Excitement was definitely in the air. A powerful buzz and chatter was heard echoing on the floor.
Amazingly, the first few days of spring bore a strong resemblance to mid–summer. Certainly the uncharacteristic weather conditions didn’t hurt the highly anticipated Baltimore Whitman Expo March 22–25. At 10 a.m. on Thursday an energetic throng of “early birds” arrived in significant force. Forking out $75 for the privilege, a balance between vest pocket dealer and ardent collector were observed canvassing the spacious bourse until the first public attendees began to meld with the early birds on the bourse floor at noon.
According to the Whitman staff, attendance remained robust and business was decidedly stronger than last year’s spring show. Several dealers I spoke with compared the action and vibe to an ANA Convention. David Crenshaw and the entire Whitman staff deserve much credit for putting on a top flight event for collectors and dealers. While both Thursday and Friday were bustling with action on both sides of the aisle, a break in the summerlike weather and a little bit of rain and gloom seemed to actually usher in more activity on Saturday. Really there weren’t any lulls in floor traffic as enthusiastic collectors and dealers alike were very aggressive. Numerous dealers confirmed that they had one of their best retail shows ever at this venue. Several market makers advised me that they saw many customers that they hadn’t seen on the show circuit for some time and they were there to buy. Excitement was definitely in the air.
One energetic collector from New England referring to himself as “the flea” advised me things were “really shaking out there. There have been several shows, major shows over the past year or so when there was a lot of good material, but I just couldn’t pull the trigger due to tight finances. Now that things are improving (on the financial front) I find that a lot of the bargains have dried up. I wish I had bought some high grade early silver, Bust type Half Dimes and Half Dollars when I had the opportunity.” A collector from western NY advised me he was anxious to purchase Double Eagles. “I am out to cherry pick slightly better dated Saints in MS 64. You can still get a lot for your dollar picking out nice NGC slabs. With Gold spot down, I was able to scarf up a few mint–marked MS 64 Saints at $1,825 each”! Premiums over spot for $20 Saint–Gaudens are still at bargain levels, a well-known market maker advised me. “Over the last month I have seen some modest escalation in premiums for Double Eagles. While not a spectacular change, it is a positive sign.” Another serious collector/investor I spoke with said he was scoping out buys on $5 and $10 Indians, common dates for both of these puppies are at 10 year premium lows he advised me.
Well known and respected dealer Enzio Romano confirmed that he had a solid outing. “Even top quality, eye appealing classic Silver Commemoratives are in high demand, as are many problem free type coins that have an original “unmessed” with look,” advised the astute Romano. “Collector craving for these coins is strong and growing. Demand from other dealers for just about all Type coins of exceptional quality and eye appeal is also quite high. When a cool looking coin becomes available it sells almost immediately and usually for much more than any of the current published price levels. This is great if you’re the seller. Replenishing a high quality inventory continues to be the challenge.”
Certainly there were no shortages of buyers anxious to pay out mid–five figures and up for the right coins. The challenge, once again, was locating material that fit the bill.
The host auction by Stack’s Bowers, also confirmed the virtually unbridled strength in the numismatic arena realizing an impressive $16.4 million. Enthusiastic bidding was evident, not only within the popular US Federal series. The passion catered to Colonials through esoteric Territorial gold issues validating the far-reaching continued strength in the rare coin market. The return of Rarities Night was also well received and NGC slabs dominated as seven prime time offerings realized in excess of six figures. Capturing overall bragging rights was a superb Classic 1836 Quarter Eagle graded NGC PF 66 Ultra Cameo. This phenomenal coin, the highest graded by NGC and finest known, went to an appreciative buyer at $287,500. The always popular inaugural rarity, 1796 No Stars Quarter Eagle graded NGC MS 62 realized a solid $258,750. Another inaugural gold rarity, a 1795 13 Leaves Eagle, graded NGC MS 64, reeled in an identical $258,750.
