Baltimore Coin Show Fun

Last week I went to the Baltimore coin show. Normally thrice yearly, it hadn’t been held for two years, due to Covid. Southwest has a one-hour early flight, then light rail (very cheap) got me to my first appointment before 8 AM — with dealer Nick Economopoulos in his hotel room.

He’s a good guy whom I’ve bought from for over thirty years. We go through his entire stock, and he shoots me his best rock-bottom price on every coin. Occasionally I might deliberate for a few seconds; usually not. No song-and-dance. And I buy enough to make it worthwhile for us both.

Then on to another dealer in his hotel room, before the show itself opens, a bourse with many tables. Mostly I seek ancient coins to sell in my online auctions. (The current one closes Dec. 7; here’s a link: But I do still buy an occasional item destined for my own collection.

One in the latter category, from Nick, was a dollar-sized Byzantine bronze of Emperor Tiberius Constantine (578-82 AD). The big M signifies the denomination (follis); the “u” the regnal year (fifth). CON is the mint, Constantinople; the Gamma after it, the “officina” or division in the mint. It was $200, actually the most I ever paid for a Byzantine bronze; but the quality is great. I was very glad to get it.

Quality is the name of the game. The U.S. coin market has gone nuts on that, with 11 hairsplitting grades of uncirculated. The “slabbing” companies, who evaluate coins and encapsulate them, for a fee, came up with something diabolical — “registry sets,” recording who owns the highest grade coins. With associated bragging rights (it’s a man thing). So, recently a 1957 Lincoln — cent, not car — sold at auction for $13,800. An extremely common coin, but uncommonly graded “67+.” Okay — but a 66 would go for about $35. As if the one is hundreds of times better than the other. Actually they’re virtually indistinguishable.

Fortunately the ancient coin market is more sane, but quality is still crucial; and it’s a more complex issue, with a lot of variables to consider. While value is a more open question too, absent price guides. All making this a challenging game. And the pandemic seems to have turbocharged demand, so it’s ever harder to buy at reasonable prices. I’ve always considered myself a “bottom feeder,” looking for “bargains.” Yet it’s remarkable what great coins I’ve been able to acquire — albeit with a lot of effort. But that effort is the fun. There’d be no sport in it if I wasn’t so price conscious. However, now rather than a “bargain,” my criterion for buying is a price at least making some sense to me.

That Byzantine coin is a case in point. Not so long ago $200 would have seemed unthinkable; now it feels cheap. (I’ve seen ones not as good selling for twice as much in auctions.)

I worked the show, going from table to table, until the 6 PM closing. And after a long productive fun day, buying many goodies, and a nice dinner, I got home before midnight, picked up at the airport by the best wife in the world. What a life.

7 Responses to “Baltimore Coin Show Fun”

  1. d Says:

    Good 2-C-U so cheery, but have you spoken to Kyle about Manchin?

  2. David Lettau Says:

    Numismatics is such a vast realm.I can’t help but spend a full day at shows like Baltimore,CICF,FUN,etc. Many of my best finds come at small-to mid sized shows.The thrill of the hunt, the aquirement of special knowledge,the satisfaction of owning rarities- numismatics is such fun!

  3. Don Bronkema Says:

    Puzzler from Siddartha: why do people want to own anything? Goods are transient–let’s dispose ovem pre-compost to ensure the deserving gettem. Respondent is keeping his 50 y/o tweed; raus mit den resten. Go green into the bourne!

  4. David Lettau Says:

    Most religions, as well as most philosophy, and even science are testaments to man’s endless efforts to deny contingency. I gather you view coin collecting in the same light. The Buddha was right that all is change. The sun could explode this very morning, reducing the Earth and everything upon it to a vague mist hurdling forever through space= time. In that event,I definitely overpaid for that denarius of Hadrian I just purchased.

  5. Don Bronkema Says:

    Some of us 10th-decaders cling to our gimcracks; others abjure thing
    -thirst. Green disposal Novus Satorius est!

  6. ryan71 Says:

    The bourse floor is nice. For me and my area finding a dealer with a decent offering or even a few ancient coins is hard. Blasted government bureaucrat have made it nearly impossible to buy coins overseas. Coins are now classified as “cultural artifacts”..what a joke!
    I’m hoping to get some coins out of Poland that I “recently” purchased on an online auction. It’s not the US Customs holding things up, it’s now the Polish my coins are stuck in FedEx lala land until someone can make a determination..sad part is that all this extra work will cost the Polish government, if I had to guess, 5-10X more than the coins are actually worth! Go smart government. Yeah, oxymoron there.

  7. Don Bronkema Says:

    Govt is no smarter than we permit it to be [viz. Hobbes].

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