"Why Can't I Find Coins to Buy at a Coin Show?"

"Why can't I find coins to buy at a coin show?"

That was the exact question Collector X asked me, in a somewhat whiny manner, at the recent Central States coin show.  But you know something?  I can understand his disappointment. He had taken three days off from work, spent thousands of dollars on a plane ticket, hotel and meals, only to come home from the show empty-handed. He's a coin junkie and I'm sure he won't be boycotting this summer's ANA convention but his question got me to thinking...

Why has it become so hard to find the coins you want to buy at coin shows?

As I told Collector X as we spoke at CSNS, he's not the only one who is having this problem. I've been going to coin shows for three decades and I've noticed them becoming more and more dry in the last few years. Here are some theories of mine as to why.

1. Heritage: The 900 Pound Gorilla In The Room

All you have to do to see the reach of Heritage is to look and the size and scope of their major auctions. With thousands and thousands of lots worth tens of millions of dollars, these auctions are like vacuums that pull a tremendous amount of material of the bourse floor. Some of the coins in the Central States sale(s) were dealer retreads and some of the coins were low end but there were hundreds and hundreds of choice, high end pieces. This includes many fresh coins that, in the past, might have wound up entering the market through dealer's inventories instead of through auction.

You know that zombie movie when an army of hungry, brain eatin' dudes keeps coming and coming at the heroes? That's sort of like Heritage. Last time I checked they employed just a few zombies but they are extremely formidable competition for small dealers like me and a lot of the coins that formerly would be offered directly to me show up in Heritage sales. And I don't think I'm the only small dealer who has this perspective.

As Heritage has grown and grown it has created a strange reality in the market. At this point, the coin market is essentially a duopoly (Heritage and the various Spectrum organizations) with a huge degree of separation between the Big Two and nearly everyone else. Since neither of these firms is retail friendly, they use auctions as a way to sell coins directly to collectors.

2. The Coin Show Circuit is Diluted

There are way too many coin shows. I go to between 15 and 20 per year and this is nothing compared to the really hardcore wholesale guys who go to 30 or 40. At this point in my life, I'd rather be going to fewer shows and doing the bulk of my work in my office where its more comfortable and I'm three times more productive.

But its a Catch-22 situation for me. If I don't go to all of these shows, I become less competitive with the five or six sharp guys who I know are going to be in on every single coin that I'm not going to get offered if I'm not going to be at a show.

But I'm not writing this to gain sympathy from you. You want to know how this dilution of shows affects your ability to buy. Here's one way which I bet you don't know.

3. The Shadow Coin Show

Collector X was one of the first hundred people through the door when Central States opened to the public. Yet, unknown to him, a "shadow coin show" had been going on for at least two days before where many of the nicest, freshest coins traded hands.

Not only is the coin show circuit diluted, it puts unrealistic expectations on dealers. Let's take my schedule at Central States as an example. I arrived on Tuesday and started a frantic search for coins literally as soon as I arrived. But this was already a day later than some dealers. So if I had arrived on Monday (ugghhh...) it meant a full-week commitment to Central States. I'm OK with this amount of time for FUN and Summer ANA when there are fresh coins available to buy, but it's impossible for me to commit this much time ten to twelve times per year.

Back to the Shadow Coin Show theory. There are now many dealers who arrive two days before a show opens to the public and leave Thursday morning; just when many collectors are arriving. With these two different schedules going on, everyone in the long run suffers.

4.  Many Dealers Don't Show New Coins at Shows

    Before I had an effective website, I would show many of my new purchases at a show. Today, I almost never show them. There are many reasons, good and bad, for this. I'm not alone in doing this.

  • I spend a lot of time and money on my site and I find it to be a good way for me to sell.
  • I have very limited amounts of time available at shows and it is more effective for me to use them to buy than it is to sell.
  • I like Collector X and I value his business. A lot. I feel better knowing that he was able to buy a few coins as soon as I listed my new purchases.

One more thought. Many of the dealers who had tables at CSNS are not really "retailers" per se. They may have some coins laid out in their cases but they are primarily wholesalers who lack: a) time b) couth c) desire to sell to people like Collector X. As I walked around the floor at CSNS, a thought hit me: there really aren't a lot of tables at the show with nice coins on display.

Which brings me to my final point...

5.  If You Don't have a Relationship With a Dealer You Might Be Wasting Your Time at a Show

I must have seen Collector X walk by my table ten times during his time at CSNS and he must have stopped by three or four times asking me if I had anything new to show him. I felt kind of sorry for him as making the endless shuffle up and down the concrete floors (the Coin Walk of Shame?) couldn't have been all that much fun. And he was there to have fun, right?

If you don't have a tight relationship with a few dealers, you aren't going to see squat in the way of good coins at a show. There. I said it.

