As the year comes to a close, coin collectors and dealers reflect on the unprecedented year and what 2021 holds for the rapidly changing numismatics industry
Numismatic Market Review by Jim Bisognani – NGC Weekly Market Report ……
To say 2020 was an eventful year would be an understatement. We are all part of history by living through this pandemic, the likes of which the world has not witnessed in over 100 years. Yet, through science, determination and rapidly evolving technology, a fully functional vaccine is being administered to the heroic frontline medical staff and those most in need a mere nine months since COVID-19 infiltrated the US. There is finally a light at the end of this devastating tunnel — truly amazing and life-preserving news.
For us in the numismatic world, like everyone, it has been an adjustment to live without all of the things we previously took for granted. Coin shows and other major live venues have been canceled for the lion’s share of 2020. These events were lifelines for many dealers, and their cancelation could have been a crushing blow to many businesses. Yet, the internet shopping phenomenon has come to the rescue. Not only has it blazed a path for the dedicated and veteran coindexter, now relegated to working from home, but it has also become a destination for a whole new audience, clamoring for coins, currency, sports cards, comics, and other collectibles as well.
Gold spot breached an astounding $2,000 USD per ounce in 2020. Demand for gold coins and virtually anything rare or in high grade is snapped up as rapidly as they appear on dealer’s websites or online auctions. It seems the numismatic business has been spared, displaying resiliency and channeling even greater demand.
I know that business is so brisk here at NGC that we are actively looking to fill numerous positions throughout the entire CCG network. Max Spiegel, President of Certified Collectibles Group, recently said, “Hey Jim, if you know of any numismatically inclined folks looking for work, have them contact us.”
So, to you, my varied and eclectic legion of readers, if you are a coin, currency, comic, or card aficionado (and why wouldn’t you be?) and would like to share your expertise, please check out our careers page and apply!
As this report posts, it is just a week before the Christmas holiday. While this year’s celebration and family gatherings will be more restrained, please enjoy it with your loved ones as much as you can. I am so grateful to be able to share it with my Beth.
As the calendar puts 2020 to bed, it is time, my fellow coindexters, for my 10th Annual NGC Year In Review! Wow, it’s really been 10 years already? So, I guess it is apropos that I have broached 10 questions (over two installments!) to numismatic notables, dealers, authors, and collectors. I thank them all for their participation. Minor drum roll, please… on to Part I!
Perhaps the most important question is how have you and your family been coping during the pandemic?
John Brush – President of David Lawrence Rare Coins
Well, it’s certainly been weird. Being the father of a 10- and an 11-year-old, my elderly father’s caretaker, and having a father-in-law undergoing cancer treatments has really helped me keep perspective. With the family being at such high risk, I made the decision to suspend my travel in March after I went to the Stack’s Bowers sale. It’s been an absolute whirlwind, but incredibly slow at the same time. All in all, we’ve survived it remarkably well so far. Based on those that we know that have gotten the virus, I’m thankful for the path we’ve chosen so that we can continue to remain close with our family.
Bob Green – Owner of Park Avenue Numismatics
Unfortunately, our family had a huge loss in March when my father passed away. He was the first person in Palm Beach to pass away from coronavirus. While we mourn the loss, we are grateful he had 88 years with us.
Ian Russell – President and Owner, GreatCollections Coin Auctions
Raeleen and I have been good, thanks, Jim. We miss getting out there, traveling, seeing concerts, movies, etc., but we’ve been very busy with GreatCollections, so it’s helped get us through it all.
Jeff Garrett – Founder of Mid-American Rare Coin Galleries, Inc.
Thankfully, we have all been safe and healthy during this challenging year. My daughter Morgan is a nurse at a local hospital and has been extremely busy as are most health care workers around the country. I’m very excited that the COVID-19 vaccine has started its distribution this week. Hopefully, we can all safely get back to a more normal existence sometime soon.
Brian Hodge – Partner of LMRC
Overall, there have been a lot of changes to our routine — all of the kids’ activities came to a complete halt, there’s no more dining out, etc. Fortunately, none of us has contracted the virus thus far. We certainly feel for those out there that have contracted it, lost a loved one, or have lost their livelihood as a result of this devastating disease.
