by Louis Golino for CoinWeek
Every year in February the most important international coin fair of the year is held in Berlin, Germany. It is known as the World Money Fair . This year’s event, held from February 3-5, drew over 15,000 visitors and more than 300 exhibitors.
Unlike coin shows that mainly include a bourse plus educational events, the Berlin show is more than anything an opportunity for major world mints to showcase their latest and upcoming coins and to interact with dealers, distributors, collectors, and experts.
Prior to the start of the show a major auction was held whose highlights included the sale of a rare 1835 Russian rouble depicting Russian tsar Nicholas I that sold for 650,000 euros (plus a 100,000 euro buyer’s premium), or about $1 million total. That was the highest price ever paid for a coin sold in Germany. The auction was conducted by German auctioneer, Fritz Rudolph Kuenker .
The show included a media forum for specialized numismatic reporters, where world mint representatives discussed their current coin programs and future plans.
There was also a technical forum in which experts in coin production discussed the latest innovations in the technologies used to make coins. Many world mints are renowned for their cutting-edge coins which, for example, use different colors, or combine different types of metal in one coin, like the Canadian silver and niobium Native American coin series that started last year.
This year the U.S. Mint did not participate in the Berlin show, but in years past it has done so. Numismatic News editor David Harper, who attended the show, speculated that the reason may have been a desire to reduce expenses.
The American Numismatic Association in contrast did attend, and its president, Tom Hallenbeck, told Mr. Harper that the ANA is working more closely with world mints to make the summer ANA convention a real World’s Fair of Money, as it is billed.
The Berlin show is also a good gauge of the modern world coin market in Europe.
For this article I interviewed Alan Marks, the media representative of the leading Australian numismatic company, Downies, who attended the show, to get his impressions of the Berlin show and the world coin market.
Downies is the most well known Australian coin dealership and recently celebrated its 80th anniversary. It has a North American subsidiary called Euro Collections International and has been active in the U.S. market since 1995.
Downies was founded in July 1932 by Phil Downie. Today it is the largest coin dealer in the southern hemisphere.
LG: Did Downies have a booth at the show, or did you mainly meet with world mint representatives to discuss upcoming coin programs?
AM: We chose not to have a booth this year, and I was able to meet with representatives of mints and numismatic companies from around the world mostly to discuss their upcoming issues so that I can plan ahead for our various retail areas.
LG: What were your general impressions of the show? Would you say there was greater interest in modern than classic coins because of the nature of the Berlin show?
AM: My impression of the show was that it was very strong. Interest is certainly very high in that part of the world, and all three days saw a queue snaking through the hotel awaiting the doors to open. This was driven largely by a number of traditional dealers with deals to be had as well as many of the mints offering low limited edition Show Mint Sets. Among others, the Monnaie de Paris, the Spanish Mint and even our own Royal Australian Mint, issued Berlin World Money Fair Mint Sets.
LG: Based on what you learned about the plans of world mints, were there any particular coins or coins of a certain country that really caught your attention?
AM: From my own personal point of view, the two commonwealth Royal Mints (outside our own Australian Mint) – British Royal Mint and Royal Canadian Mint – have very strong schedules. The Canadians have a very full issuing schedule, and it looks to be some strong themes. The Brits on the other hand are very focussed on London 2012 and the Diamond Jubilee for much of this year. Both should prove very popular for them. As an aside, a Mint that Downies has had little to do with caught my eye this year – the Royal Dutch Mint has two very Dutch issues coming up, and I hope that collectors agree with me when they are released.
LG: Did the market for world coins appear strong in Berlin?
AM: As always, domestic coins in any country will prove strongest. However, I would agree that in Berlin there is an excellent market for world coins. Much of this would probably be modern commemoratives but there is always a generous number of international “traditional” dealers in attendance (both euro and further afield) gaining good custom.
LG: Was there a lot of interest in the Year of the Dragon Lunar coin program, such as the popular Perth Mint coins and others?
AM: While I expected a lot of Dragon issues to be on offer at the fair, I was surprised by just how much variation there is out there. Many, many companies have their version fo the Dragon, and I believe it has now come down to innovation and/or design in order for these coins to stand out among the crowd. And, I must say, there was plenty of innovation in this area at Berlin! The Perth Mint coins have proven very strong still. They were able to sell out of their Berlin show Dragon coin by middle of the second day, I believe!
LG: Was there a lot of interest in the new opal koala coins from Perth?
AM: While I did not hear of any specific interest at the show for this coin, I’m reasonably sure that it will have already sold out at Perth by now. Certainly our considerable allocation is already gone.
LG: Did you notice much interest in the 2 euro commemorative coins, including the new series marking the 10th anniversary of the euro?
AM: One of the real “queue-builders” at each Berlin show is the latest German 2 euro [coin]. Collectors will often queue up a long way for the chance to get their hands on this for little over face value. Aside from this – which I admit I was at the show too late each morning to see – the 10th anniversary 2 euro design should be a very successful range. While it will be a while before every coin is issued by every country, it looks a very strong 10th anniversary commemoration.
CoinWeek is grateful to Mr. Marks and Downies for providing interesting insights on the Berlin show and modern world coins to our readers.