1861-D $5.00 PCGS EF45 CAC

Let's say I buy an 1861-D half eagle in Extremely Fine. Unless Collector X is specifically looking for this coin (or it's one of the few shows in the year that I commit the time and resources to being able to invoice, process, and price my new coins) it's going to be hidden in a box in my safe or in my back case, and I'm not going to show it. To Collector X or Dealer Y. And I think this is the case with most other dealers.

Hopefully Central States wasn't a total waste for Collector X. He got to see the Newman coins (I told him to carefully study the patterns if only to see what true originality looked like), he schmoozed with a few of his numis-buddies, he got to breathe coins for a few days, and he probably learned that next year he'll skip Central States and keep his powder dry to the Summer ANA show. Or better yet, he'll let me do the heavy lifting and he'll find a few new items for his collection from my post-CSNS new purchase listings. (Shameless plug, I know...)


The Second Annual DWN Art Basel "I Was There" Blog

For the second year in a row, I went to the incredible Art Basel show in Miami Beach. For those of you who are not familiar with this show, it has become quite possibly the leading art show in the world and it turns Miami into the Epicenter of the Art World for a week or two every year in early December. This year's edition of the fair was probably better for me than last year's (which I loved) because of the fact that I knew what to expect, was better prepared and was less overwhelmed. As I did last year, I'm going to share with you a couple of thoughts, using my vast experience in attending coin shows as a basis of comparison. 1.  Your money goes a lot (and I mean A LOT) further at a coin show then at a high end art show. Good art (I'm not even going to approach the subject of great art since it is so far out of my league pricewise) is fabulously expensive and it makes good to very good quality coins seem astonishingly cheap. I think my eye is pretty good when it comes to art and nearly every painting I priced at Art Basel was $100,000 and up. These were for artists that I thought I actually had a chance to buy. For great artists that I recognized (like the stunning Mark Rothko that hung, in its fiery orange glory, in the very first booth on the left as you entered the fair...) I didn't have the nerve to even ask what it was priced at. I know these great museum-quality works of art were going to run in the $5 million to $50 million and, tire-kicker that I was, I didn't want to waste the dealer's time.

2.  Coin dealers are much, much more approachable at shows than art dealers are at fairs. Unless you exude wealth or are known by the dealer, you don't get so much as a nod of recognition at Art Basel. At one booth, I was passed onto the most junior member of the firm when I asked the price of a painting. Sigh... (The real laugh here is that after I was told the painting was sold, the 23 year old junior dealer tried to upsell me to a $350,000 painting that was so large I would have had to hire a semi truck to get it to my house in Portland even if I had the 10,000 square foot house it would have required to show it!) I'm as guilty as any coin dealer of pre-judging someone approaching my table at a show but even if you are dressed in cheap jeans or a t-shirt, you are going to get my attention if you are a) polite b) interested in coins and/or c) knowledgeable about the types of coins I specialize in.

3.  Just like at a coin show, a little knowledge goes a long way at an art fair. Quick story: my fiance Irma saw a painting by an American woman artist named Edna Reindel that she loved at a ritzy New York dealer's booth. She was quoted $95,000. If I had that sort of art budget, I would have given it real consideration. That night, we went back to the room and on my computer, I searched for information about Edna. Within thirty seconds, I found an image of the painting. It had just sold, less than three weeks ago, in an auction for $28,500. Let's say you gave your interior designer a budget of $100,000 to buy "something special" at the show. Then let's say she bought this painting for $80,000, marked it up to $90,000 and hung it over your sofa. Looks great in your living room but how are you going to feel when (or if) you learn it just sold for less than 30 clams? Ouch!!

4.  Ethnic profiling is so fun and easy at these shows. The Italians are all wear bright red pants. The Germans have crazy architectural eyeglasses. The Brazilians (men and woman) are gorgeous. The Russians seem desperate. The American woman all have fake boobs and botoxed lips. Have you ever people-watched at Heathrow Airport in London or JFK in New York? Art Basel is ten times better with the added advantage that almost everyone is either rich or an artist. (Or a rich artist...)

5.  The art market for dead artists makes sense. A painting sells at auction for, say, $50,000 and this sets a level for comparable works by the artist. There are variables: is it a major work or a minor work? Was he in the middle of a glorious love affair with his mistress or had he just broken up with her and was clearly depressed? Is the condition nice or is it ratty?  But the market for living artists--especially emerging ones--is so fraught with variables. I saw one drawing at the show that was priced at $65,000 but I thought it was a great deal given the fact that it took the artist eight months to make (!) and it was staggeringly gorgeous and cerebral. Even without any auction comparables, I saw the value. On the other hand, I saw paintings for $100,000, $200,000 and up that I thought were hokey and derivative. Here's a thought: every generation produces maybe a half dozen truly great artists. Isn't it scary that artists are selling for $1 million and up today are almost guaranteed to be afterthoughts in thirty years (see Schnabel, Julian)? Give me a Dahlonega quarter eagle any day; at least I can figure values in that market.

