Numismatic Market Review by Jim Bisognani – NGC Weekly Market Report ……
As I sat down at my computer to prepare for what portends to be an enlightening second installment of my 11th Annual NGC Year in Review, we are less than two days away from 2022! Gosh, I was just getting used to writing 2021. Time briskly marches on, and this past year has been one for the numismatic record books. I would know, as I have been an avid collector and researcher since I was nine years old.
How did I get started? My initiation was back in the glorious summer of 1966. It all began with my mom summoning my twin older brothers and me for an impromptu hunt for what she called a “blurry” 1955 Lincoln Cent. So, what happened, and what was so special about (at the time) an 11-year-old “penny”? For those of you who are a glutton for the full story, I can direct you here for the complete narrative.
I can reveal that the excitement of that hunt, the research, and the quest still drive me to this day. Many a night — OK, every night — I drift off to dreamland with my iPad propped upon my chest viewing auction results and upcoming sales. Ah! Such is the all-consuming numismatic life.
Today, we who follow the numismatic market as a profession can easily declare we are still in the midst of a tidal wave of excitement and surging prices. All markets are cyclical, but so far, this has been one amazing ride. For those coindexters who share the joy and excitement of our great hobby, I hope the thoughts of the astute numismatists that follow will offer direction and be a guide to an existing or future collecting endeavor. So, without further ado, I present my NGC 11th Year in Review, Part 2.
Who was your first coin source, dealer, and mentor growing up?
John Brush – President of David Lawrence Rare Coins
My father initially really ignited and stoked the flame. Then he got me to attend a coin club meeting on a weekly basis, and when he couldn’t go, my mom would drive us the 35 miles! The Greenville Coin Club (South Carolina) further stimulated my interest as a young collector. Our local shop wasn’t too welcoming in my hometown and I never really became a customer of theirs, but the local coin club really supported me and made the hobby interesting. The coin club gave me my first full scholarship to the ANA Summer Seminar when I was 15 and I was hooked after that. I was also widely supported by the South Carolina Numismatic Association. The entire leadership group there was always so supportive of the hobby and having young people involved.
Bob Green – Owner of Park Avenue Numismatics
Lianna Spurrier – Creative Director of Numismatic Marketing
Shortly after I started collecting, I found out about a shop in town called “The Best Coins” owned by Don Ford. It was a tiny shop in an old servants’ kitchen. The floor sagged under the weight of the cases of coins, there was no air conditioning and there wasn’t room for more than four people inside at a time. But of the local shops I visited, that was my favorite. Don was happy to spend an hour chatting as I walked in circles and decided how to spend my $5 that week. He changed locations to a much larger shop a few years later, and he let me work for him part-time when I was in high school. His friendliness is likely one of the big factors that kept me involved in the hobby; other local dealers saw a 12-year-old girl walk in and weren’t interested in taking much time to talk with me, but I was one of Don’s favorite customers.
Jim Stoutjesdyk — Vice President of Numismatics, Heritage Auctions
My father used to take me to Coin Cove in Flint, Michigan, in the 1980s when I was growing up. One of the owners was a rather large, crotchety old guy who smoked a pipe and was named Don Moe; we called him “Big Moe”. Big Moe took a liking to me and very patiently let me sort through his junk boxes on Saturday mornings. I always managed to find something good among the junk that I was able to buy at a really good price. I later found out that Big Moe used to salt the junk boxes with a few good coins before I came in just to encourage me. When Big Moe’s partner died, he asked my father if he wanted to buy half of the coin shop since we were one of his best customers. My father quickly agreed and I spent my teen years working in the coin shop after school with Big Moe as my mentor.
James Sibley – Collector
There was a coin club that met on Whalley Avenue in New Haven each Saturday, which I regularly attended until I got my driver’s license. (The downfall for many a poor lad in my time — girls versus numismatics, not even close.)
