The Europe trip April 2017

I'll just mention the general social stuff briefly to start and then go on to the coins story and the implications thereof.

Germany has wind and solar everywhere.  And trains everywhere in Europe.  And bicycles.  And well maintained roads, at least in Wuerttemberg, where we mostly were.  Kinda like peace and freedom.  Kinda like a country of people that have a government that cares about them and it cares about people.

Europe in general the food was good everywhere.  Even the prepackaged snacks made with better quality products.  People of all sizes but not much morbid obesity in evidence.

Ethnic diversity everywhere, peace and harmony everywhere I was.  Little neighborhoods of this or that ethnic group.  In Paris a street of Africans, turn the corner, a street of Cambodians, walk a block, Syrian refugees.  Little towns in Germany: Africans, Turks, Syrians.  Switzerland too, refugees and immigrants tucked into the general culture.  There are terrorist incidents in France but not in Germany or Switzerland.  France has an interventionist international stance, Germany and Switzerland are kind of keep their noses to themselves, a little charity here and there.

Cigarettes and alcohol everywhere, in public.  And pot, in Lucerne, along the river.  An old guy in shorts, suspenders, knee socks, and a whistle around his neck.  Why?  The cops gave it to him to blow if he saw anything.  "But they never come when I blow it so I don't bother."

But let's talk about coins and the coin business.  So there we are in Paris and I meet a friend/colleague and we do good business and it immediately becomes obvious: Roman coins are common as dirt, and Celtic too, in France.  France is just filled with French coins, who knew?  You want to buy 100 high grade 18th century ecus?  No problem.  Charlemagne?  I saw 20 or more.  Louis d'ors by the dozen.  Napoleons (THE Napoleon, not the nephew) by the 100.  Those Monaco gold 100 francs - saw 6 of them.

In Paris there's a "coin shop street" with about 12 shops. But most of them are not user-friendly.  A guy behind bulletproof glass wants to buy your gold, doesn't want to sell you anything.  You try to buy coins, maybe he says he's got nothing for sale except the gold coins in the window, everything else goes to auction if its any good, the rest of it goes to wholesalers, a lot gets put out on Ebay.  Or they do all of their business on the web like I do.  Or they go away from the window and get a tray of something to show you, you stand there and wait, the prices are "normal," there's no discount.

Not all of them.  There were a few dealers who would deal.  There were some deals to be had.  There were some local differences to be exploited.  Some cherries to be picked.  Found one guy there in Paris by accident.  Was on the way to another shop around the corner and down the street from Coin Dealer Alley, saw this place, walked in, ended up spending a third of the money we spent there, never got to the one we were looking for.  He doesn't have a website.

The rest of the trip was mostly "No, I don't do coins any more, the money's not there, its hard to get stuff, no bargains, government becomes more troublesome" and so forth.

In Strasbourg the one coin shop: "We never change our prices, no discounts, that's how we stay in business."  Some interesting stuff, some reasonable prices, spent money there.

There is an extensive galaxy of auction "houses," many functioning as B-team outlets for the top-of-the-heap houses like Kuenker and Gorny-Mosch.  Stopped in at one of the B houses in Heidelberg.  It occupied a splendid 19th century palacehaus on a high priced street, frescos on the walls, etc.  No, they don't have any coins sitting around to look at, would we like to look at the unsold lots from the last auction?  Why yes, please.  That's when I found out that that place had adopted the new and pernicious habit of not describing cleaning, so there's a better Kaiserreich 5 mark in Fine, priced for Fine, but rim bruises (described) and heavy cleaning (not).  You know different auction houses set different policies about their estimates: some set them low, some higher.  This one set them higher, thus the extensive stock of no-sale items.  Was welcome to make an offer on anything, long as it was the estimate or higher.  Nothing to be done.  The main guy came over, said "Let's talk."  So bid $500 on some local ducat that the estimate was $800 (euros I mean, not dollars).  He shook his head.  No, sorry, you're in the wrong place.  We sell most of our stuff at the prices we were hoping to get.  There are hundreds of little auctions going on all the time, all on line, all with 20% buyer fees, 20% commissions, no returns mostly, you're supposed to know what you're getting from the photos, but I'm here to tell ya: photos are different from the things they are photos of.  And this not describing cleaning is just plain fraudulent.

Walked past the Gorny main office in Munich.  Perfect Greek blackware vases in the window worth $50k each.  Can't touch their stuff.  Coins are a tiny bit of what they do.  Did not go in.

Everyone closes for lunch.  Everyone goes on vacation.

One real old fashioned shop in Munich.  There's the stuff, a lot of it, reasonable prices, dealer discount, people coming in and selling stuff, spent money, it was good.  Turns out they have offices in several German cities, I think the Munich shop is the original.  Extensive web presence, happened to buy some stuff from their website after I got back.  Reasonable prices, reasonable shipping charges.

Overall impression of the European coin business is decline.  Stamps are bigger, each country specializes in its own stamps.  Picture postcards are big enough to support postcard emporia right in the middle of downtown.  Some town in Switzerland: no coin shop, but a postcard shop.  Half of the dealers and half of the customers are women, including young women.  And I talked with one of my NC dealer friends, yeah, here too, 100 year old postcards are happening.

So I don't know about the future of coins.  There is a point in any collectible field where all of the casuals are gone, moved on, and the investment fools, and the boiler room operatives, only the obsessives are left, the market is still there but its 10% of what it was in its heyday, or 5%, or 2%.  I get dry spells in the acquisition of stuff fairly frequently, and each time I wonder if I need to start looking for something else to do, then something happens, like it did this time with this Chinese stuff that came in, and I'm busy for another quarter.  But things are gradually tightening: higher prices, smaller markups, fewer customers, harder to get stuff, what to do.  Thinking about it.

But still in business, for the moment.