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 jkamericana.com) 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.