Coin Show Confidential

from NUMISMATIST magazine January,2003
Written by Steven K. Ellsworth

Willie Sutton, one of the most notorious bank robbers of all time, once was asked why he targeted banks.

He replied, “That’s where the money is!” Todays thieves need not aim so high. They can find millions of dollars’ worth of easily accessible coins and currency at any coin show!
I have attended hundreds of shows. At some, the security has been outstanding, others less so or nonexistent. Most could have been improved. Security methods that worked great last year may not necessarily work this year.

A False Sense

When you’re among friends and fellow enthusiasts at a coin show, it’s easy to forget that you and your possessions could be at risk. Be very aware of your surroundings.
Avoid conversations about coins when outside the bourse area or in public places. You don’t know who might be listening. Once you leave the show, immediately remove your I.D. tag. I often
see collectors and dealers at restaurants, hotels and airports with their badges still clipped to their shirts. You might as well announce, “Please rob me first. ” And lastly, never, never leave coins in an unattended vehicle, especially at a coin show.

Vigilance, Vigilance

Coin shows should require all visitors to register. Criminals do not like their names and addresses known prior to committing an offense. (Some shows require positive identification during registration, which is even better.) Every visitor should be issued a name badge, and security personnel should insure each is worn in plain view. A minimal admission fee also can discourage unsavory types from attending.

Dealers should be extra vigilant during show setup and breakdown. Customers and collectors sometimes are allowed to enter before the show officially opens to the public. This presents a prime opportunity for potential thieves. I personally know of a number of instances in which dealers and collectors arrived early for the sole purpose of stealing coins.
Who’s Minding the Guard?

As a dealer, I simply won’t attend a show if it doesn’t have trained, armed security. Small, local coin clubs often provide their own show security. This works in some cases, but unless personnel are fully aware of the legal ramifications of making an apprehension and possible arrest, I would advise against it.

I recently attended a small, rural show and was greeted by an 80-year-old “Barney Fifer” with a huge revolver slung low on his leg. I am sure his gun had not been fired in years. Needless to say, he was ready to blast any would-be bandit. Had anyone tried to rob the show while I was there, I would have hit the floor for fear of being shot as Barney labored to unholster his weapon.
And it gets worse. At a show a few years ago, as I was closing down the first evening, I asked the event’s promoter when the security was due to arrive. He informed me that he was the security and planned to spend the night in the back room on a cot. I asked if he was armed and was told “no.” Then I inquired about his mode of emergency communication. He replied there was a pay phone in the storage room and that he had some quarters should the need arise. Finally, I asked who was providing security while he slept. He said he had his large dog with him.
I immediately packed up my coins and left. I later learned that the “guard” and his dog slept so soundly that the following morning they were awakened only after the arriving dealers pounded on the doors for 10 minutes!

Firearm Controversy

Some bourse contracts prohibit dealers from bringing weapons into a coin show, at the same time denying any and all responsibility for theft or injury. However, problems can arise with such a policy. Individuals who have a legal and valid permit to carry a concealed firearm but are not allowed to do so and subsequently are injured by a criminal can sue the host organization. Courts have ruled that by not allowing a licensed individual to protect himself, the organization did not insure the safety of those on or near the premises and could be held liable for any injuries
In light of these rulings, numismatic organizations simply may want to eliminate any statements concerning firearms. I can’t imagine many coin clubs taking on the fiduciary responsibility of insuring everyone’s safety.

Safe Havens

Avoid removing your coins from the safety of the bourse area. At nearly every major coin show, you’ll see dealers and collectors walking between the show site and a hotel or restaurant carrying their coins. It is quite obvious to even the dumbest thieves that if they are patient, they will have an opportunity to make a score. Individuals sometimes try to lure collectors or dealers to a home, office or hotel room, away from the security of the convention, to “show them a deal.’ Don’t do it.

If you must stay in the host hotel after the e of a major coin show and you have coins your possession, I recommend moving to another hotel for the night, keeping your valuables with you at all times. If you stay at the property that housed hundreds of coin folks for several days, you could be a very vulnerable lone ranger.

Loading, Unloading

When you arrive at a show site, familiarize yourself with surroundings. Try to think like a thief and “case” the facility, looking for problem areas. Trust your instincts.
Security personnel should be present in the loading area. If you are bourse chairman of a show, make sure that they are standing guard, not helping load and unload dealers’ coins and cases, which they sometimes do in an effort to be helpful

When packing or unloading your vehicle, always remember, “Coins out first when arriving, coins in last when departing.” If you must make two trips to or from the car, arrange for someone to stay with your vehicle. Don’t forget that you are most at risk during show setup and breakdown. Nobody is going to look out for you when they are busy with their own tasks, and that includes security personnel, who may not yet have arrived for duty or have not been properly briefed.

