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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.