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

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Mixed Grill In El Paso

San Diego 1969
Trying to figure out how to stir up a little business, I have a brainstorm:  I should make a buying trip to El Paso, Texas.   El Paso is located on a major interstate highway, intersecting east and west, north and south, so I had a hunch it might be a good place for some action. 

The Adventure Begins
I jump into my trusty 1967 Chevy and head for Texas.  My buy ad in the El Paso paper runs for three days, so I am hopeful something good shows during my stay.

Right off the bat, a neat deal arrives:  a rancher walks in with five rolls of nice, circulated 1895-O Morgan Dollars.  Today this would be unbelievable, but in the late 1960s the 1895-O issue was plentiful in Fine to AU, rare in uncirculated condition.

The rancher wants $20/coin or $2000 for the 5 rolls.  Since $2000 was 1/3 of the budget for this trip, I had to take a minute to consider the logistics of selling these coins.  An idea was generated, so I said “let’s do this deal.”

On Day 2 of the buying ad, lots of smaller deals drifted in.  At end of the day something exciting appeared – 150 Conder Tokens dated in the 1790s, all in Gem Uncirculated condition.
Parys Mine Company
Halfpenny Token, Anglesey

Conder Tokens are privately minted token coinage struck and used during the latter part of the 1700s and the early part of the 1800s in England, Anglesey and Wales, Scotland, and Ireland where there was a shortage of small denomination coins for everyday business, including worker pay.

The government made little effort to relieve this shortage, so private business owners and merchants took matters into their own hands, and the first tokens were issued in 1787.  Since tokens were not minted by the government, creators could craft designs to make political statements and social commentary, to honor great men, ideals, great events, or to simply advertise their businesses.

By 1793, the hobby of collecting and trading various tokens achieved widespread popularity.  Because of widespread "collecting mania," a great number of extremely well preserved tokens survive today, having been tucked away in private collections for generations.  Conder tokens are named after James Conder who was an early collector and cataloger of these items.  

The gentleman wanted $800 for the Conder lot.  I was intrigued by the tokens and imagined good potential for profit, so I agreed in a flash.

A Dinner to Remember
I was so jazzed about the Conder lot I decided to treat myself to a great steak.  A resident directed me to a plain old cafĂ© sitting on a little hill, right out of town.  I was the only person in the place.  The cook comes out from behind the counter to help me.  Tell him I heard he had a great steak.  He says “yup” and invites me to sit right down.  There are no menus; he serves steak and potatoes.  Period.  “OK, bring it on.”  Twenty minutes later dinner appears.  The cook carries a large pizza tray with most of a cow hanging over the side.  It’s a 2+ POUND t-bone!  Took me two hours to do the best I could to consume that tasty hunk of beef.  Nope, couldn’t finish.  If I remember right, the whole dinner cost $10. 

Back to business . . .
On Day 3 there was just a little action, and I’m packing up to be gone by 3 p.m. when the phone rang.  A bank on the way out of town has a stamp deal they’d like me to buy.  Now, I don’t know a lot about stamps, but agree to stop and take a look.

The bank manager takes me to a conference room where we are greeted by a 10 foot table piled high with mint sheets of stamps.  Taking a quick look, I see that these are just postage and offer him 80% of face value.  He’s delighted; I write a check, pack up the postage, and head for home.

I hope there’s something in this stamp lot worth at least a little, but if not, I know a mail order stamp dealer in San Diego who will pay me 90% of face for the stamps. 

How did this buying trip work out, when all was said and done?
A week later, I had filled all the coin shop bid boards from LA to San Diego with 1895-O Dollars, hoping to recoup my capital as quickly as possible.  The five rolls of 1895-O in Fine to AU took about two years to sell completely, but ultimately I made money on that purchase. 

I proudly took the Conder Tokens to a local foreign coin expert, where I sadly learned the well preserved tokens were worth only $2 each, for a loss of $500, if I sold then and there.  I kept them for a while and finally sold them for a loss of $300.   Today those same tokens would likely be worth over $15,000!

There was no extra value in the stamp deal, but the 10% profit made by reselling to the stamp dealer was welcome. 

And that steak in El Paso remains high on the personal list of My Favorite Steaks Of All Time, alongside Stockyards Inn (Omaha), Manny’s (Minneapolis) and Mitchell’s (Columbus).  

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