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.

 

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John Kraljevich Americana