Money Show Delivers Strong Message; Heritage Auction Powers to Nearly $10 Million

Posted on 12/13/2012

Classic Commems are Worth the Hunt; Dealers are Scrambling for New Inventory

The Money Show of the Southwest, held in the spacious George R. Brown Convention Center, formally closed out a very chaotic and busy November and ushered in what portends to be a very active December. Once again the well orchestrated event in the greater Houston, Texas area unofficially brings the curtain down on the major coin show circuit for 2012.

A well known West Coast dealer said his firm had a bang up show. “We had several customers come in with superb collections which we were able to buy intact. These included complete sets of Barber Quarters and Liberty Nickels—stuff that normally doesn’t come walking through the door—that really made our show!” An enthusiastic Florida dealer, Ross Baldwin relayed that he had a great retail show selling over a 100K in NGC slabbed key date and high grade gold to a client that regularly makes a visit to the Money Show. “I nearly turned over my entire inventory. Now I have to concentrate on replenishing and revamping my stock before the first of the year.”

According to Dave Wnuck of HLRC, in his opinion retail traffic was a bit light on the bourse, as compared to the Baltimore and the Michigan state shows in the previous two weeks. Dave also advised me that several of the collectors who came to their table had really done their homework. “They had studied the coin images and descriptions on our website ahead of time. When they arrived at the show, they knew exactly which coins they wanted to see. They looked at them, confirmed that they were what they expected and made the purchase. They told me that they are now using the web to make better, faster decisions at the coin shows they attend.”

The diverse and abundant coins, tokens and medals available in the Heritage Signature auction held November 29 through December 2 realized a formidable $9.9 million and certainly assisted in rejuvenating dealers’ depleted inventory. A listing of noteworthy NGC–certified lots are listed below:

  • 1781-Dated Bronze Libertas Americana Medal NGC MS 60 BN $10,281
  • 1856 Flying Eagle Cent NGC PF 64 $18,800
  • 1873 Doubled Liberty Indian Cent NGC AU 53 $4,113
  • 1909-S Indian Cent NGC MS 66 RD $9,400
  • 1864 Small Motto Two Cent Piece NGC MS 64 RD $3,525
  • 1872 Two Cent Piece MS 64 BN $3,525
  • 1912-S Liberty Nickel NGC MS 65 $4,406
  • 1923-S Buffalo Nickel NGC MS 66 $11,163
  • 1842-O Small Date Liberty Seated Quarter NGC AU 53 $10,869
  • 1896-S Barber Quarter NGC MS 66 $49,938
  • 1861 Scott Restrike Confederate States Half Dollar NGC MS 64 $17,038
  • 1857 Seated Liberty Dollar NGC PF 66 $32,900
  • 1995-W Silver Eagle NGC PF 70 Ultra Cameo $12,925
  • 1911-D Indian Quarter Eagle NGC MS 65 $41,125
  • 1834 Classic Head Half Eagle Cr4 NGC MS 62 $23,500
  • 1844-C Liberty Half Eagle NGC MS 63 $25,850
  • 1865-S Liberty $20 NGC MS 63 $11,163
  • 1925-S Saint-Gaudens $20 NGC MS 64 $27,025

While only one coin breached the six figure level in the auction it is very telling that 119 lots solidly eclipsed the five figure category; a price range in which dealers and savvy collectors have been targeting for quite some time now. In this regard the Money Show delivered a strong message. Of course it’s not only the price level that attracts attention, it’s the type and variety of coins that are commensurate within that price range.

Just what exactly are collectors and dealers scarfing up on the auction floor? The dealer is looking to acquire inventory and satisfy client’s want lists while the collector is looking to complete gaps in a set or series. Other enthusiasts are looking to improve upon an already established collection. As a well known Florida dealer stated “virtually everyone is carefully scrutinizing coins before they are purchased. Coins that meet stringent criteria such as rarity, strike, look, price and value within a given series are given the affirmative nod. It is apparent that dealers are scrambling for new inventory.”

However, with that said not every coin that represents a good numismatic value is found in the $10,000+ category. Scores of meaningful and rare NGC–certified coins sold well under that price point in Houston.

The 1909–S Indian Head cent, a popular low mintage key and the last installment of the series, witnessed a stunning NGC MS 66 RD example capture $9,400. According to the NGC Census, this coin is tied with nine others for the finest known within the Red designation. This exact coin claimed a tidy 17% increase since it last appeared on the auction block in Long Beach last February, when it received $8,050. “This coin has all the credentials,” as one savvy dealer relayed to me. Along with the coveted 1877, the 1909-S stands proud as a key to the Indian Head Cent series. It’s also one of only two mint marked coins for the entire series and it registers the lowest regular mintage within the entire series. Combine that with the fact that there are no more than 10 known in this condition and color designation according to the NGC Census, and the coin is an absolute winner. The fact that it can still be secured for under five figures makes a coin like this all the more desirable.