Table Talk

Some bourse areas are quite large, and security personnel can’t be everywhere all the time. Deal ers always should lock their inventory in carrying or display cases, especially during setup and breakdown. If you must leave a bag unattended, be sure to place it on top of the table at the back of your booth, and secure it to the table with a bicycle chain and lock. A briefcase stored under a table allows a thief to pilfer the contents without being observed by dealers’ collectors or security staff.

Be sure to introduce yourself to the dealers on either side of you, behind you and across the aisle. Let them know that when they are away from their tables, you will try to keep an eye on their cases, and ask if they would do the same for you. But remember, dealers are at a show to buy and sell, not to “watch your coins. ”

For dealers and exhibitors, table covers (or “body bags”) that can be zipped around display cases and locked like a duffel are excellent. They are a strong deterrent to facility staff and contractors who might be tempted to pilfer a few items. It never ceases to amaze me how, at the end of the day, many dealers secure hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of rare coins by covering their cases with an old bedsheet or piece of plastic. For good measure, they place a chair on top.

The table at the back of the booth, often called a “backup table,” is an open invitation for thieves. Dealers who leave coins, money pouches, or other valuables on these tables eventually will be ripped off.

Most insurance policies do not cover “mysterious” or unexplained thefts. Some dealers are unaware that if they do not take “reasonable precautions” their insurance company may not cover their losses.

Tops in Security: The Ten Best Shows of 2001

  • Alabama Numismatic Society Show, Bessemer, AL. Security provided by off-duty, uniformed Bessemer police. Registration and name tags required.
  • American Numismatic Association National Money Show, Salt Lake City, UT. Security provided by private security contractor and off-duty, uniformed Salt Lake City police. Registration and name tags required.
  • Blue Ridge Numismatic Association Show, Dalton, GA. Security provided by off-duty, uniformed Whitfield County sheriffs. Registration and name tags required.
  • Ohio Coin Expo Cleveland, OH. Security provided by off-duty, uniformed Cleveland police. Registration and name tags required.
  • Crab State Coin Show, Lanham, MD. Security provided by private security contractor and supplemented by offduty, uniformed Prince Georges County police. Registration and name tags required.
  • Long Beach Coin, Stamp & Collectibles Expo Long Beach, CA. Security provided by off-duty, Long Beach police wearing readily identifiable “security” jackets. Plain-clothes officers continually watch the floor. Registration and name tags required.
  • South Carolina Numismatic Association Show, Greenville, SC. Security provided by off-duty, uniformed South Carolina state troopers. Registration and name tags required.
  • Texas Numismatic Association Show, Ft. Worth, TX. Security provided by off-duty, plain-clothes Euless police. Registration and name tags required.
  • Trevose Coin Show, Trevose, PA. Two off-duty, plainclothes Philadelphia police officers provide excellent security for this 30-table, one-day show.
  • WESPEX, White Plains, NY. Security provided by plainclothes, off-duty New York police officers, supplemented by uniformed Westchester County police. Registration and name tags required.

Dealers Beware

Those manning a booth should be very cautious when helping more than one customer at a time. Insist that all coins and paper money be kept on top of the table in clear view. I can’t tell you how many times dealers, myself included, have been “set up” by two or three thieves. One will ask to see an item, while another quickly pockets something else. Items can easily be switched or dropped between the pages of a reference book. The price of a particularly expensive item should be posted on the back, so as not to advertise its value to thieves.

The incident that stands out most in my mind occurred when a customer asked if I had a high-grade 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent. I handed him what I thought to be a beautiful, encapsulated example. After looking at the coin, he informed me it was a 1909-P cent, not a 1909-S VDB. Sure enough, a previous customer had switched my expensive specimen for a cheap one in the same holder.

If you are examining a coin and decide to pass on it, be sure to hand it to the dealer personally. Coins left on top of a case can be stolen in an instant, especially if the dealer is distracted.
Be cautious of the customer more concerned with you and his surroundings than with the coin he has asked to see. He could be scouting out his partners in crime. Professional shoplifters and pickpockets almost always operate with an accomplice or two. The “lifter” passes the stolen coin immediately to a “carrier,” who may hand it off to a second carrier.

When a coin is sold, fill the empty space with another coin or a “sold” card as quickly as possible. Train your eyes to spot open “holes” in your cases. At a large show recently, a long-time collector and regular show attendee was caught stealing a coin. When security personnel asked him to empty his pockets, they found coins stolen from 11 other tables. The amazing part is that not one of the dealers realized anything was missing.