Louis Golino is a coin collector and numismatic writer, whose articles on coins have appeared in Coin World, Numismatic News, and a number of different coin web sites. His column for CoinWeek, “The Coin Analyst,” covers U.S. and world coins and precious metals. He collects U.S. and European coins and is a member of the ANA, PCGS, NGC, and CAC. He has also worked for the U.S. Library of Congress and has been a syndicated columnist and news analyst on international affairs for a wide variety of newspapers and web sites.
This year we took a dealer stand, for the first time since about 40 years ago.
Actually, this is not quite true, we took over an empty stand last year at about 11 on Saturday morning, and had sold out of our stock of over half a tonne of silver coins in just over an hour.
With no signage, we found an old cardboard box, borrowed a felt tip pen, and created a very amateurish look.
This year we were much better organised, but failed to achieve a sell-out.
Berlin WMF always reminds me how much marketing has taken over, and how many “collectors” only seem to want to buy the latest modern issue. Real numismatic dealers with real, old, coins, presumably do adequate business, but all the hype and attention is devoted to the latest design or release to be marketed.
It seems to us that “coin collectors” often get treated as numbers and statistics, rather than real people. Some of the marketing coin companies, including our own British Royal Mint, have jacked up their prices to almost obscene levels, believing, possibly correctly that enough people will place blind trust and faith in a national institution, and pay whatever silly price they are asked.
The latest silver proof crown is now £99.95 against £55 last year, an 80% increase.
The kilo gold proof Olympic coin, containing gold worth about £35,000 is being marketed at £100,000; almost triple its intrinsic value. Previous Royal Mint gold proof kilos issued for Alderney retailed at about 30% over metal.
We believe it is only a matter of time before buyers realise they are being fleeced, and the modern issue market gets a thorough shake out.
We make a competitive secondary market in modern issues, and deal with disillusioned, disappointed, sometimes angry ex-collectors on a daily basis. While we try to avoid telling them they have been ripped off, many other dealers probably have no compunction in doing so.
Will mints and coin marketers be the next bankers?
A senior Royal Mint executive seemed rather upset when I compared him with (+/-) Sir Fred Goodwin.
Thanks for your insights. I would agree that there is too much of a focus on the latest modern issues. That is a problem in the U.S. too. And I totally agree on the BRM’s prices, which honestly make little sense to me. The only British coins I collect are the bullion version of the 1 ounce Britannia, which can be obtained for a few dollars over melt in the U.S. Modern U.S. coins tend to be priced more competitively. In fact, the U.S. Mint is doing the opposite of what the BRM is doing. It is lowering prices this year. But agree modern material can be a minefield, so one must tread carefully, and classic coins can be much more rewarding in all senses.
As a modern world coin dealer myself, I will have to agree with Mr. Chard that “it is only a matter of time before buyers realize they are being fleeced, and the modern issue market gets a thorough shake out.” When I started in this business 16 years ago there were only a handful of private mints out there, and they were mostly being used as overflow facilities for government mints. As the expensive engraving and tooling operations were automated with lasers and computers in the late 90’s, this opened the door for many private mints to start copying the government mints – and many times doing a better and more inventive job of it. Then, in the early to mid 00’s, government mints started copying the private mints by doing coins in color, with holograms etc. Today, as I have just returned from the coin show in Berlin, it strikes me as very curious that this year the private mints are copying each other and leaving the government mints alone. Why? It is a combination of lack of inventiveness, high prices, and arrogance towards collectors that they should buy whatever the government mints put out there – and at any price. It simply can’t last.
How is it possible for many mints to increase their prices by as much as 50% in an economic down year where collector’s budgets are lower than previous years? This would necessarily mean that volume is down even more than 50%, numbers that are hard to verify for the current year. If the government mints are doing well financially, the increased prices are simply arrogance toward the collector. If they are struggling financially, it could be a fight for survival. I believe Mr. Chard is hinting at the latter.
I also believe that when the shakeout has occurred, the mints that have kept their collector bases by issuing nicely designed coins with sensible issue limits and competitive prices will be the ones that have the upper hand.
Because there are some very nice coins offered at sensible prices, but with all the hype and attention devoted to the latest design or release to be marketed, they are so much harder to find.
Thanks so much for adding your views. I would have to agree with most of what you said. I think modern coins are fun to collect and enjoyable as art objects, but personally I have always found older coins to be more interesting and generally better performers from an investment standpoint. I have a forthcoming piece on the advantages and disadvantages of classic vs. modern coins that touches on many of the issues discussed here.
Further to the Berlin coin show this year, I believe that it was bigger than previous years when it comes to the number of booths in attendance. Not so much from traditional coin dealers maybe, but a lot more of the peripheral players such as packaging manufacturers, commercial banks, bullion dealers etc. Because they had started to use the entire lobby, as well as part of the hotel piazza, for booths and registration, it actually was more pleasurable walking around this year than previously. It seemed like a smaller show when it came to attendance, but this could be because of the mentioned re-alignment and because the attendees had more floor space to move around on. It will be tough to grow from here on out, though, as there simply isn’t more room to find in this complex. Most of the traditional dealers that I spoke to had the same opinion as Mr. Chard, that business was not as good as previous years. This might be an indication that growth has peaked for the time being.