World's Fair of Money Underway in Philadelphia

Posted by Jim Bisognani on 8/9/2012

Dynamic Duo – Stack's Bowers & Heritage Auctions Hold Court. NGC Hosts Spectacular Exhibit – Finest Known Brasher Doubloon Wows Attendees – Heritage Sale Captures $27 Million.

Leading into the ANA’s World’s Fair of Money, stability continues to be a standard operative description for the overall numismatic landscape. While six–figure coins continue to capture headlines, the majority of the action, whether buying or selling, targets better date high–grade coins from virtually all series in the $5K–$25K range. Fresh problem free, attractive “original skinned” type coins continue to wow numismatists, too and are readily scooped up when they appear at auction or on the bourse floor. Another important factor for those bound for the City of Brotherly Love could be that US consumers, as a group appear to be feeling a bit more confident in the economy. This positive momentum could equate to a bit more discretionary income for the average collector and swing the pendulum toward a few numismatic purchases in Philadelphia.

The precious metals are still keeping pace and remain a concerted influence responsible for attracting new hobbyists and sustaining interest from veteran collectors. Gold has actually been quite resilient thus far in 2012 and is trading within a few dollars of where it was in early August 2011. Yet as Gold has maintained the status quo since the last ANA, we have seen precipitous erosion in regards to premiums on US Gold coins. $20 Saint–Gaudens, $10 Libs, etc. are both virtual bargains in comparison to the spot metal market and in many instances are trading at premiums equal to or less than the American Gold Eagle! Silver on the other hand is trading nearly 30% less when compared during the same time period last year. However, with Silver spot hovering around $28 we observe much stronger premiums for many coins and bullion related offerings. A prime example are generic 90% bags of US silver coin. As one savvy metal pundit advised, “There are decidedly more enthusiastic buyers than anxious sellers at present levels for 90%. Movement in the precious metals always leads to business; if things remain stationary there is no excitement or immediate justification to make a move. Right now I have 3 times as many silver buyers than those that are inquiring about gold.” The PNG/ANA Pre Show on August 4–6 generated some significant action and has fueled the fire in Philly.

John Feigenbaum, President of David Lawrence Rare Coin Galleries. caught up with me and advised that going into the ANA, the wholesale market feels stronger than in the past 2–3 months. “We've already been at the PNG show for a couple days now. All of the major dealers have been in attendance, business has been very good, and my VP, John Brush and I have been extremely busy.” Brian Hodge of LMRC shared a similar refrain “The market has been phenomenal. I haven't experienced any of the typical summer slowdown that would be expected, and rare coins are doing outstanding. I have no specifics to speak of, but buyers are definitely armed and ready for the right coins.”

Well respected Ian Russell, President of Great Collections relayed to me, “Well, all eyes are on the ANA. I'm expecting it to be the best show of the year. The who's who of coins will be here. For many serious coin collectors, they only attend one coin show a year, this is the one.” Ian also touched on the extremely popular Silver Eagle program. “The 2012 Silver Eagles 2–piece sets have started to ship and are already selling for a premium over their issue price. I'm expecting more interest in all Silver Eagles when these start to get graded and sell on the secondary market. Quality rare coins are bringing strong prices in our auctions - we can't get enough coins on consignment, despite our auctions growing to over 3,000 lots each week. We definitely have more buyers than sellers.” In fact Russell informed me that a 1995–W Silver Eagle graded NGC PF 70 Ultra Cameo sold for $16,500 in one of their auctions just two weeks ago. Currently there are 269 specimens graded as PF 70 according to the NGC census and this price is a new record for an NGC coin.

Florida dealer Ross Baldwin also informed me that he has high expectations for the ANA show. “I really can’t complain; I’ve done a lot of business recently. The Summer FUN Show was also a great springboard as I sold around $150K worth of top quality NGC certified type coins in all price points from a few hundred dollars to low five-figure range. I am in the market for low pop coins that have all the bells and whistles. A nice story and pedigree doesn’t hurt either,” advised Baldwin.

Still, for many it is truly a tale of two cities. Dealers, whose inventories are deep and stocked with key dates and phenomenally graded coins, find that the market has never been as strong and have buyers lined up in excess of the coins which are available. However, for the dealers that have average material and coins which are not in ultimate grade or may even be somewhat problematic are finding that the summer is much slower time. It really depends on which side of the fence you’re on and what type of material is in your inventory. Leading into the ANA week the various electronic networks were ripe with offers. Most dealers looking to liquidate various lackluster certified coins in inventories, angling to shore up significant cash reserves. All wanting to take advantage of the multitude of dynamic coins that will be available in Philadelphia on the bourse as well as the certified wonders at both Heritage & Stack’s Bowers auctions.

