• A Kraljeblog update, in haiku

    A surfeit of coins,

    Auction houses jostling;

    NEs fall by half


    Collectors indulge,

    a buy-one-get-one-free sale;

    Hope you’ve all stocked up

    Shoppers vie for copies of video games at a Black Friday sale at a Wal-Mart Stores Inc. store in Mentor, Ohio, U.S., on Thursday, Nov. 24, 2011. Retailers are pouring on the discounts to attract consumers grappling with 9 percent unemployment and a slower U.S. economic expansion than previously estimated. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

    Dealers stockpile,

    Auction invoices balloon;

    What’s my interest rate?


    Solid Baltimores,

    Orlando FUN bourse: standard;

    Why go to Schaumburg?


    Two months writing Pogue

    Began when Kendall finished:

    Half a million words

    SBG_HomePgBanner_KendallColl_141106 SBG_HomePgBanner_Pogue2015Sale_150424

    Blogging about the

    grading of colonials?

    Don’t want to get sued.


    Kraljeblogs are long.

    This one may be much more brief,

    but may say much more.


  • Another ANA Show in Rosemont: More on medals, less on meals

    Two dogs and two cats sleeping or playing within five feet. Baseball on the TV, wife on the couch. Two kids giggling at a video game down the hall. Unadorned ham and cheese sandwich and homemade coffee in my belly while dinner bubbles in the crockpot.

    It’s good to be home from ANA.

    The annual World’s Fair of Money is just a little bit too much, all the way around. It’s a little too long, a little too busy, with a few too many auctions and a bit too much food. It is deficient in the following areas: personal hydration (don’t want to take too many potty breaks, after all), sleep (I booked early pre-bourse breakfasts with friends just about every day), free time (so close to the attractions of Chicago, yet so far away), and down moments on the bourse (I don’t think I looked in more than a half dozen out of the roughly 2000 cases that included items for sale).

    10516678_10152685819915087_8553621789316892379_n Somewhere in this picture was a good deal I missed out on.

    That last tidbit contributed to this being one of the weaker buying shows I’ve had lately, and perhaps the weakest ANA for acquisitions in memory. This is not of significant concern this year, as my inventory remains broad and deep in most categories, but it’s still disappointing. Those who did walk the bourse reported relatively little to buy in my major categories: not a lot of great medals, not a lot of great colonials, and not a lot of great world coins of the era and types I tend to pursue. The auctions were not much help this year either: medal offerings were relatively meager (including perhaps the single worst example of an overlooked harsh cleaning I’ve ever seen on a certified medal), and the colonial coin lots included some high profile rarities but not much beyond them. Among world coins, the Lissner sale included some absolutely unforgettable pieces, but their even more unforgettable prices made buying for inventory challenging.

    For every downside, an upside. Perhaps because of the notable lack of offered material in my specialities, and because the auctions did not significantly distract from the bourse hours or the material available thereupon, sales were brisk, even constant. I wrote a big ol’ pile of invoices, including notable sales in just about every category: medals, colonials, world coins, tokens, counterstamps, political items, and pieces from the Augustin Dupre archive. After doing some tabulation, I was a little surprised to see the position of utter dominance medals occupied: I sold three times more medals than world coins, for instance, and nearly ten times more medals than colonials.

    The fact that medal collectors were out in force is no great surprise: medals have been a growing part of the market for years now, and those who began with relatively straightforward medal series (US Mint military and naval medals, for instance) have now expanded into more challenging series like Betts medals, political medals, and the more obscure US Mint series. This was also my first chance to showcase this kind of fresh material at an ANA, in fact, this might have been the biggest offering of good, fresh American historical medals offered at a single table at ANA in a very long time.

    10550905_10152691006390087_9090437001518498602_n "Look, I'm not saying medals will regrow your hair, I'm saying they can't hurt."

    The tongues of colonial coin specialists were awag over the case full of coins to be offered in November from the Eric P. Newman collection. The May sale included some truly impressive items, but the slate for November could fill a marquee. Those who endeavor to own top-shelf early American coins would be advised to save up and call me soon: this sale is going to be bonkers.

    I would have loved to have had a case full of choice world coins cherrypicked from the remarkable Lissner collection, sold just days before the ANA. Alas, it was not to be. The Lissner collection was offered as a joint project from CNG, my old friends from Pennsylvania, and St. James Auctions of London, run by the inimitable Steve Fenton. Mark Teller, who helped Mr. Lissner build his collection of gems from around the world for a 40+ year period, catalogued the group. I viewed the collection in Pennsylvania in the weeks before ANA. The coins were, on the whole, amazing. Not every one was a gem, but the gems were plentiful, particularly among the Latin American pieces. While several collectors I represented in the sale ended up with their dream coins, prices were strong enough that I bought comparatively little for inventory. While I’m willing to pay crazy prices for extraordinary quality, even superb gems have limits.

    The pace of ANA is always crazed, and moments where there weren’t several people at the table were few. Thankfully, my wife isn’t shy (not even close), so when I was elbow-deep in one transaction, she kept others feeling engaged rather than ignored as they waited for prices, questions, appraisals, etc. She even got to indulge her love of paperwork (submission forms!), standing in line (lot pickup!), and refraining from stabbing people in the neck who don’t know how to wait their turn (dealers at the grading service!). Towards the end of the show, we both noticed something we’d never seen at my table at an ANA before: empty chairs. Yes, that’s right, there were times when no one was at my table. This is different.

    It made us realize another thing that was different about this year’s ANA. The public attendance seemed down. Way down. My table was right on Main Street, the 200 aisle, the one right in front of the main entrance that was flanked by StacksBowers on one side and Heritage on the other. If people walked into the bourse, they walked down that aisle. By Friday, there were times that there wasn’t a soul in the aisle. On Saturday, that was most of the day. No curious onlookers, no coffee-can-carriers wondering about Uncle Alfred’s silver dollars, nobody. Has the ANA overfished the Rosemont pond? Did news reports about long lines at the convention scare people away? Who knows. I’ll sum up my opinion thusly: I can’t wait to have an ANA somewhere else.

    photo-174 With StacksBowers' Greg Cohen serving as a blocking back, my old pal Harvey Stack had a chance to put me in a death grip on the way off the bourse and remind me that I learned everything I know from him.

    Regarding those long lines, the ANA should have been recognized for the release of a brand new, exciting gold coin whose design recalled one of the great American coins. Yes, it would have been nice if this ANA went down in history as the show at which Ron Landis’ spot-on rendition of the 1787 Brasher Doubloon was unveiled. I’ve known and admired Ron for a long time. His work has always been good, and the effort he’s put into getting a design right has always been superhuman -- but this is by far his best effort yet. I suspect his rendition of the legendary Brasher doubloon will be avidly sought in a century, just as copies by Bolen, Wyatt, and others are sought after today.

    IMG_0076 Ron Landis, hard at work on the bourse floor engraving a die. Landis' new Brasher Doubloon creations captured the spirit of the original.

    Now, as for the other gold coin released at the show ...

    The critiques, both mainstream and numismatic, about the 1964-2014 gold Kennedy half sales seem to have largely devolved into complaints about the folks in line: classist, racist, and hateful. I’m guessing those who have complained so vigorously never had a time in their life when a guaranteed payday of several hundred dollars for a night’s work would have helped them pay the rent, feed a kid, or pursue a dream. The line, which I walked by every morning on my way to the bourse, looked a lot like lines I slept in to get concert tickets while in my younger days, full of people who looked like they were probably stinky and may well have been chugging Dunkin’ Donuts coffee while reading and hanging out with friends all night. While I don’t doubt there were criminal elements in the line, I suspect a crowd of that size that was gathered for the sole purpose of making money anywhere, for any particular reason, would have as well. I doubt a single person in line who wasn’t a collector before will become one, but I also doubt that 95% of those in line had any goal other than the American dream of a quick payday and getting something for nothing. I don’t blame them a whit. Then again, when I was much younger, I did more for less when I was broke (getting paid $250 for being locked in a hotel room for 4 days and getting purposefully infected with a cold to do some testing for a pharmaceutical company comes to mind).

