Colonial copper and Civil War silver bargains; 2017, the year of the collector
By Jim Bisognani for Numismatic Guaranty Corporation ……
Phew! Just shoveled off about a foot of heavy wet snow from my roof and driveway here in New Hampshire and I am now settled into my home office raring to see what the new year will bring to our great hobby. As this article posts, glorious coins of all denominations, types and grades have been on a southern trajectory, migrating to the magnificent Sunshine State. Enthusiastic dealers stocked with their proud wares and passionate collectors are both primed and ready to enjoy the 62nd annual FUN Convention in Fort Lauderdale, Florida January 5-8.
As has been the tradition for over six decades, this great show is a bellwether barometer as to the true state of the numismatic market. Aside from stellar sales and auction hype, the audible volume, that hypnotic buzzing emanating from the bourse floor, has always been a reliable, albeit not strongly scientific, key for my ears.
As a long-time collector and friend Mike from Connecticut relayed to me:
“I went to my first FUN Show 12 years ago which also happened to be in Fort Lauderdale. It was my first major coin show and it was wild, loud and chaotic. Coins, quality coins, were being snatched up as soon as they hit the floor. I wasn’t a huge player back then, but I did have around $15,000 to spend. I was new to the hobby and I was in the market for Cameo Proof type coins, Indian Cents and Liberty Nickels, Seated and Barber type. Competition was fierce.”
I remember that time very well, too. It was about two years before the rare coin market reached its most recent peak and rare and quality certified coins were being gobbled up on the bourse. At the host Heritage Signature Auction, the two Brasher Doubloons, which pulled in $2.415 million for the NGC AU 55 ”EB” Punch on the Wing variety and $2.990 million for the NGC XF 45 “EB” Punch on the Breast variety, were solid indicators as to the strength in the rare coin market. Big money was pouring into the numismatic market via “coin funds” anxious to diversify into numismatics. For me it was reminiscent of the 1979-1980 era when you literally could buy a handful of decent coins from the first dealer you came to on the floor and sell those same coins to another dealer a few minutes later for a solid profit.
As for 2017, veteran collectors I have spoken to feel that prices will settle and may actually trend down a bit, especially for many mid-range priced coins, as major sales seem to be somewhat depleted of fresh-to-the-market inventory, at least for the moment. Many of the hobbies brethren truly feel 2017 will be the year of the collector.
Charles hailing from Vermont has been an avid US collector for nearly 20 years and feels that Colonial coins are great value.
“These are exciting artifacts. Truly early Americana, which circulated heavily in pre-Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary America. Right now I think that the post-Revolutionary copper coins of Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts and of course my native Vermont are all highly collectible. Certified or raw, check them out. VG to VF coppers in many instances still trade for $100 or less on the bourse at major shows. I plan on picking up about a dozen or so at FUN and have my eyes on finding a nice VF or better 1787 Fugio Cent.”
I certainly understand Charles’s enthusiasm for Colonial coins as these copper relics certainly did circulate amongst our earliest settlers and most likely found their way into the hands of the well-known founding fathers. I concur that value is here for the conscientious collector willing to do a little bit of work. Try to locate copper coins that are smooth and evenly colored. A medium or milk chocolate surface has always been a preference of mine. Yet whatever the coloration, uniformity and smoothness are key. I scoped out a 1787 Draped Bust Left Connecticut Copper graded NGC Fine 15 that realized a modest $109 just last month. Although a tad porous, it possessed strong detail. Conversely, an ultra-smooth milk chocolate 1787 Connecticut Copper counterpart graded a rather conservative NGC Good 6 sold for $104. Both were a part of a Heritage Internet-only auction!
The news is also good for collectors on a modest budget as many highly collectible NGC-certified type coins and semi-keys in the under $500 category are available. In many instances, they are trading at considerable savings when compared to market values of just a few years ago. Perennial favorites such as the Classic US Commemorative series of 1892 to 1954 are chock-full of value. Low mintage artistic commemorative coins which in many instances harbor meager mintages of fewer than 20,000!
Another exciting component: just under half of the 144 pieces that make up the complete Classic silver commems set can be acquired in NGC MS 65 or better for under $300! The key is finding lustrous original coins, those with that special eye appeal. What is eye appeal? Certainly in most instances that is to be decided by the purchaser—it is truly in the eye of the beholder. For me the wow factor are those that possess original patina, colorful peripheries, or sometimes just a blast white gem. Do some hunting. While classic silver commems can appear to be relatively plentiful in showcases on the bourse, take the time to cherry pick the quality ones as close to established market prices as possible. Whether your choice is Texas, Oregon Trail, Arkansas or Bay Bridge, your efforts will not only enhance your collection but will certainly bode well in the future when those special coins are offered up for sale.
Persistent chatter also includes Liberty Seated coins in the mix with both Proof and Mint State being undervalued. While I don’t fully agree that the entire Liberty Seated series is undervalued, I do feel many Proof Cameo coins, especially from the Civil War era, in the Liberty Seated series seem to be total bargains compared to the other similarly priced options. The mintages are just so low, most being 500 or less! As an example, recent auction records reveal an 1864 Liberty Seated Dime with a mintage of 470 coins is reporting in with recent sales averaging around $700 for an NGC PF 63 Cameo!
The metals markets are currently very interesting. Gold and silver are trading down about 15% and 20% respectively from their recent summer of 2016 peaks, yet are still trading up compared to last year’s FUN show with gold claiming about a 9% uptick and silver around a 16% advantage since last January. What does all of this mean? One metals expert believes that silver should continue to escalate, while gold is due to slide a bit more.
According to a prominent Midwest bullion trader, “A lot of it is politics and with the pseudo-confidence in the new Trump administration, the accent right now is away from gold. Of course, a few missteps from the new president and that could change the market mentality completely.”
Politics aside, I think that those that could afford and want to acquire half eagles, eagles and double eagles for their collection are indeed at a very good value point. A quick scan of recent transactions shows $20 Saint-Gaudens and $20 Libs in MS 62 trading around $1,200, $10 Liberty in like grade for $675 and, my favorite, the half eagle or $5 Liberty has NGC MS 63s offered up at $480!
As I write this I am also watching the host Heritage FUN Signature Auction that runs January 4-9 online. Featuring over 8,200 lots of numismatic treasures, this Ft. Lauderdale FUN sale has already generated over $1.8 million dollars barely 500 lots into the mega sale! Wow!
Also, the location of FUN… well it just about says it all. Really, what better place to make a family outing or winter vacation. World class resorts and attractions are nearby for all to enjoy and by all means get the children involved with our great hobby. After all, the children are the future of our hobby and the business of numismatics. So be sure to bring the little ones and not so little to explore learn and share in the excitement, diversity and history that is unique to our special world! Make it FUN for everyone.
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Well there you have it my friends. Until next time Happy Collecting, Happy Holidays and Happy 2017!
Jim Bisognani is an NGC Price Guide Analyst having previously served for many years as an analyst and writer for another major price guide. He has written extensively on US coin market trends and values.