The excitement of deal making at a numismatic convention or coin show , through a teenager’s eyes.
It’s hard to believe August is here and that in less than a fortnight, the 2018 ANA World’s Fair of Money coin show will be underway in Philadelphia. I don’t want to sound like a broken record (or skipping CD, or is that also dating me too much?), but time seems to be accelerating!
I know that all is relative, but it was 45 years ago that yours truly made his first appearance at an ANA coin show and Convention. The big coin show for 1973 was being held in my neck of the woods, Boston! I recall reading about it in one the copies of Coin World that I picked up at our regular little coin show held the third Sunday of the month at the Meadowbrook hotel’s conference room in my native Portsmouth, NH.
I had talked to a few dealers at the local July show and was so excited at the prospect of going. My only dilemma (and a major one) was how I would get there. So I implored my dad to cart my young carcass to the show. Dad knew that I was excited about coins and would take me to local stuff, but didn’t want to travel to the equivalent of Timbuktu and back.
Starting with little
I remember saying it was the biggest coin show in the world, all the big dealers and coin companies in the world would be there and that I could buy, trade and sell! Dad didn’t look warm and fuzzy when he said, “Where is it?” Yet when I announced that the coin show was in Boston, Dad replied: “That shouldn’t be too bad.” I finally was able to breathe!
As Dad and I would often go to Fenway Park to take in Red Sox games, he figured we could navigate our way. The coin show was being held at the Boston Sheraton Hotel and slated to run August 21-27 (with the first two days for dealers). Since the 23rd was my Dad’s birthday, that was out, and my twin older brothers’ birthday was the 26th, so that left Friday and Saturday (the 24th and 25th) to shoot for. Pop had already taken off some time from work, and said we would go down Friday morning. I was all excited about meeting the famous big-name dealers and setting my eyes on major rarities. I just wanted to have fun before heading back to school, too.
About two weeks before the start of the 82nd ANA, I started to formulate a plan on specific dealers I would meet and target to trade with. I was only 16, but I had a good basic knowledge of everything from cover to cover in the Red Book. I also had clipped various “buy” and “want list” ads in the classifieds of Coin World; I was really getting psyched for this.
However, about a week before the ANA, Dad asked me: “Jimmy, what are you going to do for money? How are you going to do any business?”… I thought for a moment and realized Dad was right – what would I use for money? I then muttered, “Well I have my group of coins that I will trade up with.” (I had about $45.) Dad wasn’t overly impressed and said: “Do you really think that you will be able to do business with all the bigwigs?” “Yes, I am going to, and also have a great time.” Dad smiled back.
The big day!
Finally, the big day arrived. I put on dress pants, polished my shoes and had a freshly ironed bright white button-down shirt. I really didn’t get much sleep, I was so wrapped up, it was like reliving the night before Christmas from a decade before: agony and excitement.
When we arrived at the Sheraton hotel, Dad parked his light green Buick LeSabre in the hotel’s garage. As we both emerged from the elevator, we followed in step with the mass of humanity toward the bourse. My heart was racing as I caught glimpses of celebrity numismatic notables. Just before I was going to enter the hall, Dad slipped me $20 and said to have fun. I pocketed the bill and grinned back. Dad said he would be sitting outside, and just to look for him when I was done.
Wow talk about excitement! As I entered the coin show bourse, I first became acquainted with the term “the buzz”: It was actually deafeningly reminiscent of a drove of bees. Actually bees, worker bees, was quite apropos.
I made the initial rounds and stopped to gaze at dealers whom I recognized from various ads in numismatic publications. Scores of tables, each brightly illuminated by a formidable battery of lamps, showcased dealers’ varied and exciting numismatic offerings. I recall sitting down at a table with a dealer who had a group of Indian Head Cents all priced in the $2 to $20 range. I pulled out a handful from the 1880s that were choice uncirculated – colorful, too. The deal for the lot was $40. I had used the $20 dad had given me and traded some lower grade Three Cent Nickels and silvers I had for the balance.