6.  As with coins, freshness is absolutely essential in the high end art market. If you are a rich newbie at Art Basel, it is a virtual certainty you will be offered stale, overpriced secondary market pieces or B quality works by new artists. This is true even if you have a "consultant" who, in all likelihood, has his or her own agenda. It was interesting how often I heard obviously savvy collectors ask a gallerist at Art Basel about the provenance of a work of art or who it had been offered to already. If a painting had appeared at auction in the last few years and it failed to sell...instant kiss of death. Which is not the case, by the way, in the coin market where an auction dud can still attract interest.

7.  The level of passion for art at Art Basel is amazing. Sure, it's a see-and-be-seen atmosphere and more and more of the attendees are there for the parties. But I'm pretty impressed by the fact that in a single night out in Miami Beach, I ate dinner with a group of people ranging in age from around 30 to around 80 from all over the world wearing clothes that ranged from The Gap to Prada talking passionately about art and the art market. The demographic at a coin show tends to be, how shall I say it, a bit "different" and certainly far less diverse.

8.  Because of its proximity to Latin America and South America, the fairs in Miami tend to have a Hispanic orientation that I find fascinating. There is clearly a rapidly emerging upper middle class in countries like Colombia, Brazil, Mexico and Venezuela. Not only were there a number of dealers from these countries, there were a number of collectors at the fairs buying up a storm. This wealth is almost certain to touch the coin market and if I were a betting man (wink, wink...) I would start buying selected high end coins from these four countries.

9.  Art Basel dealers, I feel your "pain."  Up at 9am. Walk or jog on the beach. Interesting clients to schmooze with all day. Brazilian women. Talk about art. See art. Sell art. Eat great food in Miami Beach. Brazilian woman. Stay at Art Deco hotels. Party 'til dawn at exclusive boites. And then there's my life... delayed flights on glamorous domestic carriers, botched reservations at Westins and Sheratons, crappy convention food, hot spots like Long Beach, Baltimore and Rosemont, fascinating conversation about die breaks on early half eagles. Not a Brazilian woman in sight. SIGH....

10. I had a great time at Art Basel 2012 and hope to be back next year. Its a fascinating week and I think it not only makes me a better connoisseur but a better coin dealer. I'm refreshed, excited and ready for the 2013 FUN show in Orlando in a few weeks.




Why I Made Collector X Mad

The phone rang early Saturday morning. It was a collector calling. The conversation went something like this: "Hi Doug, this is "collector X" (the names have been changed to protect the innocent) and I'm getting ready to enter the convention hall. I want to see your coins. What's your table number again?"

"Ummm...it was Table 201 but I left the show last night and I'm currently in my office working up my new purchases so they can be on the website this afternoon."

"You what?!? You left?!? Isn't the show on Saturday? You HAVE to be there. That's not right..."

"I'm really sorry, sir, but I arrived in Schaumberg on Tuesday and I thought three and a half days was enough time to spend at the show. I was around all day Thursday and much of Friday."

"But I work and can't get the time off."

We talked back and forth for a few more minutes. I felt bad that Collector X had driven a few hours to the show and he was about to discover that some of his favorite dealers (not just me) had left on Friday.

Which brings us to the major question at hand: why did I leave early and why will I continue to leave shows (with one or two exceptions) on Friday?

The short answer: most coin shows are too long. Many open on Wednesday and go through Saturday or even Sunday. If you ask ten dealers if they need a coin show to be four or five days, I'm guessing that nine (or more) will say "no." Exceptions to the rule: The January FUN show and the Summer ANA show which are busy enough that most dealers are OK with attending them for the extra day or two.

Here's my take on shows: not only are they too long, there are too many of them. I look at shows as a necessary evil. I have to go to them because this is where I buy a lot of my coins. But if I could figure a way to reduce my show schedule to, say, three or four a year, I'd do it in a heartbeat.

As Collector X was quick to remind me, coins shows are important for him. He gets to see coins, he gets to schmooze with his favorite dealers, and he can buy some stuff. I see his points but I'd offer the following retorts:

1: Most dealers don't put their good coins out at shows, choosing instead to offer them to selected clients via want lists or placing them on their websites.

2: At most shows, dealers are highly stressed-out and a relaxin' chat with a collector isn't practical. If a collector wants to speak to a fully focused, well-rested dealer, he'd do much better speaking to that individual on the phone a week or two after a show, when the dealer is decompressed and relaxed.

3: As a collector, wouldn't you rather make a buying decision in the comfort of your own home, using your own lighting (at most shows the lighting is abysmal...) and not being pressured to make a quick "yes or no" decision?

