Baltimore Holds Court to Elite Numismatic Icons, Copper Heats Up

Posted on 6/28/2012

Great Collections Has Record Month, DLRC Achieves Milestone, eBay Hosts Half Dollar Highlights

While early summer heat is blistering most of the country the heat wave targeting the rare coin market remains equally as sizzling in many areas of numismatics. Coins of impeccable quality, conditional rarities as well as problem-free key dates of virtually all US series are on practically every dealers want lists. Those that meet these stringent criteria are still commanding a substantial premium. As we go to press most of the numismatic notables are already East Coast-bound setting up for the Whitman Expo in Baltimore that is rounding out the month of June and ushering in July (6-28 to 7-1). Prior to the big show there was palpable excitement stirring as prospective buyers took turns viewing auction lots at the Baltimore Convention Center. Brian Kendrella, Director of Operations of US Collectibles for Spectrum Group International, said of the 4,200 lot official host Stacks Bowers auction: “We have a great lineup. Our auction is laden with spectacular rarities, important type coins and collector coins for the beginner to the connoisseur. This sale will certainly be remembered as one of the most important auctions of the year.”

Sometimes, with the multitude of auction sales bombarding the internet, collectors and dealers take for granted the thousands of man hours required to bring an event like this to the public. Gathering and photographing consignments, researching thousands of coins and writing detailed descriptions followed by producing the final product -- formatted in a virtual digital catalog as well as the physically bound copy of the sale that will surely find its way into many numismatic libraries for future reference. Per Kendrella, this was literally a coast-to-coast and international effort, utilizing the firms’ staff and technical resources in their Hong Kong, China, California, New York as well as my native New Hampshire offices. Expectations are running high with an abundance of fresh material, especially so during Session Five scheduled for June 29th. This is when some of the elite NGC slabs will be announced at the auctioneer’s podium. This will include an 1854 $3 Princess graded NGC PF 65 Cameo, a stunning, virtually perfect 1899 Liberty Half Eagle graded NGC PF 69 Ultra Cameo and the finest known 1879 Flowing Hair Stella graded NGC PF 68 Ultra Cameo. These golden treasures are sure to cause a frenzy as bidding paddles go to battle on the auction floor. Considering that this colossal line up is for a non-ANA early summer event, this Baltimore sale should be a strong barometer as to the health of the market.

Prior to the Whitman setup a well-known West Coast dealer informed me, “I still have customers whose want lists just can’t be filled; to me the rare coin market is as competitive as it has ever been. We’re talking about five and six-figure coins here.” Others relayed a similar refrain, advising me there is an abundance of cash waiting to enter the numismatic community. It’s not only the newbies. Seasoned collectors are also looking to add to their holdings. Collector coins, especially those in the $1,500 and under category also remain in dealers sights and curry great demand.

Brian Hodge of LMRC advised me that pre-1933 US coins are doing exceptionally well right now. This came as a bit of a surprise to the Southern CA dealer since they were anticipating a summer slowdown by now. Variety collectors are also coming out of the woodwork advised Hodge.

Another market-maker addressed the recent volatility in the metals. “With the recent fluctuation in the metals arena it seems that dealers and collectors who know how to adapt to changing markets are doing very well; however, a segment of the industry that doesn’t know how to adapt is not necessarily doing well at all right now. I think it’s all about knowing when to jump ship at the right time and pitching different coins. We’re talking about the coins people can’t find from every single dealer or every single auction—genuinely rare coins that represent established values for the money in correlation to others you see all the time.

Many dealers, whose primary business is bullion related, feel that gold bullion has backed off and is not exciting right now. Many players seem to sense the market is in sort of a holding pattern and therefore found business sort of humdrum in June.

It’s also not surprising that common Mint State Morgan dollars and average Mint State Type coins from virtually all series with toning issues and other sundry problems are not selling well or when they do sell bring substantially lower prices than eye appealing contemporaries.

Top quality certified coins that are competitively priced are easy sells to collectors. Restocking the material has been an ongoing nightmare; one that seems to have spanned several decades or more. However, well known New York dealer Enzio Romano advised me that there are still many coins that he feels are bargains at current levels are still available. Such examples include the low mintage Gem quality Classic US Silver Commems that are still tagged under $1,000. Enzio said, "no run-of-the-mill coins though, only eye appealing super attractive pieces." They are getting harder to stock but are quick sellers. Another market pundit advised that PQ 19th-century Type coins, at current levels also seem to be undervalued. Especially Liberty Seated and Bust Type Half Dimes and Dimes.