Browsing the Bourse

As you walk from table to table, secure your coins in a zippered shoulder bag. If you must remove it, place it between your feet, not behind you or on the chair next to you. If you are using a wheeled coin case, keep a hand on the handle at all times. If a dealer’s table is crowded, making security difficult, wait.

If you’re a good customer of a respected dealer and plan to attend a multi-day show, ask if you can secure your locked bag at his table for the evening. Some shows offer a “security room” manned by armed personnel in which attendees can leave their valuables.

As you leave the show at the end of the day, avoid any unnecessary conversations with dealers. They are most vulnerable when they are packing up their wares, and a well-meaning question could be an invitation to an observant theif.

In summary, show security is ultimately your responsibility. If you think security personnel are going to put their lives on the line for your coins, think again. A show’s security measures are supplemental precautions, not guarantees of your personal safety.

Set Your Goal, Set Your Limits and Go For It

from NUMISMATIC NEWS February 4,2003

We’ve editorialized from time to time over the years about the concept of having a hobby budget. Our readers are probably well aware that a budget is something that is easier said than done.
With routine items, it is easy to budget. You can figure out how much food your family will eat in a year and get a pretty good handle on a budget number. You can do the same for clothes. You can take your last year’s auto mileage and figure that this year’s will be pretty close, unless of course your teenage son or daughter just left for college and the family car will now spend more time in the garage.

However, coins are a different animal. You don’t have to buy coins. They are a luxury good, but for collectors they are also a necessity. To be a collector, you need to buy coins.
However, the opportunities to buy coins come at irregular intervals. Budgets usually run at the same amounts at regular time periods, like $100 per week or $500 per month. Coin purchases don’t usually occur that way.

At the conclusion of the Florida United Numismatists convention we compared notes with a few other collectors about what was found and purchased on the bourse floor. No doubt many of our readers have similar conversations with their hobby friends. One paper money collector used the language about damaging the budget, because of his pur-chases. But in continuing the conversation, it was quite clear that the buys he had made were good ones. Furthermore, they were in keeping with his long-term collector goals and were deserving of congratulations. He was finishing his sets. His budget might have been temporarily busted, but he wasn’t exactly out wasting his money.

Using the task of completing a set is a road map that most collectors use. It is not a budget, but if one follows the rules of putting a set together (buy one example of each date and mintmark or type) and the result is similar to following a budget. Buying that 1909-S VDB cent might well exceed your monthly hobby budget, but once you get if, you’ve got it and the strain is removed. Over time, it averages out.

So our advice probably should be either have a budget or use the collecting of sets as a road map. Either approach will keep you pretty much on the right hobby path. It is the collector that does neither that is most at risk. Having no goals means you never have the satisfaction of reaching a destination. It also means you have nothing to limit your spending.

Most collectors know how much it will cost to acquire each coin in the set they are trying to complete. This is because they study it. They prepare. When they hit the bourse floor or an Internet auction site, they have a plan of of attack. If something comes up that they have needed for years, but have never found, it might be time to bid ahead of the price guides and break the budget a little to achieve the goal. Systematic behavior works the other way as well; you might just encounter a piece that your experience tells you is a bargain and you can snap it up, helping to average out costs to prevailing market levels.

If you simply take a dollar number and never exceed it, you might be complimented on your self-discipline, but it might add up to missed opportunities. On the other hand, having no sense of budgetary limits may lead to getting carried away and paying way too much. Certainly keep a little mad money to throw at a novelty, but don’t let that deflect your hobby behavior from setting goals and achieving them. Impulse purchases can chew up an awful lot of money. Better to have a goal, have price limits and have fun achieving them.

First Small Cent Special for Many Reasons

from NUMISMATIC NEWS February 4,2003
Written by Paul M. Green

For the collector today a Flying Eagle cent collection might seem a bit short on total number of coins, but what it lacks in total numbers it makes up in terms of historical value. Whether considered an addition to an Indian Head cent collection, which is how Flying Eagle cents have frequently been collected, or as a series by themselves, Flying Eagle cents are well addition to anyone’s collection.

The Flying Eagle cent was an idea which was a long time in moving from idea to reality. It was a case where officials were simply unsure what to do about a couple problems they were facing with the large cent and half cent.

The first problem was an economic one. The metal value of the large cent had become roughly equal to its face value. At the time of the first large cent in 1793, memories of Continental Currency were still fresh in many minds, a fiasco that resulted i some people losing perhaps 90 percent or more of the face value of the notes. Officials probably correctly assumed that any new issues from the government had better be close to their face value in intrinsic worth.