If you ask ten dealers what they go to shows for, I'm sure you'd get ten different answers. I go to shows primarily to buy. I believe that the excellence of my website means that I have a better delivery method for coins than putting them out in a showcase once per month. That's the reason why when you go to my table at most shows, you see around eight coins laid out in the case. Where are the rest of them? Put away in my safe, waiting for me to image and describe them and place them on my website.

As I mentioned above, I feel that my website is excellent and my inventory is best served by the good images and descriptions found on www.raregoldcoins.com. In order for me to buy coins at shows, I have to get there early.

I told Collector X that the problem with a show like Central States is that it's "front-loaded." By this, I mean that, as a dealer, if you arrive on Wednesday afternoon, you've probably blown your chance to get an early shot at the fresh coins other dealers have for sale. If I had a staff, I'd have them come in the day I was departing in order to man the table while I went home and processed the new purchases. The problem is, most collectors, like Collector X, want to talk to me and not a staff member. Which sort of leaves me between a rock and a hard place.

The ideal solution to this problem is to start shows first thing on a Thursday and end them in the mid-afternoon on Saturday; lean and efficient, please. And I like the idea of having "day tables" where I might be able to vacate my space at the front of the room on Friday and have a smaller dealer from the back of the room move up to my spot.

Collector X, when you read this blog please realize that I feel your pain. Taking the time to drive to a major show and then having many of your favorite dealers not there is no fun. Please know that I was hard at work all day on Saturday (and much of Sunday) on the two nicest days of the year so far in Portland (you have no possible idea how much I wanted to go hiking...) so that you and other DWN customers would be able to have a shot at over fifty new coins by late morning Saturday. Next time I'm in your neck of the woods, let's go have a cocktail, let's go talk about gold coins and let's bury the hatchet.


Doug Winter

The Art Basel Fair Versus The FUN Show: An Analysis

I recently returned from a week long trip to Miami where I attended the Art Basel art fair. I went primarily to look at art and to purchase some pieces for my collection but I also went to closely observe what has become the most significant art fair(s) in the world. For a person like myself, who attends many coin shows each year and who had never been to Art Basel, I found the contrast to be both educational and totally fascinating. I thought it would be interesting to compare and contrast the annual Art Basel show with the upcoming FUN convention that will also be held in Florida. For those of you who aren't familiar with Art Basel, I think a little background information is in order. This was the 11th annual edition of Art Basel in Miami and this show is a spin-off of the original fair that is held each year in Switzerland. The main Art Basel show was held in the Miami Beach convention center and it featured virtually all of the leading dealers in the world. I believe there were in the area of 400-500 dealers and I saw booths hailing not only the United States but from all over Europe, Latin America, South America and the Far East.

I could go on and on about comparing/contrasting Art Basel with the FUN show but I will keep the points to a manageable number and try to be as relevant as possible.

*Art Basel is a far more international fair than any coin show I have ever attended. The FUN show is not an especially international show and a better comparison is the NY International show which, ironically, is held at exactly the same time as FUN and which, therefore, is now impossible for me to attend. At various times at the fair, I felt like English was a second language. It was an interesting polyglot of Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese, Russian and more. The international scope of the attendees and the material at the fair was really, really exciting.

*Art Basel has thematic dealer exhibits; something that is not typically done at a coin show. Because of the theme(s), some dealers at Art Basel had very challenging exhibits (bananas in cars, scattered boulders on the floor, odd video, etc). This was a definite contrast to the FUN show which is more straight-forward.

*A table at the FUN show for the average dealer costs around $1,500-2,500. At Art Basel, I was told that for most dealers, a table was upwards of $50,000 and that some of the prime tables were $250,000 and up. When you combine this along with the cost of attending the show, crating and uncrating the art, setting up and breaking down the booth and countless other expenses, the cost for a dealer to attend Art Basel is staggering. Thus, prices were reflective of this (more about this in a minute...)

*At Art Basel, if you weren't Puffy Combs, an A-list collector or introduced/escorted by a well-known dealer, forget it. I was ignored for three days at the main fair. At the FUN show, the average collector isn't ignored and if he is lucky, he can interact with such luminaries as Q. David Bowers, Mark Salzberg and David Hall. At Art Basel, dealers like Larry Gagosian or Edward Acquavella wouldn't have thrown water on my if I was ablaze (unless I was about to set one of their works on fire; then they would have sent an assistant to douse me).

*The iPad is clearly changing the way collectors and dealers buy and sell art. I noticed that most booths no longer had exhibit catalogs but now used an iPad to show collectors images of artists whose art wasn't on the walls or of paintings they might have had in stock but which they didn't bring. On at least two occasions, I searched for quick information about a specific artist I liked but wasn't familiar with on my iPad. You are starting to see iPads at coin shows but they seem to be more the province of dealers than collectors.

*I paid careful attention to which artists were common at the show and which were not; just like I do at a coin show. I noted an abundance of Leger, Miro, Dubuffet and Picasso. These are artists whose works typically sell for high six figures to well into seven figures. They are the art world's equivalent of High Reliefs or Stellas: expensive, beautiful and with a sexy back story but ultimately common and typically available except in the highest grades.

