By Doug Winter – RareGoldcoins.com
CoinWeek Content Partner ……
I recently received an email from a collector who asked what I thought were an extremely intelligent group of questions. In a nutshell, he asked the following. As boomers age, are we nearing a bubble in coin prices? At some point will the number of collectors with the financial means to collect rare gold decrease and will prices suffer accordingly?
Go to any coin show and you will see a disturbing trend. The buyers of most “serious” coins (i.e., coins priced at $1,000 and above) are in their late 50s or 60s and the dealers selling them these coins tend to be at least the same age, if not older. There are not many young collectors at shows and the number of “A” level dealers in their 20s and 30s can be counted on one hand. This spells trouble for the coin market, right?
I contend that the answer is not as obvious or as clear-cut as it would seem to be. I am a keen student of the history of the numismatic marketplace and, as far as I can tell, ever since coin collecting became popular in the United States (in the late 1850’s/early 1860’s) it’s been a hobby that mainly attracts older people. Think about it: coins are expensive and people in their 20s and 30s have never had enough discretionary income to be making impulsive non-essential purchase. When you are 27 years old, you are thinking about buying a house and saving money for your child’s education, not deciding what series of 19th-century gold coin to specialize in.
But the world has changed in the last generation or two and wealth is no longer the exclusive province of the middle-aged and the mature. For the first time that I can remember I have a few good clients who are younger than I am and these collectors tend to be self-made entrepreneurs.
In the 1950s, many collectors grew old at around the same time and the hobby was in a precarious spot. Lots of great collections were coming on the market at the same time and it seemed unlikely that these coins would be absorbed. For a while, prices were depressed and the short-term outlook of the market was gloomy. But along came the roll craze of the early to mid-’60s and the market was suddenly reinvigorated by young collectors; some of who became famous dealers who are active to this day.
In the mid- to late-1970s the same trend was occurring. Collectors were graying and lots of coins were coming on the market. All of a sudden, precious metals prices began to boom and lots of new blood came into the market. Two decades later it was the State Quarter program that jumpstarted a moribund market. Again and again, we have seen cycles of demand in the coin market and when things appeared gloomy, something would happen that infused youth into the hobby.
The “X factor” in today’s market—and the future coin market(s)–is, of course, the Internet. Unlike in 1960 or 1980 or in 1990, it will be easier to replace this generation of graying numismatists with younger buyers due to the accessibility of information and the ease of purchasing rare coins on-line. And there is another factor that I believe will come into play as well: foreign buyers.
As is well-known, huge middle-class and upper-class populations are being created in China and India. These are countries with an interest in American culture and cultures that greatly prize gold. It is possible (not likely, but possible) that new markets for American gold coins could develop in these countries and this, of course, would greatly change the dynamic of the future coin market.
My guess is that some time in the next decade or so, we will see a significant change in the demographics of the coin market. Many of today’s “super-collectors” are going to be net sellers in a decade or so and it is certainly possible that prices at some point could drop in the short-term. But if this scenario occurs, I think it is highly possible that this dip will be short-lived and that a new generation of eager collectors will fill the void.
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About Doug Winter
Doug has spent much of his life in the field of numismatics; beginning collecting coins at the age of seven, and by the time he was 10 years old, buying and selling coins at conventions in the New York City area.
In 1989, he founded Douglas Winter Numismatics, and his firm specializes in buying and selling choice and rare US Gold coins, especially US gold coins and all branch mint material.
Recognized as one of the leading specialized numismatic firms, Doug is an award-winning author of over a dozen numismatic books and the recognized expert on US Gold. His knowledge and an exceptional eye for properly graded and original coins have made him one of the most respected figures in the numismatic community and a sought after dealer by collectors and investors looking for professional personalized service, a select inventory of impeccable quality and fair and honest pricing. Doug is also a major buyer of all US coins and is always looking to purchase collections both large and small. He can be reached at (214) 675-9897.
