By Jim Bisognani – NGC Weekly Market Report …….
Numismatic notables weigh–in on 2014 and tip the scales for 2015; The cries of collectors past; “If I wasn’t a coin dealer.”
This year really went by fast. Amazingly, we’re bringing the curtain down on another exciting coin campaign. 2014 certainly was an active year in numismatics. There was the cry of “Gold in them thar hills,” – found in coffee cans, no less, as the monumental Saddle Ridge Hoard was announced to the media in February. Worth perhaps as much as $10 million dollars, this epic treasure was unearthed in Northern California. There were, of course, major auctions, including the legendary Eric P. Newman collection. Several million dollar coins that sold were cause for considerable commotion in the marketplace. The ANA World’s Fair of Money was also an exciting and much talked about venue, due to the sale of the gold coin of Camelot, the Kennedy Half Dollar, which had collectors, investors, speculators, and hired hands all waiting in line for the for the US Mint’s release.
World events and politics somewhat tempered the second half of the year. The metals markets, for all their gyrations, actually reveal that gold spot price is pretty much status quo from where the yellow metal ended a year ago. Silver, the every man’s metal, is down about 17% from end of last year, and as we go to press, these attractive levels and worldwide consumption have led to an unprecedented demand for US Silver Eagles and other bullion and semi-numismatic related coins. The market is certainly multifaceted and has been a dynamo for every year during this still new century. As I have done in the past, I would like to share with you all commentary of some numismatic notables, their thoughts on 2014 and some prognostication for 2015. After touching on the considerable numismatic veneer for this year, I also asked each of my coin comrades if they were not numismatists, what path would they most likely chosen for a vocation—the cries of collectors past…
Bob Green, President of Park Avenue Numismatics
“2014 has been a roller coaster ride for most dealers, as well as collectors, as precious metals and generic gold started out below the previous year’s levels. As the year progressed and optimism was at hand, we saw a reversal of fortune as metals ran up from $1,200 to nearly $1,300 only to drop like a hot potato to the low $1,100s. Silver also took a turn for the worst as it dipped below $20 and ran down to $15 per ounce. Generic gold premiums have just evaporated and, when $20 St. Gaudens in MS 65 are available for $1,550, it’s time for skittish buyers to buy at these levels, as I can’t see them going any lower than they are now. On the bright side, some very well-known collections were auctioned this year, and prices for nice coins were strong and steady throughout the year. Our clients are no exception to the rule; buy nice coins, and they will outperform generic coins tied to the ebbs and flows of the precious metals markets.
Our last show of the year was the Houston Money Show. Attendance was kind of weak, but coins did sell, and we had a great show. We are looking forward to seeing our customers at the FUN show in Orlando in January. That show will set the pace for the year ahead. We don’t expect a rally, but we do anticipate a year better than the last and think generics will bounce off the bottom once again.” And if Bob wasn’t a coin dealer? “When I started my career as a rare coin dealer in the early 80s, I left the music business after “video killed the radio star,” having worked in public relations for a small startup called MTV! I’m glad I made the decision to pursue my hobby as a career, and I’ve loved just about every moment of it, but that was my dream job as a young man.”
Ian Russell, President of Great Collections
“It was a very interesting year, Jim. For the first nine months of the year, I thought the coin market was very strong and robust. I think after the ANA, the market became a little spotty but is still better, in my opinion, than what others have reported. Our new sign-ups and unique buyers each week continue to grow, which are two key statistics on the market, as I see it. We sold a number of big coins this year, including a 1796 Quarter for $144,100, an 1870 Double Eagle for $167,750, and a 1796 No Stars Quarter Eagle for $112,200. These three coins probably set highest prices realized records for online coin auctions throughout the year. With the lower bullion prices, new people have come into the market, buying monster boxes and other bullion items. One area of the market that is very weak is the pre-1933 generic market. As older coins continue to repatriate from Europe, a weaker gold price and more demand for modern bullion items have resulted in substantially decreased premiums for the pre-1933 coins. Personally, I would prefer to own a MS 63 St. Gaudens than a raw Maple Leaf or Krugerrand. I continue to believe in classic commemoratives that are so cheap compared to historical prices.” As for Ian’s other vocational calling: “It would be hard to think about something other than coins, but likely something in music.” I asked, would it be in recording, performing, promoting, or all? After a moment to reflect, Russell countered, “I don’t think I could do anything other than coins the more I think about it.”