Brian Hodge – Partner of Lee Minshull Rare Coins (LMRC)
The first coin I ever bought was from Heritage. It was a Proof Jefferson Gold Dollar. I can’t remember the grade. I then bought a 1909-S V.D.B. Cent. I got started in the coin industry very young. I would say my greatest mentor to this point in my life is Lee Minshull. Not only is he a brilliant business mind, but he had handled nearly every major rarity I could dream of in my life to that point. That was a major inspiration to continue going and push the envelope.
Kevin Lipton – Owner of Kevin Lipton Rare Coins
As a youngster, my first mentors were Chris Stahle and Corky Vena. When I was 15, I met Jim Halperin and, after him, Steve Ivy. In my late teen years, it became Lyn Knight, Mike Follett, and Fred Sweeney. Next came Paul Nuggett. Always blessed with great friends and mentors. Still have them today!
Charles Morgan – Editor of CoinWeek
My grandmother was my first big hook-up. As a professional, I’ve learned quite a bit about the industry from Scott Purvis, founder of CoinWeek. About coins themselves? I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the fantastic work of auction cataloguers!
How much more growth do you foresee in the numismatic arena, and in which segment or series?
I’m optimistic that collecting will continue to grow amongst the masses, and while I suspect that prices will eventually stabilize, I think that large-sized coins like Half Dollars, Dollars, Gold Eagles, and Double Eagles will continue to rise in prices for the next year as collectors flock to those immediately. We’re also seeing prices strengthen on coins that are just below the finest-known grades. These pieces are available for a huge discount under the top-pop pieces and there’s even more room for growth there.
We have a new bull trend in US Gold and rarities that should be around for a while. Other traditional investments such as equities and art flourished. Now crypto and NFTs are hot and some of the profits are being funneled into rare coins.
I believe we will see even more growth in ancient and modern coins. Scarce-date or -grade 20th-century US seems like a strong play as well.
Until it becomes clear that inflation is a short-term phenomenon, people will continue to pour money into hard assets, including coins, particularly the true rarities. Precious metals will continue to be the everyman’s hedge against a depreciating dollar.
As for “scarce” and “common” coins, I don’t foresee continued price appreciation for one principal reason: supply and demand. As much as we would like to think that there is a vast population of young numismatists waiting to take over, numismatics is largely an old man’s and woman’s game. Just look around the room at your next coin club meeting or coin show (or ask, “Who collects stamps?”). Those of us who started collecting in the mid-1950s, ‘60s, and early ‘70s are nearing retirement, retired or worse, which means, with time, our bias is to sell our collections, not continue to build them.
I think we are experiencing really broad-based demand for rare coins. A lot of new people are entering the market, including some serious money coming from a few billionaires who are now buying rare coins. After each one of our major auctions, I usually take some time to study the report that shows who consigned the coins and who bought them. It used to be the usual suspects who bought the six-figure coins and trophy coins. Now I’m seeing new names appearing on the report, which really makes me believe that this market is sustainable.
The buyer of the 1894-S Dime we sold last year was a name I didn’t recognize, and the new owner of the Brasher Doubloon that we sold for $9.36 million at the January 2021 FUN auction proudly proclaimed that it was the first rare coin he ever bought. Not a bad way to dip your toe into the rare coin market! I think the explosive growth we’ve seen in the past few years is just the beginning. All it would take is someone who wants to spend $5 million on Proof-type coins and we could see them rise 30% to 50% overnight. I’m very bullish on rare coins right now, and I predict continued growth in all segments of the market.
Ian Russell – President and Owner, GreatCollections Coin Auctions
We still see a lot of new collectors coming into the market, and almost all areas of the market. Gold is particularly strong and probably attracting the newest collectors. I still think the market is gaining traction.
It’s almost limitless. I still compare our sector to the art world. When you have paintings such as the Salvator Mundi selling for over $400 million with a very controversial provenance, but as yet the most expensive coin to ever sell remains the 1933 Double Eagle at close to $19 million, we have a long, long way to go!
One area is for common US Gold-type. Premiums for generic Mint State gold coins are still very low.
The US Mint has been dubbed the largest coin dealer. Month to month, the new product schedule provides us with lots to choose from. Do you believe the number of coins and special editions, such as the 2021 Morgan and Peace Dollar centennial reboot, is a good thing for the coin market?