    IMG_0090 The ANA had the foresight to plan for orderly lines for the Mint-caused hordes inside -- and opened their wallet to pay for security on the sidewalk outside. Every one of the folks in this line paid up to join the ANA and get proper bourse credentials.

    All that said, sensationalized news stories about stacks of cash and rich coin dealers may well attract security risks to the show in the future. Then again, it may not: there were a ton of cops (both in and out of uniform) and other security afoot, and I did not hear a single confirmed report of an issue connected to ne’er-do-wells who attended the show this year. The lines at ANA were long and full of folks who didn’t look like coin-show attendees, but the problems reported at other sales points seem to have been confused with a pretty well-organized scene in Rosemont.

    Despite my distaste for Rosemont (and for the idea of a national organization repeatedly conducting a show in the same location), the ANA’s efforts this time went above and beyond. The show was well-organized, well-planned, and positively superbly conducted from start to finish. The invitation extended to two auction companies could have been a clusterf mess, but that went smoothly too. The schedule was wisely promulgated well ahead of time and made good sense: Monday had a late start to set-up to allow for travel, lot viewing, and meetings; bourse hours from 8 AM to 6 PM make for a day that was long without being extreme; and the natural petering-out of Saturday was allowed to happen gracefully.

    Needless to say, I’ll be back in Rosemont next year, thankful that we’ll be going somewhere else in 2016 and ready to burden my system with the year-long digestive processes attendant to a single slice of Geno’s .

  • Having Fun Collecting in 2014

    Just as I was pondering how to break in the Kraljeblog for the year 2014, the answer came to me the way so many sources of inspiration arrive nowadays: in my email box. An old friend, a fellow dealer and numismatist (those words are not synonyms), answered my query about whether or not I’d see him at an upcoming auction. His response was telling. He described himself as “unexcited” by the US coin market at present, while the world coin business was “fun.”

    Fun. What an oddly foreign way for merchants to decide what to sell. Fun has no metrics. You can’t chart fun, and most banks won’t let you deposit it. You just have to have it, create it, and embrace it.

    My inventory has always been made up of things I like, items that I think are fun to collect. I was never any good at plugging holes in sets, slowly upgrading collections, or selecting my favorite specimen of a type from among the 100 available examples at a given coin show. From my days when I was primarily a collector, the stuff that struck me as fun were pieces that became cooler with some research, distinctive coins and medals (and other stuff) that I might not have seen before, or items that were just plain eye-catching. Great pedigrees are fun. Originality is fun. Stories are fun. Having collecting goals that are completely of your own design is fun.

    Here are a few ideas on what keeps collecting a particular series fun:

    1. Actually buying things. Sure, it would be great to say you collect Mint State 1794 dollars alphabetically by color, but if you can’t actually acquire the items you purport to collect, what fun are they? This doesn’t mean that everything you want should be common, but there should be enough opportunity for acquisition to keep things interesting.
    2. The opportunity to discover information. This is one of my primary beefs with so many commonly collected series: there is just not much new to learn about them, either in terms of nitty-gritty numismatic technical stuff or a broader historical context. The good news: there are an infinite number of specialties about which research has barely scratched the surface. Focus on them.
    3. Scaleability. There are no greater letdowns in the life of a collector than completing a collection. So aim for a moving target. Finished a collection of all the War of 1812 naval medals? Time to make that a collection of all the War of 1812 medals, naval, military, and other. Finished your 13 colony set of colonial currency? Time to make that a collection of 26 notes that includes issues from before and after the Revolution. If finishing a collection is the worst thing about collecting, who wants that?
    4. Fellowship. Clubs like the Medal Collectors of America (MCA), Colonial Coin Collectors Club (C4), Early American Coppers (EAC) et al mean that you’ll not only have a way to make new friends, but you’ll always have people to discuss new research ideas, collecting strategies, and other questions with. While being the only person to collect something can be fun, these groups can often help you find the one other person who cares about your obscure interest. Or maybe you’ll find a dozen people who are passionate about it.
    5. Good value. I’m the last guy on the planet to suggest that numismatic items should be collected for investment purposes. It is only natural to hope that enough people care about what you collect to support the prices you paid for the stuff you acquired. My corner of the numismatic world deals with pieces that are only available in finite, even diminishing, numbers (this is not the case with all numismatic collectibles, including items where the value is largely reliant upon the numerical grade). Basic economics suggests that the best way to increase prices given a fixed supply is to increase demand. Thus, the things that tend to be good value are found in areas where more future collectors seems likely.

    So now comes the $64,000 question: what’s fun in 2014? (Correct answers will be limited to stuff I might actually sell you. This is a commercial website after all.)

    My friend who inspired this particular blog entry identified the world coin market as fun. I have to agree. Of course, the world coins I tend to like are ones that found a role in the mercantile history of early America, the small change coppers, daily-use silver, and financially important gold coins that were seen on American shores for the three hundred year epoch from the 1560s through the American Civil War. The point can obviously be expanded worldwide though. Not only is coin collecting becoming more popular than ever overseas, but the once inefficient world coin market has become amazingly streamlined in the Internet age. I used to be able to go to Europe, buy coins, and bring them home to sell at substantial profits. Others who went decades (even centuries) before I did had even better luck. Now, even the smallest coin shop owner or individual collector can consign stuff to major auctions, put it on eBay, or even attend a major coin show with relative ease. This means there are plenty of coins to buy (see rule #1) and expanding markets to sell into also (rule #5).


    I like high quality Latin American stuff the most right now. English coins have always been avidly collected, so for most series, very nice quality material is always available at a price. (Excuse the broad generalizations -- there are clearly exceptions and plenty of different ways to define “very nice.”) French coins are underappreciated, but unless one enjoys collecting by date and mint, most American-centric collectors can be made happy with single examples of long-running basic types. The exceptional variety of Dutch coins is an appealing challenge -- Joe Lasser counted them among his favorite specialties -- but most Americans have trouble discerning a ducaton from a patagon. English, French, and Dutch coins are all historically relevant to American collectors and flexible enough to allow self-defined collections.

    But somehow Latin American coins just attract more eyeballs. Some like the crudeness and attribution challenge of cobs. Others are attracted to the mysterious appeal of shipwreck coins. Many like the regimented approach of assembling denomination sets of Pillars or Portraits, along with the added wrinkle of those distinctive mintmarks. Pieces with original surfaces are scarce enough to be a challenge but available enough to not be frustrating. And the price point is admittedly appealing: somehow $500 Pillar dollars and $2000 doubloons from the colonial era just seem like a good deal. There has been a surfeit of nice material around lately, thanks in large part to the unfortunate dissolution of the Huntington Collection. Among the coins of the Latin American world that were relevant to early America, the variety is almost endless. While plenty of folks like the Pillar and Portrait material, coins from Latin America’s fitful era of independence are perhaps even more attractive and evocative. They too circulated in the United States (thousands were melted at the U.S. Mint to be turned into ubiquitous Bust halves) and their historical connections to North America are endless, from the Cartagenian flag under which the Brothers LaFitte sailed to the American family of Simon Bolivar (did you know his nephew went to the same high school as US Mint officer Franklin Peale and later attended the University of Virginia?). So whether it be the crude 16th century coppers of Hispanola that have been found in Virginia or the elegantly designed silver and gold coins from the independent republics of South America, Latin American coins are pretty fun to collect.


    Medals are fun. They’re mostly big, they’re pretty, and their condition tends to be excellent. Many, as listed in Julian’s Medals of the United States Mint, were struck on the same presses as U.S. coins (and designed by the same craftsmen), but their mintages are minuscule - almost always under 500 and sometimes less than 100. Medals can be collected that illustrate colonial American history (the Betts series), symbolize the disingenuous attempts at friendship with American natives (the Indian Peace medal series), or recognize American achievements from home crafts to inventions (the agricultural and mechanical series). There is a wealth of good literature, but new discoveries are made in the American medal series continuously. You can collect as broadly as you like (the entire US Mint medal series) or as narrowly as you like: I have a customer that collects medals with sailing vessels on them, for instance, and nearly every show I have something new for him -- and he’s been buying them for years.