*Art Basel is a show that celebrates dealers and the relationship between the dealer and the collector. There are no auctions taking place during the show and it is not like FUN that sometimes seems like a huge Heritage auction with the bourse floor thrown-in as an afterthought. Art dealers have strange, conflicted relationships with auction houses and for good reasons. Sotheby's and Christie's are not only openly competing for clients but they also have retail departments, trust and estate planning services, consultation services and offer financing. This situation is a bit different in the coin markets where dealers tend to be able to co-exist, more or less, with the two major auction firms.

*I was surprised at how out-in-the-open deals were at Art Basel. I expected deals to be done in secret areas of each booth or, more likely over dinner but I saw collectors openly writing checks.

*I was also surprised at how poorly marked most booths were at the fair. I didn't expect most paintings or sculptures to have clearly marked price tags but I was very surprised at how few pieces had name tags. I was able to identify some paintings I saw but others, especially those that were from new artists or foreign painters, were unidentifiable. And there were definitely times that I didn't want to ask...

*It was hard to tell how well the art was selling. For whatever reason, many of the A-level dealers appear to think it is tacky to stick a red-dot (equating something is sold) on a $5 million dollar painting. I can certainly see their point but the dealer in me was hoping to have a vicarious thrill or two see a $5 million dollar painting with a red dot next to it.

*One of the major differences between Art Basel and the FUN show was the level of enthusiasm exhibited by collectors at the former. At a coin show, buyers seem excited to be there but at Art Basel the adrenaline level was palpable. Maybe Picassos are just sexier than Dahlonega quarter eagles or maybe I've been to so many coin shows that it's become hard for me to be excited but the buzz at Basel, especially as the week wore on, was great.

*To me, probably the most impressive thing about Art Basel was how it literally changed the entire city of Miami for a week. There were tens of thousands of people at the show and they were not bashful about booking the best rooms in the best hotels, the best tables at the best restaurants and generally pouring money into the local economy. I don't know what the impact of the FUN show is on Orlando but the average person at Art Basel, independent of his or her art purchases, was a lot more lavish than at FUN (where I have seen collectors who spend $25,000 on a coin balk at spending $250 on a nice room).

In case you can't tell, I came away very impressed with Art Basel. It was well-attended, very entertaining (unbeatable people watching!), extremely well promoted and it seemed flawlessly run. The FUN show, in my opinion, is about as good as it gets in the numismatic world but it seemed like a bake sale compared to the fair!

Some Recent Observations From A Coin Show Perspective

Having just come from the Philadelphia Whitman Coin Expo show and, the week before this, the Long Beach show, I feel pretty qualified to make some market observations. Without further ado, I'd like to share them with you. 1. There Are Too Many Coin Shows Right Now. I'm sure I'm not going to make any friends with coin show promoters for saying this but with Long Beach occurring last week, Philly this week and the St. Louis show next week, this is too many coin shows in a short period of time. I saw few fresh coins in Philadelphia because I looked at many dealer's coins in Long Beach and the thought of turning around next week and going to St. Louis...uh, no thanks. The market just can't support this many shows and this is why you are seeing many formerly good regional three and four day events beginning to die rapid deaths.

2. Buying Nice Coins Is Tough, Tough, Tough. If you thought it was hard two or three years ago to buy nice coins at shows, it is as tough now as its ever been; maybe tougher. I've heard dealers all of all sizes and shapes complain how hard it is to find interesting fresh material at recent shows. I was lucky and I had an amazing ANA show with lots and lots of great new coins to offer DWN clients. But it is a real grind to find coins now and, clearly, the good stuff is going off the market and staying there.

3. Everyone Wants to Buy Type One Double Eagles. There are many firms and individual dealers (myself included) who are very active buyers right now of Type One double eagles. At the Philadelphia show I saw almost nothing for sale other than the usual motley assortment of Uncirculated S.S. Central America 1857-S , a few lower grade common dates and the odd overpriced rarity here and there. This is clearly an extremely popular area of the market and coins in the $2,000-15,000+ price range are exceptionally popular right now.

4. And CC Double Eagles Too. You can add $2,000-10,000+ Carson City double eagles to this list as well. They are most definitely in strong demand and if the coins are properly priced (or even just a hair too expensive) they are easy sellers. Even big money coins like 1870-CC double eagles are beginning to sell again and I am aware of at least two EF examples changing hands since ANA. If you have any nice CC double eagles for sale, please contact me as I'd like to buy them from you!

5. Nice New Orleans Gold Has Disappeared. Where has all the nice New Orleans gold gone? Good question. The last few months have seen very, very few interesting New Orleans gold coins available and the few choice or rare pieces that I have had in stock have sold quickly. Clearly, this is an area of the market that is very active.

