2015 Year In Review- Insights, Market Analysis From Numismatic Notables

Posted on 12/24/2015

Holiday Collecting Memories - What’s in store for 2016?

As this article posts, Christmas Eve 2015 is at hand! I can’t help but wax nostalgic about this great season. This time of year never gets old for me and each passing Christmas season rekindles eternal youth.

I personally enjoy viewing Christmas TV specials. My two favorites, which I haven’t missed an airing of in their 50 years, are A Charlie Brown Christmas and Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer. These two holiday classics are partners to my youth and even catalysts to my lifelong interest in numismatics. The first airing of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” on December 9th, 1965 was the hot topic of conversation in school that Friday after the broadcast. When Charlie Brown wanted to better understand the true meaning of Christmas, Lucy Van Pelt was there to help him get resolution–for a price. For a mere nickel Lucy would clarify his Christmas conundrum, so Charlie pulled a coin from his pocket and dropped it into her cashbox. As we all know, Lucy was more excited about that clinking sound of the coin dropping into her tin than dispensing actual advice.

That clinking of nickels in the can resonated with me and was the stimulus for me to start collecting a few nickels of my own. Buffalos and a pair of Jefferson Silver War nickels were the very first coins I put away, way back in 1965! It wasn’t until the following Christmas that I got my first Red Book and actually got serious.

As has been a bit of a tradition over the last five years, I consulted numismatic acquaintances and well-known authorities to get their take on what 2015 meant to them and a little bit of prognostication for next year.

John Brush, President of David Lawrence Rare Coin Galleries

“2015 was an odd year. We saw a lot of price adjustments on some less popular series and lesser quality items. Also, we saw some series, such as Indian gold really plummet in pricing due to telemarketers not being as active in their sales and dealer inventories growing too large. We saw the same occur with classic gold commemoratives, which is a shame due to the overall rarity of some of these pieces. That being said, we also saw a number of records broken with the start of the Pogue Collection sales. Record prices were seen on some true rarities and when the quality was there, the coins performed incredibly well. While proof Type coins like Barber and Seated coinage really adjusted downwardly, we saw some series, such as silver commemoratives, reach their low point and start to climb once again. For David Lawrence Rare Coins, we sold an incredible amount of classic silver commemoratives as that series really picked up for us, which went along with our typical collector-based coin sales.”

As for 2016, Brush expects the FUN show to set a good tempo.

“With the lack of any exciting collections (save for the incredible Barber Half Collection from Dr. Shireman), we expect the auctions to not handicap cash flows at the FUN show and entering the Spring, as has been the case for the last five or so years. We also expect that the Pogue sale in February will produce some similar results as the previous sales and we expect a gradual uptick in the market. In the 4th quarter of 2015 we’ve seen some improvement in the market and we expect that to continue as we enter into a new election year, with the hopes that the economic issues of the past several years are going to turn around.

“We found that 2015 was a less than exciting year for the coin market and wasn’t a great one for many dealers. That being said, a renewed focus on the larger coin show events, and moving away from Rosemont for the ANA’s crown jewel World’s Fair of Money in August will likely spur some improvements as the year moves forward.”

Steve Roach, Coin World’s Editor-at-Large

“I’ll be curious to see how dealers continue to shift and adapt their business models as rare coin auctions expand and become a primary venue for retail collectors to buy coins for their collections. With collectors relying on previous auction sales to help determine retail pricing, collectors will need guidance to identify and differentiate good/better/best examples of a coin in a given grade. Price guides will continue to work to print prices that incorporate auction records while recognizing that for every coin that sells at auction, many more trade privately. If bullion continues to stay at relatively stable and low levels, coin shops, which have been relying in part on high gold and silver prices to generate people through the front door, will have to look at new ways of doing business, especially as the market absorbs a massive amount of low-end material like Proof and mint sets from the 1970s through 1990s, blue Whitman folders missing key dates and the like.”

