Nostalgic About World Coins; Baltimore Whitman Expo A Winner

Posted on 4/2/2015

Stack’s Bowers Sale Powers to Over $18 Million; Spring Fever Memories of 1969; You Can’t Judge A Modern Coin By Its Mintage

Well I have come down with a case of spring fever, no not that kind, the strain which harbors regular flu symptoms that is. This unwelcome malady has prompted me to take some unexpected but necessary bed rest. With my laptop at my bed side (although semi-comatose) I checked on a few auction results in the Old Line State then promptly began to drift off. When I woke up (though still groggy) I began an impromptu surf and search session. I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for but I quickly discovered coins, collector coins, are available 24 hours a day courtesy of dealers. Well-tuned and lavishly tweaked websites, seemingly never-ending cavalcade of Internet auctions that are pining for attention, sundry TV and web appearances that are starring our metal disks, and various pitchman are heard extolling their respective numismatic virtues. And of course, there is eBay. Here, a simple search of the latter for "US Coins" revealed nearly 800,000 listings alone. A search for "World Coins" pulled up nearly half a million active listings! Where to begin! For me, this is numismatic Nirvana. Price guides, auction records, census reports are all being updated almost instantly. All of this data is at "Coindexters" fingertips. There are so many great opportunities for today’s collector to choose from and you don’t even have to get out of bed! While this may be a wonderful scenario for seasoned coin collectors the wealth of information and various dealer narratives and sales pitches can leave the newer collector at a bit of a loss as to the best direction for them to follow.

Personally I love to collect world coins and have for over 50 years. Maybe it was my flu symptoms and medicated fog but I began to wax nostalgic and began to search for a few specific coins and sets. I recall my first Proof set purchase was back in the spring of 1969. It wasn’t a US set though as the rage for the new “S” Mint Proof sets from the San Francisco facility which began production the year before was still a wildly popular set and prices were well exceeding the original issue price which I believe it was $5. Demand in the secondary market had catapulted these new hard plastic encapsulated sets to well over $40! Having missed the ordering bandwagon for the 1969 issue, I witnessed these new sets, the last of the 1960s decade match the S Proof fever and excitement of the '68 “S” issue and quickly replicated their predecessor’s secondary market demand. I remember the 1969-S set was out of reach for my pre-teen budget, so I quickly focused on an ad in Coin World around this time of year 46 years ago.

The advertisement that caught my eye was the first decimal coinage for Jamaica, which were being struck by the Royal Mint in London. The Royal Mint stated that the orders for the Proof sets would be accepted until June 30th, the quantities would be limited to 25 sets a person and the price would be $15.25 for each set ordered. The distributor was Paramount International Coin Corporation based in Englewood, Ohio. Now coming up with the money for that set by the June deadline meant extra work around the house that spring, but I came up with it. I was really excited at the prospect of adding this inaugural issue to my collection. The coins looked neat; I especially like the crocodile on the five cent piece and the Hummingbird on the 25 cent coin. To top it off, it was also housed in a rather nice red leather like presentation case.

Later that summer, I remember observing the mail truck pulling up and parking out front of our house. Now this action indicated more than just regular mail delivery and as the postman was climbing up the steps to our front door, I bolted to meet him there. Just as he was knocking, I simultaneously opened the door and I saw him holding that rectangular box in his hands and promptly took delivery of that prized package from the somewhat startled letter carrier. I was so very excited as I carefully tore into that parcel. Upon opening the rather impressive presentation case and inspecting the six dazzling coins, I noticed that there was a yellow paper slip which was packed in with the set. According to the Bank of Jamaica, only 8,530 sets were minted! I was thrilled to have these new coins in my possession but the knowledge of such a small production excited me even more.

This set had to go up in value. I mean with such a tiny mintage compared to the US Proof set, the buyers who missed the 1969-S deadline would be clamoring for this I reasoned. But such was not the case and as we find out nearly five decades later the 1969-S Proof sets can be bought at just about issue price. As for the 1969 Jamaica set, well I don’t know what happened to my original set, but I was able to purchase a replacement in the original case complete with packing slip. The coins were still even in their original cellophane packaging for $8.50 on eBay, just about half of what I paid 46 years ago. I must admit, it was rather nice to be reunited with that set.