6. And Dahlonega Gold Also. I think you can safely add choice, original Dahlonega gold in all denominations to the "where the heck are the coins?" list. I can generally only find two or three decent D mint coins at a major show and they seem to sell very quickly when I list them on my website.

7. Coin Pricing Is a Total Disaster. I've mentioned this a number of times but I am finding it more and more of a hassle that coin pricing is such out of touch with reality. What typically happens is that one very low quality rare coin trades cheaply at auction and Trends whacks the price for the issue down. This has recently happened with rare, desirable coins like the 1796 No Stars and 1808 quarter eagles and the 1795 eagle. I look at this as, in its own way, as big a concern in the coin market as the doctoring issue. One reason why good coins aren't being sold is that pricing doesn't reflect the real value of choice, high end pieces. Fix this problem and you will fix the lack of supply that is hurting the market right now. Don't fix it and new buyers will be more interested in purchasing MS64 Saints than "real" coins.

8. I'm Not Seeing Many PCGS "Secure" or "Plus" Coins. Either the new PCGS Secure and Plus program isn't working or its working so incredibly well that the coins in these holders never make it to the market, But I am not seeing many of these coins and I continue to feel that CAC has really set the pace in the high end segment of the market. It remains hard to price PCGS Plus and Secure coins when so few trade at auctions or at shows.

9. The Birth of the "Lucky Charms" Grade. I wish I was clever enough to have invented this term but, alas, I'm not. But I recently have seen coins graded "AU58+*CAC" and these pieces with all the attached symbols and stickers are now known as "Lucky Charms" coins because they seem to have imported their verbiage from the shapes found in this cereal. Magically delicious, no?

Some Observations About the 2010 Boston ANA Show

To be perfectly frank, I hate coin show reports. I hate to write them. I hate to read them. I don't care what restaurants a dealer went to and what they ate and I don't really care that Dealer X spent this much money on those coins at the show. That said, I also know that the ANA is the show that everyone who didn't attend wants to know about. So, with these people in mind, I thought I'd share a few random observations about the ANA. On a scale of 1-10, I'd rate this show as a solid 6; possibly a 7. Overall, I'd say a was a tiny bit disappointed. I was expecting the show to be an 8 or a 9 because of the fact that it was the first ANA in Boston since 1982 and the fact that Boston is within a few hours of huge numbers of serious collectors.

I go to coin shows primarily to buy and from a buying standpoint I was reasonably pleased. I bought some great coins. These include an 1854-O double eagle in PCGS AU55, the Garrett specimen of the 1808 quarter eagle (graded AU53 by PCGS) and over fifty crusty original 19th century gold pieces, most of which have already found their way onto my website. I would have liked to buy more but, hey, that's what I say at every show; even when I'm wondering how I'm going to sell all the great coins I just bought. And, yes, this paragraph is self-promotion.

Attendance seemed good and the mood among dealers and collectors seemed upbeat and positive. I didn't have any little old ladies walk up to my table with a New England shilling in a cigar box (a fella can dream, can't he?) but I was fairly pleased at the number of fresh coins that I was able to purchase on the floor.

I participated in three auctions. The Stack's sale contained an interesting fresh deal of Liberty Head eagles and prices were amazing (more on this in a future blog). The Bowers and Merena sale was reasonably strong but prices were mainly reflective on the quality of the coins. In other words, nice coins brought good prices while schlock sold cheaply, if at all. The Heritage sale was strong although prices didn't seem as off the charts as in years past. With the exception of the eagles in the Stack's sale the coins brought basically what they were worth. That sounds trite but, in past ANA sales, many coins brought a lot (stress a lot) more than they were worth. A lot.

In the area of rare gold, I noticed some definite market trends. Early date (i.e., pre-1834) gold was almost non-existent. Even the low end, overpriced stragglers that had been overhanging the market seemed to have disappeared. I can't remember an ANA at which I saw fewer early gold coins nor a major show that I purchased fewer.

There was extremely strong demand for Type One double eagles. The coins that nearly everyone seemed to want were common and somewhat better dates in AU50 and up, especially in the $2,000-7,500 price range. Demand was also strong for interesting Type Ones in the $10,000-20,000 range. Its hard to say what demand was like for expensive, really great Type Ones as there were almost none to be seen at the show.

Branch mint gold also was in demand. I bought and sold a few interesting pieces of Dahlonega at the show and had quite a few people come to my table with specific wants. I searched through dozens of dealers' inventories in a Quest for Crust and was unable to find more than a handful of truly DWN-worthy coins.

Another area that suddenly seems strong is Carson City double eagles. I sold a number of interesting CC Twenties and was pleased at the prices they bought. I tried to buy an amazing 1872-CC in NGC MS62+ that was far and away the finest known for the date but was outbid despite figuring it for nearly six figures. Congratulations to whoever purchased this coin; it was sensational.

