From a Collector's Point of View
by Tom Deck
May 12, 2008
I just got back from the EAC convention in Dallas, and I'm trying to come up with the words to describe this year's convention. Fantastic! Outstanding! Stupendous! This is my third convention, and by far the most fun I've had at one. My first two conventions were in 1999 in Cincinnati, and again in Cincinnati in 2003.
My wife Carra and I drove from Mobile to Dallas Thursday, May 8th, leaving at 6:30 in the morning. (We left our kids at Carra's mom's house.) I'm not a huge fan of flying, for a number of reasons, and Dallas is 10 hours from our house. Not a particularly exciting drive, but Carra brought one of those books on tape to keep her occupied (which wasn't quite my type of book, so I turned on the iPod when not driving.) I did do the usual armadillo count, counting three dead armadillos on the way to Dallas. I turn 42 this month and have yet to see, ever, a live armadillo on the side of the road. Having a scientific mind, my conclusion is that they basically don't exist, but I can't account for the dead ones. After 10 hours (and quite a bit of coffee) we arrive at the Quality Inn, which is literally right next door to the Sheraton, where the convention is being held. (Carra gets the credit for that, as a suite at the Quality Inn was $62/night.) A traffic accident holds us up right outside of Dallas for 15-20 minutes, but fortunately we arrive in time (perhaps a little late) at the hotel, and then walk over to the EAC reception.
Holy cow; I can already tell this is going to be a good convention. Instead of the expected appetizers, a full dinner buffet is available, which is most welcome at this point in our day. (And fortunately coffee was part of the meal.) Carra is with me at the reception, but not being a coin collector, she has her own agenda for this trip. After scouring the tables I spot Shawn Yancey, one of my good EAC buddies. Carra and I sit down at his table. I don't know anyone else at the table initially, but I get to put a face with a familiar name, David Consolo, half cent collector extraordinaire. (Thank you, David, for saying that I was younger than you thought!) Dan Holmes, president of EAC, welcomes everyone to the convention. Craig Hamling comes up and says hi - I need to see him first thing tomorrow morning, as he's holding some coins for me. Carra strikes up a conversation with a gentleman named Phil - he's a collector of literature. I look for a certain prominent early date collector who contacted me before the convention to take photographs of some of his cents. The name doesn't ring a bell with Phil. No problem; I'll probably run into him at the bourse tomorrow.
After dinner it's time for the large cent happening. This is my third EAC, but (embarrasingly) I had never been to a happening. I walk Carra outside as she's going back to our hotel; a familiar face is outside, Steve Carr. I tell Steve that I just got an 1853 large cent, misaligned on the obverse; he tells me it's probably N19, N27 or N29. I attributed the cent before the convention but couldn't remember the number; I tell Steve I'll get with him later.
Time for the happening! Many of us get on the elevator to go up to the happening - as I get off I spot Don Valenziano (I owe him some money for an 1808 cent) right when the doors are closing… "I'll get with you tomorrow, Don!" right before the doors close; he nods.
When I get to the happening, it turns out the gentleman in charge of registration is the guy I'm looking for to take coin photos! We arrange to do this Friday afternoon. (While people file in I sit down with him behind the table.) Basically the way a "happening" works is that everyone participating brings in a coin (or multiples) of the varieties included for the happing, and then the coins are judged in order of personal preference. One of the varieties in the happening is the 1797 S-143, one of the rare stemless '97s. That was fortuitous for me, as I had purchased the Reiver S-143 (in an NGC F12 holder,) so I thought my coin would do well. In my position, I see some really nice coins being entered for some of the other varieties. My goal for S-143 is to get at least one point (that is, come in 5th place or better.) Tom Reynolds and Doug Bird come in; each has a REALLY nice S-143. Uh oh; this is serious business! Volunteers are short, and I offer to watch one of the tables, the one displaying the 1831 N5 variety. Steve Carr is watching the 1851/81 N3 table next to me, and after awhile we switch places (so I can take a peek at some of the 1851/81 varieties.) To my right is the table containing the S-143 specimens. I figured there would be about a dozen, but only five S-143s are entered, so my goal of getting one point is safe! (As of this writing the results of the happening aren't published.)
The happening ends pretty late. As I'm leaving I spot a familiar gentleman in a blue shirt, surrounded by people. It's Walt Husak - his early date collection recently sold for $10 million. I briefly talk to Walt about the one lot I was able to purchase from his sale, the 1797 S-124. He tells me to come to his table in the morning; he has the original envelopes for the coin to give me. Walt also mentions that he has a CD of the photos of the collection that he took HIMSELF, before he consigned the coins to Heritage. I offer to display these photos for him on the Internet, and he thinks it's a great idea, so that everyone can share the coins. A true gentleman.
