in another dealer’s case and asked to see them and a price quote. The price that I was quoted was so over-the-top outrageous that I wasn’t sure if I had been quoted in Dollars or Rupees. When I’m quoted $95,000 on a coin that I think I’d be seriously stretching on at $70,000 this means one of two things: either I am totally out of touch with the market or dealers are very, very proud of their very, very good coins right now and you have to pay very, very dearly at the absolute top end of the market.

Of course I didn’t expect to see many interesting coins just sitting out in dealer’s cases. At this point in time, if you do not have a special relationship with at least a few dealers, you aren’t likely to be offered anything very special. This is as true for a long-time dealer like me as it is for a collector.

My general observations about the market based on the Long Beach show are as follows:

*Many of the interesting coins from the FUN auctions are already gone. It is easy to sell choice, interesting coins right now and most dealers are able to move their best pieces much easier than in the past.

*Most of the recently graded coins I saw were more original in appearance and seemed “fresher” than in the past. I think this is as a result of both NGC and PCGS starting to crack down on coin doctoring. I’d like to think that we can thank CAC for this.

*Speaking of CAC, I saw many more stickered coins than I have before. I am not certain if they are selling better than non-stickered coins but a random inspection showed me that the typical CAC has nicer overall eye appeal than the typical non-CAC coin.

*Early gold is as hot right now as I can ever remember. If you bought nice quality early gold at least two or three years ago, you are currently looking like a genius. My gut feeling is that all the attention being focused right now on early material means that there are some great values in the Liberty Head series.

*When a market area gets hot it is amazing how fast coins disappear. I can’t remember seeing more than a handful of interesting rare Seated Liberty coins at the show and despite an intense search for interesting New Orleans half eagles and eagles, I came up nearly empty-handed.

Heritage had an extremely important specialized collection of Large Cents that brought amazing prices. The Husak Collection could serve as an absolute textbook model on how to properly assemble an in-depth specialized collection. The coins were exceptional, the presentation of the catalog was exceptional and the level of interest generated by the combination of the two was even more exceptional. Collectors realize that they do not have many chances to obtain truly special coins and there were dozens of coins in the Husak collection that, once they were sold, would be essentially impossible to replicate.

The gold coins in the Heritage sale were not quite as exciting but there will still some neat pieces. I loved the 1854 Type Two gold dollar graded MS68 by NGC and it brought a healthy $149,500. I was amazed that the 1863 gold dollar in NGC AU58 brought $6,900 which is almost double AU58 Trends; I assume that collectors have finally learned how rare this coin truly is in all grades.

The supposedly weak Three Dollar series saw some very strong prices. An NGC AU58 1854-D brought $54,625 and an AU58 1854-O in an old green label PCGS holder sold for an exceptional $34,500. A nice run of early Half Eagles saw some very strong prices including $40,250 for an NGC MS63 1804 Small 8 and $71,875 for an 1806 Round 6 in NGC MS64 with a CAC sticker. I really liked the NGC MS65 1810 Large Date and it sold for $92,000. An 1837 Classic Head graded MS66 by NGC sold for $94,875 which I actually thought was pretty reasonable as a PCGS MS66 example of this date brought $97,750 back in 1999 (but was considerably nicer, in my opinion). Some of the more interesting Liberty Head half eagles included a PCGS MS63 1857-O at a record-setting$50,025, an NGC MS61 1879-CC at $21,850 and a superb PCGS MS66 1886 at $21,850. Notable Eagles included an 1882-O in PCGS MS61 for $8,625 and a PCGS MS64 1897-O for $12,650. The two most significant double eagles in the sale were an 1860-O in NGC AU58 that was bid to $80,500 and a nice NGC AU53 1861-O that sold for $48,875. One coin that amazed me from a price standpoint was a nice PCGS EF40 1850-O in an old green label holder that sold for $10,350; if this coin doesn’t upgrade to at least AU53 then the new owner is well upside-down.

With major shows in Baltimore and Phoenix occurring in the next three weeks, it will be interesting to see if the momentum generated at Long Beach continues into the Spring.