Jeff Garrett: The 2020 World’s Fair of Money That Never Was

The August sales that took place without the annual ANA show demonstrated a strong demand for quality coins


By Jeff Garrett for Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) ……

Last week should have been the highlight of my numismatic year.

Every summer since 1974, I have attended the ANA World’s Fair of Money. The show is the cornerstone of the numismatic calendar and is greatly anticipated by thousands of collectors and dealers around the world. The bourse usually boasts over 700 tables, with dealers offering material from every corner of numismatics. Many years there are over 10,000 public attendees. My company normally has six to seven tables with sales of hundreds of thousands.

This year, none of that happened.

As everyone knows, the 2020 World’s Fair of Money in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was an agonizing decision for the ANA board, but in the end, safety ruled the day. Much of the decision was outside of the ANA’s control as the city of Pittsburgh had its own restrictions pertaining to large gatherings. Unfortunately, the trend of the pandemic seems to be going in the wrong direction, and the future of any coin show for 2020 is very much up in the air.

Starting in the early part of 2020, Heritage Auctions and Stack’s Bowers began soliciting auction consignments for the 2020 ANA World’s Fair of Money. The ANA sale is usually one of the premier events of the year, and many collectors send consignments for the prestigious sales. This year was no different, and both companies staged impressive auctions that were conducted mostly online.

In lieu of the canceled ANA convention, Heritage and Stack’s Bowers each held small, invitation-only events: Heritage in Dallas and Stack’s Bowers in Las Vegas. The events gave those interested in viewing lots in person the opportunity to see the coins and bid in person if they wished. Reports are that the events were lightly attended, with only the hard-core auction crowd making the trips. A few dealers mentioned to me that they did great business despite the low attendance. The hunger for rare coins was readily apparent to those with fresh offerings.

Quality Over Quantity

Over the last week, I have been calling dealers and collectors around the country asking about their view of the ANA sales (rebranded August sales) conducted by Heritage and Stack’s Bowers. I have also talked to consigners to get their opinions on the results.

To start, the auctions were conducted on the tailwinds of exploding precious metal prices. Gold reached new highs last week, and silver was up around 40% in the last 30 days. The hobby is also enjoying newfound awareness because so many individuals now have extra time on their hands. Interest in tangible assets is significantly benefiting numismatics as well.

Indeed, any dealer with a strong internet presence is doing fine, and the hobby of numismatics is flourishing, especially when compared to many other segments of the economy. Businesses are suffering greatly in the United States, and anyone who sells rare coins for a living should feel blessed.

The combined auctions featured tens of millions of dollars’ worth of US coins, world coins, ancient coins, and paper money. There were some coins that failed to meet reserves, but the vast majority of the coins found new homes. Whenever this many coins enter the market, it can be a test of the depth of the demand for rare coins and currency. This is even more of an observed test considering the state of the economy and concerns about the COVID-19 crisis.

When speaking to those who attended the auctions or consigned material to the sales, one theme was constant — the market demands quality. Attractive coins with original surfaces sold well. Set registry collecting is also still a significant driver of the market for rare coins. Less appealing coins sold for discounts, which has been a consistent result for the last few years. There also seemed to be some resistance to those coins priced near or above $100,000. A few of these coins sold for less than they brought several years ago.

There were a few very specialized collections in the sales that performed well. The Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle collection sold by Heritage Auctions did extremely well, with many of these coins having been off the market for years.

Both sales featured many great and unusual coins that seldom appear on the market, let alone at the World’s Fair of Money. As can be seen below, some of these coins sold for great prices, and others were somewhat disappointing. The greatest demand in the sales was for attractive coins under $10,000. With the lack of coin shows, many coin dealers are seeing their inventories being depleted of these types of coins.

Gold coins are seeing deserved attention given the rally in gold prices. Quite a few new collectors have begun to assemble sets of southern gold coins from the Dahlonega and Charlotte Mints as could be evidenced by the strong prices realized in the sales.

Type coins and Classic Commemorative coins are also seeing some signs of life for the first time in years. It seems that true collectors are entering the market, and set building is becoming very popular. Ancient coins also performed extremely well, and many new auction records were set.

Continuing the Trend

My general take on the sales is that collector coins are in demand, but there is a palatable weakness when it comes to some of the higher-priced coins, especially those that are not at least solid for the grade. Given the economic uncertainty in the world, the weakness of higher-priced coins is understandable.

There have also been the announcements of a few mega-collections that are going to be offered at auction later this year and next. Heritage will be selling one of the greatest colonial coin collections ever assembled in the coming months. A few other massive collections with a lot of very expensive coins are being sold as well.

Many numismatic pundits, including myself, always worry when a lot of coins enter the market. However, the rare coin market is bigger than most of us realize, and these coins always find new homes. The prices are also usually surprisingly high. Hopefully, this trend will continue.

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