I guess the point of this is that collectors never know what will happen in regards to the future market value with their coin purchases especially for new Mint releases. Just because an issue is immediately once popular, time will only tell where the demand will be for that coin or set in the future. Even though US coins are enormously popular at home and throughout the world with a mintage of nearly 3 million (1969-S Proof sets), there obviously is a sufficient supply to satisfy collectors for many years to come. As for the Jamaica decimal set, the First Year of Issue status may be important to some collectors, yet the excitement is not there yet. However if there is increased calling for that series it will take very little worldwide demand to absorb the sets still available and price acceleration is virtually assured.

I did purchase one other interesting set in 1969. I’m not sure who was the official distributor, but I believe the sets were minted in Austria. I bought mine from someplace in New York which was handling the US distribution.

This was for the first national coinage of the Republic of Ajman. The set didn’t come in any particularly spectacular packaging; it was just a simple clear vinyl sleeve that housed three silver coins, stamped Government of Ajman. A One, Two and Five Riyal coin, the obverse of each piece depicted the emblem of the Republic, crossed flags and daggers and below this somewhat ominous state logo was a chicken! I thought it was kind of unique even in my youth that the symbol of a Middle Eastern sheikdom, the vision of the Arabian nights etc. somehow didn’t go with the chicken! Regardless, I thought it was cute and for the $12 issue price I would be getting three silver coins. Well as it turned out, with a mintage of only 1,200 of these sets and increased demand for coins from the Arab Emirates, prices have otherwise soared. I have noticed that sets on eBay in the original sleeve have been readily bringing upwards of $500 or more. Not a bad showing, I had one winner from 1969…Yes I still own that very set!

Now as I push the time machine forward, the first edition of the 2015 Baltimore Whitman Expo is in the books and by all accounts was a rousing success. Effectively rounding out the month of March in rather cool and rainy conditions, dealers and collectors both proclaimed it a busy and productive show with most dealers benefiting from enthusiastic sales. Properly graded problem free early type coins, especially Bust Half Dimes through half dollars were high on the most wanted lists. Modern collector coins were certainly being targeted as well with many attendees looking for additions to their 20th Century sets. Piqued interest for Mercury Dimes, Standing Liberty Quarters and Walking Liberty Half’s kept dealers busy with their accelerated demand. US gold type was also popular and buyers certainly seemed to be in the majority. Most certainly the highlight here in Baltimore was the host Stack's Bowers Sale featuring tremendous properties from the Henry P. Kendall Foundation collection. Certainly a captivating sale with something for every true numismatist, casual collector or historian; Colonial coins and paper currency, miscellaneous Americana, exquisite early federal rarities, rare dates and type coins—just a colossal sale.

As we go to press, according to the always congenial Chris Karstedt, executive vice president of Stack’s Bowers Galleries, “Right now, our total hammer price is at $18 Million and we will most likely be over $18.5 million when the Internet session closes today.” Chris then went on to say, “The press coverage and bidding activity in Baltimore was non-stop as several remarkable old time collections crossed the block to full auction galleries. We sincerely appreciate all the folks from The Whitman Coin Expo for their extraordinary efforts in hosting one of the most dynamic conventions of the year.”

Dave Bowers also chimed in with his praises and assessment, “The Henry P. Kendall Collection was the magnet drawing collectors, dealers, historians and others from all directions. The coins offered a combination of rarity and freshness, many being off the market for more than 50 years. Excitement prevailed from beginning to end.”

A few of the NGC standouts at the Stack's Bowers March Baltimore sale include the following:

1861 Confederate Half Dollar original NGC PF 40 $646,250

For coin aficionados, Civil War buffs or historians, this rare issue is a true numismatic icon. The only coin struck by the Confederate States of America at the New Orleans Mint facility in April of 1861, exactly 154 years ago. This is the finer of two examples in private hands.

1856 Flying Eagle Cent NGC PF 65 $28,200

A superb example of this key date soared to a solid market price. The first of the small cents which has been popular with collectors since its inception over 150 years ago.

1837 Reeded Edge Capped Bust Half Dollar NGC MS 64 $11,456

Infrequently encountered coin in the state of preservation, this exquisitely preserved totally original example, realized a record price for the reeded edge half dollar in this grade designation.

1829 Capped Bust Half Dollar NGC MS 66 $16,450

A scintillating lustrous example of this well struck specimen and tied for the finest known, generated another record price for a coin in this grade.

April will certainly be a busy month on the numismatic calendar. The always well attended and sensational Central States Numismatic Society convention and related major auction excitement is less than three weeks away!

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 frequently attends major coin shows and auctions.

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