Ira Goldberg – Co-Owner of Ira & Larry Goldberg Auctioneers
We at Goldberg’s are all fine, COVID-19 free, and remain healthy. As for our grandchildren, not so much, as the inability to attend school in person is not helping anyone.
Lianna Spurrier – Creative Director of Numismatic Marketing
We have collectively hunkered down. Instead of going out to eat, we order takeout, limit our regular shopping to a quick Kroger trip, and play board games at home. We’ve eaten out once since March; a few local restaurants have the plastic outdoor “bubbles” that we had to experience. We’re all grateful we can enjoy our hobbies without leaving home, which has helped us stay sane. I also got a dog, which has been plenty to keep me busy the past couple of months.
James Sibley – Collector
Thankfully, everybody is okay in our family, which is a particular blessing in that we have a daughter on the front lines. She’s a doctor at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
Q. David Bowers – Numismatist, Author and Co-Founder of Stack’s Bowers Galleries
In New Hampshire, COVID-19 is present but has rarely been lethal. Fortunately, all of us at Stack’s Bowers Galleries and our extended families have been safe.
Kevin Lipton – Owner of Kevin Lipton Rare Coins
While 2020 was a terrible ordeal for so many, we have been nothing but blessed. A beautiful little girl was born on February 19 to my son Brandon and his wife, Malgo. Those close to us have all remained healthy, thank god. Last, and in this case least, our business has shattered all records from previous years.
Charles Morgan – Editor of CoinWeek
We have been fortunate enough to work at home. The pandemic has certainly added some color to our normal work and family lives. I think all of us are ready to reintegrate into society safely.
How has your business model evolved to accommodate you and your customers?
For GreatCollections, our auction business has not really changed. Before COVID-19, we offered thousands of certified coins each week, and we continue to do so today. We’re likely offering about 20% more listings each week than a year ago, although we’re very careful not to offer too much of a certain area in a single week of auctions.
For over 40 years, rare coin conventions have been an important part of my business plan. I usually attend about 20 to 30 shows every year. My team would attend smaller shows to buy coins and show up at national events ready to sell. That has obviously been impossible for most of 2020. Most of my sales have moved online, and very successfully if I might add. The challenge has been the supply chain, which has been tough until recently. We have been buying quite a bit more lately as more sellers enter the marketplace.
CoinWeek is an online platform, so many of our partners have benefited from the extra exposure. CoinWeek’s traffic has doubled since the pandemic began.
My company, Numismatic Marketing, just launched in January of this year. We do media work for numismatic clients, including design, branding, journalism, video production, social media, etc., most of which we expected to be done virtually anyway. I’m the creative director and was already prepared to work from home permanently. However, we had planned to attend quite a few shows this year to get our name out there. Obviously, that didn’t happen, but we also picked up unexpected work in facilitating virtual conferences through the NNP Symposium and C4’s virtual convention.
Q. David Bowers
While we have a dynamic storefront in New York City and one in California, most of our business is done in cyberspace on the internet. The coin market remains strong, and all is well. I look forward to 2021 with confidence.
Well, we were scared to death as to what would happen in February and March. However, as soon as things tightened up around the country, we saw a heavy increase in bidding participation and collectors diving back into their hobbies. I think that the world of collectibles, in general, has received a huge shot in the arm during the pandemic and DLRC has had to adjust to the new normal. We focused on improving our imaging technologies by introducing nuTilt, improving our customer service, and generally continued our focus on the collector. With the wholesale world slowing down, we found that collectors were doing the opposite. We fixed ourselves on improving the collector’s experience with DLRC, and it’s made for a far more rewarding experience.
Fortunately, we already had a thriving online presence as we’ve had our Park Avenue Numismatics website since 1995. That business grew in 2020 due to the continuous market efforts of our staff. We also formed an on-line auction division to provide added services to our customers, which has been successful as a startup. As a long-established company with 33-plus years in business, branding, and service to the numismatics community, we’ve had a great year. However, we miss seeing our friends on the road at coin shows and look forward to meeting face-to-face again in the near future.
While KLRC still handles classic rarities and many fabulous pre-20th-century coins, the bulk of our business is in pre-1933 gold and modern issues. We take a very direct approach to help our clients market coins in new and innovative ways.
