Talking Beginners - Doing a Show
by Steve Carr
April 12, 2002

If you are a beginning copper collector, you probably already know that finding early American copper coins can be trying. Early coppers are not in the main stream of the collecting hobby and most dealers keep only a few in stock. And, after your third or fourth visit to their shop, you soon realize that the early copper stock seldom changes. What is a collector to do?

Try a coin show! Most medium sized towns have monthly shows. You can find out about them from fliers at your local coin shops, advertisements in the classified ads of the local newspaper, ads in Coin World or Numismatic News, or from other local collectors. No local shows? Try a regional show. These shows are bigger (there are more dealers) and are held in larger cities, so getting there and back home again may require more time. Collectors living several hours away can do these shows in a single day, leaving early and arriving back home late. Collectors living farther away might want to spend two days at the show. Be sure to call before hand to confirm the show date and times. In rare instances, shows are cancelled or dates changed.

When you arrive at your first show, you see tables running off into the distance, both ways. So much opportunity! So many coppers to be seen! But then reality sets in. How can you see even a portion of the coppers there, let alone keeping straight what you have seen? How are you supposed to act with the dealers when you are interested in looking or buying? How do you act if another collector comes up to the dealer you are looking at and offers coppers for sale? It can be overwhelming.

So, how can you deal with this "show?" Let's tackle the large number of dealers and coins first. To maximize the time you have to see the most coppers, you need a strategy. The first step of your strategy should be to know what you are looking for. It sounds simple and makes lots of sense, but many times we forget the obvious. You can be looking for coins in a general area, like any large cent, a more specific area, like draped bust cents, or a very specific area, like an 1830 N-9. Once you decide what you will be looking for, learn some of the pick-up points for these coins, like the high "0" in the date and leaf tips all at C position for the 1830 N-9, for example. For an area like draped bust cents, look for a stemless wreath on type 1 draped bust large cents. They all are goodies!

Know what grade and condition coins you are looking for. If you don't like or want scudzy coins, don't spend your time looking at them. Use your time to look more closely at the coins that do interest you. Of course, the higher your expectations, the less likely you will find coins that suit you. In that case, you might broaden your "search" area or lower the grade/condition you will examine. Of course, the newer you are to the hobby, the less your general knowledge will be. Study the books on our early coppers. Look at the pictures, read the text, and note ways to tell the varieties apart The more you study early coppers, the more you come to know them. And, if you know what you are looking for, it just might show up!

Create a "cheat sheet" that lists any notes for yourself, varieties you already own, and/or coins you are seeking. Your cheat sheet might list pick-up points for varieties you are seeking or it might be a quick finder. If you have room, bring along CQR or a book that will help you attribute.

Finally, develop a plan so you can remember where you have been and what you have seen. This plan will obviously be a very individual one, depending on what you are "looking for" and how comfortable you feel on the bourse floor. Your plan can be as simple as visiting only dealers you know will have copper. It might be just walking up and down all the aisles, just glancing at the coppers in the display cases. Or maybe you want to see every copper on the floor. In any case, if you maximize your time, you will be able to see and closely examine more coppers.

The best way to maximize your time is to use a map of the bourse floor. At larger shows, a map is usually provided at the registration table. At smaller shows (and a few larger ones) a map may not be provided. In this case, just make your own. Draw a rectangle on your map for each table, laid out like the bourse floor. If you see a coin you like, but are not sure you want to buy, make a note about it in the rectangle. The map then becomes your "watch" list. When you are done looking at a table, put a small "x" in a corner of its rectangle. This will remind you that you have already seen the coins at this table and can indicate areas of the bourse you may not have explored. If the floor plan at your local show does not change, make one map and copy it for every show.

Plan to arrive when the show begins. Most shows open at 9am or 10 am. "The early bird gets the worm" is a truism at coin shows. If you are one of the first in the door, you theoretically have a chance to be the first to find and buy any copper on the bourse floor. It also gives you more total show time to see more copper and decide what coins you are really interested in.

OK, we're back at our first show, with dealer tables running off into the distance. You have a plan. But how do you behave on the bourse floor? Are there certain rules you need to follow? Are there any customs you should be aware of?

EAC publishes some "rules" for bourse floor etiquette in An Introduction to the World of Early American Copper Coinage, the booklet sent to each new member. They are on pages 4 and 5. While not all these rules relate to coin shows - some are for auctions and mail sales - eight do. They are listed below (as numbered in the EAC booklet) followed by my short commentary. All of us should know these rules - they are mostly common sense - but perhaps they bear repeating.

  • Handle a copper coin carefully, grasping only its edges. The coin belongs to another person and you should treat it with respect. Oils from fingers can promote oxidation on copper coins. This obviously does not apply to a coin in a slab, but be careful not to scratch the viewing surfaces.

  • If standing while examining a coin, hold your other hand beneath it. It is best to sit when looking at coins. A shorter distance to the floor! And we do lose our grip occasionally. A "fall" can damage an early copper. One good way to look at copper to examine the coin above a soft surface, like a felt pad.