The problem was that at a certain point the metal becomes more valuable than the face value and at an even lower point the government actually would lose money making large copper coins, when you consider shipping and labor among other things. Giving the public coins they would trust was one thing but losing money was another, and by the late1840s that was a potential problem.

The other problem with the old large cents was that they were not popular with the public. Merchants did not like them. Average citizens did not like carting them around. They were too heavy, and they became dirty quickly. As for half cents, they had a limited role in commerce by the mild-1800s, and the general belief was that they had little future.

The first idea was for a ring cent, somewhat like Chinese cash with a central hole. Interesting patterns were made, but the notion that they would be a technical problem ended that line of thinking. Also suggested was German silver, which was a combination of copper, nickel and zinc. There had even been patterns back in the 1830s of a cent and three-cent pieces, and additional patterns Were tried in 1853. Others simply thought that a reduction in size of the cent would be adequate.

It was an interesting period. Almost every official seemed to have some opinion as to the right alloy to use, and that resulted in a number of patterns. One pattern apparently suggested by Mint Director Janus Ross Snowden used an eagle flying, which was something of a composite of the reverse of the Gobrecht dollar of 1836-1839 and a half dollar pattern by William Kneass from 1838. At least the design was making some progress.

Finally, a fellow by the name of James Booth, who was the Mint’s melter and refiner, came up with a metal mixture of 12 percent nickel, 88 percent copper, which he felt was, the sort of alloy they had been seeking. He also was brave enough to suggest it was not the intrinsic metal value which would make the new cents circulate, but rather the backing of the government. Counterfeiting was an issue at the time, but there too the coins seemed unlikely to be targets.

It was a combination of advantages no one could resist and Mint Director Snowden convinced the Treasury secretary, who also apparently briefed President Franklin Pierce.

Chief Engraver James B. Longacre was ordered to prepare pattern dies for a coin, and he created a Flying Eagle design much closer to that of the Gobrecht dollar. Longacre was something of a champion of using designs more than once, and for the reverse he basically used the wreath on the $3 gold piece. Researchers are still unsure when the first Flying Eagle cent patterns were struck. In very late 1856 or early 1857, or perhaps both, several hundred 1856 Flying Eagle cents, still technically patterns, were struck.

The Mint Director had an idea what to do with the small supply of 1856 Flying Eagle cents. The idea was to pass them around official Washington to gain support for authorizing the new cents – something similar to what was done in 1974 when aluminum cents were passed out to officials for inspection, excepting that the aluminum cents were supposed to be returned. In 1856 the samples were simply given away, no request made that they be returned.

In fact, the 1856 Flying Eagle cent pattern giveaway worked, as on Feb. 21, 1857, a bill authorizing the new cents became law. With that, production could begin on a new era of smaller cents, and mintage of the small cents was begun in April.

One immediate change, other than size and composition, was that the new cents were to be made from planchets prepared by the Mint. Previously, planchets had been purchased from outside sources, most recently from a firm by the name of Crocker Brothers. Now, however, the Mint would be responsible for the planchets, and their ability was put to an immediate test.

It was decided to stockpile the new cents until May 25. That turned out to be a wise decision, but even then supplies were not really adequate. Under the terms of the law authorizing the new cents, the public was allowed to exchange old coppers as well as Spanish or Mexican silver, as at the time there was still a significant amount of foreign silver in circulation. Few could have imagined how popular the idea of trading old coppers and foreign silver would prove to be. Snowden phrased it well, writing the Treasury secretary regarding the first day of the new cent: “The demand for them is enormous.” On that day nearly three million of the new cents were released.

There were assorted humorous descriptions of the scene that day as people traded in their old copper or silver coins for bags of $5 of the new cents. So popular were the new cents that some at the end of the long lines were willing to pay a premium. As the Philadelphia Bulletin reported, “Those who were served rushed into the streets with their money bags, and many of them were immediately surrounded by an outside crowd, who were willing to buy out in small lots at an advance of thirty to a hundred per cent, and some of the outside purchasers even huckstered out the coin again in smaller lots at still heavier advance.”

The Philadelphia Bulletin went on to observe, “We doubt much whether, in the history of the Mint, there was ever so great a rush inside the building, or so animated a scene outside of it. It was, in effect the funeral of the old coppers and of ancient Spanish coins.”

Clearly the dislike of the public for the old coppers and Spanish and Mexican silver far outweighed any concern over whether the new cents had a face value that was nearly equal to their metal value.

At least some of the 1856 pattern strikes are believed to have been released at some point during the frenzy for the new cent. There was a solid base of coin collectors around Philadelphia back in 1857, and the appearance of some 1856 Flying Eagle cents caused a good deal of interest among them – a mad search was on for the rare date. We do not know how many were produced in.the initial group made from late 1856 to early 1857, but the best guess remains in the neighborhood of 800.