I liked the 2021 issues of Morgan Dollars… but, it was too much, too fast, with an imperfect execution. However, having limited mintage issues like the Privy Gold coins absolutely stimulates collecting. So while I’m frustrated that I never seem to be able to obtain these limited issues, I think it’s good for the hobby. It might not bring in collectors immediately (it brings in profiteers quickly), but it brings about attention, which is never a bad thing.
The US Mint’s numismatic department does not operate with any real concern for the health of the coin market or as a partner organization to any entities within the coin hobby. Some of the reasons for this are not within their control. They are a government bureau that must act in accordance with the law. However, the Mint has an enormous influence over the health of the coin market. In recent years, it has tried to do a better job working with partners in the industry, but it has to do more. The 2021 Morgan and Peace Dollar reboot will probably be a short-term hit for the Mint and collectors, but in the long term, the Mint and Congress will have to address more pressing things related to the future of circulating coins.
Any new issue, priced right and available to new collectors, is a good thing to keep the market flourishing in the long term.
In short, no. Every time the Mint announces a new special finish or exclusive mintmark, they inch closer and closer to the fate that befell stamp collecting. I think a limited number of exclusive coins per year are good for the hobby, and the 2021 Morgan and Peace Dollars were fantastic. However, between the different finishes of quarters, Innovation dollars, Silver Eagles, and commemoratives, it has become excessively complicated for a casual collector to assemble a “complete” set of pieces issued in any given year.
The US Mint has probably done more to stimulate coin collecting than any other source. There definitely are pros and cons to all of the different issues the Mint offers. Many people complain that the thousands (and, in some years, tens of thousands) of dollars needed to buy every issue is very cost-prohibitive for the average collector and takes money away from the rare coin market. I do think that the 2021 Morgan and Peace Dollars generated a tremendous amount of interest in vintage Morgan and Peace Dollars — that’s a really good thing. But when I see a set of the six different types of 2021 Morgan and Peace Dollars in MS 70 being offered for nearly $3,000, I suspect that the buyer will probably lose money in the secondary market when he sells the coins and get disenchanted with coin collecting — and that’s a bad thing.
The Mint serves a purpose, as it offers the entry-level collector, one with a more limited budget, the opportunity to acquire beautiful coins at a reasonable price. The American Silver Eagle program is a perfect example. (In fact, I myself own a 1986 through 2021 set of traditional Proof Heraldic-Reverse American Silver Eagles, but with the footnote that I have no intention of continuing with the 2021 Reverse American Silver Eagles program, a design which appeals to me as much as the silver three-cent piece). What frustrates me, however, is the endless stream of medals and NCLT coins that the Mint is forced to produce by an Act of Congress. There is hardly a congressman or congresswoman who does not want to see something produced which memorializes some faction of their constituency — good grief!
Overall, yes, it’s definitely making younger and newer collectors aware of more classic coins, such as Morgan Dollars and Peace Dollars. However, I think there were a lot of negatives with the Morgan and Peace Dollar ordering process that did take away some of the positives. Also, the premium that the US Mint charges over the melt value have really increased over the past few years (look at Proof Gold Eagles, the latest 2021 High Relief issue, etc.), which I think is bad for the market. The Mint has been good at not issuing too many new issues (look at countries like Canada and Australia; both countries have way too many new issues, in my opinion).
Absolutely. These new issues, for the most part, aren’t all that much money, with a few exceptions — yet the interest they garner is immense. If a customer can receive a pristine 2021 Morgan in his mailbox, he may instantly feel a desire to begin buying the classics!
Although the numismatic market is in great shape, if you had to transfer your talents to another profession, what would it be?
I almost worked in a front office of a minor league baseball team after college. Instead, I opted for an internship at Heritage and a full-ride scholarship to grad school. I think I made a good choice there, but there is still something about the smell of the freshly cut grass during spring training. When your Braves win the World Series and you can attend one of the games with your son, you can experience the joy of the event and skip over the hot, dog days of summer.