Ira Goldberg, Co-Owner, Goldberg Coins & Collectibles

“I think that the US market in general is weak and appears to be getting weaker. There are some areas that are holding up quite well and they are early gold and early copper, like half cents and large cents, as well as bust halves and important rarities in top quality. Generic US coins and most commemorative issues are soft and in general, bring less than Greysheet bid except for CAC-stickered coins. These are bringing closer to sheet and above and appear to still be strong. The real question is why?

"In my opinion it is partially because of the strength in the dollar which means the demand for metal, silver and gold, is at 5 year lows and getting softer. If interest rates rise, which can greatly affect collectibles such as coins because these assets pay no dividends or interest, the prices for coins will soften.”

“There is one more arena of numismatics that that is worthy of covering and that involves the investment aspect of coins and perhaps with that, new excitement can be instituted in order to excite a new generation of collectors.

“Information symmetry has brought huge benefits into the market in the last decade. Collectors can find information on a coin (mintage, pop, and price range, auction results, bid/ask trading values) easily from the Internet. Equipped with this kind of knowledge, which used to belong to only dealers (sometimes only exclusive high-end dealers), individual collectors were playing more and more important roles in numismatic transactions and investments. With more participation, we witness an incredible boon in the coin business.The old way is gone!”

Q. David Bowers Numismatist, Author and Co-Founder of Stack's Bowers

“To start with, I believe we are all fortunate to be a part of numismatics – a great hobby (I’ve never called it an industry) with great people, many interesting things to collect, and enough diversity that no one will ever run out of challenges or ideas. This past year has been an excellent one for Stack’s Bowers Galleries, with our sales of the D. Brent Pogue Collection Parts I and II leading the way. Both events, held in conjunction with Sotheby’s in New York City, exceeded estimates. In combination of quality and overall value, there has never been a collection like this to cross the auction block. All of us are trying our best to create catalogs and presentations that will not only do credit to the consignor but will also furnish interesting reading and inspiration for others, contributing to the dynamics of the rare coin field.

“Many people when they enter the field of rare coins do so because they have been attracted by the lure of gold or silver bullion or perceived profits to be made. These elements have in the past produced good results in some instances, not in others, but have certainly opened the door to many. It has been said that to remain in numismatics one needs to stay with the hobby for five years. Those who do that tend to stay for the rest of their lives. Those who come and buy only for investment, or buy because they feel the price of gold or silver will go up quickly, tend to spend all their money or have their interest burn out and two or three years later they are off on some other tangent.”

This prompted Bowers to reassert the value of books.

“One way to increase longevity is for dealers, collectors, and all others to encourage the building of a basic working library of useful books. By that I do not mean price guides, but I mean books with interesting narrative. Whitman Publishing, LLC, and Krause Publications both have extensive lists of books for sale, nearly all inexpensively priced. If you stop to think about it, many people—perhaps you as a reader—would not hesitate to spend $500 or $1,000 for a rare coin but if I suggest you spend $500 or $1,000 on a group of books you will resist. I suggest that you try to view the matter differently. After all, coins are coins, but other aspects such as art, history and romance add to their appeal.”

That said, back to the coin market:

“Many headlines in the various numismatic publications highlight rarities crossing the auction block. Certainly, the spectacular Pogue Collection auction results have occupied a lot of space, and justifiably so. However, it’s important to remember that for every collector who can afford to buy a Mint State 1794 Silver Dollar there are 50,000 collectors who cannot. These enthusiasts are in other areas, ranging from modern mint products to Indian Head cents to obsolete currency of, say, Michigan.

“Most fields of numismatic endeavor are quite affordable if you concentrate on what have been called 'collector coins.' For example, I have in an album a complete collection of Statehood quarters from 1999 onward. The condition is what I call 'nice,' say MS 65 or so. I haven’t graded them individually, but in acquiring them I wanted to make sure each was attractive. The entire collection is probably worth less than a few hundred dollars. However, it is very enjoyable to own, I like the history and background of each of the coins, and some years ago when I wrote a book for Whitman on the subject of Washington quarters, I explored each issue in great detail. Such sets are meant to be enjoyed. However, some people, particularly newcomers, feel that unless every coin is MS 68 or some high grade it is not worth owning. The result is that they purchase relatively few coins for their collections, the ones they purchase are very expensive, and, often, when time comes to sell the after-market can be thin.”

