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Autumn Features a Harvest of Numismatic Activity – Are Walkers Poised for a Run?

By Jim BisognaniNGC Market Report ……….

Heritage PNG Invitational Rakes In $11.2 Million – Buyer’s Market for Generic Type Coins

Jim Bisognani

October is turning out to be a very busy month in the numismatic world. First up was the PNG New York Invitational show, running October 9-11 in the heart of the Big Apple. Host auctions by Stack’s Bowers Galleries and Heritage Auctions showcased some splendid offerings for all attendees. Many followed this with a trek to the hospitable Midwest for the Silver Dollar and Rare Coin Expo, running October 16-18, in St. Charles, Missouri. This Expo features the always-entertaining auction by host Scotsman Coin and Auction Company. Then rounding out the month of October, the autumnal coin caravan motors back East for the final installment for 2014 with the Whitman Coin and Collectibles Baltimore Winter edition.

Although the floor traffic and attendance at the PNG Invitational was less than inspiring, auction results at the PNG revealed spirited participation, and, for the most part, there were better-than-average results. Although the Stack’s Bowers Galleries PNG Invitational sale was still in progress at press time, the Heritage Auctions sale generated a solid $11.2 million and reported in with an impressive 98% sell through rate. The NGC highlights From Heritage’s PNG Invitational catalog include:

  • 1844 Original Half Cent NGC PF 65 BN $14,688
  • 1990 No “S” Lincoln Cent NGC PF 69 RD Ultra Cameo $6,463
  • 1872 Two Cent Piece NGC MS 62 BN $3,290
  • 1876-CC Liberty Seated Dime NGC SP 65 $38,188
  • 1803 3 Large Reverse Stars Draped Bust Half Dollar NGC MS 62 $35,250
  • 1830 Large D Capped Bust Half Eagle NGC AU 58 $41,125
  • 1871-CC Liberty Eagle NGC AU 58 $35,250
  • 1883-O Liberty Eagle NGC AU 50 $47,000
  • 1906-O Liberty Eagle NGC MS 65 $21,150 (Record price in this grade)
  • 1889-S Liberty $20 NGC MS 65 $30,550
  • 1907 High Relief, Wire Rim Saint-Gaudens $20 NGC PF 67 $129,250

Overall, mid-October finds the numismatic market in a bit of a quandary. While still exhibiting stability in many segments, other areas are just about flat, leaving many dealers with a bit of a conundrum as for what to stock and what to sell at a discount as the year winds down.

Having been in the numismatic business for decades, I can say that the gyrations of the market are to be expected, and with every action, it produces both anguish and opportunity. For those dealers left holding the bag with a considerable inventory of undesirable coins, there is certainly angst; they don’t want to lose their shirts with a fire sale, yet they still need to generate positive cash flow for upcoming sales and to inventory items that are popular. Conversely, discounted certified coins are always a great opportunity for collectors.

According to well-known dealer Larry Shapiro, “Walkers are down, and everyone knows it.” High-grade Walkers, especially MS 65 and better coins, are really a terrific value right now, per Shapiro. The well-known California dealer feels the “Short Set” Walkers (1941-47) are especially appealing at this time. “MS 65 and better coins, type coins, have taken a considerable hit and are real attractive.” MS 67s are a very good value, in this learned dealers estimation, reflecting prices down maybe a third or more compared to what they were just a few years ago. A quick look at the NGC Census verifies that for the entire Walker series a total of 73,388 coins have been graded as MS 65, compared to only 4,658 graded as NGC MS 67. As for the 1941-1947 short set of Walkers, a mere 3,366 coins grade as NGC MS 67 for the series, compared to 59,753 graded as MS 65, or nearly 18 times as many coins! With some recent auction records revealing prices under $400 for MS 67 Walkers, it may be wise to cherrypick a few dates or even put together the short series.

