At a recent coin show, one of the few where I actually participate as an active dealer, I sold a small but very attractive bronze of Constantine the Great to a relatively new and refreshingly excited collector. Prior to making the selection, he had shown me a nice reduced follis of Constantine and asked for an evaluation. I ventured that his coin should be worth about $25 - $40 retail. It turned out that the $40 mark was exactly what he had paid, just minutes earlier. Falling in love with the little bronze in my tray, he wondered what I would be willing to pay for his coin? Hesitantly, I offered $25 in trade against the new purchase. My hesitation was not because of any problem with the coin he had just purchased, but more so out of fear of offending or discouraging him.
How could a coin worth $40 depreciate to $25 in five minutes? Obviously. the cost of doing business is a factor. as is the very reason for being in business - profitability. Another factor which entered into the picture is that I already had in stock ten or twelve exceptional Constantine bronzes. Because of that, I was actually willing to accept a cash offer of less than the $40 "sticker price" on my coin. All-in-all, his coin seemed to be losing value by the minute. The "smart play" was to buy my coin at the cash discount price and keep his earlier purchase which actually complemented the new purchase quite nicely. Logic prevailed and the collector went home with two nice Constantinian bronzes.
Behind this little tale. is a moral which most "old-timers" have come to learn the hard way. Measure the market before you buy! IJ a collector takes the time to travel to a show, it makes perfectly good sense to look over the material carefully before making a selection. This is certainly not to recommend shopping for the "cheapest" coin on the floor, each coin has its own price level and its attributes which justify or invalidate that level. The object is to choose the coin which pleases you most within the limit of your resources.
As I write this. I can already hear the gasps of coin dealers across the country. Every dealer has had to contend, at some time, with a collector who spends two hours looking through every coin in stock and asks to "set aside" three or four coins while he thinks about it. You guessed it • the collector never returns. Of course, this is not going to work out to cover show expenses and make anything near a reasonable income for the time spent, it is essential for a dealer to sell coins. Showing coins is fun and instructive but it doesn't pay the bills and doesn't foster regular participation on the show circuit.
How can collectors measure the market and still be fair and reasonable with dealers? Have you ever noticed how many dealers will ask "Is there anything in particular that I can show you?" Don't ask to look at everything Roman if you abhor Republican Denarii. If you are a bargain hunter - say so! Let the dealer show you which coins have been in stock too long or those which are especially attractive deals. There is no way you can measure the stock of a dealer better than the dealer himself. If you insist on looking at every coin. in every box, at least have the courtesy to sit off to the side so the dealer can continue nominal transactions. It is a great help for both the dealer and collector if the latter has some idea of what their interest is. If you're new to the field and really don't know, say so. Most dealers know how to feel out your inclinations as well as or better than you can yourself.
Another courtesy is to keep the coins on the table - that is - in plain sight! Just because you are as honest as the day is long doesn't mean that everyone else is, and dealers face enough anxiety without worrying about how many coins are going to be left in the box when a customer is through.
A pet peeve of mine is the collector (and a dealer or two) who takes a handful of coin flips out of a box, looks through them, sets them down and grabs another handful. Then, with no regard to order, stuffs them all back in the box with some upside down, backwards, sideways. you name it. When a collector does come along and asks for that special coin, there isn't a chance in hades that you can find it.
Yes, it is important for the collector to measure the market before buying a Coin, and it is equally important for every collector to respect the needs of the dealer. especially at a busy show. With a little common sense, the process can be great fun and very rewarding. You might even go home with the coin you've been looking for!
This was a busy month for us, with shows in San Francisco, New York, and Minneapolis. We saw a lot of the old faithful readers and made some new acquaintances. We'll be out on the West Coast for the Malter and Superior auctions at the end of May and at the Long Beach show on May 31. In June we'll be back in New York for the Sotheby sale and Antiquarian Bourse. If you see us in the crowd, make a point of saying hello. If not, drop us a line and let us hear your point of view.