    If you’re into die varieties, there are hundreds of Admiral Vernon medals that await your attribution, most of which can be had for a few hundred bucks. If you’re into trophies, what could be better than a Libertas Americana with a proveable provenance to Benjamin Franklin (hint: they all came from him). If you’re into artistry, it doesn’t take a MCMVII High Relief or a visit to Mount Rushmore to enjoy the sculptural chops of Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Gutzon Borglum. Both made medals too.

    No matter what your favorite era is, American history has been illustrated thoroughly on medals. While there are enough rarities within every medallic specialty to try the patience and pocketbook of any level of collector, there’s a extraordinary swath of American medals that are entirely too cool to be as cheap as they are. You know what? People are noticing. I can’t keep original Comitia American medals in stock. War of 1812 medals go fast too. The prices of many popular U.S. Mint medals have gone up by a factor of 5 in the last decade or two, and they still seem inexpensive. If you can come up with a good reason that a medal struck at the US Mint 150 years ago with a lower mintage than many proof gold coins should cost under $1000 in top condition, I’d like to hear it.


    Among the medal field, political campaign medals in particular have been ignored for too long. Remember how there was great world gold coins everywhere after the Eliasberg world sale of 2005? Or how every dealer had a couple of nice Pine Tree shillings after the big Ford XII sale? Well, the biggest collection of political tokens and medals ever formed -- including pieces that had never been sold publicly since they were struck in the 1860s -- sold in September, and there were fewer than a dozen people in the room. I bought a pile and so did the other dealers and collectors there. While rarities brought incredible prices from collectors who had long waited their turn to buy them, those rarities might not be what you’d think. James K. Polk and Lewis Cass are blue-chips among political medal collectors, for instance. Left behind were beautiful choice Mint State medals struck for the campaigns of candidates whose names are known by any fifth grader: Abe Lincoln, U.S. Grant, Andrew Jackson, George McClellan, and more. The John Ford collection made many of these pieces look common, but it was truly a collection of collections, with duplication that can never possibly happen again. In a few years, we’ll all wonder what happened to them all. By that time, they probably won’t cost what they do now, which is generally in the $300-500 range in nice Mint State.

    I bet most of us could name all 43 Presidents in under five minutes. How’s that for a nice compact want list you can keep in your head?

    As always, collecting anything made in America in the 18th century is fun, and that means coins or paper. Colonial paper is dirt cheap. There is no way to say this gently though: no one collects it. Sure, a few people like to buy the occasional piece, and clearly someone is buying the stuff that sells at auction, but there just isn’t much retail action on it. There are a few potential reasons, I suppose. First, it’s rarely perfect. During its useful life (and yes, often after it too), this stuff was washed, taped, repaired, sewn, ironed, and trimmed. I can’t speak in absolutes, but 90+% of the very high grade notes in the marketplace today were trimmed in modern times from sheets. Why would anyone cut up a 200+ year old sheet, you may exclaim quizzically. Because people pay more for two MS-66 PPQ notes than they do for a folded sheet that can be hacked up into a couple of nice notes and a pile of trimmings. As for the circulated stuff, a lot of it is fairly common (like most Continentals, for instance, or nearly every colonial/state issue of the 1775-76 period). The most common of the Continentals, with hundreds of thousands of notes issued, are the Fugio fractionals of February 1776 - and these regularly see higher prices than nearly any other Continental note in VF-AU condition. Why? Demand. They’re iconic, and people want them.


    I wish I could increase interest in in-depth collecting of colonial, state, and Continental paper. The stuff is wonderful: visual, easily organized, historic, challenging but not impossible to collect. Those folks that do collect it tend to do so as a sideline (collecting a 13 colonies set is far and away the most popular method). I’d happily inventory more of it if I thought I could sell it. Alas, after years of carrying an inventory to shows, it sold so slowly (and the markups were so slim when I did sell it), that I’ve essentially stopped bringing it to most shows. I’d invite feedback on this, and want lists of course, because I really find it puzzling that so few people really chase these issues. I feel like the large-scale ignorance of this series, and the concomitant price levels, can’t last forever.

    As always, I think colonial coins are fun, but I feel like they’re not as fun as they could be. In the last few years, prices for the best of the best have achieved stratospheric levels. It is, thus, no coincidence that many wonderful things, from NE Shillings to six-figure Rhode Island Ship Medals, have come on the market. At the same time, typical collector coins have stagnated. It is not coincidental that it’s now nearly impossible to locate standard collector-grade early American and colonial pieces.


    One perhaps unintended consequence of the decision to start slabbing colonial coins in 1991 is to reward pedestrian coins and penalize those that require some understanding. Since the grading services penalize coins from odd die states, those struck on odd planchet stock, and the crudely struck varieties that make many series so interesting to collect, most collectors who have come to coin collecting in the age of the slab end up collecting coins that in many ways represent the lowest common denominator: common coins whose grading they and the grading services understand. Further, grading services eschew problem coins, and many colonial coins have one problem or other. I can’t in good conscience say people should chase problem coins (largely because they’re a bear to sell), but the sort of problem coin that was once widely appreciated is now a drug on the market: high sharpness pieces with some corrosion, a circulated coin with a bad nick or scratch, a piece struck on a poor planchet.

    Many of the collectors who came of age in the same collecting generation I did now have most of what they need. This is why Rarity-5 Connecticuts are priced like commons but Rarity-7 Connecticuts can be five figures in low grade. The next generation would typically be the ones to pay good money for upgraded duplicates, but the next generation (in large part) wants graded, certified coins. Thus, the coins that knowledgeable collectors fought over in 1990 either went up tenfold since then (are they gradeable?) or have languished and barely beat inflation (PCGS will hate that roughness/reverse weakness/rim clip).

    So while I still love colonial coins immensely, I’m finding them hard to buy and, because of that, hard to sell. The best stuff tends to go to auction, where it finds ready buyers. The pedestrian stuff is hard to sell at even a slight markup. High grade type coins find buyers if they’re nice and fresh, but finding fresh coins outside of an auction environment is a tall order nowadays. Finding fresh collectors is even harder.

    But those fresh collectors are why dealing in colonial coins remains fun. Specialist dealers (not just me) are happy to help someone who really wants to build a collection, not just buy a coin. There’s a marvelous body of literature and a supportive community of collectors. For those who really want to be colonial coin collectors, even colonial coin specialists, and not just colonial coin buyers, there is great fun to be had in creating a vision of what your collection should be, then going out and building it. The learning curve may be steeper than with some other series, but the sense of accomplishment is thus that much greater. The dealers who specialize in colonials are, to a man, excellent teachers, and the repository of wisdom they have at hand far surpasses the knowledge found on the Internet, at the grading services, or even at most of the auction houses. Want to know more? Just ask. Unlike choice colonial coins, opinions and advice aren’t hard to find.

  • In Memory of a Mensch: John H. Burns

    Josiah Wedgwood’s gran. That’s as much as the emcee, Donn Pearlman, got out before Big John rang in. “Charles Darwin,” he intoned in his deepest matinee idol voice, the smirk of self-satisfaction expanding across his bewhiskered face with each successive syllable. Most folks in the room didn’t know who Josiah Wedgwood was, let alone who his grandson was. All I could wonder, beyond how John knew the answer to the question before it even got asked, was what other knowledge was kicking around inside that too-big-for-most-hats head of his.

    After being crushed with disappointment with a second-place finish in 1993, John Burns and I won the ANA’s World Series of Numismatics in 1994. John felt like he’d let me down the year before, but his sourness in the hands of defeat turned to the highest high I’d ever seen him on when we won. The victory meant, to him, all the reading, all the work had been worth it, that his previously unrecognized brilliance had finally gotten a moment to shine.

    jkjb_Blog_Float2Of course, all his friends already knew he was brilliant, as did most casual observers who engaged him in conversation. He knew more about coins than most full time dealers, able to talk turkey on VAMs or novodels or sestertii. He could hold his own in any discussion of history, sports, politics, movies, music (from classical to heavy metal), food and drink, cars, guns, geography, or a million other topics. About the only topic John lacked a mastery of was entrepreneurship. He could never quite monetize his brilliance, much to his frustration. He once mused to me that “intelligence is not a skill.” He was always happy to rail against the “slab boys” who could buy and sell his net worth a dozen times in a summer afternoon with no more knowledge than what might be found in a typical Grey Sheet. More than once I encouraged him to try out trading, under the guise of joining them if beating them isn’t in the cards. But John had no love for trading, and one thing about John was that he only did what he loved.

