By Bob Merrill
This is a reprint of Mr. Merrill’s “Auction Perspectives” column that appeared in the Feb. 8, 2000, issue.
I can’t begin to tell you how many times it happens. Once a week, a day, an hour? What I’m writing about are the collections that are sold for a fraction of their value. No matter what anyone says, there is absolutely no substitute for knowledge in numismatics.
Consider for a moment an experience I had only last fall. Collector R was like so many numismatists. He enjoyed and studied his hobby, but his family had absolutely no involvement with his collection.
Over the years, R had consigned to us three or four times. I had met his wife and upon more than one occasion R had mentioned in my presence that if anything ever happened to him for her to call me. Since all of us, even someone at such an advanced state of preservation as myself, think we’ll live forever, I was surprised when a telephone call last fall resulted in Mrs. R informing me that R had died of a heart attack the prior month.
Now, I’m not going to be so coarse as to say something like, “Sorry to hear that; got any coins to sell?” Instead, what I did do was express my condolences and leave it at that. What else can one say at a time like that? There is absolutely nothing that I could do that would make Mrs. R feel better.
Some 30 days went by and I received another call from Mrs. R. She inquired about the auction process and indicated that at some point she might like to sell the collection and that neither she nor her son had any interest in the coins.
We talked for a while and – this is important – she specifically told me that she was in no hurry to sell because there were so many things that had to be settled. She asked if I would call her in about three weeks. Twenty days later, we were on the phone again. After the initial howdys, a story that I’ve heard all too often started to unfold.
Son Dufus (not his real name; just an appropriate adjective) needed money to restore his 1960s muscle cars. What do you think happened? (a) he consigned to one of our competitors; (b) he decided to pay 18 percent interest and charge it on his handy plastic; (c) he robbed George W’s presidential campaign war chest, or (d) he sold the collection outright for all of $15,000 in green money.
Choice “d” is the correct response, as in it’s a done deal. OK, add these values as we go along – a full set of all the Barber coins (except the ’94-S dime) in VF to UNC; a like set of Walkers; a pair of 12-piece gold type sets, a complete set of $2.50 Indians …
Shall I continue? Well, let’s see. There was also a partial Morgan set with about 85 pieces, some proof type coins and a few silver commemoratives. If you haven’t passed $15,000 by now, please return to Mrs. Brooks fourth grade arithmetic class and place the dunce cap on your noggin, because all of this happened in 1999, not 1949.
Shocked, dismayed, angry, you name it; I was. After my initial reaction subsided, a vengeful thought came to me momentarily – to tell Mrs. R what her impulsive son had done. But you know what? All I would do is make her sad and add to her tragedy. Rather than make me feel good by making her feel bad, I just mumbled something really intelligent like, “Oh, um, OK.”
Since the collection was now gone for pennies on the dollar, I asked to speak to son Dufus whose language and attitude did not disappoint my expectations. Dufus managed to get the collection as far as the closest listing in the yellow pages, which was the equivalent of the Ajax Pawn and Fish Emporium.
Oh, the temptation to chastise Dufus was great, but this was the end of the ’90s and I needed to get in touch with my sensitivity and feminine side before the decade terminated. And so, with a false smile in my voice, I listened to Dufus tell me where R’s collection had gone.
Muscle Head now had $15,000 to work on his muscle cars and I was about to call the new owner of the collection. Three minutes later I was in contact with Ajax & Co. I explained my interest and was interrupted by a cackling laugh. Ajax then proceeded to tell me how he had “stolen” the collection, had disbursed it in a week and had made himself $50,000.
I thought I was talking to one of those puffed-up male turkeys who was strutting around the yard. R’s collection was gone at a fraction of its value, Mrs. R and Muscle Head would never know, for they, like you, can sell their collection only once.
Someone once told me to never forget what is worth remembering, or remember what is best forgotten. I think there just might be an application of that in this month’s column.
This “Viewpoint” originally was written in the year 2000 by Bob Merrill of Heritage Auctions in his “Auction Perspectives column.”
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