The crowd shushed as the young woman wiped away the numbers on the green chalkboard. In the blank spot that was left, she carefully printed the new number.

Gold had just dropped another $15 an ounce at Deak-Perera in downtown Washington.

"I lost $750 when the price changed, " figured one customer with resignation.

People arrived at work yesterday to discover that while they slept, the price of gold had fallen from $838 to $763 an ounce in London. By the close of the New York market in late afternooon, the price had dropped $143 in that city, to $683 an ounce.

But the customers at Deak's remained clam, mostly trying to figure out among themselves what the new numbers meant.

Those waiting in line to sell gold soon learned. The customer who had watched $750 slip through his fingers had driven in from Virginia to trade a handful of Austrian gold prices.

"When I came in, the price (on the board) for those coins was $611 an ounce," he said. "But while I stood there waiting in line, the New York price dropped and Deak went to $596."

The man, a retired magazine editor who would not give his name, said he had wanted to sell his gold Monday when prices were more than $800 an ounce. "But the Virginia banks were closed for the Lee-Jackson birthdays, and I couldn't get the coins out of the bank vault."

The man was disappointed, but not visibly dismaved.

He had sold his coins for $14,900, not as much as he would have gotten Monday, but more than he had paid for them.

Michael Checkan, vice president of Dean-Perera, described the day's business as "mixed." Fewer customers came into the office yesterday, he said, compared with last week. And of those who did appear, "slightly more" were there to sell rather than to buy.

Other area coin and bullion dealers reported similar scenes -- moderate-sized crowds, more interested in selling than in buying.

"We don't have any long lines or anything like that," said an official at the Maryland Coin Exchange in Silver Spring. However, many of the customers were laden with coins and bars they wanted to sell.

At Lucien L. Birkler Co., a bullion and coin dealer in downtown Washington, store officials played down the effect of the price drop on their customers.

"We have five people in buying right now," said Frances (Skip) Fazari, the store manager.

However, he said that some small investors who purchased at Monday's peak prices have been hurt by the drop. But he didn't know who they were or how much they had lost.

"Would you go back to the store you bought if [the gold] from when the price goes down? No. You sit at home and cry in your beer."

A lawyer watched the action at Deak-Perera and offered her own theory on the gold market: Prices will rebound and peak at $1,000.

"The reasons for the increase still are there -- the tension in the Middle East and all that," she said.

But then she added with an uncertain laugh, "But I don't know -- there could be a crash."