By Charles Morgan for CoinWeek …..
This week, I’ll be living out of my suitcase. First stop Berlin for the World Money Fair and then off to my favorite European city, Vienna, to produce new videos with the Austrian Mint. I want you to know that I feel your sympathies and rest assured, I will suffer through it.
Actually, kidding aside, this is my first Berlin show, and seeing it first-hand I can say that no American coin show compares to it. Not the ANA, not Winter FUN. None of them.
The World Money Fair is more a numismatic trade show than it is a coin show, per se. There are coins here. To the chagrin of PCGS and NGC, I’m sure, most of them are raw honest-to-goodness coins that you can pick up with your own hands and make your own judgements about.
I believe that most of the European mints are in attendance. Their booths are, by far, the most elaborate of any that you will see in this industry. Of course, they have the marketing budget for it and a real impetus is there to promote the brand.
Which brings me to this point: Coins should be aspirational and relatable to our lifestyle.
I have no doubt that the minting industry is alive and well. It’s competitive, sure, but the level of innovation that we’re seeing from private and state mints goes beyond novelty. Like it or not, the hobby we are participating in is a hobby in transition. Mints and collectors are partners in the redefinition of coins.
“Redefinition” has its upsides and its downsides. On the upside, the mints have become increasingly reactive to collector interest.
You like the campy retro-future British TV show Thunderbirds? Well, the Pobjoy Mint is releasing a line of silver coins that will allow you to relive the trials and tribulations of the elite International Rescue force. Like krugerrands, but want them in something other than gold? The South African Mint will provide for that in 2017 with krugerrands in silver and platinum.
You like vintage coins? The Royal Canadian Mint has an ultra-high relief 1 kilo silver coin that features a bunch of them.
The downside is that being reactive to the trends of the day is not a long-term strategy. Luckily, and perhaps because they collaborate with each other more than ever before, it seems that the mints get it. They understand this critical fact: mints make coins and coin manufacturers have more influence over the growth of the coin market than dealers. To be honest, this was always the case.
–Take the coin market in the U.S. for instance. What single event expanding the collecting base for coins in the 19th century? The elimination of the large cent and half cent.
–What single event in the 20th century led to the creation of gold coin investing in the U.S.? The elimination of gold from circulation through Executive action.
–What single action led to the biggest new collector coin boom in the past 50 years? The elimination of silver from circulation? Nope. It was the launch of the 50 State Quarters Program.
Through either elimination or innovation, the Mint has always been at the center of our hobby. And, based on what I’m seeing, in the 21st century–like those that came before–the world’s mints will be at the forefront of taste making and innovation.
I need to spend more time walking the bourse floor to get a precise gauge on coin prices in the European market. What I have seen splits two ways: on classic numismatic material, you can get bargains on conditionally rare coins because they are sold raw here, at retail or better pricing–but not necessarily retail pricing if the coins grade out. You have to know how to grade and you have to know the U.S. market to make money doing this.
For classic material in generic grades, the prices seem high to me. One dealer, who I spoke with and who knows the U.S. market very well, told me that he sold over $1.3 million in coins, mostly in big multi-coin deals, at the Winter FUN Show in Ft. Lauderdale last month. He told me he netted 8% on the deal.
“I sold things for less than I wanted,” he said, “but I sold them and I move on.”
For modern coin sets – basic level collector material – European retail prices for popular issues are in line with what you will probably pay in the U.S. A 2014 Latvia euro coin annual set was offered for 14 euro by one dealer. I bought two for myself a year ago on eBay for about $20. A set of lightly circulated West German 5 mark coins was offered for more than I’d expect it to bring in the U.S. We have gone grade mad in the U.S. and for some issues, if the coin doesn’t grade out MS66 or higher, it’s not even worth collecting.
Better in Hand
When we posted an article last August about the release of a Latvian 5 euro coin made out of silver and porcelain, I was intrigued. One of the reasons why you find so much “minor Mint” coverage on CoinWeek is that we root for the underdogs and like to cast as wide a net as we can.
The coin depicted a folk-art design by artist Frančeska Kirke in red and black against a white background. You can read more about it here.
Seeing the coin in hand, however, my intrigue went from 6 to 10 on the Morgan Piqued scale. The fidelity of the design and the graphics on the coin are top notch. Amazing contrast. Delicate detail. Expert finish. This is a cool coin and a definite purchase. Even if it does cost 73 euro.
An Impressive Display
The South African Mint has kept the dies and a specimen of each year’s Krugerrand. This year, their booth is in the shape of a diorama. Inside, one Krugerrand per year from 1967 is displayed in a rotating plexiglass display. You can literally spin them yourself and look at the design and detail. For 2017, the South African Mint went back to the original master artwork to bring back detail that had gone missing over the years. Many of the specimen Krugerrands in the Mint’s collection are fully Prooflike. They’ve themed the coin as a witness to history and provide that history via an electronic presentation at the booth. From Apartheid to the Rainbow Nation, the gold Krugerrand has seen it all.
The Austrian Mint’s booth plays up its national culture with a log cabin, a wooden cow, and marketing manager Franz Artmüller in to-die-for leather lederhosen. I asked Franz where I can buy a pair like that and he promised to show me the shop when I’m in town. Apparently these particular deerskin pants go for about 650 euro ($702 USD). Ouch!
But they’re so versatile.
Well, I think that wraps up my first diary from the show. Back to work!
Latvian Silver Coins Currently Available on eBay