    John loved mastering knowledge, both foundational and trivial, and that meant John loved books. He loved their weight and tactile sensations (even if he did spit curses at every loading dock he ever saw). He loved how they were gateways to things he’d never own and places he’d never visit. He loved their ability to serve as an equalizer, as a repository of that most final of weapons, information. Of course, John also loved a big steak, a nice whiskey, and a cold beer. He loved just about everything about a woman that a woman had to offer, and a wink or a hug could turn him into a massive pile of sweaty smiles and blushing. John loved his dad and adored his friends. He loved his friends’ friends and his friends’ families. He loved chatting, at his booth at a show or on the phone.

    Its no wonder John did so many coin shows. The people he found there were his kind of folks: clever and funny, maybe a little awkward or odd, generally very smart and very sincere. He was forever inviting himself into dinner groups where he thought good convivial conversation could be had. John identified with a line I’d heard from a mutual friend of ours years ago, that most coin folks were misfits and loners. Of course, though John was an oddball and spent most of his time alone, he was really neither a misfit nor a loner. He loved being with his gang, and he fit in just perfectly in the world of numismatics.

    Now that he’s gone, there’s a pretty big void in the fabric of our odd little world. Professionally, there won’t be a blue collar bookseller at coin shows from Raleigh to Monroeville anymore. Personally, there are a whole lot of us who are going to miss our very frank, very funny, very honest, entirely unique, and always surprisingly well-informed friend.

    John and I were both Pennsylvania boys. We were both goys in Jewish fraternities. Over the course of 25 years of friendship, going back to our days attending small local shows in the middle of Pennsylvania, we found lots of common ground. He loved my wife from the first time he met her (which may or may not have had something to do with a ribald quip referencing Chaucer that passed her lips and wowed his ears) and asked me to clone her personality into a somewhat larger sized version. He called my mom Mom.

    The last time we spoke was at the FUN show. John was propped up on a stool in the back of the bourse near the men’s room. We talked about the recent loss of his mother, which yielded to an unusually theological conversation on the nature of the soul. John offered that he thought the soul was made of memories, nothing more and nothing less, and that memories were what we took with us when we left. He hoped that his mom was reliving some of her happiest memories, moments full of joy and youthfulness, alive forever exactly as those who loved her most remembered her best. I hope he’s right, for her, for himself, and for us all.

  • One Week in Rosemont: Part II (through Part VI)

    By Tuesday morning, the most challenging part of the ANA was over, at least until it was time to pack up (the part my father might have referred to as trying to "put the shit back in the donkey," were he a coin dealer). I had already overcome the following obstacles:

    1. Getting my inventory, books and papers organized enough to actually leave the house more or less on time, along with my better half.
    2. Passing through security, which on this particular trip included a brief lecture on ancient coins and an exchange of business cards with the TSA official.
    3. Boarding a jet with enough room in the overhead for my large inventory bag, and not betraying its weight with any unseemly grunts, buckled limbs, or outbursts of profanity.
    4. Safe arrival in Rosemont, including a short walk from Indiana to the Iowa state line to find the convenient hotel shuttle bus pickup.
    5. Viewing roughly 1500 of the 2000+ lots I needed to view, taking notes on them, and communicating with representation customers, some of whom change their minds a time or two. Or three.
    6. Setting up my booth, including roughly 500 pieces on display, in some sort of sensible and attractive layout despite the disorganized frenzy that was required to pack them and escape the house on time (see point 1) after working on cataloguing a September auction sale until roughly 18 hours before my departure.
    7. One baseball game.

    So by Tuesday, I was what passes for "relaxed" at a major coin show. "Relaxed" is not exactly the same as the English word relaxed, from the Latin root relaxare, to loosen. Instead "relaxed" is from the same Old English root as something that means "not quite as neurotic as usual, but still pretty insane compared to most people."

    And, thus, it began. Early birds fell from their nests with a squawk, ribbons were cut, and in trundled the Rosemontian masses which, in all candor, were not much more than I'd expect from any regularly held large show.

    For whatever reason, my table almost always has a crowd around it. I'm flattered that people like to hang out there, and I enjoy introducing customers and friends to each other while they jostle for position. Perhaps they come for the expansive and diverse inventory, perhaps it's a reflection of the fact that I've been around long enough to know a lot of people, maybe it's just because I willingly pass along free information and appraisals to pretty much anyone who asks. I've joked about installing a deli-style Take A Number™ system to take care of all comers in an orderly fashion. Even at a fairly dead show, the crowd is there. At this show, the crowd was typically one deep, occasionally two; at the most active ANAs, there's something more like a line. I can't comment on how crowded the bourse was. I can tell you how crowded my table was (I just did) and how crowded the mens room was (no thank you), but those represented the only places I saw on the bourse over the course of the week. The crowd was not like it is on the East Coast. It was bigger than the Rosemont Central State shows, it was far bigger than most West Coast ANAs, but it just didn't compare to Boston, or Philly, or the ANA at Baltimore.

    The crowd is one metric we can use to gauge the success of an ANA show. Another is more raw, more mercantile: how were sales? They did not reach the heights of Boston (2010) or Baltimore (2008). They weren't quite as good as Philly (2012). They were dozens of times larger than LA (2009/never again). I attribute this to two things. First, for early American coins and historic numismatic Americana, the collectors are mostly on the East Coast. This doesn't mean all ANA shows should be on the East Coast, but it does mean that my specialties tend to do best there. Second, a large portion of my great shows back east had to do with things I bought at the show -- fresh, in-from-the-street material -- that I turned around and sold almost instantly. Again, a significant concentration of my kind of stuff lives on the East Coast, so it's natural more would show up there. But part of it has to do with overfishing the pond: Rosemont has been home to lots of enormous coin shows, both ANA and other. Philly has not. Boston has not. Baltimore in 2008 owed its success to a booming coin market and Baltimore's continuing status as America's favorite coin town. I bought very, very little at the table this year, either from the general public (or even collectors) who brought items by, or from professionals who left their table to offer me something. I wrote fewer checks at this ANA than I do at a typical Baltimore Whitman Expo, and that is alarming.

    The other reason sales were a bit slower than normal: the enormous auction, featuring parts XXII and XXIII of the John J. Ford, Jr. Collection. While every ANA Convention has an enormous auction full of thousands upon thousands of lots, I can't remember another ANA auction (ever, not just during my 24 years of attendance) that contained so much important Americana. As I said to more than one person at the show, if I had a choice of spending money at my table or at John J. Ford, Jr.'s table, I'd be at John Ford's table too.

    Best response to that comment: "John Ford is set up here? Where's his table?"

    Good luck with that.

    So yes, the auction. The first Ford session was Wednesday morning, 9 AM sharp, starting an hour after the bourse opened to dealers and an hour before the bourse opened to normal humans. It included 963 lots, nearly all of which would be sold while I should have been manning my table, selling coins, visiting with customers, and doing what dealers do. I couldn't miss the first 200 lots in Wednesday morning's session, including Ford's Canadian tokens and the first portion of his Lafayette collection. I had catalogued the Canadiana and had grown quite fond of the material, nearly all of which had been off the market for generations, long hidden in the Virgil Brand collection and estate.

    Before cataloguing the collection, I had just a passing familiarity with Canadian pre-Confederation tokens: I knew Vexators were cool but always crummy, that Side Views were rare and popular, that Lesslie tuppences were big and impressive, and not much more. I had owned a Charlton token catalogue since I was a kid and a Breton since I was a teenager, read both, and had not much reason to visit them on a regular basis. Luckily, I have several friends who are leading Canadian numismatists and a library that I've slowly assembled of important Canadian sales from the mid 19th century through the present day. Neither my friends nor my library let me down, and the catalogue turned out pretty well. The sale followed suit. Though the opens were humorously low -- it was great fun jumping lots from $300 to $5000 only to be immediately outbid -- the final bids were in most cases at or in excess of what I expected. The Canadian dealers and collectors turned out, and some new blood showed up who appreciated this long-collected and deeply-revered specialty.

