By Jim Bisognani – NGC Weekly Market Report ……
As I wheeled the trash barrel out last week, I was greeted with far-from-springlike conditions. A biting arctic wind more typical of late January was howling, leaving temps in the 20s. The positives: It was sunny and, for now (I may regret saying it later), all the snow is gone. I will take the small triumphs.
With the new baseball season finally getting underway in about two weeks, we here in New Hampshire will gleefully push Old Man Winter out the door for good. As I have said in this column before, the numismatic market, however, is no longer bound by any season nor (for the past two spectacular years) conventional logic, it would seem. Since the global COVID-19 pandemic, the collectibles and coin markets have been hotter than an August afternoon in Phoenix.
Thankfully, the pandemic may be deemed under control. But world markets are now gyrating because of the war in Ukraine, a reason for all to be wary. Not surprisingly, the world geopolitical situation is now driving even more interest in the numismatic offerings that appear at public and private sales.
Some Simple Advice
Recent auction results confirm the unbridled demand, along with the commensurate prices. As with any market, when the demand for an item exceeds supply, prices escalate, sometimes rapidly. For the motivated collector or aggressive dealer, this leaves the obvious choice of either paying the elevated price or (as a collector friend from Troy, Michigan, proclaimed to me recently) deciding that “it’s time to move on to something else.”
This advice is simple yet profound, and it may work very well for collectors not bound to completing a particular series or filling places slotted for various mintmarked coins.
For example, if a collector is anxious to include a Gem 1885 Carson City Morgan Dollar and was challenged by a $1,250 valuation, they could easily target an 1883-CC Morgan in like grade and spend around $550 – less than half the price of the 1885-CC in like grade. The collector also could scout out an MS-65 1884-CC for about $575. These two Carson City Gem Morgans would actually cost about $100 less than the 1885-CC.
Major dealers with whom I have talked who still possess major inventories in US coins are broadening their acquisitions to include world and ancient coins.
Why? As one dealer advised, referring specifically to ancients: “They are historically important and aesthetically very appealing. Just think about coins of the ancient world featuring Alexander the Great, Julius and Augustus Caesars. Many coins of Rome and Greece can still be found in Mint State at very market-friendly levels.”
This is true. I have seen scores of dealers now offering the very popular NGC Ancients on their websites. Consider this, my fellow coindexters: For the price of the MS 65 1885-CC Morgan Dollar, you can corral a virtually Mint State silver coin of the ancient world!
One such “type” coin that fits the bill is one that was perhaps as popular over 2,000 years ago as the Morgan Dollar is with collectors of today. I am referring to the fabled and iconic silver tetradrachm of Athens circa 440-404 BCE. This exemplary example is just tremendous and realized a rather modest $900 earlier this month at a Heritage Auctions sale.
Another example of this type I spotted just sold in this week’s Heritage world and ancients sale for $1,320. The wise owl is especially captivating, I say! And Athena is well preserved and doesn’t begin to reflect her 2,400-plus years!
In this formidable market, I am frequently asked what is left to buy for those on a modest budget. For those collectors at a crossroads, wanting to add to an existing collection or desiring to start one now, my advice is to look beyond our shores at world coins.
Play ‘Small Ball’ with Gold
As for gold bugs on median budgets anxious for pre-1933 US gold, it is best to play “small ball”. A West Coast dealer friend concurs and advised that he finds great value in smaller US gold denominations, such as the Indian Head $2.50. As he proudly proclaimed: “Today I can still sell NGC MS-63 Indian Head $2.50s for $725!”
I agree that this is a great value, especially for the many collectors realizing they are effectively shut out in their quest to own a complete classic US Gold Series on a budget. In reality, even a well-funded, serious numismatist really has no chance to complete a Mint State $20 Saints set, in which an MS-63 type coin will set you back at least $2,300 or a $10 Indian set with type coins graded MS-63 presently trading for $1,600. Both of these series have many key dates and types that, even in this market, would run into millions of dollars. However, the Indian Head Quarter Eagles of 1908-1929 do present a plausible path with only 15 coins needed to complete this series.
A quick check of dealers’ asking prices confirms that a prudent and diligent coindexter can secure eye-appealing MS-62 grade coins for around $575 each. So the path to completion would be even more affordable!
The only true stopper in this series is the 1911-D, which will set you back about $8,500 in MS-62. So perhaps setting sights on a mid-range AU coin for about half the price of an MS-62 would be the best plan. This will allow the collector to upgrade this coin later. Employing this strategy, for an outlay of about $14,250 you could assemble the entire Indian Head quarter eagle set! Certainly within the sights and purse strings of many hobbyists.
Personally, I can’t think of a more attractive gold collection and proud numismatic investment. As always, look to a coin or series that “talks” to you and your budget and one that you find appealing. Whether historically significant, rare, or something your dad collected, enjoy!
Until next time, be safe and happy collecting!
Jim Bisognani is an NGC Price Guide Analyst having previously served for many years as an analyst and writer for another major price guide. He has written extensively on US coin market trends and values.