Long Beach Boasts Strong Attendance - Trio Of Auctions Capture $24.5 Million

Posted on 2/9/2012

Demand for choice type material exceeds supply; $20 Saint-Gaudens a bargain

The last week of January and the first week of February has been an incredibly busy time for the numismatic market. The Stack’s Bowers Americana sale held in New York City January 24-26, anchored by a significant Colonial contingent and assorted Americana, realized $6.1 million. Several noteworthy NGC highlights from the Federal series included a dazzling 1919-D Buffalo Nickel graded NGC MS 66 that realized $9,200. According to the NGC Census only 4 coins have been graded at this lofty level with none garnering a higher designation. The 1921 “Chapman” Morgan Dollar, graded NGC PF 63, captured a tidy $23,000. A coveted 1875 Liberty Quarter Eagle graded NGC AU 58 captured $17,538. Only 400 business strikes were originally struck and perhaps fewer than 50 pieces are known to exist in all conditions today. Always a popular item, an 1889 Liberty $20 graded NGC PF 65 Ultra Cameo soared to a new home at $87,975.

With virtually no time to pack and secure their new acquisitions the numismatic community migrated west to take part in the so-called “Long Beach week experience”. With no harsh weather conditions to hinder travel, most major dealers and the serious collecting community made their first stop the pre-Long Beach Goldberg sale on January 29 - February 1. Although lacking the usual powerhouse lineup, this always well received event captured $6.9 million in sales. The star performer was an enigmatic 1796 With Stars Quarter Eagle, graded MS 61 by NGC. This iconic numismatic prize, which had a meager mintage of 432 coins and is believed to have less than 50 known survivors in all grades, went to a new home for $155,250.

At the conclusion of the sale in Los Angeles, a mass exodus of the numismatic faithful trekked about 30 miles south to Long Beach. Dealer set up day on Wednesday was by all accounts extremely busy. The buzz and bustle on the bourse was considerable. Many of the booths that were unoccupied in the past were now fully manned. Most dealers canvassing the trading floor were on a mission to find as much fresh material that could be procured at competitive prices. One well known dealer, Enzio Romano from New York, advised me that the show was very good for him. He was able to locate a substantial amount of new certified inventory and had absolutely no problem selling certified coins in the four figures range. Conversely another dealer from Southern California advised me that it was very hard to conjure up prime numismatic real estate in the $50K and up category. “We have multiple buyers for this type of material; it just can’t be located on the trading floor with any regularity anymore. At present we are finding that we have to raise the bidding paddle and ante up at public auction to secure certified coins with all the “bells and whistles” to satisfy our clients want lists.

A common refrain was that there is plenty of serious money on the sidelines anxious to enter in the numismatic arena, but insufficient supply to meet the demand. Once again whether on the trading floor or public auction, key dates as well as superb type material has been whisked from the marketplace and will most likely not be accessible to the public for many years.

Regardless, from most accounts business was excellent on both retail and wholesale levels. Several regulars informed me that this was their best Long Beach on record. I can certainly attest to the fact that the retail market for most dealers was quite active. Scores of established collectors as well as those new to the hobby were buying an assortment of numismatic items. One pair was in hot pursuit of anything dated 1886. A lot of historic events occurred that year according to Doug and Tami, the couple I met on the bourse, hailing from the Pine Tree State of Maine. “Coca-Cola was introduced to the public initially as a health tonic in May and in October the Statue of Liberty National Monument officially opened. I was also informed that on the very date of our discussion, February 2nd but back in 1886, the first Groundhog Day was held in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.” The couple was excited to show me a pair of 1886 Indian Cents that they just picked up on the trading floor: a Type I in NGC PF 64 Brown as well as the scarce Type II in NGC PF 66 Brown. The latter was extremely choice, accented by deep peach, sea foam green and midnight blue all framed by a lovely blend of copper gold.

There also appeared to be more vest pocket type dealers carting their wares around the bourse. One such dealer, Charles Hertan, hailing from Massachusetts was excited to show me several double-row boxes of recent purchases at the show. One box was chock full of NGC MS 65 and better type material including Coronet Large cents, Capped Bust Dimes and Halves, and a solid mixture of Seated Liberty type representatives of all denominations.

While gold and silver were fairly active and pursued at Long Beach it’s important to note that many collectors/investors are flocking towards certified Saint-Gaudens $20s. Currently there is only about a $250 spread between MS 62 to MS 65 certified Saints compared to a $400+ spread (with gold trading at approximately the same level) in late 2011. Without a doubt premiums have certainly shrunk in intermediate grades. If we go back exactly 2 years ago there was a dramatic $830 differential between MS 62 and MS 65 examples. One collector from Houston said he is cherry picking MS 65 to MS 66 certified Saints. These are veritable bargains at these levels. Heck I can buy MS 63s at about $75 over the price of the 1 oz. Eagle gold bullion coins!

The host Heritage Signature auction reeled in $11.5 million. Interestingly and quite telling, only a handful of coins eclipsed the $100K level. The top honor was awarded to the 1839-O Capped Bust Half NGC PF 65 capturing $299,000. Once again limited availability of the hotly pursued $25K+ properties was quite evident. In spite of the lack of these properties an exceptional 94% sell through rate was registered. Demand for other high grade NGC coins as well as top tier conditional representatives was extremely high at this venue as evidenced by the following:

  • 1806 Large 6, Stems Draped Bust Half Cent NGC MS 62 RB $3,220
  • 1807 S-271 “Comet” Draped Bust Large Cent NGC MS 61 BN $27,600
  • 1901 Indian Cent NGC MS 67 RB $1,150
  • 1909-S Indian Cent NGC MS 66 RD $8,050
  • 1806 Draped Bust Quarter NGC MS 66 $74,750
  • 1845 Liberty Seated Quarter NGC PF 64 $48,875
  • 1898 Barber Quarter NGC PF 68 Ultra Cameo $25,300
  • 1839-O Capped Bust Half NGC PF 65 $299,000
  • 1853 Arrows and Rays Liberty Seated Half NGC MS 66 $31,050
  • 1951 Franklin Half Dollar NGC PF 67 Ultra Cameo $17,250
  • 1795 Three Leaves Flowing Hair Dollar NGC AU 58 $48,875
  • 1889-CC Morgan Dollar NGC MS 63 DPL $35,938
  • 1896 Morgan Dollar NGC PF 67 $29,900
  • 1869 Liberty Quarter Eagle NGC MS 63 $10,925
  • 1901 Liberty Quarter Eagle NGC PF 68 Cameo $37,375
  • 1795 Small Eagle Draped Bust Half Eagle NGC MS 63 PL $115,000
  • 1847/7 Liberty Half Eagle NGC MS 65 $34,500
  • 1799 Large Stars Draped Bust Eagle NGC MS 64 $92,000
  • 1869 Liberty Eagle NGC PF 67 Ultra Cameo $161,000
  • 1873 Liberty Eagle NGC PF 65 Cameo $74,750
  • 1895 Liberty $20 NGC PF 65 Cameo $71,875
  • 1920 Saint-Gaudens $20 NGC MS 65 $44,563
  • 1927-S Saint-Gaudens $20 NGC MS 64 $53,188
  • 1853 .900 Thous US Assay Office $20 NGC MS 65 $92,000

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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