It's getting late, but Shawn Yancey is hanging around with his friend John from school, and we sit down to talk coins. John claims he's not in the same collecting caliber as the two of us, then mentions that he has a chain cent. (A chain cent? Sorry, I'll have to disgree with you there, John!) Tom Reynolds joins the three of us. He mentions to Shawn a collection he just bought, and perked Shawn's and my interest with a description of a nice group of 1796 Draped Busts that were part of the collection. I mention to Shawn that he and I will be fighting to get to Tom's table first in the morning, and then Shawn drops the whammy on me - Shawn's a dealer, so he gets to shop one hour early on the bourse! (Be nice to me, Shawn - leave me a few of the nice '96 busts!) Somehow the subject of 1801 S-218 comes up; Tom has THREE of them at his table. That's a big one that I need; will have to make a mental note to check those out tomorrow. After awhile I leave the group, as the driving has finally caught up with me.
I don't sleep well this night (visions of copper dancing in my head.) But feel much better this morning than I anticipate. Carra has a shopping day planned. (I won't say what she bought, but all I can say is it's a good thing we brought a van.) After breakfast I arrive at the bourse just after 9:00. First order of business is to pay Don V. for the 1808 I bought from him. About that time I run into one of the organizers of EAC, Ed Jasper. I found out a week ago, from my dad, that he and Ed were in the same graduating class at Mount Healthy High School in Cincinnati, so he and my dad are the same age, 69. (Just for the record, Ed, you look closer to 55 than 69.) I run into Ed a lot during the show. At one point he brings out a book from a recent class reunion that had my dad and him together. What a small world!
On the bourse, my good EAC friends, Shawn and Craig, are on the same aisle. (Seems like most of my time on the bourse is here, not counting lot viewing.) Craig's busy with customers so I chat with Shawn for a bit; his case holds the Chicago Ark PCGS Registry Set collection, which includes some great looking coins. Shawn mentions that he did get a few coins from Tom Reynolds. I go to Tom's table briefly, the 1796s are not cheap, as expected. Tom also shows me the three 1801 S-218s that he has; all are way out of my price range. Oh well. To the right of Craig is Chris Victor-McCawley's table; he gives me an EAC 2008 T-shirt. (Thanks Chris!)
Craig's table frees up, and he shows me four coins that he has on hold for me. I decide on three of the four; a nice VG 1807 S-271 "Comet", a medium brown 1800 S-196 (how many of these come medium brown?), and the kicker, a 1797 S-141, one of three 1797s I need for a complete Sheldon set of 1797s. One big goal I have at this convention is to try for all three of the 1797s I need: S-125, S-141, and S-142. One down. (There's a rather nice S-125 in the EAC sale. The S-142 in the sale looks decent from the catalog photo; we'll see on that one. It's an R5+, so it's conceivable that I could get both of those.) Before I settle with Craig I show him a nice Draped Bust that I have; we work out a trade on it. Craig shows me a rather choice 1839/6 N1 that he has (he actually has two; one in a slab, one raw. I prefer the raw one, and it's cheaper.) I end up with that one, plus another that I wasn't expecting, a 1796 S-91 Liberty Cap. That leaves S-85 for a complete set of '96 caps! There's a good chance I'll find one here. There's one in the sale that's just so-so. Maybe there will be a good one on the floor. Before I leave I see Craig has a nice S-144 in his case; it's the last 1798 variety I need for a complete Sheldon set of 1798s. But that one's pricey; that one will have to wait for another day.
I visit some other dealers' tables, then decide to go view auction lots. I go right for the start of the large cents, 1793. Lots of 1794s this year. Probably won't get any of those. One coin is exceptional; the S-29. Wonder how much THAT will go for? Soon I get the box containing the 1797s I'm interested in, the S-125 and S-142. There are two S-125s; the first is a nice one, the second, hmm. How about the S-142… not bad, a little corrosion; we'll see.
