When I left Paramount in the early 1970s, I needed someone to help in the business. I met a beautiful young woman by the name of Barbara who had two small children. She had recently been divorced and needed a job. I had known her family 20 years earlier when I was in a totally different profession. I hired her. I hired an accountant from Troy, Ohio, to come one hour each week for six weeks to teach her bookkeeping and office management. Barbara went with me to coin shows. Many men in the numismatic fraternity were smitten by her, but so far as I know only one paper currency dealer ever stole her away for an evening.
Shifting gears, can anyone now imagine the coin business “BGS?” That stands for “Before Greysheet.” Well there was such a time. In those days coin reference works had not proliferated. People, both collectors and dealers, did not have the resources now so abundantly available. I have not been to a major coin show for some years, but about half of the people working the bourse floor at local club shows have a Greysheet sticking out of their hip pockets.
We have the Greysheet, the Greensheet, the Pink Sheet (Wait! That is the pink slip so many people are getting and not sheet.) Everybody knows everything about everything if they know how to read. That has dumbed down the business, but there was “BGS.”
I was smarter than the average bear. We went to all the major coin shows. After we got our table set up, I left Barbara at the table and I went out to make our show expenses. I could do it in about one half to one hour. It was easiest in gold. I would go to a table where a dealer was not up on the market; buy his gold; go across the room to a dealer who knew his gold; sell him what I had bought and make a handsome profit. I did it show after show. No one seemed to catch on. I did it with other coins besides gold. Easy come.
I knew nothing about foreign coins and again reference works were not readily available. I was working the floor when I saw a Swiss thaler that was just breathtaking. It was a gorgeous design in near perfect condition and absolutely beautiful. The dealer had it priced at $60. I just instinctively felt that a coin that old and that nice just had to be worth more than $60 even if I knew absolutely nothing about it. I bought the coin. I took it to our table and asked Barbara to package it and mark it at $120. I went back to work the floor. Upon my coming back only a short time later, I did not see the coin. I asked about it and Barbara said, “Oh, I sold it!”
“What did you get?”
“$110.” Easy come.
The coin business was totally different BGS. Those with the most knowledge profited tremendously. Now everyone has available the combined knowledge of the business in one or another of “The Sheets.” This is true except for super rarities or super condition coins where still superior knowledge means more profit. BGS was a time of “easy come.”
But don’t let that statement fool you. The money might have come easily on the bourse floor, but that overlooks the obvious need to acquire the knowledge that makes such profits possible. Even with all the pricing sources, that knowledge and sense of the market takes time to learn.
John S. Queen is an 89-year-old retired coin dealer. He worked for Paramount and also was independent under his own name.