Where are the Fresh Coins?

Writers have been grumbling about the lack of “fresh coins” for years. Jeff Garrett explores this common complaint.

Nearly every market review you read these days laments the fact that there are no “fresh coins” to be had on the bourse floor. How many times have we heard “great show, but nothing fresh on the market,” and “buyers are hungry for fresh material, but little was to be found”. Time after time, writers make this common refrain. Readers are left to believe that every show has hundreds of tables stocked with nothing but stale merchandise. This is not a new phenomenon. I have been attending coin shows since the mid-1970s and it has always been the same story. Check a Coin World from the 1980s and you will probably find a similar statement quoted in the market review section.

What exactly is this mystical creature and what do writers mean by “fresh coins”? If a collector attends a major coin show there will probably be hundreds of millions of dollars of merchandise on display. I doubt any other hobby gives buyers this much to choose from at large conventions. I imagine that, for beginners, the options of coins to purchase would be bewildering. There are usually tables with general selections and many that specialize in a series, or sub-specialty. For the average buyer, it would be hard to comprehend that there are no “fresh coins” to be had. For most, conservation of funds would be the biggest issue.

In general, the term “fresh coins” refers to coins that are new to the market. This means coins or a collection that has been off the market, and is now being sold for the first time in years or decades. Coin dealers and advanced collectors have a voracious appetite for these numismatic delicacies. Witness any no-reserve estate sale to see the incredible amount of interest these coins generate. Also, remember that the rare coin market is not always totally logical. Why would someone pay much more for a coin that is new to the market? Sometimes the purchase makes sense in the fact that a particular numismatic item might only appear for sale once in a generation. Other times, it is simply the excitement of the opportunity that generates the stiff bidding. Buyers also relish the opportunity to purchase the most attractive example for the grade of any particular offering. There might be five MS 65 1921 Peace Dollars in a collection offered for sale and one or two will have better luster, strike and appearance then the others. These will bring premium prices.

Another psychological drama that sometimes plays out on the bourse floor regarding “fresh coins” is something called “first shot”. Any dealer or serious collector knows exactly what “first shot” is and why this can be so important. When a rare coin dealer sets up and starts putting out a newly acquired collection, a mob scene can quickly develop around his table. I have literally seen dealers come to blows over the opportunity to have “first shot”. Coin dealers make terrible fighters by the way, and these altercations can be pretty amusing after the fact.

Why the excitement over “first shot”? On many occasions over the course of my career, I have been lucky enough to have first shot when a dealer offered a collection they had just purchased. More than once I have spent over $100,000. After I was done, the person unfortunate enough to look second had mere scraps to choose from. Interestingly enough, most professionals will also pay much more for a coin if they are convinced no one else has seen the coin. In contrast, many will not purchase a coin that has been passed over by other competitors. I have seen many a “white lie” when someone is asked “is this a ‘fresh coin’?”

Much of this gamesmanship may seem petty and juvenile; it is, however, how many millions of dollars worth of business is conducted at every major coin show. Collectors and dealers need to have an understanding of the reasoning and motivations of buyers and sellers. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of the deal, whether it’s auction fever or “first shot”. Buyers should examine the facts and continue to educate themselves on the series they have chosen to collect. Separating emotion from logic is essential, although it is oftentimes difficult. In the meantime, I would love first shot at your fresh coins at the next convention!

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