Next was enigmatic 1792 Half Disme Graded NGC AU 58. For many numismatists this is actually the first US coin struck. According to the NGC Census only 41 of the historic Silver Half Dismes appear on the roster with six residing at the aforementioned AU 58 grade. Without exception this iconic issue always has an appreciative audience willing to raise the bidding paddle liberally in order to acquire one. When the dust settled this attractive near–Mint State example soared to an impressive $212,750. — a very strong price which reflects on three important components of the present numismatic market: the quality of the coin, acknowledged rarity and its historic significance.
Another solid performer just so happens to be another Quarter Eagle. The prestigious 1848 CAL. whose bold hallmark stamp was placed on the 1,389 Quarter Eagles originally struck from the 230 ounces of gold freshly mined during the California gold rush is sometimes dubbed our country's first commemorative coin. In this instance a blazing NGC MS 64 example powered to $115,000. A coin of this exalted caliber has only appeared at public venue eight times in the last 20 years. For reference, a like graded NGC specimen realized $39,600 at a Superior Galleries sale in May 1992. A dynamic and rare 1934 Maryland Tercentenary Half graded NGC Matte PF 64, the finest of two examples that grace the NGC Census, raced home in her native state capturing $109,250, which is believed to be a record price for a NGC Classic US Silver Commemorative. Early copper also supported strong prices. Leading the way was an attractive 1810 Classic Head Large Cent. The NGC MS 61 BN example, though still perhaps underrated, realized $13,800, over 2½ times the current NGC price guide level!
Other notable NGC highlights from Stack’s Bowers Baltimore:
- 1652 Noe 10 Large Planchet Pine Tree Shilling NGC MS 62 $18,400
- 1864 Bronze Indian Cent NGC PF 66 RD Ultra Cameo $16,100
- 1913 Type 1 Buffalo Nickel NGC PF 68 $19,550
- 1794 Flowing Hair Half Dime NGC MS 66 $71,875
- 1832 Capped Bust Half Dime NGC PF 64 $18,400
- 1804 Draped Bust Quarter NGC AU 50 $37,375
- 1794 Flowing Hair Half Dollar NGC VF 20 $17,825
- 1795 Flowing Hair Half Dollar NGC MS 63 $63,250
- 1815/2 Capped Bust Half Dollar NGC AU 58 $13,225
- 1839–O Reeded Edge Capped Bust Half Dollar NGC PF 63 $92,000
- 1893 Columbian Exposition Half Dollar NGC PF 63 $23,000
- 1934 Maryland Tercentenary Half Dollar NGC Matte PF 64 $109,250
- 1922 Star Grant Memorial Half Dollar NGC MS 67 $19,550
- 1795 Three Leaves Flowing Hair Dollar NGC MS 62 $63,250
- 1803 Draped Bust Dollar NGC AU 58 $13,225
- 1840 Liberty Seated Dollar NGC PF 63 $20,700
- 1885–CC Morgan Dollar GSA NGC MS 67 $24,438
- 1887 Morgan Dollar NGC MS 68 $12,075
- 1879–CC Liberty Half Eagle NGC MS 60 $17,250
- 1796 Draped Bust Eagle NGC AU 58 $71,300
- 1862 Liberty Head Eagle NGC PF 65 Ultra Cameo $109,250
- 1907 No Periods Indian Head Eagle NGC MS 67 $31,625
- 1857–S S.S. Central America Liberty $20 NGC MS 66 $21,275
- 1912 Saint–Gaudens $20 NGC PF 67 $74,750
With April now upon us dealers and collectors are riding a strong wave of numismatic excitement. On deck, the Central States Numismatic Society's 73rd Anniversary Convention held in Schaumburg, IL, April 19-21. Make your plans now on what portends to be a great event.
Until next time, happy collecting!
Jim Bisognani has written extensively on US coin market trends and values and was the market analyst and writer for a major pricing guide for many years. He currently resides in Southern California and frequently attends major coin shows and auctions.