Charlie Hertan, a vest-pocket dealer fixture at major shows said that the coin market is still very good yet is very price conscious. Quality coins continue to move swiftly if the number is right, sexy coins are still catering to great demand and choice collector stuff is very hard to find according to the Massachusetts dealer. This is very true, as collectors and dealers are still scouring the bourse for coins with exceptional eye appeal that transcend the assigned grade. Coins that jump out of the holder are still bought and sold at the same show. During set up one early bird collector informed me that he was able to purchase an NGC MS 64 RD 1909-S VDB Lincoln Cent for $2,800. “The coin was absolutely gorgeous, deep orange pumpkin coloring and only a stray mark or so from perhaps moving up a grade.” The enterprising early bird then sold it immediately to a well-known copper specialist for $3,600! Although the 1909-S VDB is considered a key within the Lincoln series the coin is somewhat plentiful in that aforementioned grade as the NGC Census confirms 269 specimens. However, a key date coin in top quality condition, especially a Red-designated Lincoln, continues to bring a premium. It was also addressed to me by several dealers that Lincoln Cents in top grade seem to be picking up steam recently. This statement is substantiated, according to the NGC US Coin Price Guide as key and semi-key early date Lincolns bearing the Red designation are enjoying elevated prices. In fact, just about all early copper is also enjoying positive action. Be sure to investigate Draped Bust and Classic Head Cents as several are revealing double-digit gains according to the NGC US Coin Price Guide. Leading the charge is the popular 1810/09 installment. Elevated in three columns, NGC AU 55 examples are flashing a 15% bump up.

John Feigenbaum of DLRC concurred with the enthusiasm for copper. “I think my favorite series remains Lincoln Cents especially in Gem Red. It’s been great for us and great for our customers.” As for the present market John thinks it’s a little quieter out there. “With summer here and once school ends collectors seem to ease back a bit.” Feigenbaum thinks the key in this market is to gain exposure and reach out to all available avenues. One such venue is eBay. The firm’s next collaboration with the internet giant is tagged Half Dollar Highlights. Running June 23 through June 30 it is hosted by DLRC along with six other numismatic firms (Heritage, US Coins, Bozarth Numismatics, SG Rare Coins, Liberty Coins and Lonestar Numismatics). Over $1.5 million dollars in great half dollars from 1794 to date will be offered on eBay. A few of the sales highlights include an 1806/5 50C Draped Bust Half Dollar NGC MS 64, a stunning 1795 A/E O-113a Flowing Hair Half Dollar NGC MS 63 and an 1856 Seated Liberty Half Dollar NGC PF 64 Cameo Ex: Eliasberg. The Virginia dealer also confirmed that he sold the phenomenal NGC MS 67 1901-S Barber Quarter that I mentioned in my 5/31 article. Tied for the finest known according to the NGC Census, Feigenbaum sold the impeccable Barber quarter rarity at the NGC Invitational Show last week. “We sold it for well over six figures to another dealer.” DLRC was also proud to announce a milestone: the firm’s 700th internet only auction was held on June 25th. Another major enticement is that the firm has eliminated the 15% buyer's fees on all their auctions. So you simply “Pay only what you bid."

Modern material is also an important component of a strong market and is getting a lift. Remaining a driving force, popular coins such as last year’s highly touted 25th Anniversary Silver Eagle set continue to draw in new collectors. For those wanting to get on board, this year’s latest “gotta have it” installment is the 2012 American Eagle San Francisco Two-Coin Silver Proof Set. Available from the US Mint until July 5th, as we go to press 145,173 sets have been ordered. Ian Russell, President of Great Collections, verifies the strength of the current market. Typically June is one of the slower months of the year in the coin business, yet June was the Irvine, California firm’s best month to date. This not only verifies how much the company is growing, it confirms the voracious demand for conditional modern rarities which are highly contested staples on that site. Ian stated, “I have some really cool coins coming up and on July 15th we will have a featured auction that contains a 1995-W $1 Silver Eagle graded NGC PF 70 Ultra Cameo and a 2000 Silver Eagle graded NGC MS 70. Another highlight is a 1916 Standing Liberty Quarter graded NGC AU 58.

Yes, cash is still flowing rather freely, especially when chasing early copper and rare date gold. Overall the market continues to be very efficient. Top quality, eye appealing, low population coins sell rapidly. No revelation here, just a continuation of a strong market for the good stuff.

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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