By Jim Bisognani – NGC Market Report ……
I appreciate that it’s winter, but really? The monumental and historic snowstorm blizzard extraordinaire named Juno had the audacity to drop nearly three feet of snow at and around my residence during the overnight hours on January 26 and throughout the day on the 27th. As I looked out my windows I felt as if I were inside of a gigantic snow globe being shaken for all it’s worth. I ventured out my front door to assess the situation, and I encountered enormous, white, fluffy snow drifts laid before me waist deep and higher… Unfortunately, with the airports closed and no ability to get a flight out to the West Coast for the Long Beach Show, I was given an impromptu several snow day session courtesy of Mother Nature. As a result of being snowbound, I was able to spend part of my day on Friday reviewing a few coins and studying a few volumes in my own library. There’s something very exciting about pulling out a catalog and viewing the coins in your own collection. Making notes, enjoying the fruits of your collecting expertise and discovering or perhaps rediscovering coins that you forgot you even had! This prompted me to reflect on the real joy and excitement of being a numismatist.
For me, this pastime is calming, educational, rewarding, and totally enjoyable. Would-be numismatists often ask me how to get started and what to collect. The answer in part depends on the budding hobbyist’s budget. There are many great obsolete coins which can be chased and battled for at auction for six figures or more, and others can be bought for as little as a few dollars. One young collector, Mel, with whom I spoke recently around the holidays, had $20 set aside from his after-school chores and paper route to get him started. After a few hours leafing through the Red Book I loaned him, he made his first decision. Mel really enjoyed the Indian Cent. Since the 16-year-old collector could not purchase any key dates from the series, or even a single mint state coin on his budget, I suggested that he get his start in the last phase of the series and put together all ten Philadelphia Mint coins from 1900 to the series conclusion in 1909. His 10 little Indians! I then encouraged him to first get some hands-on experience. There was a local show which sets up the third Sunday of each month, and we attended that on January 18. While we were there, I was able to help locate and purchase an evenly matched group of Indians, all grading nearly fine or better for his $20 stipend. The collector has since set his sights on acquiring the 5 “White Cents” which comprise the designs for the series inaugural debut from 1859 to 1864. This also fits very nicely into the teenager’s appreciation for the Civil War era and history.
What else to get inspiration from? There are many US series that are both affordable options as well as a good investment for the collector. Personally, I think the short set of Walking Liberty Half Dollars (1941 to 1947) are an excellent value, presently. Brilliant white uncirculated coins in MS 63 through MS 66 are all still at attractive levels, and collectors would be wise to take a look here. This beautiful 20-piece set is a superb starting point for collectors to become acquainted with the glorious Walking Liberty Half Dollar series. According to the January NGC US Coin Price Guide, this date run graded MS 63, would set back the collector $1,355 or an average of just under $68 per coin! In fact, the key to the short set, 1941-S is hardly a “stopper” priced at $130. Also of great value, in my estimation, are the MS 66 Walking Liberty Half type coins; or, you could put together a short set, as well. Amazingly, the 1942, 1943 and 1945 Philadelphia strikes are all quoted at $200 in glorious NGC MS 66. Of course, with the advent of accurate census reports, the market for these coins has become much more transparent. However, it is still interesting to note that these coins are trading at about 20% of their all-time high levels, achieved in the summer of 1989.
Personally, my greatest joy was always collecting world coins; something different from the coins which I grew up with and became oh-so-familiar with. It was nice to learn about the world, various denominations, topical designs, commemoratives, rulers, and of course, having a tangible circulating currency from locales which I would never be able to travel to. EBay has evolved into a great venue for collectors of all budgets. In between scouring auction catalogs and dealers inventory, it’s great to pull up and search for various coins on eBay. I always advise collectors to keep an eye out for coins which start with no reserve and also include free shipping. I have picked up many a neat coin this way. It is much better than the bargain menu at a fast food chain! One of my favorite coins which I picked up from my good friend Doug, who is a regular seller on eBay, is a 1933 Portuguese–Guinea 20 Centavo, not a rare coin, but still rather scarce, especially in high grade. This particular one is graded NGC MS 65 RD, and according to the NGC World Coin Census, it is tied for the finest known! Doug had offered it to me at the 2011 Summer ANA. It is a great design, simple but elegant, and the blazing orange copper is a joy to view. I have a fondness for the year 1933, as new coinage worldwide was limited due to the faltering world economy. Here in the US, there are only two regular issued coins minted during that great depression year (Lincoln Cent and Walking Liberty Half) and one Commemorative (Oregon Trail Half Dollar) for numismatists to readily collect. Yet another interesting short series to collect-coins dated 1933!
Well, as I was finally able to crank up the Internet on a snowy subzero “Groundhog’s Day,” I was able to confirm that the Long Beach Expo did take place, and the weather, as usual, was so nice. The Heritage Auctions Signature Auction realized just under $7 million. The top price paid was for a superlative NGC PF 65 Ultra Cameo 1869 Liberty Double Eagle. Majestic and beautiful and apparently off the market for many decades, this golden rarity captured $229,125. With perhaps as few as a dozen known examples surviving from the original mintage of but 25, this certainly appears to have been a great value. Drat! The weather report has scheduled us for another couple of storms totaling a foot or more of snow; more snow days ahead! Well, at least I can bask in the warmth of a Patriots win in Super Bowl XLIX and be thankful we were able a pickup a new snow blower before they were all sold out! 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 frequently attends major coin shows and auctions.