Dr. Sol Taylor

Boom and Bust: WSC Coin Shows, 1975-82

By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
The Signal
Saturday, February 10, 2006

he late 1970s saw unprecedented activity among coin dealers and at coin shows. Coin counting machines were rattling away at casino-like speed, counting out the silver coins (also known as "junk silver") as prices rose daily.
 Speculation fever reigned. This sparked a greater interest in coin shows than ever before. Every weekend there was a coin show in almost every city, large and small, featuring dozens and even hundreds of exhibit tables with dealers vying to buy and sell coins at a rapid clip.
 I founded the group known as Western States Conventions and booked hotels in three cities to cover some 12 to 18 shows a year. The three cities of choice included Los Angeles (the Airport Hyatt and the downtown Hilton), San Francisco (the Van Ness Holiday Inn) and Las Vegas (Tropicana, Union Plaza, Sahara, and Las Vegas Hilton). In addition to organizing these events, I ran a bourse table with various partners (since I had other duties and couldn't spend too much time at the table).
 For the Las Vegas events, we rented storage space at the current site of the Rio off of Tropicana Boulevard where our display cases, lights and other materials were stored. This enabled us to fly to Las Vegas and not be burdened by the truckload of equipment.
 Most dealers rented cases, lights and even padlocks for the show. The activity at these shows was often extremely hectic for the 12 hours each day that the shows ran — except Sunday, when the shows closed down by 5 p.m.
 At our largest show in December 1978 at the Las Vegas Hilton, we had more than 200 dealers in the ballroom and hundreds of visitors on the floor at all times. Money changed hands at a furious clip.
 My partner for the period of 1977-82 was Ray Anthony, a coin dealer from Big Bear Lake. We shared the various duties of setting up and running the shows. His wife and two adult children were helpful in management and operations such as registration, running errands for the dealers, collecting table fees and even getting change for the many $100 bills used by dealers and customers. Our security team consisted of three Long Beach City Police officers who ran eight-hour shifts and kept the show secure from opening to closing.
 At the Union Plaza show, one officer spotted a suspicious activity where a customer bought a few gold coins from several dealers without even examining them — something a collector would never do. He was paying with legitimate looking cashiers checks from a local Las Vegas bank. The checks were real, but as we later found out, the customer had a check imprinting device in his car that he used to raise the denominations of real cashiers from $50 to $500. With the Las Vegas Police on the scene, the thief was arrested and the gold coins returned to each dealer.
 In another incident, our security man spotted someone wearing a trench coat — in August in Las Vegas — and followed him around the room. When he paused at a table and leaned over to look at some coins, he would slide a dinner knife into the case, lifting it slightly so he could slip in his knife and steal some coins while distracting the dealer looking at the other end of the case.
 We often booked the same dealers for as many as a dozen shows at a time; thus, we could budget our promotion costs in advance. Also, we chose hotels that would give us three or four rooms free as long as we would book at least 50 rooms for the dealers. We chose weekends when hotel business was slow and when we could get the exhibit space for free or well below the usual cost.
 The coin boom — the gold and silver part, anyway — came to a crashing halt by 1981. Many of the dealers who were booked well in advance canceled their tables. Some shows were canceled all together.
 By late 1981, it was evident that 70 to 80 percent of all dealers at these shows were no longer active. WSC officially closed down in early 1982. The Las Vegas storage unit was emptied and the contents divided. The available proceeds were split and all bills were paid off.
 It was a hectic few years, and for the most part quite profitable — but like all booms, the bust usually is not far behind.

    Dr. Sol Taylor of Sherman Oaks is president of the Society of Lincoln Cent Collectors and author of The Standard Guide to the Lincoln Cent. Click here for ordering information.