Another popular issue with collectors is the 1912-S Liberty Nickel. Full Gems are appearing with less frequency and getting more difficult to come by. Similar to the 1909-S Indian Head Cent, the 1912-S Liberty Nickel is the last year of the series, one of only two mint marked coins within the issue and also represents the lowest mintage for business strikes in the entire series. A well persevered NGC MS 65 example realized $4,406.

Another key that is increasingly difficult to locate is the 1872 Two Cent Piece. The last business strike of the short-lived series had a total output of only 65,000 making this a highly sought after copper. Collectors of the day certainly didn’t set aside large quantities of this coin and through attrition perhaps as little as 3% of the original delivery is available to collectors today. Once again coins in all grades are highly desirable and when mint state coins appear, they frequently command significant premiums over published guide prices. In Houston a pair of desirable uncirculated examples, a solid NGC MS 62 BN and captivating NGC MS 64 BN, captured $2,938 and $3,525 respectively. Given the absolute scarcity of these coins, these prices realized appear to have been bargains in this (or any other) market.

For comparison, let’s briefly review another classic copper: the still wildly popular 1909-S VDB Lincoln Cent. The S VDB reporting in with 484,000 business strikes is by far the lowest regular mintage installment of the series to date. In 1909 the arrival of this new one cent coin, the first regular issue United States coin to portray a real person, was well publicized and fell prey to both collectors and the curious public. For numismatists it was an exciting new issue; for scores of others it was a noteworthy novelty and as a result many were plucked from the perils of circulation. Estimates may vary but it is accepted that upwards of 60,000 or more 1909-S VDB’s remain for collectors today.

It is important to note that according to the NGC Census a total of 7,051 1909-S VDBs grace the report in all grades and color combos while only 241 Two Cent Pieces dated 1872 appear on that roster! Perhaps amazing to some numismatists, according to the NGC US Coin Price Guide the S VDB in Good condition will run $750 while the 1872 in like grade commands $390. There is a reason for the discrepancy: there are definitely more Lincoln Cent collectors. By the numbers one would normally think given the absolute scarcity of the 1872 Two Cent Piece it should at least be on the same playing field with the first year Lincoln. In fact parity isn’t met until we view the AU column in the NGC US Coin Price Guide. Once again, highly desirable popular key date numismatic acquisitions such as the 1872 Two Cent Piece in all grades, especially circulated grades, appear to be great values and are still within the reach of most every hobbyist’s budget. It is wise to remember, regardless of your individual budget, always secure the best grade that you can afford.

Another series that always seems to be in vogue and carry great demand is Classic US Commemoratives, or those struck from 1892 to 1954.

A well known New York dealer relayed to me: “As you may know one of my specialties is in silver and gold commemoratives from the classic era.” A mainstay in his business, these historic pieces of late 19th and early 20th century Americana were excellent sellers for this dealer in the Lone Star State.

While coins from this series are usually readily available, collectors and dealers are fixated on the look of coins. Where multiples of coins can be available at virtually the same price level the individual eye appeal is very important. It’s not surprising that all of the “quality coins,” that is NGC MS 65 or better representatives, quickly made their exodus from this dealer’s showcase.

“Most of the coins sold were from the first half of the “Commem” series: 1920s and earlier. Sales were for NGC–certified Classic Commems in the $300 to $1,200 range. “These coins were all cherry picked by me and had great eye appeal, luster and superb natural toning that collectors very much appreciate.” One eager buyer intent on exceptional quality purchased a significant quantity of this dealer’s inventory on the first day. While happy to make the sales in Houston, the dealer confirmed that his inventory of Classic Commemoratives is at an all-time low. Due to their increased popularity and relatively low price points, there is a decided lack of availability for top notch examples to replenish stock at current levels.

I agree that Classic US Silver Commemoratives (1892–1954) are a superb entry point for virtually any numismatist. Whether your goal is to assemble a 50-piece type set of Classic Silver Ccommemoratives or if you’re aiming for the 144–piece complete collection, the majority of the coins can still be purchased for less than $500 in MS 65. There are even 20 or more type coins that can be purchased for under $200 in that lofty grade!

It is especially important to realize that the hunt right now is for coins in the $200 to $500 range. In most instances the attractive original toning can be had at a very modest premium (if any) above advertised price guide levels. Here’s a situation that the subjective eye appeal of a particular coin is very important. Certainly it’s not too late to consider any of the coins that I’ve mentioned as the perfect holiday gift for the numismatists on your list…the low mintages, assorted themes and affordability continues to spawn numerous appreciative aficionados.

While many dealers are busy assessing inventory and digesting market trends most of the numismatic faithful will be strategizing for 2013 while conducting business through the holiday rush.

Until next time, happy holidays and 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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