As we go to press the host auction by Stack’s Bowers is underway, the Heritage Philadelphia sale is complete. The latter reeling in a powerful $27 Million with 17 superb NGC slabs reported in well over six figures. Leading the pre-ANA excitement was the finest known 1887 Liberty Double Eagle. Graded NGC PF 67 Cameo, the enigmatic proof only issue captured $411,250. Coming in second was another Double Eagle this one a phenomenal Type 1 issue. Minted for collectors during the height of the Civil War, the very rare 1864 grading NGC PF 65 Ultra Cameo realized a formidable $352,500. Rounding out the top three was a historic Silver Center Birch Cent of 1792. Struck at the site of the first Philadelphia Mint, not that very far from the site of this year’s ANA, the NGC VF 30 example sold for $305,500.

However, for most collectors (and dealers, too) the pilgrimage to Philadelphia and the World’s Fair Of Money is a chance to see, learn and touch what makes numismatics so dynamic and exciting. The whole numismatic world is buzzing about our greatest show on earth. Glorious coins from virtually every country have made their appearances. US rarities that outside of the Smithsonian you would never see are on display. NGC is proud to present a spectacular exhibit as well. Highlighted by what is considered to be the first United States Gold coin or any coin for that matter, to be valued at $10 million, that historic coin is Walter Perschke’s Brasher Doubloon. Designed and struck by renowned gold & silversmith Ephraim Brasher in his basement at his New York residence in 1787, Mr. Brasher’s prominent neighbor (as well as a customer for a silver service or two) was none other than George Washington. The coins true status still remains an enigma, many thinking it served as a model for our young republics first gold coins. Recently encapsulated by NGC in May of this year the American icon with the designer’s initials “EB” prominently stamped on the Eagle’s wing is graded as MS 63. This precious coin, one of seven known to exist certainly has bragging rights as the finest known. Having purchased the Doubloon in 1979, (for the then record price of $430,000) through the owner’s generosity the rarity has been viewed by millions of collectors as Mr. Perschke allowed his gold treasure to travel in “Road Show” like fashion throughout the country making stops at a host of major coin shows for many years. However that public practice has been silent for a considerable time making her appearance at the ANA all the more exciting, not only for the serious numismatists but for history buffs, all are sure to be inspired. There is also an eclectic display of medals presented to Mint Director Robert M Patterson (1836-1851) including the first medal struck to commemorate the introduction of steam power to the coining process in 1836. Also on display for the contemporary enthusiast, are the “Top 50 Most Popular Modern Coins,” this superb registry set includes every coin graded NGC MS 70.

For those that are unable to physically attend the ANA a virtual encounter from the bourse floor to live auction coverage is available on line. Yes, technology has certainly changed the numismatic dynamic over the last several decades. The internet, high resolution photography, population reports and detailed auction data have all contributed mightily in informing a whole new generation of hobbyists as well as developing many highly regarded numismatists.

An outlet such as eBay has helped to identify and brand many individuals and new companies, too. eBay is also attending the ANA with an executive team anxious to talk to coin dealers about ways they can improve the site for the benefit of dealers and collectors alike. One well respected eBay coin dealer, Doug Schuessler, advised me that he’s been a trader on that venue for nearly 9 years. Doug, a retired teacher, has been an avid collector for as long as he can remember. Still a vest pocket dealer, he makes regular rounds and buying trips throughout the Midwest as well as winter FUN and usually the ANA. Yet with eBay, Doug was able to step up the volume of sales and contacts globally. “I have met many collectors from all corners of the world over the years”, Mr. Schuessler explained. Without the internet venue he never would have bonded with the many hobbyists that he has encountered through domestic and international sales. “My primary business has always been, my first love, foreign coins.” Truly a gentleman and a credit to the hobby, Doug still lists 9 coins each week many of which are NGC certified. At its core this is what numismatics is all about, sharing a hobby with others locally or globally. A hobby, which in time has become a business for many of us. Now, through the courtesy of the internet we are able to reach out worldwide conducting business, building numismatic relationships and spreading goodwill.

Enjoy the ANA; hope to see you on the bourse! 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.

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