Off the subject of coins for a second. I hadn't been to Boston in about a decade and it was great to return. What a fantastic city. Great places to shop, small and compact with wonderful walking, fantastic architecture; my kind of place. I was able to leave the show early one day and went to the Gardner Museum. The Rembrandt self-portrait and the two Botticellis were breathtaking, to say the least.

So, another ANA show has come and gone. After nearly 30 years of ANA's, I don't feel the excitement that I used to but this is clearly THE show of the year and the 2010 edition was memorable.

Some Random Observations About the 2010 FUN Show

Just like that (cue snapping fingers and whooshing sound) the 2010 FUN show came and went. For me, FUN is always productive and this year was no exception. I had a very good show and instead of the usual tedious (and self-serving) show report, I’d rather share a few random observations about the convention. *I looked at oodles and oodles of coins at the show and what I didn’t see is, to me, every bit as interesting as what I did see. Two market areas that I participate in but found virtually impossible to buy in were early gold and Type One Liberty Head double eagles. I wanted to come back from the show with at least five pieces of early gold. I returned with none. Zero. Zilch. I saw some overgraded, dipped out coins that had been around the block. I looked at an interesting deal of early quarter eagles that was priced “enthusiastically.” But I saw virtually no fresh, interesting pieces of early gold. My take on this is that most of the nice examples that have been sold in the past few years are in strong hands and people just don’t want to sell right now; especially with prices being a bit flat in this area. Same with Type One double eagles. I saw about thirty 1857-S and 1861 but virtually none of the interesting dates. I think this is due to the fact that there are many collectors interested in these coins right now (especially the better dates priced below $10,000).

*Fairly expensive coins sold very well at the show, at least for me. In the new market reality I define “fairly expensive” as $10,000 and up. I came to the show with around 20 coins that fit into this category and sold every single one. If the coin was interesting or fresh or nice for the grade, there were ready and willing buyers.

*Unlike Long Beach or some other shows, FUN seems to bring out new faces. I sold coins to four or five collectors that I had never met before.

*I was a bit surprised that Thursday seemed quiet while Friday was a madhouse. Usually, at least at FUN shows, the opposite is true. For whatever reason, people appear to have come a day later than normal. Friday was one of the busier days at a coin show for me that I can recall with two, three and even four people continually at my table buying, selling and trading. It was one of those days when I say to myself “Self, I’m hungry” and then find out its 2:15.

*One of the highlights of the show was having Dale Friend take me on a personal tour of his fantastic collection of Bust half dollars which were on display at the PCGS table. Something that Dale did which I was impressed with was choosing a “look” for his coins then not deviating from this. In Dale’s case, he decided that he liked superbly toned coins; specifically pieces that had album-style color with lighter centers darkening towards the edges. What makes this set so remarkable is that even though it was assembled from many different sources, it looks like an old-time collection that had been stored in paper coin envelopes or albums for years and years. I’m told that these coins will be on display again at the Long Beach show and if you are attending, I urge you to view them (even if you don’t collect silver) and learn a few tricks from a master collector.

*I saw Lou Piniella at the coin show. For those of you who aren't baseball fans, Lou is manager of the Cubs and a former New York Yankees great. Being a huge Yankee fan, I personally thought it was pretty cool to see Lou at the show. Interestingly, I read an article a few months ago about Charlie Manuel, the manager of the Phillies and it stated that he, too, was a coin collector. Is there some sort of coin collector-major league manager connection going on here that we don't know about?

Preparing Yourself for the FUN Show

Amazingly, the 2010 FUN is a scant two weeks away. If you have decided to attend the show (and I strongly suggest that if you go to just one show all year that this you consider this one) here is a short list of things to consider. 1. Bring a good lamp. Viewing conditions at the FUN show are not optimal and a good coin viewing lamp is essential. Try if possible to recreate the conditions that you use when you view coins at your home or office.

2. Pull the trigger on really cool coins. My gut feeling is that really good coins are going to be in short supply at this year’s FUN show. My best advice is that if you see something that looks really great or something that you’ve wanted for a long time, don’t waffle.

3. Take an hour lunch break every day. The FUN show is huge and it can be a pretty intense experience for the collector and dealer alike. I think it’s a great idea to leave the show for an hour every day in order to eat a good lunch and take a coin break. Some of the worst purchases I’ve ever made at shows have been when I’ve been tired, cranky and hungry.

4. Have a game plan. If you’ve never been to a major show like FUN, it can be really intimidating. There are hundreds and hundreds of dealers and it’s hard to know where to start. Before you go, spend time on the FUN website (www.FUN.org) and make a list of the dealers that you want to see first.

5. Look at auction lots. Even if you aren’t planning on bidding, the chance to see some of the great coins in the major sales is very educational and rewarding. The FUN sale is traditionally among the very best held each year and this year is no exception.

