Tales from the Bourse is a unique collection of short stories and anecdotes written by David Lawrence about some of more interesting events that took place in his journey to becoming a coin dealer on a national scale. It was originally published in 2001 and has been reprinted numerous times due to popular demand. The book is published online here in its entirely.
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The real excitement of this hobby is in the hunt — building a collection piece by piece, searching far and wide for the hard-to-find pieces that every set has. Going to shows and local coin shops, scanning the ads in publications like Coin World, traveling with the family on vacation and stopping at every flea market along the way… I have done all this, and more.
It is especially exciting to look through the inventory of someone who doesn’t know you. Doesn’t know that, for example, you specialize in Barbers (or Buffalo’s). Doesn’t realize that, even though he may have been in business for 20 years, in your specialty you know far more than he. That you can “pick him off!”
The unwritten rules of the game are simple: You don’t lie, but if you have more knowledge about the scarcity of a coin than he, it is your gain and his loss. This can be really dramatic when it comes to varieties. Not long ago, a vest pocket dealer who knew his bust half varieties found one of the rarest pre 1807 coins at a dealer’s table in Long Beach. He bought the coin as a common date for a few hundred dollars and sold it for thousands, before the “buzz” had even made it around the floor.
If you ever find yourself in this situation, the first thing to do is ask the owner for his price. Then, if it is a very good deal, DON’T BARGAIN. Pay the man and pocket the coin. Wait a little while before bragging about your purchase.
Another rule: An honest deal is based on knowledge, not an employee’s mistake. Years ago, at a San Diego ANA convention, a customer was misquoted the price of a valuable gold coin by an inexperienced salesperson. The coin was priced on the holder, but she misread the $20,000 as $200. The customer knew it was a mistake, but bought the coin anyway. He quickly left the show. I guess he paid by check for they had his address. Fortunately for the dealer, the mistake was discovered almost immediately. The police were at the customer’s home almost as soon as he arrived and the coin was recovered. (In some courts, this is interpreted as a form of stealing.)
I’ll end this with an amusing incident I had in Switzerland about 10 years ago. My wife and I were visiting cousins in the small town of Yverdon, which is in the French-speaking part of the country. I spotted a small coin shop and was anxious to see his stock of U.S. coins. He had a few pieces on display, but they were nothing special. I was hoping he had something more exciting in his safe. But, I couldn’t communicate with him. My wife’s cousin tried to help. Unfortunately, her English is weak, especially in numismatic terminology. My wife doesn’t speak French, but knows some German and she tried to explain what I wanted to her cousin in that language.
So it went from my English to her German to her cousin’s French to the shopkeeper, who couldn’t figure out what I was asking. In my frustration, I threw in some Spanish — it just came out. And …he answered me! At that point we dismissed the ladies to do their shopping and he and I began talking “coins.” Alas, he didn’t have anything I wanted.
This article was published previously in Coin World as a guest editorial.