    And yes, some newps from that section will be available soon.

    The Lafayette medals followed. Catalogued by Olivier (1933) and Fuld (1957), they've just plain never been very popular, with a few exceptions. Those that are also listed as Washingtoniana are avidly snapped up, but most others languish despite their rarity and historical interest. My personal favorite is the rare and evocative 1825 Companion of Washington medal, which was pointed out to me at the show as quite obviously the work of Moritz Furst. Good call, Mr. Neuzil!







    On the left, the unsigned 1825 Companion of Washington medal. On the right, Furst's signed Dewitt Clinton / New York City Hall medalet.




    Franklin portrait medals followed. If they're not listed in Betts or among the Civil War token corpus, Franklin portrait pieces likewise tend to go wanting. The best Franklin piece I acquired at the show was not from the Ford consignment, but a specimen of the very rare 1784 Betts-619, one of perhaps four originals known in bronze.

    By the time the Ford Franklin medals sold, I was back at my table being a coin dealer and consulting with my fellow exhibit judges in the two competitive categories I helped assess.

    Speaking of which, in Part I I promised "the occasional spirit-crushing dose of truth." The first of those for the week came in my role as a judge, when I had the misfortune of wrecking an exhibitor's day after noting their exhibit text was cut-and-pasted wholesale from a website. It's the Internet age, folks, and the Googlebox tells no lies. If you're going to cut and paste, you might as well put the website you copied from on your bibliography. Later in the week, after the awards were put out, I arrived at my table one morning to find a silent protest standing vigil: his award ribbon taped to my lamp.

    Over the course of Wednesday, the most impressive collection of American merchant counterstamps ever presented sold at auction, all while I did my thing at the booth. Tuesday night had been a late one, spent figuring hundreds of these things and keying bids in online. For some, though, online bids would be useless: the biggest clump of Planter's Bank cut 2 reales ever sold, a concentration sold in succession greater than the total sold in all auctions during my lifetime. A similar string of Houck's Panaceas sold: would the old levels for these fairly common counterstamps hold, or would they suddenly get cheaper with a flood of high grade pieces all coming out at once? The results of neither were expected: the remarkable and always in demand Planter's Bank pieces sold at fractions of their market value, while the Houck's Panacea marks on (admittedly absolutely superb quality) Bust halves sold for multiples of the most aggressive prices I would have considered asking if identical pieces were in my case.

    Cut from Mexican War of Independence 8 reales, the Planter's Bank two reales were made as emergency money in New Orleans around the time of the War of 1812. They remain very rare today, despite the fact that John Ford owned a mini-hoard of them.

    Among the newps to be offered will be some really amazing counterstamps. I will admit, some of the pieces I bought will go into my own research collection, one I've been working on since I was a kid.

    Wednesday night was yet another auction: medals (and more medals), colonials, etc. Indian Peace medals in silver, after a few lull years, have resumed their previous stature. Bronzes ones were soft. The large size Jefferson Indian Peace medal brought $210,000 hammer on a cut bid, making me feel like a smartypants, since I'd told a customer a few hours earlier that it would take a $220K bid to buy it. If you could bet on prices realized in Vegas, I guess I'd be a winner; otherwise, it's just more useless trivia to add to the stacks of Phillies batting averages and obscure medal facts lodged in my brain.

    I woke up on Thursday feeling good: I had been working hard, I had achieved a lot, and I'd gotten up early yet again for breakfast with a medal-collecting friend. As I woke up, drunk on my own achievements, in sauntered a very sweaty Megan, fresh off an 11 mile run and requiring nary a word to bring my "hard work" back into perspective.

    I don't think I did it purposefully, but when Megan asked me weeks earlier if I had any coin nerd friends around Chicago who might know a good place to run in Rosemont, somehow I thought of a friend -- let's call him Ken Logsburger to keep his identity anonymous -- who happens to be a very experienced runner. And really tall. When Megan met him, I got the look. The look that says, silently, "thanks for the favor, but now I know you're trying to kill me." I really wasn't. She and Ken met for their run at 5:30, when I'm sure some dealers were just rolling in, stuporous. They ran far enough from the hotel to see deer.

    Think of it, people. Deer. In Rosemont. Clearly, they'd run very, very far away.

    Thursday blew by, a busy and exhausting day. I bought a few pieces in the Ford paper money auction, but most of the day was spent at the table. Thursday night, after a laugh-til-you-cry dinner with friends (one of whom was celebrating his coughedy-coughth birthday), it was back to work: there were over 1000 Ford lots in the Friday daytime session, and I needed to prepare bids on almost every single one of them.

    The running fiancee slept. The clock hummed its displeasure. Bid, after bid, after bid was researched, figured, and entered into the computer. A handful were just too tricky to do anything but leave them to utter chance, necessitating some phone bidding.

    Early came early on Friday. The first 100+ lots of the auction were too important and too involved to depend on the computer and phone it in. I was the first guy in the auction room, hunkered down in the last row, and waited.

    I came away with some of the nicest Wolfe, Clark, and Spies storecards in existence, in a quality I'd never seen before. Vital inclusions in any early Washingtoniana collection, they've always been seductive to me. The chance to own a little pile of beautiful ones was too much to pass up. I bought the gilt number 1 Peale's Museum token for a favored customer, but missed the way-too-cheap second silver specimen due to an interruption. (NB: I learned an awesome new knock-knock joke at the show, far too lewd to share here, but an interruption figures importantly therein).

    The three Ricketts Circus tokens that followed represented a lifetime's worth of offerings. The last original piece was sold 23 years ago. I knew of a few restrikes selling during my lifetime, most privately. Over the last few years, I've endeavored to buy or sell every type in the 100 Greatest American Medals and Tokens, or at a minimum catalogue them; a few listings are either known exclusively in museums or, in the case of the Congressional Medal of Honor, otherwise unable to be checked off, but when I get the chance to handle one of the remaining few, I jump at it. A Ricketts Circus token remained on my list of untamed medals and tokens. I would have to own one.

    The second one was the nicest, in my opinion: an original striking, with perfect color and light wear. I figured a strong bid, swallowed hard, and went for it. Opening at $3250, it hammered at $20,000. To me. I was elated, and ran like a little boy to my bourse table to share the news.

    I'd own it for roughly 28 hours. It was wonderful.

    Struck at the First United States Mint about 1795, the Ricketts Circus token is a legendary rarity, the first token ever struck at the Philadelphia Mint and perhaps the first non-coin issue struck there after the abortive Henry Lee Comitia Americana medal, of which no intact originals are known.



    George Washington himself was a frequent visitor to Ricketts' Circus, the first circus in America. It burned down in 1799. Originals are distinguished from restrikes by their planchet stock and die rotation.
















    Friday, as expected, was busy, particularly with my phone ringing every so often to do more auction bidding, forcing my to -- literally and figuratively -- turn my back on paying customers in order to buy more goodies to sell to other paying customers. Thankfully Megan is both savvy enough and charming enough to engage them until I was done yelling into my phone like some crazed trader on a stock exchange floor.

    The other big excitement of Friday related to another one of those soul-crushing disappointments that folks like me are asked to deliver on a regular basis. When you get to be expert enough in a series that people trust your opinion, you're going to meet people who will trust your opinion entirely, as long as it is the same as theirs, particularly when it comes to authentication. There are a handful of issues that, not to be dismissive, are just never real. One of these is the 1776 Massachusetts Pine Tree copper. Even the one "real" one in the Massachusetts Historical Society was likely struck in the 19th century to fool one of the rich, gullible collectors of the pre-Crosby era. Its texture, legends and devices, planchet, striking quality, and other consideration bear no similarity with anything produced in or near 1776.

    Because of its distinctiveness, this issue has long been a favorite of those who produce gift shop fakes, the ones sold at museum stores and historical sites for a pittance. Before 1973, when the Hobby Protection Act was passed, millions of these things were sold with no COPY stamp. More often than not when one is encountered in the clutching grasp of a non-collector, it comes with stories of personal descent from John Hancock, the grandfather who renovated old houses and found it in the floorboards of one of them, or something similar.