I immediately traipsed over to a dealer whose name I recognized from ads who dealt primarily with Indian and Lincoln Cents. We exchanged words and I pulled out the five Indians I had just traded for. The dealer spied each one and asked me what I wanted for them. I of course answered: “What will you give me?”… He replied: “No, they’re your coins; you tell me what you want.”
That response was a bit of a surprise, as I usually found the bartering would begin with the dealer. I said, “I have $80 in the lot.” The dealer said, “That’s too much; I would do $60.” I was quietly excited because I had only doled out $40 just minutes before! I paused and boldly said: “$65?” The dealer said, “OK, kid, $65.”
Wow, I had just made $25 in about 20 minutes! I was feeling good because I now had a little over $100 in cash plus a few other coins and stuff I had brought.
Next stop: an Education(al)
I soon found myself at a table in the back corner resplendent with world and US currency. Box lots for as little as a dime, and some $25 and up. After rummaging through some neat world stuff, I spied a few worn US Educational notes of 1896; one was a rather shabby-looking but complete $5 1896 Educational. I asked how much. The dealer asked me what I would give. I said $25. The dealer said no, that it was worth at least $100. I knew he was right, but I persevered. I said I will go $50. The dealer said $70, final. I bought it, and the dealer placed it in a plastic sleeve. The note was about VG+ and my war chest was down to around $30 cash.
My next table stop was at one of my childhood numismatic idols, Aubrey Bebee. I recall scanning his well-stocked table and listening to dealers and customers bantering with him and his wife, Adeline. When there was a lull, I then pulled out the $5 note and Aubrey said, “Let’s see what you’ve got there, little fella.” Bebee examined it and said $225. I quietly gulped and said OK. He then looked at my badge and proceeded to pull out his check ledger.
I was thrilled to have just made $150 on the $5 note but really needed cash to work with. Luckily, a few table visits later, a dealer I was trading with for a trio of $20 Libs said I could just sign the check over.
I then parlayed the three Mint State $20 Libs for a few other coins, including a glorious pair of proof Barber Quarters. I can still recall them to this day. Both were most probably Ultra Cameos (although neither that term nor third-party grading was yet established). They both possessed a stunning peripheral rainbow of color. One was an 1893; I forgot the other. Anyway, I sold one for $360 and I kept the 1893 for myself.
‘You’re buying dinner’
Not to wander too far down Numismatic Memory Lane, but when I finally emerged from the 82nd ANA Boston bourse and located my irate dad, he greeted me with: “What the hell have you been doing in there; it’s been over 8 hours.” I quietly sat down next to him and whispered that I had a great time, met lots of collectors and made deals with dozens of dealers and…. I made $860, plus I have a few nice coins for my collection.”
Dad was dumbfounded, but he did say, “You’re buying dinner.” That wasn’t all; a few days later, I bought our family a new RCA Console Color TV.
So, as we are but a few short days away from the 2018 ANA World’s Fair of Money in Philadelphia, take time to make preparations for this great event. For newcomer or veteran collectors, arm yourself with current auction and pricing data courtesy of our fabulous NGC website. Whether buying, selling or trading, take time to find out who are the market makers and top buyers in your specialized and favorite areas of collecting.
While attending the coin show, be sure to consult with dealers and listen to their advice. Make time to meet and greet as many fellow hobbyists as you can! The kindred spirits and camaraderie will last a lifetime.
Also, be sure to bring some good walking or running shoes with you, as you will probably be putting in several miles! While things have evolved mightily with the hobby and business of numismatics in last 45 years, to me, this hobby is the greatest! Be sure to have fun, use good judgement with acquisitions and you, too, will be rewarded so much more than financially.
Until next time, happy collecting!
Jim Bisognani is an NGC Price Guide Analyst, having previously served for many years as an analyst and writer for another major price guide. He has written extensively on US coin market trends and values.