  • Don't remove a coin encased in an album or holder without the owner's permission. Ask if you cannot see the coin clearly. If the dealer is reluctant, ask if they will remove the coin. If they still refuse, perhaps they are attempting to hide something. Pass on the coin unless it is something you just have to have.

  • Don't inquire as to how much the owner paid for a particular coin. It is none of your business until after the transaction occurs. Then, only if the seller is willing.

  • Don't attempt to improve the appearance of another's coin by touching its surfaces, washing or brushing it, or by applying a cleaning solvent, wax, or CARE. Even if you think the coin can be "improved," do not try until you own it. Improving coppers can go either way - good results some of the time but bad results when we least want them. Take the chance on your own coin!

  • In your eagerness to examine a coin, don't snatch it from another's fingers before he is finished looking at it. Obviously! The same thought should be applied if you see the dealer offer another person a copper at a price you would just love to pay. Give the other person the right of refusal. If they do pass, you are next in line. If they buy the coin, congratulate them (away from the dealer's table, of course!).

  • If several coins are to be shown, return each piece to its owner before examining the next. This is a good rule in theory, but is one seldom followed. Most dealers have their coins in separate trays that hold 10 or more coins. Often, the dealer will pass the entire tray to a collector. It is still a good idea to remove only one coin from the tray at a time.

  • Don't belittle another collector's holdings. Another "no brainer." We all have different tastes (thankfully!), collect what we want and can afford, and have our own, individual, collecting goals. Respect others collections. May they respect yours, too.
An Introduction to the World of Early American Copper Coinage was published in 1983. Coin shows and dealers have changed a little in the past 19 years, necessitating some additional "etiquette" rules. I would add:

  • Be courteous. Another "no brainer." Everyone of us gets angry once in a while. And most of us are passionate about our coins. If joined, these two forces can only lead to trouble. Bottle your anger and walk away. If you feel the urge to argue or be rude, do it away from the bourse floor.

  • Don't clutter up the top of a dealer's display case. If you plan to use a quickfinder, book, or your cheat sheets while looking at coins, first ask the dealer if he minds. If it is OK, keep them on your lap. If he says "no," don't use your helpers. Remember what you can about the coins and look them up after you leave his table. The main reason you don't want to clutter up the dealer's space is because other people may look over your shoulder at coins in the case. If a dealer's coins are covered, potential buyers cannot see them.

  • Use the incandescent lights dealers have at their tables. The fluorescent lighting at most coin shows is the absolute worst for looking at early coppers. This type of lighting can hide hairline scratches and some toning. Hold the coin completely under the incandescent light. Make sure you have a loupe you feel comfortable using. A good loupe multiplies the pleasure of looking at a coin!

  • Don't linger for a long time and not buy something. You are taking up a space in front of the dealer's coins, a space that could be occupied by other, buying, customers. If the dealer does not have coins you are interested in, leave. If you are interested in a dealer's coins, but never seem to buy anything, buy an inexpensive coin occasionally. This takes you out of the class of "looker" and puts you in the class of "potential buyer" in the dealer's eye.

  • Ask if a dealer has any more early coppers. Sometimes, dealers have coins they are not displaying. These may be recent purchases or overstock. Some rare coins have hidden in dealer "spare" boxes on back tables, just waiting to be found!

  • Ask for the dealer's best price. One of those "hidden secrets" of numismatics is that many dealers will sell coins for under the price shown on the holder. If this is the case, both the buyer and seller will determine the final price. Sometimes, however, a dealer's price is firm and he will go no lower. Pay the price or pass.

  • Don't gloat about a cherry pick. Especially in front of the dealer you bought the copper from. Save the stories for later.

  • Always thank the dealer for letting you look at his coins. A smile and a "thank you" will be remembered. You never know what coins that dealer may have in the future. Maybe he'll remember you and show them to you first.

Your hardest challenge will probably be deciding which of the many offered coins you wish to acquire. So, just how do you decide whether to buy a coin or not? It's your final decision, based on what you know about the activity on the bourse floor and the coin being considered.

My own buying strategy is to purchase coins I MUST have when I first look at them. If a coin is not in that category, but is nice, might fit into my collection, or might make a good trader, I put it on my "watch" list and move on. When I want to take a break from looking at "new" dealer's stock, I go back and look at the coins on my "watch" list again. If they have become "must have," I buy them. If not, I just study them for a while longer and move on. If I still like the coin, it stays on my watch list. If I don't, I mark it off. Sometimes, the coins are gone when I go to look at them again. Then, I either commiserate or think "Oh well" and mark it off the list.

Was your first show a success? Do you feel good about the experience (whether you found any coppers or not)? Did you have a good time and meet some new people? If you did, your show was a success. Oh, there may be some nagging indecisions (should I have bought that one? Did I pay too much? Was my attribution correct?). But you can learn from your experiences at shows. Then, the next show will only get better! By the way, you will always know you have been successful when you leave a show with a copper you just love!

Enjoy your coin show experiences.


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