    So one of these pieces -- or at least pictures and stories of one -- made its way to my table on Friday. As luck would have it, it did so when Dave Bowers was hanging out and visiting. Dave, the most lettered and widely recognized expert in the long history of American numismatics, and I looked at the image and were able to dismiss it as one of the supremely common fakes in just under a second. It looks like this one: 

    And this one: 

    And this one: 

    And this one: 

    And nothing like this one, which is, itself, a fake: 

    Alas, Dave Bowers and I were unconvincing. So it goes.

    Friday night brought some relief: an escape from Rosemont into Chicago, thanks to my friend Dan Friedus and his friend Jill. We had a great dinner, with lots of laughs over yummy vittles at the Little Goat Cafe, and even got a souvenir coffee mug to take home. In the words of famous Chicagoan Ferris Bueller, I highly recommend you pick one up.

    Saturday ended like this blog will: with exhaustion and a dread for ending something that had taken so long to produce. Putting away all those medals and raw coins, all those new purchases, all the paper work and books and assorted whatnot, it almost makes me wish I was just a slab dealer.

    OK, no it doesn't. I wouldn't change a thing.

  • One Week in Rosemont, Part I

    I tend to work a lot. I enjoy my work, so I don't particularly mind. In a given period of time, there is always regular small business activities (bank, post office, paperwork, etc), customer service, inventory processing, finding new inventory, making sales, website work, doing cataloguing for my StacksBowers consulting gig, and much more. All this can make for a lot of 12 hour days, even 18 hour days when there is a cataloguing deadline afoot.

    You'd think this would prepare me well for the long hours at an ANA Convention: the 8 AM to 6 PM bourse hours, the auction sessions morning noon and night, the late night hotel room cram sessions figuring bids for the next session, the lot viewing caught here and there a half hour at a time, and the incessant interaction with other humans (most of whom I like a lot). You'd think that the long slow dinners with other numismatists and the floofy beds and trademarked hotel hair products would make it even more relaxing than a normal workweek.

    It doesn't. It just plain doesn't. ANA week is a flurry, a blur, a fog, as draining and as busy a week as any since that particularly achievement-oriented half-fortnight described in Genesis. We didn't create any heavens or earths, nor darkness nor light, just long auction invoices, moments of numismatic nerd delight, and the occasional spirit-crushing doses of truth.

    My fiancee Megan and I made the trek to Rosemont from Charlotte mid-day on Sunday; it may have taken less time to fly there on our direct flight than it did to figure out where the hotel shuttles pull up. After finding the Hilton Party Bus and spraining just one of our four wrists -- a pretty good ratio, overall -- I hustled off to lot viewing to start viewing something north of 2000 lots of coins, tokens, medals, scales, documents, and pieces of paper money. Even at my fairly rapid rate, this was going to take a long time.

    "But didn't you catalogue all this stuff?," I was asked more than once. "Haven't you already seen it all and taken your notes?" In truth, I catalogued just a tiny fraction of the enormous StacksBowers ANA sale: the Ford Canadian tokens, the Ford collections of Franklin and Lafayette medals, the Wharton Indian Peace medals, the Ayers Fugios, and a box or two of other odds and ends. In other words, though I had seen a lot of the cataloguing of the amazingly diverse token collection assembled by John J. Ford, Jr., I hadn't laid eyes on a single one of the pieces in hand. And even the stuff I catalogued needed to be viewed again: when I catalogue, I'm writing as an objective eye, an employee of a company that knows that honest and thorough cataloguing reduces expensive and inconvenient returns to zero and attracts good consignments in the future. When I view as a dealer, I'm being fussy in a much different way: is it pretty? will it photograph well for the website? how many customers of mine will like this? What can I reasonably pay for it and still eke out a profit? The two disciplines are different in more ways than they're similar.

    This sale brought its own special issues. Evaluating an important but obscure token that has not sold in modern memory is challenging: you know neither current price levels nor the state of demand, since where there is a supply of zero you can't tell much about either demand or price. Evaluating the same token becomes even harder when they appear in multiples. If the last offering was before you were born, figuring one is tough but figuring three or five or ten might be well nigh impossible. Or, at least, require creativity, a willingness to figure on the fly, and a set of cojones to back up your educated guesses with a checkbook.

    By the time Sunday's lot viewing was over, the enormity of the task had been made obvious, calling for refueling, resting, and the careful setting of multiple alarms for a very early Monday morning.

    photo-47Monday, I made like Joy Behar. I Viewed. And Viewed. And Viewed some more. My eyes dried out like Lake Bonneville. My handwriting looked like Da Vinci's. I graded like a road crew, figured like Fibonacci, and turned catalogue pages like the Hulk flips cars. I'd look up occasionally to hear that a box wasn't available, and notice across the lot viewing room a collector examining the coins I needed: slowly, lovingly, even prayerfully, with a bemused grin and a curled brow. In this race against time, that man was both my hero and my enemy.

    A new kind of race and a new kind of envy came with the opening of dealer setup: the race to get my wares out, raw, arrayed, and merchandized, while others within view could essentially unlid a PCGS box, dump its contents into their case, and go wandering off in search of deals. Alas, life is full of choices, and I consciously choose to be the guy with 100 raw medals laid out in his display. And I don't regret it for a moment, other than when I have to set them up and put them away.

    The race ended just after 5 PM when, having mostly set up, Megan and I darted off to the CTA station with my old friend Kerry. Our destination was the South Side, to the stadium we still call Comiskey, to see Megan's beloved Tigers play the local Sox. Kerry and I are both diehard Phillies fans, but the chance to see a new ballpark and one of the great hitters of our time is something to cherish no matter if the Phils are there or not. The ride in was fun, the stadium was beautiful, and Miguel Cabrera did not disappoint, sending the very first pitch he saw 346 feet over the left field fence. The Tigers didn't muster much more offense, and Chris Sale of the White Sox threw an efficient complete game in just 109 pitches. White Sox 6, Tigers 2.

    The Kraljeblog has reached a thousand words, and customers haven't even hit the bourse. The cat seems to be pestering me to go to bed, and Megan's already passed out. Looks like Part 2 is best left for later. Tomorrow: the entry of the public and one interesting auction, eh.


  • Reflections on 25 Years of ANA Membership

    A few weeks ago, a package showed up from ANA Headquarters containing my ANA 25 Year Membership silver medal and pin. It's impossible to open an article of mail and from it receive a bucketful of cold water to the face, but if such things could happen, I now know what it would feel like. I'm 35. I haven't even been shaving for 25 years, and I've been shaving for a really, really long time. Could I really be a 25 Year ANA member?

    I joined the ANA in 1988 when I was not yet 11 years old. I got their address from one of those Big Kids' Almanacs of Everything, the sort of thick trade paperback that helped you find your hobby, and the capital of Upper Volta, in the days before the Internet. If I wanted to learn to juggle, there was an address to send away for a pamphlet on juggling. If I wanted to collect records, it told me where to send away for a free issue of Goldmine. And, of course, if you were a young coin nerd, there was a PO Box address in faraway Colorado Springs where you could send away for an informative pamphlet on coin collecting, a 50 cent value, for the price of a self-addressed stamped envelope.

    So I sent away for the pamphlet. I digested it like a thousand termites intent on tearing down a doghouse made of cedar shakes, ripped out the back page membership application, and sent off a check from my mom for $11 to join up. The Big Kids' Almanac of Everything and the pamphlet both said you had to be 11 to join. I was at least six months away. I don't think I lied about my age, but I sent in the form and hoped against hope that I wouldn't be rejected for being underage. When my membership card arrived, along with my first issue of The Numismatist, I was overjoyed. I can still remember sitting at the kitchen counter with a glass of milk and reading it, cover to cover, then going back and reading it again.

    The ANA still brings me that kind of joy. Its convention is one of the highlights of my year, the only can't-miss coin show, the convention that allows me to see old collector friends that I've known for two decades or more. In fact, there are people I see at ANA shows that I consider extremely important friends, close confidantes, long-time pals, whom I've never seen anywhere BUT an ANA convention. That's pretty powerful stuff.