Our business model has worked just fine for the most part. Although some of our employees are spending more time working at home instead of in offices, we are working through it. We realized several years ago that, for us, the future of selling coins was not going to be through coin shows, walk-in traffic, or marketing through mass media. Even conducting public auctions live either at conventions, in our offices, or in hotels had drawbacks. The answer was conducting our public auctions using numerous internet platforms.
We’ve done significantly more business through the internet, and it has seemed to work out very well for us.
Although major signature and other internet-only auctions are conducted “live” online, moving forward, how will the hobby survive if there are no, or limited, coin show venues in 2021?
Collectors, as well as dealers, will adapt to the new norms. What better way to spend time than by enjoying your hobby?
I think the hobby will adapt quite well. Coin shows have been changing with technology for a long time now, pandemic or not. Many buyers can sit at home in their pajamas without the need to travel and buy the coins they’re interested in from the comfort of their own homes.
As a dealer, I thoroughly enjoy going to coin shows as it’s an opportunity to rekindle relationships with other dealers and collectors. However, it’s not a focal point of our business. We use shows as an opportunity to buy coins from dealers and collectors, but the business model that solely relies on coin shows has been harder and harder to sustain in recent years. I look forward to returning to coin shows when the world is a safer place, but I think that we’ll significantly reduce the number of shows we attend. It’s simply not necessary to travel as much as we have in the past.
I expect the larger dealers and auction houses will carry on just fine. The coin market has proven to be much more accepting of a virtual-only marketplace than may have been expected, and I believe those who have adapted will continue to do well. The trouble will lie, as it has since March, with the small dealers who are unable or unwilling to conduct business online. The pandemic has forced some modernization of the industry, and those who haven’t hopped on board will have an increasingly difficult time keeping up until traditional sales venues return.
We will miss the shows, but most business is conducted outside of them. In time, shows will return.
Taking a contrarian viewpoint, I believe the absence of coin shows, whether local, regional, or national, may have been a plus for numismatics’ long-term viability. The pandemic has accelerated the transition from a person-to-person hobby into a truly global marketplace by forcing both buyers and sellers to fully wrap their arms around digital commerce if they wish to remain active. One concrete example of the benefits produced by this evolution is the recent introduction of the “coins in motion” technology created by Stack’s Bowers and David Lawrence, which I predict will become widespread within three to five years. Unfortunately, our industry’s largest negative will be the demise of “middle market” coin shows, those with a bourse of 200 to 500 dealers. Bigger shows like the ANA’s summer show and FUN’s winter show will continue to exist, as well as local weekend shows, as it is pretty cheap to rent a Knights of Columbus hall. However, the shows in the middle will find it harder and harder to compete with internet-based commerce.
I suspect it will survive the same way it did in 2020. The coin market actually grew stronger when COVID-19 started and has continued to build upon this strength in recent months. I think many people who held off buying online have now discovered how easy it is, and might not attend coin shows as regularly in the future.
The hobby was long overdue to modernize and rethink presentation. I believe that dealers and coin businesses that saw the past year of limited-to-no travel time as an opportunity to invest in this area will be rewarded. Make no mistake, coin shows will come back in a big way, but the 365-day-a-year experience will drive the industry in the coming years.
I will be grateful! The hobby will evolve just like the rest of the world has.
There will be coin shows and auctions as soon as enough people get vaccinated. Business will continue online and, to a limited degree, in shops until then. My bigger concern is that people will turn their attention to other activities such as travel when the COVID-19 crisis is over. Hopefully, the hobby’s recent increase in attention will not diminish.
The hobby will survive because the ability to reach people at home through the internet has greatly expanded, as well as photography and social media. Word of mouth speaks volumes!
With gold spot trading at record territory for much of 2020, what US or world gold coin type or series has been most overlooked and perhaps undervalued?
Most gold has been carefully studied. For certain popular series, scarce dates and mintmarks can be purchased for only modest premiums above bullion value. Most of the 1907 to 1933 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle varieties fall into this category.
Honestly, if collectors really knew how scarce $10 and $5 coins were in relation to their mainstream collectability, they wouldn’t bother with Saints ever again. Dahlonega Mints, Charlotte Mints, and Carson City Mints will never go out of style.