Doug has been a contributor to the Guidebook of United States Coins (also known as the “Redbook”) since 1983, Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of United States and Colonial Coins, Q. David Bowers’ Encyclopedia of United States Silver Dollars and Andrew Pollock’s United States Pattern and Related Issues
In addition, he has authored 13 books on US Gold coins including:
- Gold Coins of the New Orleans Mint: 1839-1909
- Gold Coins of the Carson City Mint: 1870 – 1893
- Gold Coins of the Charlotte Mint: 1838-1861
- Gold Coins of the Dahlonega Mint 1838-1861
- The United States $3 Gold Pieces 1854-1889
- Carson City Gold Coinage 1870-1893: A Rarity and Condition Census Update
- An Insider’s Guide to Collecting Type One Double Eagles
- The Connoisseur’s Guide to United States Gold Coins
- A Collector’s Guide To Indian Head Quarter Eagles
- The Acadiana Collection of New Orleans Coinage
- Type Three Double Eagles, 1877-1907: A Numismatic History and Analysis
- Gold Coins of the Dahlonega Mint, 1838-1861: A Numismatic History and Analysis
- Type Two Double Eagles, 1866-1876: A Numismatic History and Analysis
Finally, Doug is a member of virtually every major numismatic organization, professional trade group and major coin association in the US.
Doug, I don’t collect gold coins, and we have never met. Nonetheless, your article is extremely impressive to me. I had the same question about “graying collectors”. (I intend to be one, whether or not the coin market is strong!) Thank you for sharing your expertise and insight with us. Best, Adam
What about the coins that are imperfect conditions. Does the value increase with time,like the bronze coins from the Roman coins.
I find the following statement unsettling.
“As is well-known, huge middle-class and upper-class populations are being created in China and India. These are countries with an interest in American culture and cultures that greatly prize gold. It is possible (not likely, but possible) that new markets for American gold coins could develop in these countries and this, of course, would greatly change the dynamic of the future coin market.”
With the influx of counterfeit coins and more recently almost perfect counterfeit PCGS slabs… these Chinese coins will always be suspicious to me when they reenter the US Market.
I am probably being overly paranoid as fake coins will infiltrate the US market either way ,but the Chinese buying large amounts of rare US gold and then at some point reentering the domestic market will only make matters more complicated.
I am 45 with six kids. I started collecting 5 years ago and tried to get all of my kids interested. Three of my kids have nice collections, but only one of them has maintained a high level of enthusiasm. Here in Columbus, Oh there are a handful of coin stores, but it seems none of them market to kids. Anything marketed to kids is either not useful or is overpriced. I do not know if we have been to a coin store that wants help a child build a collection. For example if a child wants to put together a state quarter collection and he cannot find certain dates in circulation, why would a dealer charge him $3.00 for a quarter? It will be YEARS before a state quarter will have a resale value of $3.00. My kids have been ripped off (also because of my ignorance), insulted and talked down to by some dealers. Building collections from circulated coins has led to collecting rare coins. It is sad that there was little help for collecting circulated coins. There is a generation gap in collecting what is being done about it and it does effect future values? Your article is hopeful.
I am 35 years old and in my experience with shows, the older dealers tend to snub us younger folks. I can’t count how many times I’ve been brushed off so the older fellow next to me sits down, bullshits with the dealer and hogs all his attention. Not all dealers/fellow collectors are this way, but a lot are. That’s why I go towards others who are closer my age and aren’t afraid of the younger collectors. The internet is a big help but going to a store/show is still my favorite way of getting coins. I believe it is a generational problem.
I think you are spot on. Additionally, the advent of PCGS, NGC and CAC have transformed the coin market in a way that is still in its infancy. Additionally, the availability of on-line information and transparency created by the likes of a Heritage are also providing the opportunity for a new generation of technically savvy younger people with means to enter the hobby. In every market I have been involved with, as more information is dispersed and profit margins shrink, volume increases, so the DuPont Formula of business does work. It is up to the dealers to adapt and market participants to adapt.
A couple of points on this article.
The idea that foreigners in any number will simultaneously become collectors and have a preference for expensive US coins, whether gold or otherwise, is an exaggeration. I have heard these claims before and while I understand it exists in isolation (such as with Japanese for proof gold), the obvious reason its almost certainly going to remain isolated is because US coins are grossly overpriced versus their foreign counterparts. The coins which Mr. Winter profiles in his articles, why would a foreigner want them and why would they pay more for them than they do for their own coins which cost so much less? The most obvious answer is they won’t because there are very few series which are strongly preferred outside of the home market which cost more than the buyer’s local coinage and US coins certainly aren’t one of them. I can see “investors” buying these coins in very limited numbers due to the far more liquid market but that is all.
The biggest demographic change with collecting in the US is not going to be from aging but from changes in the ethnic composition; minorities as opposed to Europeans or whites. I expect many (maybe even most) to collect US coinage as existing collectors do today but a noticeable percentage are going to prefer coins which existing and prior collectors do not and have not preferred. The popularity of some of these series is already apparent though this preference is limited by the much smaller available supply since as an example, comparably dated Mexican crowns are much scarcer than Morgan and Peace dollars.