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).
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.
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.
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.
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).
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 .