With US, world, and ancient coins all in demand, the collecting options are endless

 

By Jim BisognaniNGC Weekly Market Report ……
 

As this article posts, another month has rolled around. Normally, September brings the heebie-jeebies to us in New England, as it means, with Labor Day behind us, summer is on her last legs, and Old Man Winter will soon make his appearance. For baseball fans, September also typically delivers exciting pennant races as teams jockey for playoff positions. Of course, the new NFL campaign is set to resume, too.

Along with MLB suiting up for the fall classic and the NFL getting its reboot, this year, we also have the NHL and NBA franchises duking it out in their respective playoffs! Yet, all of these major league sports are missing an important component — packed stadiums and arenas with their immediate and vocal crowd reactions.

School-age youngsters and college students of all ages are finding their way back to a limited and much different classroom environment this early fall, with many opting for remote virtual classes. The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly left an indelible mark on humanity. It is a new and different frontier we are all facing.

Feeling Short-Changed?

Of course, we in the numismatic world have been quite nearly shut out this year, with only the Winter FUN show in distant January to remind us what a major live venue is like. One constant, and a break from the rigors and seemingly daily chaos, is our buoyant numismatic hobby. Huge demand and strong prices for gold and silver have remained a powerful catalyst, bringing business to coin dealers and bullion traders alike.

coin shortage

Fortunately for us in the numismatic profession, we already had a great infrastructure for online commerce. Virtually every dealer who has a functioning website is conducting solid and even record business. The only difficulty is readily replenishing depleted inventories.

The recent “scare” that there is a national coin shortage has piqued interest in the numismatic hobby, too. As we all know, there is nothing like a perceived “shortage” to drive demand. While the small change shortage is real for many businesses, it is more of a logistical thing.

Scores of retail establishments are either closed or offering limited hours, so there is a lack of live patrons to replenish the tills. Vending machines and parking meters have seen limited use as well. Couple this with most banks and credit unions all but closed to floor traffic for months and one of the main sources of rolled coin delivery has all but stopped. Yet, let me assure my fellow coindexters, this disruption is temporary — there is no shortage of coins.

The Current Coin Market

As my friend and fellow price guide analyst Kevin Stoutjesdyk feverishly works to maintain current and viable pricing for US and world coins, we of course take note of patterns and trends.

Just the other day, since we are heading into the fall season and the final quarter of 2020, I asked Kevin to share his observations of the coin market. Specifically, for those collectors looking to either build a set or add coins to their collections, just what is a good value for the collector of average means, say for coins in the $500-and-under category?

Per Kevin, “I honestly think that with the uncertainty of the (presidential) election, the coin market is only going to go up higher.”

I asked my astute colleague, Is that based on a safe haven mentality — just wanting something tangible — or do you see an escalation no matter what?

Kevin replied:

“I see an escalation in all coins, even the generic stuff like Morgans, and I think that it has to do with the uncertainty of the market. People want a tangible asset that is safer.

“For gold, if someone is attracted to gold because of all the movement, I like AU raw $5 Liberties right now. They go for around $550, so their premiums above melt are lower than other US gold coins. Plus, they still have that all-important eye appeal, and they are Pre-33, which means they have historical value along with intrinsic value.

“I also think NGC MS 66 Morgans and Peace Dollars are pretty safe. They are always attractive to collectors, and there is always huge demand for Morgans. In MS 66, you’re getting great quality for the money if you don’t want to shell out significantly more for MS 67s.”

I concurred and said that they are also both near historic lows, which make them attractive.

Kevin then chimed in, “And with both series including Type coins, there are a variety of mints to choose from — Philly, Denver, San Francisco, and New Orleans.”

Business card J.J. Teaparty, Inc. Courtesy Jim Bisognani, NGC

Old-Worldly Pursuits

Personally, I feel that world and ancient coins are performing extremely well of late. Prices realized in online auctions have been robust. Even eBay sellers that I follow have witnessed a surge in prices.

As I was thinking of ancient coins, I fondly remembered one of my early and lifelong mentors, Ed Leventhal — “Mr. J.J. Teaparty” — who recently passed away. My dealings with Ed and the Boston coin shop J.J. Teaparty began 37 years ago, almost to the day, as it was just before Labor Day in 1983 that I first met Ed and saw in person that iconic simmering teapot hanging out front of the shop’s Bromfield Street location.

A bit of background: As those of you of a certain age remember, the new-fangled VCRs were beginning to drop in price (VHS and Betamax), and the Mrs. and I were anxious to raise some capital so that we could buy a new big-screen 19-inch Sony Trinitron TV and VCR.

I wasn’t dealing much in coins back then, but I did have a small collection of US and foreign coins. Just before noontime on that fateful Friday, I put together a handful of better coins, which were expendables, that I calculated to be worth $500 or more. The key to this group was a nice, red Proof Indian Cent.

My wife and I took to the road from Portsmouth, New Hampshire to visit a few well-known coin shops in Wakefield, Massachusetts. Upon entering the first shop, I was offered $175 for the group. Dismayed, I visited another shop in town and was offered $145. I felt defeated and returned to the shop that offered me $175 and tried to persuade them to offer more — no luck.

I knew that the coins I had were worth around $500 or more, so before I left the shop, I asked if there were any other coin shops around. The dealer shot back, “If you want to battle the Boston traffic, you could try J.J. Teaparty on Bromfield Street. They might offer you a bit more. They are open until 5 p.m.”

As it was after 3 p.m., I told the Mrs. that we better head to Boston. We pulled into Malden Station and took the Orange Line “T” to Haymarket and headed up to Bromfield Street. Upon being “buzzed” into the quaint and somewhat confining shop, I was greeted by Ed. We exchanged pleasantries, and he asked what he could do for me.

I then proceeded to pull out the handful of coins that I wanted to sell from the red 2×2 box that held them. Ed took the coins and carefully examined them. He referred to the Greysheet on a few of the US coins and then pulled down another catalog for the world coins. Ed then totaled up the numbers and said, “I will pay you $680.” In response, I said, “I can’t believe it!” Ed replied, “What, not enough?”

I smiled broadly, and said, “I have to tell you this: I just visited a few dealers in Wakefield and was offered $145 by one and $175 by the other.”

Ed blurted out, “For all of this?”

Then Ed smiled, scratched his head and said, “Well, maybe I’m paying you too much.” We both chuckled.

I then said, “If I am ever in a position to do more business, I will come here.”

Ed thanked me and noted, “That is the way we try to do business.”

About four years later, my activity with coins had increased. I had a few customers and was in a position to do a deal with Mr. J.J. Teaparty. I recall on that specific visit, Ed shared his passion for ancient coins with me. He showed me coins from his personal collection, which included some truly spectacular and artistic coins of Sicily and Syracuse.

I mentioned that I would like to get an “Owl”, the iconic tetradrachm of Attica-Athens. Ed then pulled out what he called a “starter” Owl for me to consider. I looked at the coin and fell in love with that big-eyed owl. Ed said that I could have it for $125. I bought the coin — my very first ancient coin — and have enjoyed it for over three decades! A few years ago, I had it graded by NGC, and here she is. I requested that the Owl be showcased on the front of the holder.

My Owl accompanied by the original handwritten (upside-down) insert by Ed. Courtesy Jim Bisognani, NGC
My Owl accompanied by the original handwritten (upside-down) insert by Ed.

Through the ensuing years, I had many personal dealings with Ed. Whether buying a five-figure coin, sorting through scrap gold, or sharing special visits to the “backroom”, these are such pleasant and lifelong memories.

Rest in peace, my friend!

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.

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