Walking Liberty Half Dollar

There are many reasons to collect the Walking Liberty Half Dollar series. Number one is that the coin itself is gorgeous, especially in gleaming white Mint State. Also, there are numerous key dates within the series which continue to attract interest in collecting not only individual coins, but also intrigues those looking to build a complete set. Finally, the coin continues to be one of the more popular and iconic of all US coins. This is where the so-called short set comes into play, for it’s these coins which afford the average collector the only viable opportunity to acquire coins in a high grade such as MS 67 and still attempt to complete a set. Securing the 1942-S & 1944-S will be quite the challenge, however, as only 14 coins combined for these two World War II Walkers grace the NGC Census in MS 67. Yet, even these keys to the short set appear to be trading at opportune levels. For illustration purposes, the 1942-S went for a record price of $27,600 for an NGC MS 67 example at the Heritage Long Beach Signature sale back in 2011, and the exact same coin sold as a part of the 2014 FUN Signature sale in January of this year, realizing $11,750. Similarly, the 1944-S reveals that the record price at auction was also at the Long Beach sale in 2011, where she generated $29,900, and at the FUN Signature auction in January of this year, the same coin realized $14,100. It is also definitely worth mentioning that on average either one of these coins only appears at auction about once per year! Here is a series, as well as a type coin, that both the average collector and the more serious advanced hobbyists with deeper pockets should probably take a look at current levels. So, perhaps, this fall high-grade Walkers are poised for a bit of a run.

While many dealers are still scratching and clawing trying to sell coins, others are having problems acquiring material that is either new to the market or at least relatively fresh, certified stuff that hasn’t been on the market for around five years or more. While several major dealers I spoke to had a fairly busy summer, for some dealers sales have been a little bit slow over the last month or so. One well known industry mainstay confided to me that he is in a similar situation as many dealers right now, that is: “We just have too many coins right now.”

Respected Heritage numismatist, Mark Feld, articulated, “Based on some comments I have heard from some dealers and collectors, overall, there appears to be somewhat less enthusiasm in the marketplace. And that even includes some higher value coins that were probably easier to sell several months ago. It might be due to the recent weakness in gold, questions about the economy, both or others. It will be interesting to see how short lived this is. That said, there still appears to be considerable interest in rare coins, with no perceivable rush to sell on the part of collectors or dealers.”

Consensus is that it’s certainly a buyer’s market for those that are looking to acquire many of the more generic type coins. I recall that at this time last year, collectors and dealers were begging for this stuff; they just couldn’t get their hands on enough.

It is highly evident that the good stuff, the top Census coins, are still hard to find and being sought at these levels by both dealer and collector. Everyone is in the hunt. Well known industry professionals are all having a hard go of it when ferreting fresh deals or for even a single special coin. Noted dealer Dave Wnuck advised me he was successful in securing an outstanding coin through direct purchase. “I did just get in a very rare coin, a beautiful 1840 $10 Lib in NGC MS 61. This date is nearly unheard of in Mint State, and this specimen is a nice and completely original one. I’m pretty excited about it, as coins like this seemed to have dried up on the market.”

I certainly concur with Dave; a coin like this is quite the coup. I think there are only about 10 uncirculated coins known, and only two examples grade a single point higher, according to the NGC Census.

Everything is cyclical it seems. For those collectors on the outside looking in, it produces many opportunities for hobbyists to take advantage of coins that are relatively attractively priced, compared to levels even a few years ago. So, keep your eyes peeled at auction or on the bourse floor.

Until next time, happy collecting!

Jim Bisognani has written extensively on US coin market trends and values and was the market analyst and writer for a major pricing guide for many years. He currently resides in Southern California and frequently attends major coin shows and auctions.

Jim Bisognani
Jim Bisognani
Jim Bisognani has written extensively on US coin market trends and values and was the market analyst and writer for a major pricing guide for many years. He currently resides in Southern California and frequently attends major coin shows and auctions.

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