In my opinion, with the premiums of US and world gold dropping, I like low-mintage world gold, $20 Liberty Heads, and Saints in MS 63.
I think buying the highest-grade generic gold you can find for the least amount of premium seems to make a lot of sense right now. I don’t feel the low premiums across many sectors will last forever, like those of MS 64 to MS 65 $20 Liberty Heads and Saints, for instance.
Gold has pulled back in recent weeks, and it might be a great time to buy in as the federal budget deficit continues to explode. Premiums for nearly all generic gold coins are at near-record lows. The problem has been the huge new supplies flowing into the market from Europe and elsewhere. I think the most undervalued gold coins are the lower denominations like the $1, $2.5, and $3 that are rarely seen in hoards coming from overseas.
Many low-mintage US and world gold coins are becoming more popular, including the dark horse First Spouse series. For foreign coins, we’re seeing a lot of strength in modern and classic British gold, as well as China gold, where the modern Panda market is quite hot.
Take your pick of virtually any 19th-century US type coins in Mint State and Proof. They are just too cheap!
Two years ago, I began putting gold on the back burner and concentrated on filling my eclectic list of classic type coins. You’d think a guy with an undergraduate degree in finance and an MBA with a concentration in securities analysis would be smarter about investing in gold bullion than I am, but I’ve never gone down that road. Clearly, it has been to my detriment, as $2,000 per ounce of gold could have made me mucho dinero.
US type and early-type coins have been overlooked but we’ve seen a lot of activity in this area. Naturally, Morgan and Peace Dollars, and $20 Liberty, and Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles, often considered the bellwether coins, remain strong.
I’ve really gotten more into Charlotte and Dahlonega gold lately. The prices aren’t cheap, but some of these pieces are incredibly tough to find and the collector-base is very wide. I’m a big fan of these better-date issues in the smaller denominations, like $2.50 and $5. I’ve also grown in my appreciation of some of the lower-issue pieces in the same denominations from the 1850s to 1880s. There are many really rare coins in those underappreciated dates, and only the truly astute dealers and collectors seem to appreciate those fully.
What do you wish for in 2021?
I hope our clients and friends remain healthy while we get rid of this terrible pandemic. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone at a big coin show in the second half of 2021 if all things go to plan. In the meantime, I’m a phone call or email away.
I’d like to see the professional numismatic industry continue to innovate and keep its eyes on the prize. This is the greatest hobby in the world. Let’s enjoy serving it! For collectors, there has been no better time to ride this hobby!
I hope folks stay as healthy and vigilant as possible as we get past this horrible pandemic and look toward a brighter future.
I want the vaccine to be widely distributed as fast as possible so I can attend the summer ANA with a room full of my old friends. A nice dinner with a large group of friends is also something I miss dearly. Basically, I wish to get my old life back!
I wish for a return to normalcy, a better standard of images within the hobby, more collectors joining the hobby, no US Mint products with a mintage of under 2,000, and… world peace?
An end to the pandemic and a return to some sense of normalcy for all humanity. And, a great year!
Collectors will add to their libraries. Nothing is more comforting than a little pile of interesting books waiting to be read. Every book is a door leading to numismatic adventure.
First and foremost, that COVID-19 is put to rest worldwide, which will ultimately repair much of the damage visited on our families, organizations, and the economy. Selfishly, I’m hoping to add those two countries, which will give me 100-country bragging rights, and, numismatically speaking, I would love to see Gem-state 1913-S Barber and 1916 Standing Liberty Quarters in my cabinet before year’s end. But before we flip a page in the calendar, I do wish all of my fellow coin collectors and their families a wondrous, but safe, holiday.
Hopefully, a return to some kind of normalcy by the end of the year. I’d love to be able to attend a couple of shows or even eat at a restaurant without concern. With a vaccine on the way, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel — we just have to stay hunkered down until then. I hope everyone else is staying safe and look forward to the day we can return to our local clubs and national shows.
Good health to all!
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My sentiments as well. Good health to all, my friends! Until Part II appears the first week in 2021, may you all have a great, joyous, and safe (albeit different) holiday season!
Until next time, happy collecting, be safe, and Happy New Year!
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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.