By Jim Bisognani for Numismatic Guaranty Corporation….
New Hobbyists Entering The Fold; The Collectors Favorite—CC Morgan Dollars—Surging Ahead; Toned Morgans Hot.
It is a cool rainy day here in New England. Although cloudy, gray skies prevail above, the ground below is saturated with the bright colored leaves that are synonymous with New England this time of year. A quick check of the calendar confirms the baseball season is in playoff mode as the “Boys of Summer” push for their ultimate prize. It is a great time of year isn’t it? With just a few short months remaining in 2015, I find this a time when collectors really enjoy becoming reacquainted with our hobby. As winter approaches, it seems many hobbyists are more focused on particular series favorites and set up goals (and perhaps put wish lists together for the holidays).
On the local show circuit there seems to be a bit of resurgence in activity as well, with some new blood being spotted anxious to gain entrance within the numismatic fraternity. Happily I can report that I’ve seen a bit more youth movement in this regard. Of course I am happy to field questions and give advice when approached. The question I am most often asked seems to be: “What’s the best coin or series to collect?”
That really depends on individual goals and finances. Yet what is best to collect is ultimately based on your personal preferences. Some may like the design of a specific series or denomination. For others it might be a time period in our history such as the Civil War era. Of course, those on a modest budget would not be attempting to build a complete set of $20 Saint-Gaudens gold pieces either. It is all part of the coin conundrum. In 2015 there are many who enter the hobby looking at coins as tangible investment medium. This was not the situation or mindset when I started collecting coins in the 1960s. You collected coins because you enjoyed the fun of acquisition, the hunt and the surprise or two along the numismatic journey to complete a Lincoln Cent collection!
Today I still enjoy collecting and guiding others on their own numismatic expedition. I truly relish the opportunity to assist fellow collectors for the pure joy and satisfaction that it gives me and them. This is true on any scale, whether completing a short set of Mercury Dimes, building a complete Lincoln Cent collection or assembling an 18th century Mint State US Type set.
Today very few knowledgeable numismatists could refute the dynamic staying power of the certified coin market. Rare coin, average collector coin or new issue, all facets of this hobby have strong and faithful collector contingents, which for most of us defines our individual collecting habits.
The pre-certified—prehistoric, if you will— numismatist is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. It is truly amazing to me, being one of the old-time collectors, having been able see firsthand the coin market evolve to what this generation of numismatists has taken for granted. Whether your latest acquisition is from the Pogue collection or from local flea market, all coins are very important to the collector and the cabinet where they now reside.
As I view and review a multitude of rare coin auctions, it’s not only the volume and type of sale but the quantity of certified coins that pass in the marketplace on a weekly, monthly and annual basis that is truly mind-boggling. The liquidity that certified coins has brought to the numismatic arena is certainly one which has made the hobby of coin collecting much more than a hobby, it’s become a significant business.
In huge part we must thank independent, third-party grading as an integral part of the Renaissance in numismatics. NGC has not only encapsulated and graded tens of millions of coins for us Coindexters; they are now protected for posterity as well as for today’s budding hobbyists.
I know that one of the major concerns that bedeviled collectors when I was growing up was what is my coin collection really worth? I recall one conversation that I had with my dad after I proudly bought my 1909-S Lincoln Cent (a very nice wood grained VF coin by the way) for $25 at a local coin show in Portsmouth, NH. After I showed the coin to my dad that Sunday summer afternoon and told him what I had paid, dad’s face got a bit red as he said, “Okay Jimmy so you paid $25 for that penny today—who are you going to find to sell that to for that kind of money?” Of course this conversation took place about 45 years ago (and I paraphrase my dad’s colorful PG response) yet the same question is asked many times of me today by those new to the hobby as well as the more advanced collector or investor asking about liquidity. This is a great question.
If a particular NGC-certified coin sells for $100 or $10,000 or more today, how can the collector custodian be sure that they will get a fair market value without jumping through hoops in the future? Whereas 45 years ago a raw or uncertified coin collection might have to be taken to several dealers to get a competitive consensus as to what the real value was, today, armed with market reports, electronic trading networks, sight seen or sight unseen bids, and transparency in auction results, it’s much easier to ascertain an accurate wholesale and retail valuation. This is the freedom, security and value preservation and protection that NGC grade certification provides the average collector or professional.
Another major concern was how to properly view and protect your coins. It seems rather basic today, but…It was exactly 35 years ago this month when the unexpected happened:
I was at a coin show in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, looking to sell a few better coins. I made my way around the bourse floor and stopped at a well-known dealer’s table. I pulled out one of my nicer Morgan Dollars for the dealer to look at. I handed the coin to him so he could examine it. He then pulled his loop from his pocket and as he made the transition from one hand to the other he unceremoniously dropped my coin. It landed with a resounding clang and ring on top of his glass showcase, the silver cartwheel then bounced once and caromed off the base of the metal lamp onto the concrete floor. I was horrified and the dealer’s face had taken on an ashen ghostly look, enhanced somewhat by the backlighting of his brightly illuminated table lamp. The dealer stooped down to pick up my coin and he handed it back to me with an apology. I carefully took the coin from his hand and I immediately noticed a gouge in the field on the obverse. A mere moment before this misadventure my 1886-O Morgan Dollar had been otherwise free of any significant imperfections, I was livid.
NGC certification and encapsulation not only protects the coin from the unthinkable such as I experienced, but it also preserves the numeric grade that ultimately dictates the real value in this transparent non-polarizing market.
As the year winds down I find that there is increased demand for Carson City Morgan dollars. Dealers just can’t get enough of the CC-mintmarked Morgans with increased demand noted on electronic trading networks. A collector favorite, a quick look at the NGC US Coin Price Guide confirms that in circulated through Gem all coins are right with advances. In my opinion these CC cartwheels will always be a great starting point for any collector as many of these Morgan CC dollars are still affordable for coin collectors of average means. The 1882, 83, and 84-CC installments can all be had for under $100 in circulated grades and in fact mint state examples can be bought in the $200+ range. Several better dates such as the 1878, 1890, and 1891 CC’s can also be secured in circulated grade for under $100! Morgan Dollars have always been enormously popular and coins minted at the branch met in Carson City have always had and continue to hold a special place with collectors. A great double-header!
A bit of research goes a long way too, so keep an eye out for the certified coins you can’t find from every single dealer or every single auction. Some are genuinely rare coins that represent remarkable values for the money as just type coins in correlation to others from the series or type that you see all the time.
I had a brief chat with Ian Russell, well-known President of Great Collections, who shared some thoughts on the current market trends and some upcoming auction highlights.
According to Ian, “I like the Chronicles sets, mainly due to the low mintages and low grade through rate for 70 coins. I expect price volatility though.” The California dealer also stated that toned Morgan dollars are hot and that they are also doing very well with US Type coins and on world issues; Chinese coins are attracting a lot of attention at present levels.
Ian also announced that they have an original Buffalo Nickel set, which was consigned in a large Capital plastics holder, “The set was completely original and contained coins worth $20 and coins worth over $10,000. These coins will be auctioned on October 18th.”
With a bit of a lull until the next major show, the Baltimore Whitman Expo, November 5-8, enjoy the autumn season my friends; take in the beautiful color and give a pumpkin a home!
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 currently frequently attends major coin shows and auctions.