I get about a third of the way through, and the gentleman I need to take photos for comes up to me. Jack Robinson is just about to give a talk on the state of CQR, especially in light of the recent Tom Wolf and Husak auctions. We both attend Jack's talk (mandatory to better understand things like condition and net grading.) Good news is that there will be another CQR around September of this year. Afterwards I go back to my hotel to fetch my camera and then go back to the convention center. And boy, what a collection of early dates. Chains, '93 caps, '96 busts, you name it. His wife and son are there, and his son hands me a coin to photograph (and we write the variety down, so that I can match them with the photos later.) Early on we play a game where I try to guess the variety. I get most of the 1797s. Biggest trouble is with 1794, although I do get several. We get to one where it looks like the lower curl isn't there. "S-43, or S-44." "Wrong". "What is it?", I say. "Look at the reverse!" Holy cow, tiny stars in the dentils. "S-48!" After that when I would get stuck, his son would call out, "look at the reverse!" (How embarrasing; mis-attributing a Starred Reverse! But the lower curl threw me off…) He mentions the "Boyz of '94". I ask what's required to join, and he says you need to own 12 1794 varieties. (I meet the requirement - hopefully none of them have to be in great shape!)
I take my photography equipment back to the hotel. Outside I run into Steve Carr again; he reminds me of the 1853 cent. My coins are with me this time, and sure enough, it's one of the three Steve mentioned, N27. We strike a deal. Steve is working on his second "roll" of misaligned 1853 cents. Somehow this leads to a discussion of Dr. Roy Sturgeon and his roll of 1793 Liberty Cap cents - if Dr. Sturgeon could get a roll of '93 caps, I bet Steve he can surely get two rolls of misaligned 1853s!
Back to the bourse. On the right side is Walt Husak's table. I greet him; he's just sold an XF40-45 Sheldon-1. (How do you compete with that?) I tell him about the S-124, and he gets a box out and hands me several flips associated with the coin, which I'm thrilled to get. I have the auction catalog from the sale with me; I ask Walt if he'd sign the auction page containing the S-124. (Later Carra accuses me of being a "groupie". So be it.)
A little more lot viewing. It's getting close to 5:00 PM, and they're going to kick us out at that time. I do want to see the S-144 in the EAC sale; sounds awful, but I need that one. (Tom Reynolds previously remarked that he wasn't sure it even WAS an S-144.) I look at it… well, it's attributable, but that's about it. Black as coal, porous, squarish. A little on the thin side (?) But the reverse confirms the attribution. It would be nice to finish a Sheldon set of 1798s, but not with THAT coin. 5:00 PM hits; the bourse closes for the evening. I call Carra (she's still out, but on the way back) and we look for a Greek restaurant that she spotted today. We get on Highway 12 to look for it, but as it turns out Highway 12 is a loop, and to make a long story short, we never find it, but we do find a Bennigan's Grill and Tavern, so we stop there. The portions are HUGE (I reckon this IS Texas. Carra and I both halve our meal to eat later. This turns out to be a good idea.)
We get back about 8:30 - I walk back over to the convention hotel to listen to the seminar concerning the recent Tom Wolf and Walter Husak sales. This is put on by Walt himself, plus dealers Doug Bird and Chris Victor-McCawley, the author of the Husak catalog, Mark Borckardt, and former EAC president March Wells. Trina Husak, Walt's daughter, is also present; she bought two lots in Walt's sale (she purchased her own father's coins!) At the end of the seminar Trina is presented a "Boyz of '94" cap and is officially inducted as the first female "Boy of '94". It's really late when the seminar lets out; definitely time to hit the sack. Don't sleep well this night either. Same reason as before.
Back to the bourse, bright and early. The lot viewing table has an empty seat. I still have tons of lots left to view, so I grab it. Which box was I on? I think I ended in the middle of the 1798s yesterday - that's it. Lots of coins to look at. I finally get finished with the early dates. I'm executing bids for two buddies who couldn't make the convention, so I need to see those coins too - late dates. Some REALLY nice coins here - I'm afraid these may go high. Too many coins - my eyes are getting tired. Time to do something else; there's the gentleman I took photographs for nearby. I tell him that "it's time." We head over to where Dan Trollan and Chuck Heck are set up. I give Dan a list of the 1794s in my collection and their grades (pathetic.) Chuck hands me a "Boyz of '94" cap, and I'm officially inducted. One of them mentions that part of the induction is that they get one of my '94s, and they get to choose which one. (Hope they're kidding.) But they do make me pay for the cap!
By this time in the convention I realize I've been neglecting the bourse, especially my favorite dealer, Mr. Yancey. Shawn has two boxes of cheaper cents for me to go through - I select a rather large pile. Lunch is being passed around; Shawn springs for both of us while I look at coins (thanks Shawn!) After buying a "bag full" of cents from Shawn, we decide to go over the auction lots together so we don't bid against each other. There's a few we conflict on but not many. Shawn has lots of consignments this year; I have one, lot #515, 1838 N15, my first EAC consignment. When we're done I look in Shawn's case; he has a REALLY nice 1796 S-103 "LIHERTY", choice VG7. Not a cheap one. We debate whether prices will be strong or not, especially in the light of the recent auctions. I figure if I strike out in the EAC sale this S-103 would be a very nice addition.
