Welcome to Steve's blog, sharing stories of his professional coin career, 1963 to date. Enjoy stories of Steve's numismatic journey.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Enjoyin' the Drama at Coin-A-Rama

The coin business underwent significant transformation during the 1960s.   Coin collecting had primarily been an activity for the rich and famous, supported by a small number of numismatic professionals.

In the 1960s coin collecting began to attract regular folks, interest fueled in part by the U.S. discarding the gold standard and a limited period when coins or currency could be redeemed for silver.

The new hobby demographic was served by lots of new coin shops, coin shows, new methods of communication, and soon a major market developed.  I was excited to be part of the wave of change.

In my early days as a coin dealer one of my favorite coin hang outs was Coin-A-Rama City in Hawthorne, CA, not far from LAX.  This business was located in a building reminiscent of an old grocery store, at one point containing eight independent coin businesses in separate booths – similar to cooperative antique malls today.

Coin-A-Rama City’s draw was strong because the site not only featured multiple permanent dealers, but provided two other options for buying and selling coins.

The weekly bid board at local shops was a favorite meeting place for dealers and collectors.  Bid boards are much like a silent auction currently held at fundraisers.  Anyone could consign coins to the board, and the store kept about 10% of sale price.  Registered bidders would cruise the room and bid on interesting coins.  At a set time on a specific day, bidding would end and the last person’s bid won the lot.   Some consigners made sufficient money from bid boards they didn’t need other sales venues.  Ebay serves as the bid board of the 21st century. 

Coin-A-Rama’s board was large, running along several walls and very popular.  I bought and sold lots of coins from its bid board.

Coin-A-Rama City held a coin show each Wednesday night.  Tables were set up in a large open area in the front of the store and anyone could rent a table for the night.  I used to set up at some of these shows.

During the BU roll boom in the 1960s it was hard to believe how much business was done at this little dinky show.  Sometimes a vendor sold $10,000 to $20,000 in coins in one evening.  That was a lot of money in those days.

Young dealers who have become well known numismatic professionals were part of the growing coin market in the southern California area during the early to mid 1960s.  Just a few examples:

  • David Hall (David Hall Rare Coins, PCGS) began collecting and dealing coins in 1961 and had a bid board route as a teenager. 
  • Ron Gillio (Ron Gillio Rare Coins; Long Beach Expo) began buying and selling coins in 1961 and was regularly seen at the Wednesday night shows and elsewhere. 
  • Steve Deeds (Morgan Gold; Superior Galleries; Bowers & Merena) managed a coin shop in Inglewood, CA as a high school student in 1963.
Another well-known numismatic resource was born at Coin-A-Rama City -- the “Coin Dealer Newsletter” (also known as the “Greysheet” or “CDN”).  “CDN was established when the dealer community expressed need for a weekly compendium of bid levels from the four teletype systems then in operation,” according to Greysheet company history.

The founder, Orvil L. Payne, was one of the independent businesses renting space at Coin-A-Rama City, and first issues of the new publication were created in the back room of the facility.

The Graysheet continues to be an important source of information for the numismatic community, along with its sibling publications, Bluesheet (certified coins) and Greensheet (currency).

Los Angeles in the 1960s was a hotbed of coin activity, part of an evolution of the coin business, transforming the market from an elite activity to a hobby anyone can enjoy.  It was an amazing time.


  1. I paid several visits to Coin-A-Rama City as a kid. Bid board closing day was always an amazing experience – part frenzy and part party!

    1. i'm searching for an old marine buddy that set up shop there in the early to late 60s and 70s. his name was william t."bill" simpson. any help in finding him would be very much appreciated


      bill mcbride "bill.mcbride "at" gmail dot com

  2. I live in hawthorne..been here all my life ( 60 yrs ) where was this located?

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. ...Inglewood Avenue at 133rd Street. I was a regular from their opening(circa 1964-65) until I went into the Army in 1967. For a while, I did odd jobs for the owners during my Sr year of high school.

  4. Sorry, can't remember enough landmarks of the area to explain. It's been a long time!