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Coin collecting as a Work of Art

By Geoffrey Cope of From www.petitioncrown.com

A view of what could be for British Numismatics for 2011

I consider a coin of the finest quality to be a work of art. The dies for coinage were created by the country’s finest artist to show the monarch at his best, often to mark a specific event. A coin that has survived the centuries is like an ancient artifact and is no less important, and is valued for its beauty, quality and rarity. Modern records show that great collections were already being formed in the 17th century and point to the timelessness of the beauty and appeal of the best work of the engravers.

Mary (1542-67 Mary Queen of Scots) Testoon, 6.10g, 1562,Third period

The most select coins have always demanded a premium price. When an auctioneer tries to establish an estimate, it is just that, as an estimate is only based on historic information and the auctioneer’s own sense of the market, albeit that at present whatever is thought is clearly wrong.

Those who depend only on history for “comparables” will invariably miss out on those rare occasions when exceptional material comes up for sale.

Fine art is different from strict financial investments. We saw recently the fault that exists in “financial tools” that were purported to be worth specific amounts, but we woke up one day and found the value no longer existed.

On Dec 2nd 2010 a Testoon a portrait coin of Mary, Queen of Scotland [see on www.petitioncrown.com] caught the eye of many collectors, it’s last recoded sale was for 16 gbp in 1936, and it is a magnificent piece. It is interesting that at the end there were three people who wanted the coin for different reasons: one was a collector of ancient coins who, in fact, did not collect ladies but fell in love with the quality of this lady, another who collected because of the history of this Queen of Scotland, and a third who buys coins as “Works of Art”.

This Testoon, when you hold it in the hand, has a “presence” that ties it directly to 1562, and has a portrait that could be from the National Portrait Gallery. This was not just a coin in a recent London sale but a part of British heritage. It is also a coin that has a “wow” factor, an “eye appeal” that is immediately arresting and almost breathtaking. Such an exceptional portrait coin reflecting the influence of the high Renaissance is rare in any condition, and is exceptionally rare in such high relief and outstanding quality.

When you hold the piece, minted in 1562, and dream about to whom such a piece of Mary, the Catholic Queen of Scots could have belonged, or of the pouch it would have travelled in, or in whose hands it would have been 449 years ago, of of those last days in Fotheringhay Castle where the scene was set for Queen Mary to be executed. The morning of Mary’s execution was a dismal one and as you dream you can see the people tether their horses to witness a grotesque killing on the scaffold where it took three attempts by the executioner to sever the head. (IT TOOK EIGHT CHOPS TO DO MONMOUTH)

What will all this mean in the future? To the hobby of Numismatics – the market will change. Enter a new breed of collector and dealer who have a background in art, and who consider coins as part of the fine art market, the ART OF COINS as part of art appreciation – dealers that before would minimize their need to invest in their stock will start investing so they can make a credible offering to the collector as the general art world does.

The recent auctions show new collectors have started entering the market worldwide; this new generation of collectors does not have the “hang-ups” of the old time collector. Price is not measured by yearly increases or decreases; it reverts back 100+ years were individual pieces of quality fetched amazing premiums. Others call him an investor, an opportunist. Call him what you will, he is the next generation of collector. He (or, increasingly, she) sees a coin, falls in love with it and wishes to own it. The artistic quality is the driving factor for the coin as a “work of art”. Those with the perception to recognize that “price” does not guarantee “quality” will also understand that “quality” establishes its own price. All that I write should not disturb the existing market but bring another layer of collectors to our hobby.

A few weeks ago one ancient coin of beauty was expected to bring 3’000 euro, or maybe even 6’000 in an extreme case. Well, it was an extreme case and it sold with commission for 32’000 euro, but it was truly a work of art and in superb condition. Quite simply, will the market develop at such a speed that it will encourage those who do not like the new dynamics to sell at prices they did not dream of getting?

It makes little difference if parts of the market dip, as the renaissance type coins find new levels, what is important is the change that has started and it is attracting a new younger breed of collectors who will continue our ancient hobby into the future. I feel lucky that I have two boys who enjoy the hobby, and both have different areas that interest them.

The auction rooms will, for a little more time, host a lot of bemused and confused faces, of dealers and collectors alike who watch as the new generation begin to feel their feet. Time to start now

Coinweek is the top independent online media source for rare coin and currency news, with analysis and information contributed by leading experts across the numismatic spectrum.

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  1. I like old coins so much but some are expensive to buy. though a have a little collection of my own some of my collection are just photograph that I collected, what interest me about the old coins is the history behind it.I enjoyed reading your article thank you for the helpful information.

    • Hi Sonny, Numismatics is about the coins that date history in periods that we did not have the latest forms of communications. Every day we learn something new from history as we learn our past it does not seem to teach us not to make the same mistakes :(


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