Jeff Garrett: Reading the Coin Market’s Pulse in Pittsburgh

Posted on 8/24/2023

Observations on the ever-changing state of the coin market through the lens of the 2023 ANA World's Fair of Money.

Based on results from the recently completed ANA World's Fair of Money in Pittsburgh, the rare coin market is alive and well. Attendance was moderate for the annual convention this year compared to the Rosemont, Illinois venue, but those in attendance were there to do business. Our company started showing coins Sunday to a few select dealers, and we were constantly selling coins through Saturday when we were packing up.

These are a few observations on the current state of the US rare coin market, as seen on the bourse floor in Pittsburgh.

1. Collectors are dominating the market

After our initial dealer sales on Sunday and Monday, we had a steady stream of collectors buying one or two coins at a time. Our sales required two bank bags to hold the completed invoices by the end of the week. Collectors were looking for affordable collector coins in the $500 to $5,000 range.

2. Quality is paramount

The above-mentioned collectors all had one thing in common: They want coins with good eye appeal, regardless of the grade. Coins in no-grade holders sat in the cases like date-expired produce. Price is not the prime consideration for collectors; it's quality. This is regardless of the third-party company who has certified the coin.

3. The bullion market has cooled off

As recently as March, investors frightened by bank failures were fighting to buy any kind of bullion possible. American Silver Eagles were being sold for nearly $20 above spot price. However, the bottom has dropped out for demand and now the same Silver Eagles can be purchased for spot plus $3 to $5 above melt. One dealer mentioned that his bullion sales had fallen by 70 to 80% in just three months. Bullion will be back after the next scary financial headline. For now, it's taking a back seat to collector coins.

4. A new generation of rare coin dealers has arrived

After years of handwringing by hobby leaders about the aging demographics of numismatics, an explosion of new young talent has appeared on the bourse floor. There are at least 50 to 100 young people who have discovered numismatics as a potential career option. These energetic young dealers are combing the show armed with the latest high-tech pricing information on their phones. They trade among themselves and other dealers. The energy and excitement of this new generation of dealers is heartwarming for the future of the hobby.

Most credit the explosion of social media with this latest development. The Professional Numismatist Guild (PNG) hosted a networking dinner one night for 15 to 20 young dealers along with around 10 veterans of the hobby. Along with myself, other veterans included Jim Halperin, John Dannreuther and Mark Salzberg (who funded the event). The PNG has started a program called nexGen to encourage and engage this new crop of professionals. You would have to go back to the 1970s to find such a large group of young individuals entering the ranks as professionals all at once.

5. What is Whatnot?

One of the great things that makes the ANA convention so special is the chance for companies to roll out new ideas, concepts and products. Apparently, one of the hottest venues for online collectible sales is Whatnot — a social marketplace for collectibles and other categories. A few dealers were hosting live sales from the ANA bourse floor and noisily trying to create excitement. They seemed to be having success, and I am sure a lot of dealers are now exploring this new sales method. eBay had a huge bourse presence and was touting a similar sales tool called eBay Live. It's hard to keep up with all the new tech developments being employed to grow numismatic sales. In addition, NGC debuted their new holder with a QR code for a fast authentication check of its holder.

6. Pittsburgh is a great place for a coin show

PHOTO: Lance Anderson via Unsplash

The 2023 edition of the ANA World’s Fair of Money in Pittsburgh was a makeup for the event that was canceled by COVID-19 in 2020. The ANA World’s Fair of Money will return to Pittsburgh in 2026. The city and convention center are beautiful, especially with its downtown riverfront location. The convention center is stunning, with one of the few bourse floors unencumbered by pillars. The open expanse of the bourse floor was incredibly impressive. Pittsburgh is within driving distance of millions on the east coast. The Monday night ANA kickoff event at PNC Park (the Pittsburgh Pirates' stadium) was a great way to start the week.

7. World mints return

When the ANA World's Fair of Money is held in Rosemont, Illinois, the international crowd sets up camp in downtown Chicago. The world dealers and Mint representatives like to entertain in downtown Chicago and most skip the bourse floor in Rosemont. This creates a void that diminishes the international feel of the convention. Pittsburgh resolved this problem, and it was refreshing to see so many of our friends we have met over the years at the World Money Fair in Berlin. There were several world mints, including Canada, The Vatican, Bermuda, Israel and others.

8. The US Mint had a major presence at the show

Click images to enlarge.

The US Mint did a fantastic job promoting the show with huge displays and show releases of new products. The 2023 Proof version of the Morgan and Peace Dollars were released at the show amid great fanfare, as they garnered long lines. US Mint Director Ventris Gibson performed a stellar job by attending the entire convention and giving the opening remarks for the start of the show. I have not seen a Mint Director spend so much time at a convention in the past. Director Gibson was available the entire week, speaking to collectors and signing Mint material. Her enthusiasm and hard work are great for the hobby. The US Mint also had a drawing each day for attendees that created huge crowds of eager participants.

9. The Tyrant Collection continues to amaze

One of the most impressive coin collections ever assembled is billed as the Tyrant Collection. The owner, Dan O'Dowd, graciously shares his numismatic treasures with the collecting public via a rotation of thematic exhibits. These sophisticated exhibits alone cost more than most people would ever dream of spending on their collection. The Pittsburgh ANA exhibit focused on coins from the British Empire and included most of the "crown jewels" of British coinage. Several European dealers told me they could not believe the size and importance of the collection. Most mega-wealthy collectors tuck their collections away from the public eye. It's fantastic that Dan O'Dowd has chosen to share his collecting passion with the general public.

10. The ANA has new leadership

Friday night saw the installation of the ANA's new President, Vice-President and Board of Governors. Hobby veteran Tom Uram is the new President, and he brings years of deep hobby experience to the job. My wife, Mary Lynn Garrett, was elected to her third term as Governor, along with seven other very capable hobby volunteers. The ANA continues to be in good hands.

After an exhausting week of numismatic camaraderie, buying, selling and attending at least 25 meetings, I cannot wait until next year’s World’s Fair of Money. The 2024 World’s Fair of Money in Rosemont will be my 50th ANA summer show in a row. Maybe I can talk NGC into creating a special label sample for me to give away at the show!!!

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