"This Market Has A Strong Pulse" - Carson City Remains A Collector Favorite
Summer is officially here and what used to be the unhurried time for business and overall activity in the numismatic world is far from it these days. As I write this the center of attention is the East Coast, specifically Baltimore, for the always-exciting Whitman Baltimore Expo. Dealers, collectors and coin enthusiasts of all levels have made their appearance in the Inner Harbor of the famous city and are either walking the spacious bourse of the Baltimore Convention Center or taking in the fabulous host Stack's Bowers auction.
Although the summer installment of the Whitman brand shows is generally more lightly attended, most of the major players still made the pilgrimage to the Old Line State. There’s been spirited activity as a barrage of want lists are being attended to. Not surprisingly, when fresh-to-the-market coins appear, they do not linger very long in dealers’ inventory and they are consistently bringing significantly higher prices than various trade papers or electronic trading networks reveal. Once again David Crenshaw and the entire Whitman staff put on a great, collector friendly show.
Of course, as in any hobby or business, demand is the key, and the ongoing demand for certified rare coins is unprecedented. This is despite the precipitous roll back for the precious metals after the Fed announced that the US economic recovery is just that—recovering—and that the end of so-called “easy money” is coming to an end. Based in part on this news, the morning of June 20 ushered in the lowest levels for Gold since September 2010 with the yellow metal seen hovering around $1,285 per oz. Silver, too reeled back, reporting in at under $20 for the first time since September 2010.
What ramifications, if any, the metals markets recent swoon has had on the rare coin industry is unclear at the moment. While rare date gold appears to be immune, certainly for gold or silver bullion and related semi-numismatic material there are more buyers than sellers at this point in time. As one collector in Baltimore informed me, “I think it’s a great time to pick up some nice MS 63 or MS 64 $20 Saint-Gaudens. I was actually able to snare three really nice NGC MS 64 slabs at $1,575 each. I haven’t seen prices like this in several years,” exclaimed the excited collector hailing from Philadelphia.
A well known metals trader relayed: “As always, any rapid movement within the metals arena is bound to spur attention and action. It’s when the markets are virtually at a standstill that there is no impetus and no immediacy to take action either on the buy or the sell.”
Certified Assets Management CEO Bob Higgins assessed, “The show is what was expected of this summer show. Those that have orders are out running around to find coins.” Bob went on to state that gold was the main request from attendees.
As for the rare coin market, “This market has a strong pulse,” a well known dealer told me. “The demand is outrageous - if I could fill just a third of the want lists that I have I would be able to retire, that’s no joke.”
Certainly there is truth in that statement and I’ve heard time and time again that there are just not enough nice original coins to satisfy collector demand, which after all is the driving force of this industry. Of course every market has its adjustments; every market has its peaks and lows. However, it is very hard to define exactly where the top is for the higher echelon of truly rare coins as they seemingly keep driving higher and are receiving escalating bids when they appear at public venue. The same is essentially true for coins in the more collector friendly $500 to $5,000 price range. If a coin, regardless of the series, is truly special, has a strong strike or significant eye appeal or is just a premium coin for the grade regardless of the series, it is also bringing significantly higher premiums.
Type coins from all series are also feeling the pressure. Barber, Liberty Seated, Bust or Flowing Hair premium quality certified coins have all been targeted. The modern markets, specifically for certified US silver, gold and platinum Eagles, as well as some later date 20th century condition consensus rarities, also point to an energetic ongoing demand.
Coins that are just average for the grade or lack any discernible eye appeal still languish in dealers inventories and are being avoided by collectors like a summer cold, and for many the bottom of the market has not yet been reached.
Certainly the hobby and business has changed dramatically over the past few decades, and for the better. Whereas prior to third-party certification days, collectors as well as dealers had only a modest idea of true population and overall census figures of various coins. Now the third-party NGC Census data speaks for itself and collectors as well as dealers are privy to those individual statistics. Auction prices, population reports and high resolution photography have all enhanced and made the truly liquid nature of numismatics more attractive to outsiders. The Baltimore host auction by Stack’s Bowers provided collectors and dealers a fine opportunity to snare some exciting coins with approximately $5.2 million for the live floor sessions according to Brian Kendrella, the firm's well liked Director of Operations. Once again scarce, low-population, high-grade coins were well represented.