The estimates are complicated by the fact that those released had not been proofs, but with requests for 1856 cents appearing with regularity it appears that Snowden ordered a significant number of proofs to be struck, which were then either sold or traded to collectors for other items to improve the Mint’s collection of coins and medals. The idea of a small cent rarity encouraged many new collectors at the time. In a sense, the 1856 Flying Eagle cent was not unlike the 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent or 1950-D Jefferson nickel of later generations. It was a rare coin worth a premiurn price, but not so rare that it was impossible to obtain. That is a perfect combination for encouraging interest.

The actual mintage of the 1856 Flying Eagle cent is unknown. There were hundreds of business strikes, which as mentioned were really patterns, but some of their number were released into circulation while many others were presented to officials. Then there are the proofs, which also appear to be in the hundreds, some estimates going as high as 1,000 pieces. The estimates of the combined totals have ranged from perhaps as low as 1,400 to as many as 3,500 pieces.

The 1856 Flying Eagle cent remains popular today, pattern or not. Based on a current G-4 price of $5,500, up $1,500 since 1998, collectors have accepted it as a date to be included in their collections. This price in the lowest collectible grade is far more than would be expected of a coin viewed strictly as a pattern, especially a pattern with a mintage of more than 1,000 pieces. The fact that the 1856 Flying Eagle was the first small-size cent ever to be released gives it a certain historical importance which helps its price and its popularity.

The mintages of 1857 and 1858 were large. At first the attempt was simply to keep up with demand from the public. The 1857 total was 17,450,000. The 1858 total was 24,600,000, divided about equally between small-letter and large-letter varieties. In the large-letter variety, the “A” and “M” in AMERICA are connected, while on the small-letter variety they are clearly separated. While you would pay $5,500 for a G-4 1856, in the same grade these others are $18.50. There is an 1858/7 variety which in G-4 is $65.

In upper grades the 1856 is expensive. An MS-60 1856 is currently $8,600 up from $6,950 in 1998. In MS-65 it has jumped from a 1998 price of $21,000 to a current level of $57,000 while a Proof-65 is $24,500. It is worth noting that on genuine 1856 Flying Eagle cents the upright of the “5” connects with the center of the knob, and on most the letters “E” in the reverse legend are all closed by large connecting serifs.

In the case of the regular dates the 1857 is the least expensive in MS-60 at a current price of $280, while either variety of 1858 is $290. The 1858/7 is $2,500 in MS-60. In MS-65 the 1857 and 1858 of either variety are identical at a current price of $3,750 which is up a full $ 1,000 from 1998. The 1858/7 is listed at $75,000 in MS-65 and it is virtually unknown in this condition.
Despite its strong start, the Flying Eagle cent was gone by 1859. Production had managed to overtake the public demand and once again there were problems. The coins still had no legal tender status and there were so many of them circulating that people began to pay their bills entirely in Flying Eagle cents. Merchants were sometimes forced to use brokers simply to avoid
being flooded with the new coins. Complaints were once again being heard at the Mint.

Snowden tried to quiet things down by changing designs to the Indian Head cent in 1859, but what really solved the problem of too many cents was the outbreak of the Civil War and the coin hoarding and troubles which followed.

While the Flying Eagle cent is not a large collection, there is no disputing the fact that the Flying Eagle cent had a very important place in US. numismatic history. That is especially true of the 1856, which continues to be one of the most popular coins in history.

The Flying Eagle cent also deserves a special place in the numismatic history books because it, perhaps more than any other coin before it, encouraged coin collecting in the United States. It was not only a case of people looking for the 1856, although that was certainly a major part of the importance. In addition, the dramatic change in size caused many who were willing to stand in long lines simply to get rid of their old large coppers to begin collecting the vanishing large cents.

There is even some evidence that Snowden, who kept an eye on coin collecting, was convinced to let collectors go through some of the old large cents to fill their sets.
One way or another, the Flying Eagle cent had a serious and beneficial impact on coin collecting back in the time just prior to the Civil War. Based on its sharp price increases in recent years, it seems that many agree.

