Jim Bisognani: The Long Beach Expo Is Back

Posted on 9/30/2021

The rebooted coin convention holds plenty of promise for numismatic deal making.

As this article posts, the long-awaited reboot of another major numismatic venue has meant its triumphant and welcome return. Yes, my fellow coindexters, the exciting Long Beach Expo is underway. The Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center has opened its considerable doors to the mammoth bourse for dealers and the coin-starved public.

Other than the additional excitement to what normally surrounds the Expo, the only real difference is that the Heritage Long Beach Signature auction will take place at Heritage’s home office in Dallas next week. I guess the absence of the auction (which is difficult to hold at a convention due to the logistics and precautions of the ongoing pandemic era) could also give dealers and collectors extra time to flip coins and inventory in Long Beach, knowing they can take advantage of that sale the following week.

Here for coin buying

I have spoken to collectors who plan to attend Long Beach, and they have told me they are mostly interested in buying, not selling. Now that could create quite a problem for the attending dealers who are looking to bolster their depleted inventories. Yet, based on tradition, I am sure considerable wholesale dealer-to-dealer trading has already taken place to fill some voids. The average collector would be amazed at the amount of wheeling and dealing, which takes place prior to the opening of the expo in the Hyatt Regency’s rented hotel rooms, hallways, lounge or broom closets. Yes, that’s right, even the broom closets are “rented” out.

Wake up and deal

I fondly recall my first Long Beach Expo experience 34 years ago. Given that it was 1987, this was still the dawn of this new-fangled, third-party grading experiment. It was also a time when most dealers didn’t have computer-assisted technology to list inventory, and cell phones were certainly a luxury. Collectors and dealers had to troll the bourse to pick up fresh deals. That morning, I had already made my way to the Hyatt’s main floor and was waiting for my dealer friend to come down the escalator to meet.

I have always enjoyed people watching, and on that particular morning, I observed an amusing scene. As dealers made their early morning dash (OK, crawl) from their respective rooms, many were in search of sustenance and a caffeine boost before braving the bourse. It was on this escalator that I watched waves of groggy dealers making the descent; some wiping sleep from their eyes and others schmoozing with their brethren.

The Hyatt lobby and café.

Overall, this could have been an outtake from the “Night of the Living Dead.” As they reached the main floor, the majority would somehow muster latent energy to make a beeline for the breakfast, coffee and snack bar, just behind that huge escalator, and congregate. There was plenty of comfortable seating and, as soon as this numismatic throng was only semi-comatose, well, you would be surprised at the amount of dealing that went on.

Back then, there was a lot of talk about the new third-party grading service called NGC, which was just introduced to the market earlier in 1987. Dealers were fighting, sometimes literally, for quality raw material that could be slabbed and then turned.

I recall a dealer who submitted a few Trade Dollars to NGC, which came back as Proof 65. At that time, generic Proof 65 Trade Dollars were starting at $8,000 each, and the dealer had bought the three raw coins for around $1,000 apiece. It was indeed the dawn of the sight-unseen marketplace. Of course, there were still doubters, and it took some convincing; yet, here we are today, with NGC proudly encapsulating over 50 million coins for collectors, dealers and for posterity.

an 1884 Proof Trade Dollar from NGC Coin Explorer
Click images to enlarge.

A well-traveled half dollar

As for the coin market, it is as toasty warm as the dog days of summer. Online auctions continue to pull in amazing results. High-grade and top-population coins are still encountering enormous demand. Take this 1825 Capped Bust Half Dollar graded NGC MS 67, which is tied for the finest-known coin. This superbly struck and preserved coin has quite the lineage.

1825 Capped Bust Half Dollar graded NGC MS 67
Click images to enlarge.

First sold at public venue for a dollar in March of 1907 by Samuel Hudson Chapman, the coin became a part of the David S. Wilson Collection. This beauty was obviously handled carefully. It is unknown how many times the coin changed hands during the next 80-plus years; however, it was finally graded and slabbed by NGC in June of 1988. Since then, this pristine 1825 Capped Bust Half Dollar has resided in what is referred to as NGC’s second generation slab — which is a highly collectible commodity in its own right.

In this century, I can confirm five public sales for this well-preserved 1825 Lady Liberty. First, the stunning Capped Bust Half Dollar sold for $18,975 at the Pre-Long Beach Goldberg’s sale on September 23, 2002. Next, was in a Bowers & Merena rarities sale, in January 9, 2005, pulling in $21,850. The coin reappeared as part of the Thomas Collection at a Heritage CSNS sale in April 30, 2009, where it realized $27,600.

Flash forward to 2021, and the coin has sold twice this year! First, it captured $38,400 at a Stack’s Bowers Rarities Night on March 25. Then, six months later, it was a part of GreatCollections Sunday Night sale, which concluded on September 25, realizing $39,375. I don’t know where this beguiling coin will appear next, but I predict it will top $40,000.

Gold coins on the alert

Another component to watch is US gold coins. Although gold spot is trading down — around 10% since last year at this time — I have observed that many gold US type coins are still in strong demand and sporting substantially higher prices. Even with gold spot trading lower by nearly $200 per ounce, one standout is the ever-popular $5 Indian Head type coins graded MS 61, which are up nearly 20% over last year’s levels!

Conversely, $5 Liberty type in like grade are trading at about $10 below last year’s trading. So, I think that a careful search for some eye-appealing $5 Liberties may yield an opportunity at these prices. Also, the popular Saints-Gaudens and Liberty Head Double Eagles are only trading down about 5% over coins selling this time last fall. Some gold for thought.

1851 Liberty Head Double Eagle from NGC Coin Explorer
Click images to enlarge.

Until next time, be safe and happy collecting!

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