I check out several other dealers' tables. Doug Bird has a huge selection of mid-priced early dates. (He also has about a dozen raw coins sitting bare on a velvet mat. NICE ones. Can't afford those probably.) I look through the affordable coins; what do we have here, a S-125 and a S-142! Plus a few 1794s that look nice. I look at several coins and make some notes. The S-142 is OK… a few old scratches on the bust, date isn't quite full, decent I suppose, and pretty cheap. Might come back for that one. I thank Doug for his time.
There's Bob Grellman, in a rare non-busy moment. I have him look at a few coins for me to get a grading opinion. We're close on most; he's 10 points lower on one than me. Rats… One of the coins is an 1802 S-231 that appears to have a reverse cud where a cud shouldn't be. (I had already checked the coin for rim bumps that would produce this effect.) Bob says there is a bump there, but on the obverse. I still don't see it! But I'm pretty sure it isn't a cud (but what is it?)
On to Chris Victor-McCawley's table. He always has a nice selection; a few 1794s catch my eye, an S-51 (expensive), and a coin labeled "1794, head of '95". That one is NICE - and in my price range. But what is it? I rule out S-68 and S-72 immediately. It's narrowed down to S-67 and S-69 - boy I hope it's S-67; I don't have that one but do have S-69. As luck would have it, it's S-67. My first 1794 purchase as one of the Boyz of '94! Trina Husak is nearby; I ask her what coins she got from her dad's auction. She got one of the S-11 varieties, plus the S-24, her favorite coin of her dad's.
Another educational seminar is announced at 3:00 PM, a debate between the different types of grading, EAC vs. slab grading. Denis Loring is representing EAC grading, with two other gentlemen representing PCGS and NGC. Mark Borckardt is the "referee". This should be good, so I go to that one. The slab guys speak for what seems forever. Denis (EAC #11 by the way, and taught grading by a certain Dr. Sheldon,) cuts to the heart of the matter. Grading is all about the COIN, NOT the market. Denis speaks for about five minutes or so and wins the grading "argument" hands down in my opinion. A Q&A session follows, and I ask a poorly-constructed question, basically asking why the slab companies grade coins that have wear as mint state. Mark Borckardt re-interprets the question so that others can understand what I'm TRYING to say (embarrasing! Glad I'm not a reporter for a living.) More questions follow; 4:00 rolls by, and Doug's S-142 is on my mind. 4:10. 4:20. The bourse is going to close at 5:00.
I skip out early; hope Doug is still at his table. He is. Another gentleman I don't know is also at Doug's table. I ask to see the S-142 again. Doug hands me the coin… hm. Should I buy this? How about the one in the auction? The one in the auction is decent; maybe it will go cheap. I don't know what to do. As a diversion, those coins sitting on the velvet mat get my attention; let's see what these are… a nice 1800 S-202, two 1797 NC-5s (TWO!), … what's this? A rather nice, two-tone 1797. "Doug, what variety is this '97?" "Hmm". Doug goes to a box that contains the flips for these coins. "Let's see, it's one of the later 1797s," … "it's S-142." (Holy cow!) "Can I see it?" I'm looking at both of his S-142s now, the original one and this REALLY nice one in comparison, side by side. This new one is smooth, brown, no problems, full date, a bit off-center on the reverse, which is kind of neat. Doug has already given me a price on the first S-142. "How about this one, Doug? Don't hurt me too bad." We work out a deal on the better one. There's some pain involved, but not too severe. The gentleman at Doug's table comments that it's always better to buy the better coin. Doug concurs. (Not sure if my wallet concurs.) But they're right. (And Doug hands me one of his "store cards," a replica of an 1807/6 S-272.)
Holy cow, only one 1797 to go, the elusive S-125. I go and show the coin to Shawn and David Consolo. I tell Shawn I need to make one more trip to lot viewing. I ask for the box containing the 1797s again and pull both S-125s out. The first one is still nice. The second one… no, I'd never be happy with that one. It's the first one, or it will have to wait. At this point I'm quite tired; time to go back to my hotel and crash for a few hours. Can't sleep though. I turn on the TV; it's a choice between NHL hockey playoffs (Dallas vs. Detroit) or that show where they throw a guy into a remote region with nothing but a knife and he has to survive by eating critters. Hockey wins out. I try to get some sleep but it's not happening. Leftovers from Bennigan's come in handy at this time. The auction time approaches; I make (and consume the better part of) a pot of coffee before heading back.