The Louis Eliasberg, Sr. Sale- A Personal Perspective

by Robert Lehmann

The dust has settled and the numismatic event of our lifetime has concluded. As I sit here in the airport waiting to catch a flight to my next destination, I am acutely aware of how physically tired and emotionally exhausted my 37-year-old body is. For the last 4 days, I have heard the names of Stickney, Clapp and Eliasberg used as if they were everyday household words. Listening to Julian Leidman compare this incredible group of coins to the once-thought insurmountable Garrett Collection, watching 75-year-old Art Kagin drop down in the middle of the auction room reception area and do 40 push-ups as well as sharing thoughts with Jay Parrino about his newly acquired 1885 gem proof Trade Dollar are only a few of the lasting memories that will stay with me for a lifetime. Yes, the last 4 days was much more than a sale or just another auction. To call it such would undermine the whole relevancy of an incredible feat that will never again be repeated. The only complete collection of United States coins has now been dispersed.

Three weeks ago I headed north on I-81 through Pennsylvania, destination Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. Driving for me is solitude, an introspective time when I do some of my most productive thinking. I felt a sense of anticipation as I began to mentally plot my strategy. Larry and I had spent the last several weeks planting seeds with prospective buyers. We had both heard numerous opinions about the quality of the coins in this famed collection, as well as premature price projections. I sincerely hoped that the rumors would be well founded: In 6 hours, I would know.
My thoughts raced as I pulled into Wolfeboro, a small hamlet of 4000 nestled in beautiful south-central New Hampshire. Because of unforeseen circumstances, I had arrived too late for lot viewing that day. I would have to wait 12 hours to see the coins which only added to my anxiety.

Larry had been viewing coins all day. I expected that he would have seen a majority of the coins, and would have detailed descriptions to share with me. To my amazement, he had only viewed 7 boxes or a mere 175 coins throughout the entire day. “What happened?” I inquired. “Were there that many people waiting that you couldn’t get to the coins?” “No,” he assured me. “It was a very relaxed, pressure-free environment.” “Well then, why did you see so few coins in one hour period?” I responded. Larry thought for a second, looked at me and said, “Rob, once you see these coins you will understand. You simply can’t go through them quickly. They are remarkable. And, the dollars (a favorite area of interest for both of us), are truly amazing. You won’t be disappointed.”
The next morning we pulled into the bank building where lot viewing was to take place. As we entered the lot viewing room, it immediately dawned on me that this was no ordinary auction. The mood was relaxed and the Bowers and Merena staff was extremely accommodating. We were escorted to our private table where we were shown coins in an intimate, friendly atmosphere. I guess special coins deserve special treatment.

My first box, an early run of Morgan Dollars, created a mind set that stayed with me for the rest of my stay. Beginning with a remarkable gem 1878 8TF dollar in proof and concluding with an awe-inspiring 1883-S gem specimen piece, it quickly became apparent to me that this was no ordinary collection. As I continued to view coins and make notes, I became overwhelmed. I had to stop, take a breather, go back and look at the same coins for a second time. Surely, I had missed something. Morgan Dollars simply don’t come this nice. But, the second time only reinforced my initial impression. I found myself studying the 1883-S dollar for 20 minutes! The coin was incredible. How did this piece stay in such an impeccable state of preservation for over 100 years. Deep proof-like fields mirrored beautifully against frosted, mark-free devices like a mountain lake nestled in a virgin forest. It was virtually impossible to find a defect on this pristine piece. “How do you grade it?” asked Bill Spears, a Central Florida silver dollar specialist. “I guess I would call it a MS-68 proof-like,” I replied. “Yeah, me too,” responded Bill in a matter-of-fact tone. Like a car stuck in first gear, I continued to view and study the coins, one at a time, slowly, methodically. Eight hours went by like 20 minutes. Without warning, there was an announcement that we would have to conclude our lot viewing for the day in 15 minutes. I looked down at my tally sheet and realized that in 8 hours time I had seen a whopping 6 boxes or 150 coins. I now understood what Larry had realized 24 hours earlier.

I left Wolfeboro 2 days later. Numismatically, I felt privileged but, emotionally I was drained. The drive home was a long one. I needed to get to my office and start contacting my clients. How could I possibly convey to them what I had experienced for the last 3 days?

Ten hard, and often frustrating, days were spent on the phones, trying to convince my customers of the potential value in this sale. I must have come across a little like Jerry Lewis at a Telethon. But, as the zero hour approached my customers began to respond. Several of them decided that they wanted to participate. When I called Larry, he confirmed equal success. It was looking like we would go into the sale well capitalized. And, with a little luck and some aggressive bidding, we hoped some Eliasberg pedigreed coins would be our just reward.