    The ANA has given me moments that I count among the highlights of my life. The Summer Seminar has been transformative for me, enabling me to meet some of my closest friends and learn more about coins than some collectors learn in a lifetime. Receiving the ANA YN of the Year award looked pretty fancy on my college applications. Their Heath Literary Award is literally the only award of any kind that I've ever won that is on display in my home.

    ANA Summer Seminar, 1993 or 1994. One of these guys is the Vice President of Numismatics for a major auction house. Another is a PhD college professor. The guy in the middle runs a little coin firm. Two decades of friendship started at the ANA Summer Seminar. ANA Summer Seminar, 1993 or 1994. One of these guys is the Vice President of Numismatics for a major auction house. Another is a PhD college professor. The guy in the middle runs a little coin firm. Two decades of friendship started at the ANA Summer Seminar.

    I was an underpaid radio DJ the first time I taught at the ANA Summer Seminar, a single week spent teaching after five years when coins had become backburnered during college and the start of my media career. That week made me fall in love with numismatics again. It is no coincidence that exactly two months later, I had packed my bags and moved to Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. It was at the ANA Seminar that I realized I was no radio jock. I was a numismatist.

    In short, the ANA has been a really big deal in my life, and I am forever in its debt. I wouldn't be who I am today personally, professionally, or intellectually without it.

    So the organization has gone through some tough times now and again. They are not run with the ruthless efficiency of a championship major league baseball franchise. Their institutional memory was once decades long, when a few folks hopped from office to office, filling every job in the building because their love of the organization mattered more than their particular qualifications for the position. Before HQ moved to Colorado Springs in 1967, the club was run out of Lew Reagan's briefcase. Afterwards, it was run out of the minds and hearts of men like Ken Bressett, Ed Rochette, Ken Hallenbeck, and others, folks who also experienced a transformative relationship with the nation's largest coin club. That generation moved on, in time, as generations do, replaced by people who had their own ideas about expanding, improving, and modernizing the services of the organization.

    Boards came and went, as they did before, and as they will in the future. Some board members were elected year after year, enjoying their picture in the magazine and their sinecure atop the coin field. There were those who had ideas for the future, while others had memories of the past. Some were leaders, some were there for the hors d'oeuvres. Life went on, and the organization was, for the most part, none the worse for wear.

    But modernity happened. The staff grew, requiring someone who knew how to be a boss and not just run a coin club. After the ANA's Greatest Generation had retired, the next wave had to feel around in the dark a bit. As history has indicated, their success rate hasn't been great. Despite this, the organization has persisted; the magazine has excelled; the museum has improved (those who doubt this never saw it 20+ years ago); and rank-and-file ANA staff members that most folks have never heard of have showed up, day after day, to do their jobs. While the board is fighting over ideas, and the members are rattling their sabres and declaring their unhappiness, these folks are showing up, making copies, putting books back on the library shelves, recruiting seminar instructors, returning emails, running coin shows, processing donations, selling magazine ads, updating the website, sweeping the loading dock, opening the mail. They're running the show, and doing a pretty damn good job of it. They're ensuring that the next 10 year old kid can send off for a pamphlet and have their life changed.

    And that's worthwhile. That's what the ANA is there for.

    Not a member? Go join:

  • The launch of JKAMERICANA.COM - Version 3.0

    A friend and customer of mine recently relayed the kindest and most Zen-like of all wishes: “hope life slows down a bit for you.” When the slowest seasons in the business cycle align rather neatly with school breaks and auction cataloguing deadlines, such fond wishes are tantamount to prayers for rain in the Maghreb.

    As I sit here and write, itself a Zen-like exercise in paragraph construction, one dependent phrase at a time, life has begun to slow. In the lingo of my suburban Charlotte neighborhood, this is racing under the yellow flag. The wreckage will soon be cleared, and the green flag and its concomitant speeds will undoubtedly return soon. The major time sucks of the last few months have ended. The multiple volume ANA sale by StacksBowers has been catalogued and, more vitally, organized, credit for neither of which can be laid at my feet though both sure did take a lot of time. The ANA Summer Seminar, with its corona of preparation and catching up, has been successfully put in the books. And, finally, this website is now up and running. Most of the heavy lifting has been done by my truly excellent web designer, whose West Coast location has come in particularly handy for strategy sessions that begin when the day’s other work finds a stopping point in the late evening hours.

    Launching the new site has been invigorating. Re-invigorating, even. Seeing the inventory depicted in spiffy new professional photographs is like seeing your car in the driveway after getting it home from the carwash: familiar, yet surprisingly attractive again. (The first simile I composed in this space had to do with my fiancee and the hairdresser, but somehow I don’t think comparing her to a toned 8 reales of Ferdinand VII is a recipe for domestic bliss.)


    Anyway, the website is a hell of an upgrade. Visually, it finally looks like the 21st century around here. The back end makes my life a lot easier. And you, beloved customer, can finally sit home in your PJs, whip out a plasticized cash substitute at 1 AM, and pay off a rare medal on the same plan as that top-of-the-line vacuum cleaner you bought three years ago. Oddly, through this whole process, nailing down credit card processing was the most challenging part.

    For as much cataloguing as I’ve done in my life, writing about my own inventory still comes slowly. It used to be done in hours-long marathon sessions in a crummy New York apartment while my webmaster, a couch cushion away, waited patiently until I finished maniacally banging out a large enough clump of it to merit him coding it in. Now, like my fellow AEPi brother Ron Popeil, I can set it and forget it: write a description, load it, hit reload, and walk away. The upshot for customers is that there will likely be more frequent, but smaller, updates; the OCD reloaders (you know who you are!) stand to gain most from this.

    I hope to also find more frequent inspiration for blog posts. Coin blogs tend to fall into a few big categories, and I suppose it will best please everyone if I sample liberally from each of the following:

    1. The travel blog. These range from pithy with a side of snark (a genre mastered by our friends at Coin Rarities Online) to food and wine porn. Some end up sounding like bullet points of complaints. Though everyone can nod their head and agree that airlines suck and hotel rooms that smell like fishsticks are unpleasant, it strikes me as unseemly to complain too much about being a traveling coin dealer. Then again, my dad welded trash trucks. Everything seems easier than that. On the flip side, show too many decadent meals and customers start to wonder if your markup is less about the cost of doing business and more about fine California reds. So I guess a proper numismatic travel blog needs to make sure coin shows sound like real work, but fun work: oddly, that is the unvarnished truth. So is the occasional fancy foodie meal followed by a lunch of purple-blue hot dogs on stale buns.

    2. The informational blog. My role model here is Doug Winter at frequently updated, always timely, long enough to cover the essentials but short enough to make it interesting. Blogging like this requires real dedication and some good brainstorming. A lot of what I would blog about ends up becoming my Coin World column, though that ends up being a lot more about the historical background of the material I handle and less about the market aspects thereof. Is the colonial coin or historical medal market dynamic enough to write about market trends?

    3. Decadent self-promotion. I could probably do with some more of that. John Kraljevich Americana, the World’s Leading Dealer in Fugio Coppers. Or, John Kraljevich Americana, THE WORLD’S LEADING DEALER IN FUGIO COPPERS, perhaps.

    4. Everyone’s favorite: blogs that never get updated. We’ll work on that.

    In that spirit, I’ll make like a shark and put a FIN on the end of this thing. There will be much to write about in upcoming weeks, including the ANA, its important auction, and some new acquisitions. So, as Porky Pig might say if he was Porky Porc instead, “voila, c’est tout!”

  • Thoughts on Three Great Collections

    Since ANA 2012, a fair share of my time has been spent pursuing what used to be my full time job: cataloguing. As the hired-gun early Americana cataloguing specialist at StacksBowers, I get to see the cream of the crop, writing about highlights without the drudgery of endless boxes of more pedestrian coins. As such, my contributions have typically been limited to a handful of coins. TheBaltimore auction this month is a special one though, the biggest colonial coin event since the end of the Ford sales in my estimation. Held in conjunction with the C4 Convention, the auction contains a number of important consigments, including the Vermont coppers collection of C4 denizen Dan Friedus and the circulating counterfeit Spanish colonial coin cabinet of longtime C4 member/dealer Dave Wnuck. My principal contribution to the sale was the cataloguing of three great collections: the type set of Jack Royse, part I of the legendary collection of Ted Craige, and the Fugio copper collection of my late friend and Fugio scholar Rob Retz.

