Here's another Time Capsule: Doug Winter writes in his latest blog about the horrible 1982 rare coin market and his encounter with big buyer Hugh Sconyers.
What a lot of people forget about the coin market in 1982 is that it was dismal. After the amazing precious metals price run-ups in 1979 and 1980, the market crashed in 1981 and by 1982, you literally couldn’t give coins away. More on that in a second…
Steve Ivy Rare Coins (which was to soon merge with Jim Halperin to form Heritage Rare Coins) was a great example of just how badly the coin market had been devastated. In 1979-1980, I believe that there were close to 200 people working at the firm. After the market tanked in 1981, most of the staff was let go. When I was hired, I think there were something like a dozen people on the staff. Amazing as it seems today, this small group of employees was tasked with the responsibility of putting together an ANA sale, selling the coins and collecting the money; not to mention the normal buying and selling associated with the show.
As I mentioned above, the coin market in 1982 was appallingly bad. There were tons and tons of great coins around and, compared to the heady days of 1979 and 1980, prices were cheap; sometimes as low as thirty or forty cents on the dollar. The problem was that no one had any money or any confidence in the market.
But, there was, it turned out, one person who was buying coins. His name was Hugh Sconyers.
Hugh wasn’t a real numismatist; he was involved in the investment world and he was known as being one of the smartest people to ever walk a bourse floor. He represented a group of investors who thought coins, in 1982, were cheap and he set out to buy millions of dollars of choice and rare United States pieces. His buying would peak at the Eliasberg sale in October 1982 where he spent millions of dollars on amazing coins.
I never really knew Hugh that well; just mostly by sight and by reputation. I was told his checks were good (no simple feat in 1982…), he was at the show solely to buy coins and this made him The Most Wanted Man at Boston ANA. There was a bit of a problem though. Hugh was a “personality buyer.” What I mean by this is that Hugh bought coins mostly from people he knew and trusted. This meant that a number of dealers who would have given their first born child to have an hour with Hugh at the table buying their coins would never have the opportunity.
As soon as Steve Ivy found out about Hurricane Hugh, he called me over and gave me a new job at the show. The conversation, which lasted about thirty seconds, went like this:
Steve: I want you to stop whatever you are doing and follow Hugh Sconyers around the show and take notes about what he’s buying. I want to know who he buys from, what he’s buying, and how much he’s paying. What are you waiting for? Go!
Me: Uh, OK.
So my first day at my first ANA show as a professional coin dealer went like this: I had a note pad and a pen and I followed Hugh from a distance. Let’s say he stopped at Joe Flynn’s table. I figured my job was to get just close enough that I could spy on Hugh and give a detailed report to Steve. So as Hugh was flipping through Flynn’s double row boxes, I was at the next table pretending to look at coins out in the nearby case(s). Or something like that…
Here's my memory of the 1982 coin market. At that Boston show I ran into a man with a briefcase filled with proof U.S. type coins, all bargain priced in the $100-300 range. I had had the good fortune of buying a nice proof three-cent nickel for $200 about 1978, and I was able to sell it for about $2,000 before the market tanked. It was dumb luck, since I wanted the cash before heading to college. I looked at that case thinking I should buy the whole thing, but like everyone else at the time I had little spare cash. I'm sure Hugh Sconyers and his investors did well.
To read the complete article, see:
ANA (Mis) Adventures: 1982
THE BOOK BAZARRE
RENAISSANCE OF AMERICAN COINAGE
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