The glitz and glamour of Mid-town Manhattan served as an appropriate setting for the sale. I have to admit there was a momentary sense of disappointment as I pulled up to the front of the Saint Moritz and quickly realized that this was a far cry from The Plaza 3 doors down. However, once I made my way up to our room, opened the curtains and took in the view of the Park Avenue skyline backdropped against Central Park, all initial regrets were forgotten. Just as I was slipping into a sense of New York euphoria (that is a momentary lapse where you think you actually ARE a New Yorker), the phone rang. It was one of Larry’s customers, and I could tell from Larry’s end of the conversation that the gentleman wanted to go after some coins. After some brief dialog, I heard Larry review some bids with him and wish him good night. As I switched back into my Maryland coin dealer mode, I observed Larry was a little upset. “I don’t think these people understand,” he said. ”They’re sincere and they honestly believe they’re being aggressive, but they are going to get shut out.” “What were his bids?” I inquired, referring back to Larry’s caller. “Most of them were 40-50% over grey sheet levels,” replied Larry. I nodded at Larry affirming that I agreed with him. “No, you’re right, they just don’t understand,” I added.

Louis Eliasberg, Sr. was an affluent Baltimore businessman who undertook the seemingly impossible task of assembling a complete collection of United States coins. His adventure involved him with many legendary names in the hobby. Among them were the likes of Chapman, Mehl, Kagin, Stack and perhaps most importantly John Clapp. With the acquisition of the John H. Clapp collection in 1942, Louis’s dream neared attainability. In 1950, approximately 8 years after purchasing the Clapp collection, Louis acquired the unique 1873-CC No Arrows Liberty Seated Dime, the final coin needed to complete his collection of United States coins. The King of Coins, as Louis was affectionately known, had transformed the unthinkable into a reality.

Mixed emotions best described my feelings as I entered the auction room on Sunday, April 6th. Excitement and anxiety were playing an emotional tug-o-war in my mind. Larry and I had spent a combined total of 5 days in New Hampshire and 7 days in New York viewing this collection. The coins had become a part of me. I felt like I had been a temporary custodian of them, and now that was all going to end. To see them separated and dispersed was almost like saying goodbye to an old friend. However, the prospect of owning even a little piece of this memorable collection soon overcame that temporary sense of loss. “Focus, focus,” I kept telling myself. “And, don’t lose sight of why you’re here.” Larry and I had worked feverishly on our last minute preparations. We checked and double-checked our bids, as well as making our last minute phone calls. This was, as Larry put it, a high stakes poker game. Knowledge and hard work, at this point, needed to be our best allies.

I wished I had more sleep. My eating habits in the last 4 days had become erratic and suffered. My life had centered around the coins and compromise simply wasn’t an option. There would be no second chances. I shook my head vigorously hoping to clear the cobwebs. “Focus,” I reminded myself once again. The zero hour had approached and I just hoped I was physically ready for it.
“Are we all done at a thousand?” asked Dave Bowers as he prepared to hammer the first lot. But, as what would hold true for the balance of the sale, we were NOT all done. “Eleven hundred,” yelled another prospective owner. Not to let the 1875 20-cent piece go too cheap, another collector interrupted, “Bid.” Finally, at $2200.00 the coin was hammered down and awarded to a new owner. The Louis Eliasberg Sale was officially underway.

The CNN camera man scanned the room. Approximately 350 people packed the area, most dressed in business attire. This looked more like a banker convention than a coin auction. Present were the nation’s most prominent dealers as well as hundreds of serious collectors. With names like Leidman, Hanks, Kagin, Stack and Akers, the room was a virtual who’s-who of numismatics.
One at a time, the coins began to find new homes. Two and three thousand dollar coins were interspersed with 6 figure rarities. Each time a new lot was introduced, a certain air of unpredictability came with it. What is it worth? How badly will somebody want it and what are they willing to pay? Like a crescendo, the auction kept building on itself, one coin after another, one session after the next, closing in on the crowned jewel of the collection. The ultimate culmination of this numismatic concert, was, no doubt, The King of American Coins, The Stickney Specimen of the 1804 Silver Dollar. Along the path, were many noteworthy princes and princesses. Amongst them were: a gem 1876-CC 20-cent piece, a gem 1796 quarter dollar, a run of superb proof Bust Quarters, gem examples of all CC Seated Liberty Quarters, an incredible group of gem Barber Quarters with many finest known, a 1796 and ’97 Bust Half, a complete run of superb Capped Bust Halves with virtually all the rare Overton varieties represented, an equally impressive Barber Half Dollar collection and perhaps the most incredible 18th century Bust Dollars that have crossed an auction block in recent memory including a 1795 Draped Bust Dollar that was cataloged (and deservingly so) as a MS-67 PL! To call anyone of these rarities amazing is an understatement. To see them all offered in one sale was awe-inspiring!

