Shane Downing - A Tribute To An Unsung Hero Of Numismatics

Posted on 7/9/2015

What Does It Take To Update And Maintain A Price Guide?—A Commitment To Excellence.

Certainly every coin collector loves coins and, as the market prices vacillate, the often unappreciated staple of numismatics are the pricing guides. Let me tell you updating and maintaining these guides requires careful and dedicated work. I am positive that very little about them is known by the average collector and most dealers. It’s really not a secret formula; it’s just very hard work. Yet online or by subscription they are there for us “Coindexters” to utilize and help us all ascertain values for our purchases or sales. The patriarch of these guides, which is always at hand at all major and regional coin shows, is the Coin Dealer Newsletter (CDN) or Greysheet. Nearly every collector and virtually every dealer enthusiastically utilizes the information published by CDN. When I was growing up, my fascination with coins put me on a numismatic journey which would ultimately lead me to Torrance, California, and working for the numismatic institution and family business known as CDN. To me this was the Wall Street Journal of numismatics.

When I was growing up, there was the venerable annual edition of the Red Book, which was in every dealer's and most hobbyist's hands. It was and still is a great reference guide, but as the coin market accelerated and evolved and market prices were more volatile, the need for a more timely and informative report was much needed by the industry. Effectively filling this void, the inaugural edition of the Coin Dealer Newsletter made its debut in 1963 and it immediately had an impact and appreciative following and was gobbled up by coin dealers.

Operating out of a single shop in Hawthorne, California, the Greysheet was created in the back room of Coin-A-Rama City. The very first issue was known as the National Coin Broker's Bulletin, but as the second issue was released, the name changed to the Coin Dealer Newsletter. In the ensuing decades, the sheet was everywhere—mom and pop shops and at major conventions. Just before the beginning of the certified coin age, Ron Downing and his mother Pauline Miladin purchased the Coin Dealer Newsletter in 1984. Ron remained the publisher and editor until his death in 1997. His son Shane, who had worked in the graphics department, took over the reins as publisher and editor. Shane’s hard work, dedication and long hours were instrumental in the advancement of not only the Greysheet but the Bluesheet, Greensheet and Monthly and Quarterly issues as well. Yours truly was a part of this wonderful family enterprise for a little over six years as market analyst and assistant editor.

So it came as quite a shock to me when I noticed on one of the trading networks that my old boss had died. On June 18, 2015, we lost an unsung numismatic legend, Shane Downing. The man was truly a gentle giant, a husband, the father of two adoring daughters and publisher of the Greysheet. Shane had an old school passion for this business, having taken the reins from his father nearly two decades ago. The younger Downing was steadfast with the work ethic that his father instilled in him. The same passion which we collectors exude about our coins is the same passion which was put into these publications. Shane worked tirelessly and was driven to have the best and most accurate product for collectors. Reports were checked then double checked—there was no compromise. It was tedious and reflecting on it now, it was worth it.

Unless you had the privilege to work at CDN you may not get it. As Shane told me upon completing my two day working job trial interview, “I want you to come work for us...stay with us and retire with us.” I joked it was like the Hotel California—you can check in but you can’t check out. He laughed. God knows I loved it there. I was excited every day to go to work. Research and write about coins—it was marvelous. Deadlines were met and I am sure there were days when it amazed even Shane that we were able to make it a wrap. We were all on the second floor of the CDN building and Shane said to me early on that it was likened to a morgue as it was so quiet! But the silence was truly golden and allowed us to get the research and writing done. We were a team—a family team. Monday morning it was time to prepare for the Greysheet. Pull hundreds of pages of reports on various trading networks and any auction data and trade journals. Then match up what was up, what was down and then make adjustments that were necessary. Mind you, reports were automated but every entry was written in by hand on the large mock up pages before being given to support staff to be inputted. We were like monks transcribing the treasured scrolls by hand. Those entries were then verified be Shane, Keith Zaner and me. While this was going on I would write the “This Week's Market” column and help with the featured article for the Greysheet. This would overlap into Tuesday and usually by noon the copy would be submitted to Shane for review and approval. After lunch time we would get together in the conference room and discuss any corrections, adjustments, subtractions, etc. Then a copy went to the graphic department and a final copy to us for one last review before being sent off to the printers for publication of the "hard" Greysheet, which was always delivered early Wednesday morning and then mailed out to subscribers. Around mid-afternoon the online version made its appearance for those subscribers not wanting the snail mail first class copy. Then it was time to pull data reports and scour the electronic networks and publications for the Bluesheet and compile data for this sometimes misunderstood sight-unseen publication. Simply put, the Greysheet reports prices for sight-seen coins that are raw or certified. The Bluesheet reports the highest registered bid for sight-unseen coins that are certified only.

We also supplied copies of both the Greysheet and Bluesheet to major and regional shows. I recall fondly my first time at our home show, the Long Beach Expo, handing out the Greysheet to all the dealers on set up day (Wednesday) and then distributing the Bluesheet on Friday. Dealers were always grateful to snatch up the new copies and most would be scanning the headlines and checking out prices of their favorite series for movement.

Shane’s work ethic and commitment was exemplary. I have never been associated with a business where the manger was as hands on all the time. Shane never micromanaged; he had faith in his staff that the work would get done and we followed his lead. Shane was usually a man of a few measured words. He adored his two daughters and they loved him dearly. It was so exciting to see Shane’s smiling face after zipping home from the office for lunch and being able to share some time with his daughters. When Sara and Morgan would make an occasional appearance to the office he was just a beaming proud papa. I love you boss and I’m sorry you didn’t get a chance to proof this copy. I’ll try to make you proud.

Until next time, happy collecting!

Jim Bisognani has written extensively on US coin market trends and values and was the market analyst and writer for a major pricing guide for many years. He frequently attends major coin shows and auctions.

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