    The Craige, Royse, and Retz collections are so different in size, scope, and effort, but all three are unquestionably great collections. Pondering what makes them great led to an article I penned for called "The Five Aspects That Make Collections Great Or, How to Build the Next Great Collection."

    Give it a read. How does your collection stack up?

    If you need help bidding in the sale, I'm uniquely positioned to offer bidding representation. Drop me an email at for help. Maybe some of what you buy in this sale will help make your collection great too.

    See me in Baltimore at Table 357. My feelings will be hurt if you don't come by to say hi.

  • Great Jumping Jehoshaphat, a 2012 Kraljeblog!

    So it’s been kind of a long time since the last installment of the Kraljeblog. By kind of a long time, I mean a half dozen countries have endured a regime change, a new country has been born, and Charlie Sheen is no longer crazy. This edition of the Kraljeblog should bring us up to date to the upcoming Whitman Baltimore Expo and the busy spring run of conventions to come.

    There have been four major shows since the last Kraljeblog. Given the short attention span of modern Americans and the image-intense nature of the Internet, I’ll summarize them pictorially.



    While two-thirds of those polled enjoyed the September 2011 Philadelphia Whitman show, one third thought it was a real snoozer. That one third included most of the dealers and a majority of the collectors in attendance.



    As successful as the Fall Baltimore show always is, collectors are always sad to see its stay in town end.



    The C4 show won’t be back in Boston. It’s the end of a great run there, and I’m disappointed to see the last urban coin show north of Philadelphia go the way of Lord Howe in March 1776.



    I’d say the Orlando (FUN) show was pretty a-ok.

    So that about brings us up to the present, in a manner of speaking.

    The present state of the numismatic economy is fine. While I’m sure there is some percentage of buyers who are convinced we’re all headed to depression and hell-in-a-handbasket (in that order, or the opposite), they don’t seem to have too much interest, positive or negative, in numismatic Americana. The last few shows (except Philadelphia, which no one attended) have been consistently active and business online has also been steady, even growing. The coin market is better than 2009 if not as robust as 2007. Collectors are buying what they like, exploring new areas, and maturing in their tastes. The metrics from my website indicate that American historical medals and world coins have been the most popular segments over the last year, though the other stuff I sell is very close behind.

    So forget the market. It’s fine. What’s new with me, I’m sure you’re all wondering (or not).

    I grew a beard, which has resulted in a lot more “random” TSA checks, including one that resulted in an earnest looking uniformed employee checking a read-out and loud-voicedly announcing to her coworker “SEVEN POINT FIVE,” which made me wonder just how personal a metric they were examining.

    I bought a hoard that I’m pretty excited about, something that I can publish academically and maybe even get some mainstream news coverage from. Details to come.

    With the help of my handy webmaster, I constructed a silly internet meme that got more hits than Ty Cobb, but without as much expulsion of tobacco juice.



    I signed an exclusive contract to offer auction cataloguing services to StacksBowers. This doesn’t mean that I’m closing down my business (I’m not), or going full time at my old job (I’m not) or that I’m working longer hours (I’m not sure that’s possible?), but it does mean that I’ll be cataloguing certain properties for their sales. If you have an auction consignment that you’d like me to catalogue, contact me. StacksBowers is the only place I’ll be doing any cataloguing, as I think they’re the most able to handle sophisticated offerings of numismatic Americana, colonial coins, and the other sorts of things I enjoy writing about. John Kraljevich Americana will continue to operate as before, which is to say like a top wobbling just a bit off plum.

    Other recent happenings:

    The StacksBowers January Americana sale featured colonial coins from the collection of the late great Steve Tanenbaum, particularly his amazing cabinet of Connecticut coppers and New Jersey coppers. The auction room was crowded with specialists in these two areas, a crowd that any other year would have included Steve. While the prices that incredible rarities brought were surprising, what was more surprising (and more healthy for the future of Connecticut copper collecting) was the number of hands in the air for Rarity-6 and Rarity-7 pieces. There are new players in the field, and many of those took home some of Steve’s most important pieces. Still, lower rarity pieces (Rarity-5 and below) and choice circulated examples of common varieties saw prices that would seemingly tempt newcomers into launching their own Connecticut copper collection. That a common choice VF Connecticut copper sells for perhaps 1/10th of what a common choice VF 1794 large cent would sell for seems like an outrageous bargain.

    The other major auction offering of the last several months was that of the John W. Adams Collection of French and Indian War medals sold at FUN by Heritage. I’ve known John for years and catalogued a group of duplicates sold at auction a decade ago, so I was pleased to catalogue the collection when Heritage asked me to this past fall. The catalogue turned out well, I thought, and the descriptions focused as much on the history of the medals as their technical quality or rarity. When I got to the auction room in the middle of a bourse day at FUN, I was a little nervous – Heritage had never presented a major collection of Betts medals before and there weren’t many people in the room. I foresaw either buying every medal at my bid (a financial disaster) or seeing new low prices established for pieces I already had in stock, also a financial disaster in this field where auction prices realized, not Grey Sheets, generally define the marketplace.

    I had figured every lot in the sale, of course; Betts medals are something of my bread and butter. A few lots in, it was clear that the absentee bid book was my main competition. The first couple lots hammered to the same absentee bidder. When the fifth lot, a piece of off quality, sold to the same guy, I realized this was not another quality-conscious dealer, or even a collector I knew. The six, seventh, eighth lots all sold to the same number. Ditto the ninth, tenth, and every successive cardinal number. About 15 lots in, dealers on the floor started taking pot shots, bidding common medals to beyond market levels just to test this bidder’s resolve. It remained firm. The last lot sold for about ten times what it should have, a result of other bidders taking their frustration out on it. One guy, one apparently new collector of this material, bought the entire collection, lock, stock, and barrel. Is this good for the Betts medal market? Since the Adams sale represented less than 10% of the Betts series, if this mystery buyer dives in and buys more medals, it’ll be good for everyone. If he is a comet collector, one who shines brightly for a moment but is never heard from again, the sale was just an interesting aberration.

    At the show and since, it doesn’t seem to have changed the market, as I’ve had nicer examples of medals represented in the Adams sale that haven’t budged at prices lower than those realized in January. So who knows. There is a mystery buyer with a wonderful collection. Here’s hoping he or she keeps adding to it.




    The unique gold Betts-416 medal sold for less than it did in Ford several years ago. This was one medal I wasn’t brave enough to underbid up to market levels. Retail buyers who would have competed got fed up with the non-competitive auction and didn’t even bother bidding. What does the lower price realized mean for the market at large? Not a thing.

    After a lifetime of going to auctions, literally decades, I can’t say I’ve ever seen another auction like it (though there was this one sale in Rehoboth Beach , Delaware several years ago that comes close).

    So as you may (or may not) have noticed, I’m keeping this website updated religiously. Pretty much every Monday night, my webmaster and I park ourselves, eat take out, and get new images and descriptions uploaded to the site. So if you want to have first dibs, Tuesday is usually the day. Or, if you’re so inclined, email me (jk at and I’ll add you to my mailing list – a website isn’t a website until it sends out spam, so I’ve decided to start letting my diehards know when the site has been updated. Call it marketing, call it spam, just let me know that you want in.

    Also, if you have want lists, let me know. A lot of stuff never hits the website. I buy it, photograph it, and if I know someone might want it, emailing them with a price is a lot less effort than describing it. If you want such emails, let me know.

    Next up for John Kraljevich Americana and the Kraljeblog: the Baltimore Whitman Expo. Table 357 is where I’ll be parked. Another Kraljeblog update on the show, on the auction, and on whatever I forgot to put in this one will be coming up soon.

    Oh, and add us on Facebook. I guarantee it’s more interesting than seeing your old college roommate post his kid’s art projects or pictures of the wild boar he shot in Madagascar.

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John Kraljevich Americana