By the third day of the auction, I had built up a certain callousness. I had become oblivious to the high prices that were both routine, and by now mundane. Five and six figure coins were so abundant in this sale, that they were the rule rather than the exception. Bids were rattled off in thousand dollar increments much like a blackjack dealer would deal cards across a table.
A murmur filled the room on Tuesday night as the sale closed in on lot #2199. Larry and I had negotiated a possible partnership deal on this coin over lunch earlier in the day. After all, is there any sexier United States coin to own than a Class 1 1804 Silver Dollar? But, as the floor bids quickly exceeded our figure, it was obvious that our dreams of owning a piece of this treasure had been dashed. At a million dollars, there were still several paddles in the air. Then, in one of the lighter moments of the night, Dave Bowers, who had been calling out the bids in $25,000.00 increments, hesitated at a million, twenty five thousand and erroneously called for a million and a quarter. The tension of the moment subsided temporarily as virtually all the bidders became silent. Dave realizing that what he meant versus what he said were $225,000.00 apart, humbly admitted, “Even I’m not very experienced at doing this,” which was answered by a round of laughter. As the bidding resumed, it became a battle of two, each potentially costing the other $50,000.00 more every time they nodded their heads to acknowledge another bid. “Watch the two fellows sitting with Akers,” I whispered to Larry. I had heard earlier in the day that David Akers would be bidding on the 1804 dollar, and it was obvious that the two well dressed gentlemen sitting with him had come to play.

” Do I have a million, five hundred thousand?” inquired an obviously excited Dave Bowers. “A million, five hundred thousand,” replied the younger of the two gentlemen. Once again, the bidding, although only momentarily, stopped. Whispers and low volume voices could be heard throughout the auction room. It was if hundreds of people had all simultaneously asked each other, “Who are those guys?” After a brief pause, which seemed like an eternity, the bidding resumed. “One million, five fifty?” inquired Dave Bowers. Greg Roberts of Spectrum Numismatics acknowledged. “Do I have one million, six hundred thousand?” Hesitantly, Jay Parrino, owner of The Mint nodded, yes. “I have one million, six hundred. Now I’m looking for one million, six hundred and fifty thousand,” replied Dave. Nervously, Greg Roberts acknowledged the bid. It was obvious to me at this point (and probably most other observers in the room) that the bidding for the new World’s Most Valuable Coin had concluded.

“Are we all done at a million six fifty? One million, six fifty going once; One million, six fifty going twice – SOLD, One million six hundred and fifty thousand dollars to Greg Roberts of Spectrum Numismatics,” answered a visibly jubilant Dave Bowers. The room erupted in applause, as Greg Roberts quickly exited the room, undoubtedly to share the exciting news with his company’s principles. I felt excited and a bit drained. Even though I hadn’t been part of the bidding on this wonderful coin, I had certainly been part of the process. A twenty minute recess ensued. Mark Borckhardt, his face beaming with an ear to ear smile, was obviously ecstatic with the results. “Congratulations Mark,” I said. “You did a first rate job cataloging this sale. It must really be something to see your efforts come to fruition.” In a look that said, You don’t know the half of it, Mark replied, “Thanks Rob. It’s been exciting.”

To say the rest of the sale was anticlimactic was both unfair and true. There was a clearing out effect after the sale of the 1804 Dollar and scattered vacancies were visible throughout the room. Many more astounding rarities, including the world class Morgan Dollar set, would cross the podium before the night was out. Jack Lee bought the incredible gem 1889-CC Morgan Dollar for his set at a cost of $462,000.00, a virtually perfect 1891-CC Morgan (a relatively common CC Morgan Dollar) sold for $121,000.00 and a superb 1895-0 gem Morgan fetched $253,000.00. The Trade Dollar set, equally remarkable in it’s own right, was highlighted by the fabulous gem 1 885 example, purchased by Jay Parrino for about a hundred thousand dollars less than my pre-sale guess of a million dollars (a bargain !).

Ultimately, Larry and I would like to have purchased many more of these treasures. And it was neither from lack of effort or desire that we didn’t. We had committed to ourselves before the sale that we were not going to get caught up in the excitement of the moment, and exceed our thoughtfully calculated bids. Consequently, we ended up being the under bidders on many of the dollar rarities. We did manage, however, to buy our 1883-S gem Morgan Dollar for $137,500.00.
The first question I was asked after the sale was, “Did you get a lot of good deals?” It’s hard to conclude if we profited from the sale monetarily. The coins have only recently been submitted to the grading services for attribution and grades, so the jury is still out on that question. But, as far as the experience itself, this was a numismatic event of epic proportion. What I remember about this sale cannot be quantified into dollars and cents. Furthermore, these memories will always be with me as long as I’m associated with this hobby we know as numismatics. And, from that standpoint, this sale was priceless!