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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As a Barber specialist, my favorite “cherry pick” has always been the 1892-O, micro-o half dollar. Over the years I have found two or three of them, but none with a tale like this one.
Actually, John found it in a dealer’s box at a St. Louis show in the mid ’90′s. “Dad, guess what?” he said on the phone. “I got you a micro-o half. Paid $27!”
“Are you sure it’s a micro-o?” I asked.
“Yes. After I bought it I went back to my table and compared it with the photo in your book.”
We were both excited. In AG condition the ordinary 1892-0 is very common, but the small mint mark variety is certainly rare. However, recognizing it is not easy, especially in low grade, because the mint mark is fairly small.
Back in the office on Monday, John and I looked at the coin together. “Let’s certify it,” I said. “It will sell better if the variety is designated on the holder.”
We sent the half off to PCGS and about two weeks later it came back — graded G4! I was surprised. After all, I thought I knew how to grade Barber halves (there’s a grading section, with photos, in my book).
“How much should we sell it for?” asked John.
“Let’s advertise it for $1,250 and see what happens,” I said. “We can always discount it when the time comes.” We had never owned a Good before and weren’t quite sure what it would bring in the market.
As part of our inventory, the micro-o appeared in our price list and regular advertisements, but it was not until a picture was shown in the Barber Society journal that we got a call. “I’m very interested,” the collector said, “and I want to know if you will take mine in trade.”
“Sure,” I said. “What have you got?”
“It’s in Very Good condition. I paid a thousand dollars for it.”
“Well,” I inquired, “if yours is a VG and mine is only a Good-4, why would you want to trade yours for mine?”
He hesitated. “Um, mine has a few scratches on it and yours looks nice. I’d rather have yours. How much extra will I have to pay?”
When I heard the word scratches I understood. “I can’t tell you until I see your coin, but I’m sure we can work something out.” I said. I figured that any micro-o was worth money. Besides, we had a lot of room in ours.
A week or so later his coin arrived. Scratches were the least of its problems. It had the corroded look of a coin that had been buried for a long time, and of course it was harshly cleaned.
“He can’t have paid so much for it,” John said, as we examined it together.
“I’ll bet he did. I’ve known him for a long time.” Later that day I reached him on the phone.
“We got your coin this morning. Tell me, who did you buy it from?”
He told me and again asked how much money I wanted to complete the transaction. “Give me a little time to determine how much yours is worth,” I said. “I’ll get back to you.”
As soon as he was off the phone I put a call through to the dealer, whom I knew well. I’ll call him Sam.
It took a few days of phone tag to reach him.
“Sam, do you remember selling a badly corroded micro-o half to Mr. _____? It would have been a few years ago.”
He thought a while, and I didn’t rush him. Finally, he described the fellow and, when I agreed it was the same person, he confirmed the sale.
“Sam, how could you have ever charged $1,000 for such a piece of crap?”
“As I recall,” he said, “the guy kept coming to my table and trying to buy it. I didn’t have the coin priced and we were extremely busy. Finally, in order to get him to leave me alone, I told him it would be $1,000. To my amazement he pulled out his check book and bought it.”
On the other end of the line I laughed. “Well, how much is your buy-back?”
“I don’t want it back,” he said.
We haggled and, though I sensed that he might budge, I couldn’t get him to commit to an amount.
Days passed, and my customer called on every one of them wanting to know how much he owed. Finally, I agreed to allow him his full purchase price in trade. And he mailed me a check for $250.
A month or so later we were at a large show and John took the trade-in to Sam’s table with instructions to “get something for it.” He eventually returned with a check for $300. “It was the best I could do,” he said. “I figured no one else would give us anything close.”
I was satisfied. Although we didn’t end up with as much as our coin was worth, we did get $550 for a coin that only cost us $27 and the customer got out of a bad deal. Sam ended up with his coin back and was $700 better off. It looked like everyone came out all right.