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Attending a Coin Show-Maximizing the Experience

Tom Becker

I have attended hundreds of coin shows. At these events I've had the opportunity to observe the activities of many dealers and collectors. Some who attend shows make the most of every available minute. Others seem to wander around lost. Here are a few tips you might use to make the most of your coin show experience.

Make a list of the things you hope to accomplish. The primary goal should not be to empty the contents of your wallet or checking account as quickly as possible. Consider other objectives and greater challenges. If you didn't spend a dime how could you gain something from the event?

Speaking only for myself, some of the worst buys I've ever made were at the beginning of a show when everyone, myself included, got caught up in the excitement. I've learned it is better to maybe let a great deal get away than to have a bad deal get me. Some of my best buys were made when the bourse room was nearly empty and I was the last customer standing in front of a dealer's table. Plan to spend the day and stay till the end.

Take frequent breaks. It's easy to become "coined out" without noticing it. You're looking, but are you really seeing? Find a place to rest, but don't be oblivious to what is happening around you. Stand back, take a deep breath, and observe. Which dealers seem to be doing the most business? Do you know why? Do you see lots of coins changing hands or do buyers and sellers seem tentative? Others may disagree, but at a coin show I find nothing wrong with listening in on the conversations of others. I've been able to hear many wise words that were not intended for my ears. Sometimes the fly on the wall gets the best buys.

Smile. Coin shows are social events. Approaching a dealer's table with a cheerful and friendly attitude will often generate the same response. If you are new to the hobby there is no need to announce it. Not one of us has escaped being in this same situation. Often to learn it is necessary to ask questions. Nobody at a coin show will consider you a pest for doing so. Much information can be obtained from dealers, but don't overlook the opportunity to speak with other collectors. Most of them will be delighted to make a new friend. Good places to start conversations are in the exhibit area or where refreshments are sold.

Also make a point of speaking with those minding the booths provided to clubs, mints, supply vendors and numismatic publications. Often the primary goal of show attendance for these folks is to meet and speak with collectors.

Coin shows can at first seem intimidating to newcomers. The event is being held for your benefit. It's up to you to make the most of the experience. Perhaps the show will have an exhibit area where you can wisely spend time reviewing the collecting activities of others. Plan to attend discussions and seminars if they are available.

Allow time to carefully inspect the offerings of every dealer. One of the finest collections of paper money I ever purchased came from a dealer who specialized in silver dollars and had the packet of paper tucked away on the backup table just waiting for someone to ask if they had any. Coin shows are fantastic treasure hunts and some serious digging may be required to locate the real gems. Many show attendees overlook the opportunity to carefully examine coins that may not be on their shopping list. Don't be timid about asking to see items you may never purchase. The coins have been made available for everyone to examine. Because you can't buy it doesn't mean you must pass up the opportunity to hold a wonderful coin in your hand. It may be wise to set a goal-let's say planning to carefully examine, by holding in your hand, 200 coins that have attracted your attention. A tremendous amount of knowledge can be gained from this simple-seeming activity.

Once the bourse activity settles down and some dealers seem available for conversation pull up a chair and chat. Ask questions. Inquire about unfamiliar items in a dealer's inventory. It won't be the first or last time someone asks, "What's that?" After asking a question or two and looking at a few coins, thank the dealer for his or her time and move on. The dealers are at the show to do business. With few exceptions, that you will quickly learn to avoid, most dealers are also anxious to meet collectors and make friends. I once had a steady customer who was spending about $500 a month. We finally got to meet at a show. His next order was for more than $2,500. Dealers understand the value of good public relations. Anyone can come away from a coin show saying they bought something. How many visitors also make a significant addition to their numismatic knowledge?

I can confidently say that nothing will ever replace the unique experiences available at coin shows. If you've never attended a show before don't try to do too much. The information and knowledge gained at the first show will help you prepare for the next event. I know of one very wise collector who decided his major goal at a show would be to learn more about grading half dollars. Four hours of intensive research done by looking at and comparing hundreds of coins resulted in accumulating knowledge no reference book can provide. At the next show he made his first purchase of half dollars. That's the smart way to do things.

If the coin show also features an auction absolutely make plans to spend some time observing the activity. If you are new to these events find an out-of-the-way location, sit on your hands, and watch. I cannot remember attending a major show without at least popping in at the auction to get a feel for what was going on. Like attending a hockey game, you don't need to participate on the ice to benefit from the experience.

When attending shows plan for the unexpected. At one show I began a conversation with another dealer soon after the bourse room opened and we were still talking at lunchtime. This unexpected conversation resulted in a six-figure transaction.

A coin show provides everyone with a first hand opportunity to see what is available and to develop opinions about market activity. If you haven't attended a show before you may well be overwhelmed with the amount and quality of material available. This is your chance to look at it all! For example, on this particular day you may not be in the market for a high grade $5 gold piece, but you may find several to examine. After this experience you can use your new knowledge to compare a coin received by mail or offered at auction with those that were available at the show.

Throughout this article I've tried to point out some of the many benefits to be gained at shows without spending money. It's time to mention shows are a great place to do business. Where else can you make immediate comparisons of dozens of coins and select the one you like best? Where else can you get multiple offers for items you wish to sell from some of the most active dealers in the country? And I must mention some of the best deals usually turn up at coin shows. Can you really afford to stay home and miss these opportunities?

Make it your goal to be part of the coin shows you attend. You can add to the event for all the reasons I've mentioned. It is most important to realize you are the reason these events are being held. I've attended "for the trade only" coin shows and overall they were flops. You need to be there-- and your attendance matters to others. If you have never attended a coin show you can't possibly understand how important the experience can be to furthering your enjoyment of the hobby.


Tom Becker is a regular contributor to the Canadian Coin Reference Site, you can direct your questions directly to Tom easily by or visit Tom's website @


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