It's a bit early still, and only a few people are in the auction room. Rod Burress is present and up front as usual. I see Tony Terranova; he hands me his store card, a gold-plated Brasher doubloon! Looks even better than the "1815" Classic Head cent tokens that are available in the lobby. Have to remember to pick up a few of those to give to friends. Shawn arrives; he grabs the chair next to me so we can compare notes.
Finally the auction begins. Brad Karoleff is the auctioneer this year. I miss Denis Loring doing the EAC auctions, but Brad is definitely up to the task and does an amazing job. The first lot is an uneaten dessert that Mark Borckardt brings, a chocolate-something from Carrabba's. Mark suggests that the bidding should start at $20. Brad begins: "Mark bids $20! $30!" Mark is like, "hey, wait a minute!" "$40!" "Does it have nuts?" someone yells from the back of the room. "No nuts!" "$50!" Lots of laughter at this point. Brad continues to raise the bid against Mark, and no one else is bidding (including Mark.) Finally, Brad hammers the lot to Mark for a bid of $140. Someone in the audience aptly remarks that Mark was left "holding the bag". What a great way to loosen up the bidding audience!
Now, on to the good stuff. Well, first the colonials, then the half cents, THEN the good stuff. (I know I'll catch heat for that one.) During the bidding Shawn comments that the prices seem a bit soft. Shawn manages one of the half cent lots, the 1795 C-6a.
The large cents start. Lots of near misses, then the first score for me, lot #202, S-57 (The "Pyramidal Head" variety.) A common one, but I don't have this variety. I grab the S-76b; Shawn comes back with the S-88. I counter with the S-98, another one I don't have, then the S-109, which I thought was much better than the photo. We're both starting to tire a bit; I keep looking at Shawn's catalog to write down hammer prices that I miss, and vice versa. Several we both miss.
The S-125 is coming up; I have to be ready for that one. I have a strong number down and hold my card up and look down… sold. Got it. Shawn says "Last one." Wow; the 1797 Sheldon set is complete. A great auction, and we're just getting started.
Lot #271 is called… what? I had a bid down for #270 and MISSED it, the S-131… boy, that went cheap! You REALLY have to be on your toes; being tired is a huge detriment. Will have to remember to be well rested next year. (As I find out later, Shawn wins this lot!) S-134 Double Struck to Shawn (Nice going!) The 1798 S-144 comes up; wonder how CHEAP it will go. "Sold - $275." Wow - that WAS cheap. The complete 1798 Sheldon set will have to wait. A nice, low-grade 1798/7 S-152 is coming up; I snag that one - sweet. Price is perhaps a tad high, but this coin is a nice upgrade in condition to the one I have. The 1798 S-178 comes up; for the variety it's quite acceptable, but it immediately goes past my high bid… "sold - $4400." No problem; 1800 S-210 is coming up; may have a shot at that one. Nope… the bidding skyrockets past my number and hammers at $1800. It was a terminal die state though. Shawn is successful on the S-215. S-217 is next… $8 grand, for an ugly coin, but one of the rarest Sheldon varieties!
The 1802s are nice; I stab at a few but come up way short. I get the 1805 S-268, then the 1809 S-280. Shawn gets an 1810 S-285 full brockage, then the S-285 double-strike obverse brockage - way to go Shawn! I counter with the 1811 S-287. Soon the middle dates start. Shawn has one of the 1818 N4s circled in his catalog; it's one of his consignments. I win the lot, and immediately elbow Shawn. Now it's rest time until the 1839s; my buddy Paul collects these. But the 1838 N15 (Lot #515) is my consignment. Hope it does well. After lots of page-turning we get to the page with my '38. Bidding starts at $200. Rod Burress hold up an auction card (how many people is he bidding for?), which is a good sign. $400 is reached; my pre-sale guess. $500. $550. $600. (Holy cow.) $650. $700. (Good grief!) "$750? No? Sold for $700." I'm a bit stunned.
The 1839s start; I execute Paul's bids, but the 1839s are really nice and go past his bids. I bid for another friend of mine on some of the late dates; he gets one lot, the 1854 N-26. Finally the auction ends. Shawn and I stick it out until the end; we're both exhausted. And we have to drive back in the morning! I ask Shawn about his S-103 - we work out a tentative deal on it, then part ways. Sleep, then up early to start back to Mobile in the morning. Have to leave early, so the auction lots will have to wait.
On the way back, EAC 2009 is already on my mind - April, Cincinnati. Hope to see a lot of you there!