Bourse Etiquette

Posted on September 7, 2010 by

Even the smallest coin show offers something new and exciting. Every show begins with the promise of the unexpected, what you might find, what you might learn, chances to buy and sell. For both collectors and dealers coin shows are a great opportunity to meet and greet fellow hobbyists and conduct business. Even in today’s Internet driven society coin shows are an integral part of the business.

If coin shows are so important, why is it that so many people are unaware of how a bourse operates and of the unwritten rules. We hear all the time from collectors who feel unsure how to interact with a dealer, or who feel intimidated, mistreated or even insulted at times. Then again we hear from dealers who tell stories of collectors wasting their time, interrupting them in the middle of a sale, or making ridiculous requests or offers.

We should suppose that it takes all kinds, meaning that whenever there is a large group of people there will be all types of personalities, levels of knowledge and sophistication and a wide range of just plain manners. Everything else aside, here are some basics that would improve the experience for all.

First of all there are many different types of dealers. At most shows dealers will break down into two groups – wholesalers and retailers. Of course some dealers do both, but when the bourse is open to the public it is pretty easy to identify which is which. A dealer who is interested in retailing will have his table prepared and look like he is open for business. His cases will be uncovered and coins will be assembled so they can be seen. Usually someone will be standing by ready to answer questions or assist as needed. Here we need to mention the sole proprietor, the coin dealer that is all by himself. It’s unavoidable that there will be times when he’ll be taking care of some paperwork on the back table, or even leave his table unattended for a few minutes. It’s not that he isn’t interested in your business; he can only do so much. Everyone needs to cut this guy some slack.

When a dealer is engaged with another customer you need simply to remember those basic manners we were taught in elementary school. Do not interrupt. Be patient. Wait your turn. Most dealers will attempt to make eye contact and recognize your presence. As soon as they can they will be with you. You must recognize that every interaction between a dealer and customer could result in a sale. If you are in too much of a hurry to wait or it seems that their conversation might go on too long, then move on and perhaps you can circle back. Demanding to be noticed or being rude is most likely to produce a similar kind of response.

Once engaged it is helpful to let the dealer know what your interests are, specifically what you are looking for and even your budget guidelines. If you are just looking then let him know. It’s not necessary to give away information that will compromise your negotiating position, but at the same time don’t spend a lot of time trying to ambush or cherry pick the guy. There are plenty of dealers that don’t mind getting cherry picked, but there are no big “rips” in the coin business. Just don’t waste his time, or yours, with any cloak and dagger stuff when you know darn well what you are looking for. And by all means don’t try to haggle with the guy if you do cherry a coin! On the other end of this issue, if you really aren’t familiar with the market, or the coins you are looking at, be up front about it. All dealers laugh about the guy who stands at their table for 30 minutes deciding between coins and when he is quoted “1750” for the coin he selects, pulls out a $20 bill and asks for change.

It costs a fair amount for dealers to set up at most shows. I used to plan on $5,000 per show minimum. If your goal is to pay the least amount possible for any coin you buy, that’s fine (you’ll get what you pay for), but understand the guy you are buying it from needs to make a living. Most dealers don’t mind being asked what their “best price” is, but don’t expect to buy a $5,000 coin for $2,000. Unrealistic expectations can lead to insulting offers and bad feelings all the way around. Again, it is up to everyone to do a little homework and know the market. Even though some price guide says the coin is a $2,000 coin, the coin may be selling in auction for $4K-$5K. Some price guides don’t work too hard at staying current and just because you have one in your pocket does not make you an authority on the issue. Dealers had better know the market because they are investing their hard cash in their inventory. If you get quoted something that you know is too high all you have to say is “that’s more than I want to spend”. It may be that that particular dealer is priced too high on that coin, or on everything he has, but once you’ve asked for his best price there is nothing to be gained by further arguing price.

Most dealers will accept cash or check (some are setup for credit cards as well). If you have never done business with a dealer he will probably ask you for references before he will complete the sale. Don’t take it personally. There are teams of scam artists that prey on dealers by passing bad checks. If you can’t provide an immediately verifiable reference, you should be willing to have the dealer ship the coin to you after your check clears. If you have any concerns almost any dealer would be willing to provide you with plenty of references. There are rules and regulations on cash transactions and forms that are supposed to be completed. It really isn’t smart to pay cash when the transaction is over $10k. I once had a guy flash me a briefcase full of $100 bills. I guess he was trying to impress me by telling me it contained $250k. I told him he had a better chance of getting robbed than impressing anyone if he kept opening his case like that!

Dealers whose cases are empty and who sit with their backs to the aisles are not interested in doing business with the public. They are there to wholesale and are focused on dealer to dealer transactions. Wholesalers play an important role in the overall market, but unfortunately they are taking up valuable bourse space that you just have to walk by. Shows for them are just a place they can meet and trade with each other.

There are thousands of bourse floor stories that could be told. Good material for another day. There are good guys and not so good guys in the coin business just like anything else. Some of us were paying better attention in school than others. The bottom line for today is common courtesy goes a long way on the bourse floor.

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