Mark Feld, Senior Numismatist, Heritage Auctions
“I think it’s fair to say that the auction offerings from among both the Eugene Gardner and Eric P. Newman collections were highlights of this past year. The combination of the true rarities, the extraordinary condition of many of the coins, and the prices realized was pretty amazing. The proceeding notwithstanding, and whether due to the drop in precious metals and/or other factors, many of the more mundane coins have softened in price from levels of last year. Additionally, the trend of bifurcated markets seems as strong as ever. Now, perhaps more than at any time I can remember, the especially rare and/or eye-appealing and/or high quality coins continue to capture a disproportionate amount of the attention and dollars from bidders.
Meanwhile, in general, just about everything else in the world of US coins is mixed or lackluster. Nothing I see in the current market conditions causes me to think that will change anytime soon. However, factors which could positively influence more common material include improvements in the US economy and/or a rebound in the price of precious metals.” As for opportunities for 2015? “I don’t like to make prognostications. But I will say that the prices of many classic commemorative silver and gold coins seem very attractive. That said, I would have said the same last year, 5 years ago and even 10 years ago…when prices were higher. Many generic gold type coins are currently trading at levels which seem cheap, as well. And though it is backwards, I think it is human nature to prefer to buy when prices are going up, rather than down.” If the well liked Feld wasn’t a numismatic notable? “If I were not a numismatist, I would likely be a practicing attorney. I went to law school, got my degree and passed my bar exam. But I went to work for Steve Ivy shortly after my bar exam in 1979, and I have happily been involved in the rare coin business in a number of different capacities, ever since.”
John Brush, Vice President, David Lawrence Rare Coins
“2014 was a year of many swings it seems. It truly started off from January to March as one of the busiest quarters we’ve had. April to June showed a bit more tempered as customers seemed to hold back for some of the larger auctions that were going to occur during the summer/fall. The Gardner and Newman collections really seemed to take a lot of extra spending out of the market, as customers were waiting for some of the “special coins” offered there. This seemed to carry over into the 3rd quarter of the year. Unfortunately, the ANA show was mired by the US Mint’s decision to offer the Kennedy gold coins at the show. Not only did this take a lot of energy out of the “rare coin” market at the show, it also really caused some long-term cash flow issues, and it diverted the focus of many major dealers. The whole incident was disappointing, as the market was rather greatly affected by these issues. However, as the third quarter came along, the highlight auctions were coming to a conclusion and retail traffic really picked up. While the wholesale market was still quite a bit stagnant, collectors picked up enthusiasm and many more coins than expected began to find new homes. We’re encouraged by this trend as the year comes to an end. We expect January’s FUN Show to really continue the market trend, as coins and collectors once again become more energized.” And if John wasn’t a coindexter? “Well, I was a religion major with a history minor in college and spent a semester in grad school at Emory University…I’d likely have been a pastor or professor of history of religion in America if I hadn’t bee-lined out of grad school to the coin industry. In the end, it was certainly the right decision, though!”
Q. David Bowers Numismatist, Author, and Co-Founder of Stack’s Bowers
“From my viewpoint, the coin market is very dynamic, doing just fine, but with evolution as has always been the case. The reduced price of gold bullion has made collecting gold coins much more affordable than it was a couple of years ago, providing new opportunities. While the majority of people collect Federal coins minted from 1792 to date, an increasing number have found satisfaction with specialized series: tokens, obsolete paper money, Colonial coins, medals and the like. Many of these require careful study in order to form a collection and enjoy it, adding to the excitement of numismatics and the thrill of the chase. With recent record prices in other areas, such as modern art, antique automobiles, and the like, it seems to me that classic coin rarities are underpriced. Rare coins have an advantage that most other collectibles do not: they can be easily shipped and stored; they can be held privately without special facilities other than a safe deposit box, and when sold, there is an active market. The future is unknown, of course, but a fine collection of coins, tokens, medals or paper money formed years ago nearly always has appreciated in value since then.
At Stack’s Bowers Galleries we view 2015 with great optimism. This past year has been outstandingly successful for us—having handled many rarities, collections and other properties, not to overlook a wide panorama of auction and other presentations from inexpensive starter-level items to classics. As we look into the coming year, we see the reduced price of gold bullion being an incentive factor for collectors and others to once again assemble type sets and specialized collections of gold coins. Double Eagles, in particular, are more affordable now than they have been for several years. Increasingly, buyers are becoming more sophisticated, looking beyond a coin and its grade to learn and appreciate its history. Tokens, medals, obsolete paper money and other fields once considered esoteric, have become mainstream in our auctions. Who would have ever thought that Betts Medals of the pre-colonial era would attract bidders from all over the world, as they do? The same can be said for Indian Peace Medals, Pattern Coins, Colonials and other specialties that often combine a great deal of history and romance with prices that are a tiny fraction of the cost of Federal coins.
