By Patrick A. Heller
Commentary on Precious Metals Prepared for CoinWeek.com …..
Don’t look now, but the US and world population is getting older. The average age of members of the American Numismatic Association (coin collectors) is over 50. The shift will become even more dramatic as the greater number of people born during the Baby Boomer years (1946-1964) reach retirement age.
As the population matures, that will impact markets for collectibles in several ways. The most important demographic shift is that numismatic collectors reaching retirement tend to slow down building their holdings. It is likely that many formerly active buyers could turn into net sellers as they seek to augment their cash flow. Any reduction in demand or increase in supply in rare coin market is generally followed by falling prices.
Almost as significant is the shift of assets from one generation to the next as coin collectors die off. With greater numbers of elderly people, today there are more collections included in estates. From decades of experience, I can tell you that most heirs do not share the same passion for the holdings as the coin collector who died. I see a high percentage of collections sold by either the executor or personal representative of the estate or by the heirs who receive the items. In more than a few instances, those selling the collections have much less numismatic knowledge than the collector who died to be able to liquidate the treasures for the best price. (Estate planning note: if your collection consists of specialized items, your non-numismatically inclined heirs will probably thank you if you liquidate them yourself.)
This demographic shift in supply and demand could bring a silver lining for new, younger collectors. Those numismatic niches where prices decline could present a bargain opportunity to acquire some great rarities.
The rare coin and paper money collector should anticipate the impact of changing demographic patterns on future prices. However, keep in mind that markets are affected by more than demographics. Rare coins and paper money have largely done well since the turn of the century, sparked by rising public interest since the beginning of the Statehood Quarter series and also by higher gold and silver prices. So, a shift in the demographics of numismatic collectors should be factored in with other factors that lead to changes in supply and demand.
Patrick A. Heller was honored with the American Numismatic Association 2012 Harry J. Forman Numismatic Dealer of the Year Award. He owns Liberty Coin Service in Lansing, Michigan and writes Liberty’s Outlook, a monthly newsletter on rare coins and precious metals subjects. Past newsletter issues can be viewed at http://www.libertycoinservice.com. Other commentaries are available at Numismaster ( under “News & Articles) and at CoinInfo. His award-winning radio show “Things You ‘Know’ That Just Aren’t So, And Important News You Need To Know” can be heard at 8:45 AM Wednesday and Friday mornings on 1320-AM WILS in Lansing (which streams live and becomes part of the audio and text archives posted at http://www.1320wils.com. He is also the financier and executive producer of the forthcoming movie “Alongside Night” (trailer posted at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTZ8vn45Cds).
Patrick, this is an EXCELLENT article! To me, this is why we have been seeing soft prices for collector grade coins, and have for some time now. Supply is increasing, and demand is falling. Where we do NOT see this is the very top end of the market, where it is nearly impossible for supply to outstrip demand; the supply is always going to be tiny. This is the type of material sold in major coin show auction catalogs. That is not the realm of the little guy coin collector, but the rarified air of the investor market, where they need places to “park” great wealth for a while in hopes of escaping the ravages of either inflation or fickle speculation. While generic bullion does have the inflation hedge, it is periodically susceptible to overheated speculation, as in 2011.
See you at the ANA show. I’m doing volunteer work for Rhonda and event photography for the ANA. I assume you’ll be at the ball game to congratulate your successor Foreman Award winner. My son and I surely will be there.
Patrick, there’s an idea for your 2014 Money Talks presentation, either at Atlanta or Rosemont – How to Incorporate Your Coins in Your Estate Planning.
Have faith in the coin market. I am in my early 30s. I started serious numismatic studies and collecting at 24 because of a few factors. Mainly because I have always had a passion but could not afford higher grade coins. As we age we become more curious and thirsty for knowledge. If coin collecting is dying out, so be it. It’s not like fiat currency is booming either. Every generation of coin enthusiasts must create a market no matter the participants, economical conditions, etc. Coin collectors never really run out of money, even when their last dollar is spent. Shouldn’t be a hard hobby to create interest when you keep that in mind.
Let me start with I am not a coin collect but a precious metals stacker. By attending local coin shows with a buddy of mine, we have developed a running disagreement about stacking versus coin collecting. Both have their merits and challenges, my major concern (besides you really have to be knowledgeable about collecting) is the age of the serious collectors. I consider a serious collector as someone who brings their want list, a loupe and they will sit down and discuss a purchase with the dealer. Sorry, but the majority of these people have more gray hair than I. I saw no women except in tow with their male partner, almost no minorities and more seriously very few teenagers. This observation includes two visits to the Tinley Park Illinois Coin Show. I hope that coin collecting will not run into the same problem as stamp collecting. I am wondering if there a recruiting plan for younger people?