6. Come as early in the week as you can. Many dealers (not me...) get to Orlando almost a week before the show starts and between the pre-shows, pre-auctions and pre-show hotel room trading, they are burned-out by the time the show opens to the public. I’d say if you aren’t getting there until Saturday you are coming too late. Try, at the very least, to be there on Friday when the show opens.

7. Be safe. There have been a number of robberies after the FUN show ends and you need to remember to be safe. Don’t travel with a lot of cash, don’t display your coins outside of the show, don’t discuss your purchases among strangers and, if possible, have your expensive new purchases shipped to your home/office after the show.

8. Call your favorite dealer(s) before the show starts. Remind them what you are looking for and to hold any important coins for you until you arrive. Speaking from experience, there are a lot of distractions at the show and a gentle prod from a collector is a good way to remind me to hold a coin.

9. If you bring your family, keep them off the bourse floor. Hey, coin buying is serious stuff. Do you really need your wife and kids tagging along? The beauty of the FUN show is that the family can spend the day at Disney World while you play in the world of rare coins.

10. Don’t forget to bring pricing notes. Bring your laptop, your specialized books, your price guides, Trends, the Greysheet, etc. You want to be ready when that special coin turns up.

The 2010 FUN show begins to January 7th and if past shows are any indication, this one should be memorable. If you have any questions about the show, visit the official website mentioned above or feel free to email me at dwn@ont.com

Affect of Gas Prices on Coin Market

Energy Prices and the Coin Market - How are soaring energy prices going to affect the coin market? I got my first taste of the New Reality today when I decided not to attend a coin show because of what I thought was an exceptionally high price for an airline ticket. The other day I received an email from Whitman Expos regarding their August Atlanta show. I believe that this show is in its third year and I have attended the previous conventions. Even though it is a brutal flight for me to get to Atlanta from the Northwest, I’ve always looked forward to the show. I love Atlanta, I like the Whitman people and want to support their shows and I have some good clients in the Atlanta metropolitan area. So even though this had never been a “major” event on the coin circuit, I was still happy to attend it.

That is, until I went on my airlines’ website yesterday and looked up the price of a round trip ticket to Atlanta. Even booking the ticket more than two months in advance, the best fare I could find was close to $800—and that was with a lovely three hour layover on the way home in Dallas. To get a convenient round trip ticket was nearly $1,000.

Now I know that the airlines are hurting and that Americans have had the luxury of really cheap airfare for the past decade. But when I figure a $1,000 plane ticket on top of a $200 per night hotel (I don’t like to share rooms when I travel and I’d rather camp out under a bridge than stay at a cheap hotel), the price of a table at a show, meals, etc., a show like the Atlanta Expo suddenly gets expunged from my schedule.

I wonder how many other dealers are feeling the same way about non-essential shows. No matter how expensive airfare gets, I’m still going to attend the ANA and FUN shows and I will continue to attend West Coast shows because of the convenience factor. But instead of going to three Baltimore shows per year, I’ll probably cut back to two to reduce expenses.

I have a pretty fortunate set of circumstances when it comes to attending shows. I go by myself and generally split tables with other dealers so my basic expenses aren’t that high. I also have a small inventory so I do not have to check extra bags and get hit with all the new fees that make travel in 2008 so much fun. I wonder, however, about the dealers who bring two or three people to shows (or in the case of a firm like Heritage ten, twenty or even fifty) as well as supplies.

My guess is that you are going to see an immediate change at certain shows. Small, local shows that dealers can drive to probably won’t be affected and the large national shows should remain strong. But the medium size regional and national shows almost certainly will suffer. You might see a number of dealers from the West Coast at the aforementioned Atlanta show this year but next year I would think many of us who have a 4000+ mile round trip flight will punt.

I know there are other trips I’ll now think twice about. I often fly to Dallas to view Heritage auction lots a few weeks before a major show since I have trouble finding the time to look at these coins during a show. When airfare was $400 to get Dallas and I could book a ticket at this price at short notice, it was a no-brainer. When airfare is $800 and I have to book this trip a month in advance, I will think twice; especially if the sale isn’t of interest to me.

Yet I wonder if all of this isn’t somehow for the best. You can put me high on the list of dealers who have complained for the past few years about how grinding the coin show circuit can be. Trust me, five trips in five weeks isn’t anyone’s idea of fun, especially when the destinations include the various Numismatic Gardens of Eden that I find myself in on so many Wednesday and Thursday nights of my life. And, of course, I will be the first to admit that no one is holding a gun up to my head and forcing me to attend Long Beach or Baltimore (especially when they are held back-to-back). Maybe the typical coin dealer’s lifestyle will improve by not being on the road so often.

So here we go into another potential new cycle in the coin business. It will be interesting to see what changes the Era of the Expensive Airplane Ticket (not to mention the $4.50 gallon of gas) brings to the market. I expect they will be greater than we realize.