Within regular issues, groups such as the Barber Coin Collectors Society, the Liberty Seated Coin Club, Early American Coppers, and others have formed a strong base of long-term dedicated collectors. Whenever we offer these specialties for sale, bids come from all directions. Morgan Silver Dollars, the foundation of the market when it comes to Mint State 19th-century coins, continue to be in great demand, with the popular and affordable Carson City varieties leading the way. However, whenever a high-grade 1892-S, 1893-S or 1895 comes on the market, there is great excitement. In contrast, classic commemorative coins of the 1892-1954 era, silver and gold, have been relatively quiet in recent years. As in the stock market, coins are always more active when prices are trending up, the faster the better. However, there is hidden value in buying when others are selling or are sitting on the sidelines. Remarkably, a nice type or variety collection of early commemoratives can be purchased in such grades as MS 63 and MS 65 in 2015 for much less than in 1989! The explanation is simple: back then there was a lot of “Wall Street money,” as it was said, interested in buying coins. Commemoratives were a natural, being available in Mint State and also having attractive low mintages. Today, such buyers are largely gone, returning the market to dedicated collectors. As we see it, the outlook is very favorable. The economy is strong, dispensable income for luxury goods is at a high level, and coins represent an excellent opportunity for individuals to become immersed in an exciting collecting specialty with international participation.”
Not surprisingly, when I asked Dave what his alternative to numismatics would’ve been, he replied, “Researcher and writer on American history.”
Ira Goldberg, Co-Owner, Goldberg Coins & Collectibles
Some highlights for the Southern California mainstay in 2014: “Without question our major accomplishment was the Missouri Cabinet Collection sale, held January 26, 2014, featuring the Half Cent collection formed by Mr. R. Tettenhorst (Tett) and the Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society (EPNNES). It contained a complete collection of dates and varieties, with a face value of $1.14 and a pre-sale estimate of approximately $7 million. The sale held at the Luxe Hotel Sunset Boulevard was standing-room-only, with attentive buyers and with the final tally the sale realized in excess of $18 million! The auction catalog also won the coveted honor of Catalog of the Year awarded at this year’s ANA. Two half cents surpassed the million dollar mark, the 1794 C-7 and the 1811 C-1!
Another important 2014 highlight was our Pre-Long Beach Auction of June 3, 2014, featuring exceptional Roman Denarii from a distinguished American collector. This Roman denarii collection contained 232 coins comprised of only Roman silver denarii. With a pre-sale estimate of under $2 million, the sale realized over $5 million and was enthusiastically bid on around the world… Several world record prices were realized including: Brutus “Eid Mar” 42 BC in Superb EF sold for $517,000; Labienus Denarius 40 BC in Superb EF sold for $235,000; Annia Faustina Denarius AD 221 in Superb EF sold for $223,250 (the most ever for a Roman empress denarius); Clodius Macer Denarius AD 68 in Superb EF sold for $205,625; and Julius Caesar portrait denarius struck 42 BC in Superb EF sold for $199,750.”
As for Goldberg’s projections for 2015: “I predict continued general weakness in most areas of the US rare coin market. This softness has already started and the lower prices have been reflected at most auctions. One reason for this is due to the drop in silver and gold prices by approximately 30%, but in my opinion, the main problem has been the lack of new money entering the market coupled with the high influx of great collections coming upon the market. I know of half a billion in rare coins coming to auction in 2015 with just two other auction firms with more to come, including ours! It is my opinion that the US coin market is ready for a price adjustment and has been for a while. The world and ancient coin market does not seem to be affected by the above, as the collections coming to market are so widespread, as are the buyers. At the high end of both of these markets, there are far more funds chasing the better coins, and I see prices in both these fields continuing to gain strength.
For what new fields are there opportunities? “I like historical medals, US, as well as world medals. Gold, silver and bronze, those with some age and of substance, not the Franklin Mint and other Private mint issues, truly important medals with a history made by wonderful artists, and usually struck at government mints.”
If Ira wasn’t a legendary coin dealer? “I am of the generation that I had to work for my parents. I was blessed to have been brought up with a father and uncle who were in the stamp business; therefore, I always had that collecting mentality and understood collecting and the pride of ownership. I had great respect for stamps but was totally captivated with coins and what coinage represented within the context of world history. Had I not been a numismatist, I would probably have been an antique dealer or a history professor. Economically, they are not too far removed from each other. I love tangible objects and the history behind them.
I couldn’t agree more with that sentiment. To take liberty with a line from that holiday classic by Charles Schulz, “That’s what coin collecting is all about, Charlie Brown.” Until next time, happy collecting, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!
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 resides in Southern California and frequently attends major coin shows and auctions.