Jim Bisognani: Demand for Collector Coins Is Expanding!

Posted on 9/14/2023

Recent shows and online auctions are pointing to increased enthusiasm for coins, including some great gold rarities.

As always, there seems to be an uptick in activity in the coin market as we near the fall season. The days may be getting shorter, but the hobby we love seems to be expanding. The just-concluded fall edition of the Long Beach Expo is in the books and the reports I have received provide evidence of this “expansion.

One West Coast dealer put it this way: “What I like to think of as ‘average’ collectors were buying coins needed to complete or upgrade series collections. I sold lots of raw coins in the $50 to $100 range. Normally, that doesn’t make for a very good show. However, the volume was tremendous. My receipts for the show totaled well over $20,000 for just over 250 coins.”

The dealer went on to explain that Indian Head Cents, early Lincolns, Seated Liberty and Walkers were all in high demand. “Truthfully,” he said, “I think only about 20 of the coins I sold were slabbed.”

The other advantage for this dealer (which may now become a disadvantage) was that he had many of those coins in stock for some time. “I bought them priced right, around five years ago,” he said. “I started filling some double-row boxes for shows and such, and I just didn’t get a chance to bring them along until now. Now I will pay the piper trying to replace some of this stuff. The market is definitely expanding.”

Another source, a collector friend of mine from Massachusetts, Dan, said, “Although my annual budget is around $5,000, I was able to trade some coins I brought to the show and come away with over $15,000 worth of superb Morgan Dollars. The coins I brought with me had been purchased over 10 years ago, and I think I sold and traded them for between 50 and 75% over my original purchase price.”

Dan said that, while he was happy to profit on his past acquisitions, he feels as though the Morgan Dollars he has now represent solid values in the present market. “Look, I think nearly everyone loves Morgans,” he said. “There is a huge collecting fraternity, and it is only going to grow. My plan is simple: Buy above-average dates in above-average condition. I also sprinkled in a few common NGC MS 67 coins, as I think they are undervalued, even in this market.”

Another West Coast dealer and Long Beach Expo mainstay dealer said that “demand for world coins is surging. For me, Great Britain and other early Commonwealth copper in full red is in great demand.” This dealer said that Victorian and Edward VII coins are, in particular, becoming really hard to find in high grades.

The Long Beach Expo’s namesake Heritage Signature Auction will go live just after this article posts. As always, gold coins garner major attention from prospective bidders.

One such coin is an 1899 $20 Liberty, which was courting the highest pre-auction price.

Click images to enlarge.

This impeccable Ultra Gem Double Eagle already had 25 registered bidders chasing her. The fabulous 1899 $20 Liberty graded NGC PF 67 Ultra Cameo stood at $468,000 just hours before the auction went live.

For reference, the last time this exact coin appeared at public sale was 11 years ago, as part the 2012 Heritage Philadelphia Signature Auction, where it captured $211,500.

Already this miraculous coin has generated bids that reflect an over 120% advance in price since the Liberty’s 2012 appearance. Also worth noting is the expansion of the number of registered bidders, as it has also doubled since the coin last appeared for sale.

In the NGC Census there is a total of 34 within the Proof format, including:

  • 5 coins designated as Proof (four PF 55, one PF 58)
  • 18 designated as Proof Cameo (one example is PF 55 Cameo)
  • 11 coins designated as Proof Ultra Cameo with 3 tied for the finest known PF 67 Ultra Cameo.

So, at present, the NGC Census lists 28 examples of the 1899 Double Eagle in unimpaired Proof format. These numbers most likely reflect several re-submissions as well.

Regardless, this is truly a rare coin, as only 84 examples were struck in Proof format. For the record, this Double Eagle has already eclipsed the NGC Price Guide valuation by 40%, which will definitely be elevated once the sale price is consummated!

Next on the must-see list is an ultra-rare Type II $20 Liberty Proof.

Click images to enlarge.

This 1870 $20 Liberty graded NGC PF 65 Ultra Cameo is a sparkling survivor of the original mintage of just 35 coins. That’s right, my coindexter friends: 35 coins. Ms. Liberty has been re-holdered since her last appearance at a public sale, which was 5 years ago when she captured $336,000 as part of the Summer Long Beach Signature Sale in June of 2018.

This superb Type II Gold Proof $20 already has double the number of registered live bidders than when she appeared five years ago. This should not come as a surprise, either, as the demand for pre-1933 US Proof gold coins is expanding.

I am very curious to see what price this coin will realize. The finest-known example of this date — graded NGC PF 67 Ultra Cameo — claimed $503,100 exactly a decade ago as a proud part of the Tacasyl Collection by Bonham’s. It’ll be interesting to see if this coin will exceed that price. It is very possible!

I digress for a moment and reflect on that phenomenal Tacasyl Collection, which literally set the gold standard. A decade ago this month, the collection roared to an astounding $10,778,040 at auction! All told, only 27 coins were sold — all NGC-certified examples — and what a batch of coins they were!

Wow, talk about time flying by. I can vividly recollect when that sale held by Bonham’s took place — how could I forget; it was September 23rd, my Beth’s birthday! We were visiting the White Mountains of New Hampshire with my brother-in-law and his wife, celebrating Beth’s birthday and talking in the early fall foliage.

I had been blabbering about this auction for several weeks, so it was no surprise that I made sure to take a break from the glorious early autumn scenery to watch the historic event. As the results were displayed, even I was somewhat flabbergasted. I recall relaying (in a rather excited verbal barrage) the results as they came in to the crowd at our lunch table. Luckily, my brother-in-law is also a coin geek, and was interested in hearing these big-number results.

A bunch of the finest-known and most eye-appealing US gold coins collectors could ever hope to see in one auction! Of course, every one of the gold coins was worthy of a mention. Yet, the standouts for me were the $4 Stellas. In particular, the 1880 Coiled Hair $4 graded NGC PF 67 Cameo thundered to an astounding $2,574,000, which shattered the pre-auction estimate over two-fold!

Next came the equally impressive 1879 Coiled Hair $4 example, also graded NGC PF 67 Cameo. It likewise joined the elite million-dollar club, reporting in at $1,041,300. The fabulous 1880 Flowing Hair Stella graded NGC PF 67 Cameo came up just short in her attempt to align with her Coiled Hair compatriots — it realized $954,400. Ultimately, the four-piece Stella set realized $4,855,500.

Wow, those 10 years blazed by. OK, back to today, and the 1870 $20 Liberty. At present, experts place the number of these survivors — those not permanently impounded at an institution — at a mere handful. Currently, the NGC Census lists a total of four 1870 $20 Liberty examples as Proof Cameo, and two are listed as Proof Ultra Cameo. However, right now, only this example that’s up for sale is an NGC Ultra Cameo, because the other Tacasyl PF 67 Ultra Cameo is now residing in another third-party holder.

Well, as the market for high-grade, key and rare coins expands, the amount of material available is certainly dwindling. Yet, there are still opportunities to be had in all price points. Just do your research and keep an eye on the segment of the market you are interested in. Make sure to pay close attention to auction trends.

Until next time, be safe and happy collecting!

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