Many of the sale's key offerings were also in the collector friendly price range. Leading the pack was a high-grade 1798/7 9x4 Stars Draped Bust Eagle, graded NGC AU 58, which realized $73,438. The rare and popular coin had a minuscule original mintage of but 900 coins and it is estimated that fewer than 10% of that total remain in all grades for collectors today. A great near-Mint State coin like this puts the new owner in an enviable position; this coin sports rarity, superb eye appeal and seemingly a great value at this grade level as only nine Mint State examples appear in the NGC Census. A superb deeply mirrored gold coin also shown brightly as the finest known 1895 Liberty Quarter Eagle, graded NGC PF 68 Ultra Cameo, claimed $41,125. Other key date and popular Carson City gold coins were strong performers at this venue. An inaugural Carson City offering of the 1870-CC Liberty Half Eagle graded NGC VF 25 soared to an impressive $14,100. A coin such as this is an exceptional value at this price in my opinion. The coin is the inaugural Carson City installment of the Half Eagle and there are perhaps fewer than 80 coins in all grades available to collectors. Accordingly, the nearly 35% premium paid above the current June 2013 NGC US Coin Price Guide valuation certainly appears warranted.
Other Carson City silver issues attracted much attention too; a superb 1874-CC Arrows Liberty Seated Half graded NGC MS 64 realized $32,900. This rare and popular installment had a paltry original mintage of only 59,000 coins and according to the NGC Census only 11 pieces of this issue appear in Mint State. This originally toned coin is tied with two others at this designation with only a single coin graded MS 65. The always in demand Morgan Dollar series was also well represented. A dazzling finest known 1884-CC Morgan Dollar graded NGC MS 67 DPL captured $12,338. The last time a coin of this caliber appeared at public venue was four and a half years ago at the January FUN show. A visually stunning 1883-S Morgan graded NGC MS 63 claimed an impressive $4,113 - nearly 50% higher than the NGC US Coin Price Guide valuation! A superlative and condition census standout 1896-O Morgan Dollar graded NGC MS 63 roared to a record $17,625 - some two and half times the June NGC US Coin Price Guide!! While a modest 163 reside as MS 63 only 14 examples grade a point or two higher than this spectacular collector’s prize.
Other prominent NGC standouts in the event include the following mix of eclectic and rare certified coins:
- 1856 Flying Eagle Cent NGC PF 64 $16,450
- 1919-S Buffalo Nickel NGC MS 65 $7,638
- 1971-D Eisenhower Dollar, Struck On Nickel Planchet NGC MS 64 $12,925
- 1795 2 Leaves Flowing Hair Dollar NGC AU 55 $19,388
- 1881-CC Morgan Dollar NGC MS 67 $4,171
- 1893-O Morgan Dollar NGC MS 64 $12,338
- 1893-S Morgan Dollar NGC AU 53 $18,213
- 1837 Classic Head Quarter Eagle NGC MS 63 $10,575
- 1853-D Liberty Quarter Eagle NGC MS 61 $13,513
- 1875 Liberty Quarter Eagle NGC AU 55 $13,513
- 1872-CC Liberty Half Eagle NGC AU 50 $11,750
- 1876-CC Liberty Half Eagle NGC AU 58 $20,563
- 1881-CC Liberty Half Eagle NGC MS 62 $32,900
- 1883-CC Liberty Half Eagle NGC MS 61 $17,038
- 1873-CC Liberty Eagle NGC AU 53 $29,375
- 1891-CC Liberty Eagle NGC MS 63 $15,275
- 1910-S Indian Eagle NGC MS 63 $11,750
- 1871-CC Liberty Double Eagle NGC AU 53 $42,888
- 1873-CC Liberty Double Eagle NGC AU 58 $31,725
- 1906 Liberty Double Eagle NGC MS 64 $13,513
- 1837 Feuchtwanger Cent NGC MS 66 $2,820
Until the next adventure, dealers and collectors will take some time to enjoy the summer and the Fourth of July holiday. Then for many a junket to the steamy south will be the order of the day as the 7th Annual Summer FUN show will be held July 11-13, 2013 at the Orange County Convention Center, in family-friendly Orlando, Florida.
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.