I used to work in the textile trade. At the high end, there are similar “threads” to numismatic collecting. I might consider doing that again.
As a successful entrepreneur myself, having started from the ground up, I would love to mentor new business owners embarking on the journey.
I would attempt to write adventure novels like Jack Higgins, a British novelist who gave us The Eagle Has Landed, Cold Harbor, Storm Warning, and 50-plus other page-turners during his career. Although I am absolutely convinced that they would be useful only for someone in desperate need of toilet paper, I would sell about as many copies as I’ve got friends, GOOD friends (note that I’m not including relatives here). One of my closest friends, the corporate counsel for the company I built and recently retired from, just published his first novel, Ascending Power. While its creation was much more fun than practicing law, he is very thankful that he did not abandon his day job, which is kind of how I see myself as an author.
At the University of Michigan, I was in an accelerated MBA program to get a bachelor’s degree and MBA in five years and probably would have become an investment banker. But then 1989 came along and the rare coin market was scorching hot. I was skipping classes and making a few thousand dollars a month doing coin deals while my roommates were making $3.35 an hour minimum wage. I decided to just get a bachelor’s degree and not spend an extra year getting the MBA, and immediately got hired by Superior Galleries in Beverly Hills after I graduated. I confessed earlier to putting on Mick Jagger’s stage-worn jacket and strutting around the office. I’ve been a Rolling Stones fan for decades and saw them recently in November when they came to Dallas. I suppose my dream job would be to become the frontman for the Rolling Stones, the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band. So, Mick, when you’re ready to step down, just let me know — I’ve been practicing!
I really can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s what I thoroughly enjoy doing.
I’d be an author. I love to write. So much of where I am now is because I was able to put a good story together with a good coin. Aside from that, I’ve always been interested in forensics. I’m not sure I’d have the right psychological fortitude for it, but I think the detail involved in solving the smallest details of a crime is not completely dissimilar to investigating the attributes or origins of a rare coin. Each involves research and a degree of the unknown.
Really, just any kind of deal maker.
What is your mild or bold prognostication for 2022?
The US Mint will think that we should start circulating dollar coins again and will make another run at eliminating the cent from our monetary system.
Best year ever! Hoping that the world heals and we can all get back to normal living, traveling, and enjoying life in general with family and friends.
I feel the run-up of prices will taper off and possibly decline for most scarce and only-slightly-rare coins. But I think those rare-air coins like Ian has been soaking up will continue to do well, as we’ve got a lot of “easy money” and “new money” digital entrepreneurs out there: the under-40 folks who had a great idea but had even more common sense to sell to the venture capitalists and Wall Street. We’re all looking for a hedge against inflation.
I predict a very busy FUN show in January, a lack of coins on the market, and more new collectors coming into the market. Prices should continue to strengthen.
Another incredible year. I see no backing off from tremendous rarities. I see even more growth in foreign gold and ancient coinage, and I see even greater wealth entering the coin market overall.
I am writing this while at the PCGS Members Only coin show in Las Vegas and having been at the NGC Trade and Grade event in Dallas earlier this week. The trading floor here in Vegas echoes the same thing I’ve seen all year: brisk activity, record attendance, lack of fresh material, and having to pay ever-higher prices to buy new coins for inventory. I’m seeing a broad-based demand for rare coins, with many coins going into the strong hands of serious collectors and they probably won’t be on the market again for decades. Heritage Auctions had its best year ever in 2021 with total sales smashing through the elusive $1 billion mark for the first time. My prediction for 2022: Hold on tight, it’s going to be a wild ride.
I predict a very healthy year for our industry and wish the same good health to all my friends and colleagues.
American politics will dominate a lot of airtime. Lord, help us.
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Well, my fellow coindexters, as we bid the various 2021 wall and desk calendars adieu, I am happy to report that my cast of numismatic characters has grown and there is still a treasure trove of information to impart for this exercise. So, as we usher in 2022, dare I say, a Part 3 awaits — yes!
Until next time, be safe happy collecting, and Happy 2022!
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.