On the other hand Dave recommends that for nearly all expensive coins, say worth several hundred dollars or more, third-party NGC encapsulation is desirable.

“In many instances it is an absolute must. In my reference collection of modern dollars from 1971 to date, on which subject I am writing a book for Whitman Publishing LLC, a number of scarce pieces are certified. Leading the way is the curious 2000-P Sacagawea 'Cheerios' dollar. Only 5,500 of these were made from a prototype reverse die in which the eagle’s tail feathers are veined or diagonally lined. These sell for in the high five figures and more. They were put in random cereal boxes and distributed to the general public. It was not until several years later that the unique reverse style was identified by collectors. Today probably fewer than 100 or so are known. 'Out there' may be more that were saved as souvenirs. Who knows? Another is the 2000-P with “Presentation Finish,” 5,000 of which were given to the designer of the obverse, Glenna Goodacre. These differ in surface from circulation issues. Most have been certified and labeled as such.

“Among older coins NGC certification is desirable not only to give an outside opinion of the grade, but to assure that coins are authentic. As a project for the future, it would be a nice idea if someone were to manufacture attractive albums for NGC and other certified coins and to market them widely. Today there are a number of fine holders available, but none has had the market appeal of old-fashioned coin albums.

“As you contemplate 2016, consider forming a set or two or three of some of your favorite series. As I see it, the market offers many opportunities. Shield and Buffalo nickels are very advantageously priced as are Walking Liberty half dollars, to mention three popular specialties. Most coins in grades from MS 63 to 65 are very affordable. Believe it or not, classic silver commemorative coins of the 1892 to 1954 era are less expensive now than they were in 1989. The puzzlement is that many people like to buy in a sharply rising market but are super cautious when prices are low. Historically, anyone who carefully bought coins in the market low periods of 1947 to 1949 or later in 1965 to about 1969 would have realized excellent returns.

"As we enter 2016, the price of gold bullion is less than anytime in recent years. If you can afford the price of entry, dozens of different dates and mintmarks of double eagles can be purchased in lower Mint State grades for under $1,500 each. Certification is a must.

“As you explore new horizons in 2016, consider tokens and medals as well and don’t overlook obsolete paper money and federal bank notes. NGC and [its paper money grading affiliate] PMG also encapsulate all the series just mentioned. While having a certified Statehood quarter may not be necessary unless you’re working on a Registry Set, it is good policy for key issues in any series to have the protection that certification offers, as mentioned above. I also say the number on a holder is interesting but it is only part of the desirability of the coin. For my own purposes I would start by looking at the coin in a holder and beyond that satisfy myself that it has good eye appeal in particular, and, if such pieces exist (and they do not for all varieties) is sharply struck. 2016 is bright with many promises, and I hope you will enjoy numismatics to its fullest extent.”

Bob Green, President of Park Avenue Numismatics

“What a difference a year makes! We see 2015 as a transitional year: specific segments of the market fell in line with the dropping bullion market such as generic gold coins, specifically common date St. Gaudens. The premiums are the lowest we’ve seen them in 5 to 6 years. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing as new buyers enter the market when prices drop in anticipation of a rebound in the 24 months ahead. We are contrarians and we like the generic gold coin market at current levels. If you liked MS 65 Saints at $2,450 you’ve gotta love me at $1,650! Rare coins are really our specialty area and we have seen some wonderful coins hit the market in 2015. The hottest market was Carson City Gold Double Eagles. These large CC gold pieces have all but dried up and when a nice one comes along we try to buy it. We’ve had to compete at auction for the coins we wanted, but the under bidders were active and market prices were fair in the final analysis.

“I can recall as a young numismatist in the early 70s, hunting for the elusive 1909-S VDB Lincoln Cent to fill that hole in my set. I saved every dollar looking forward to the day I found the right coin for my collection. It was a choice AU coin and I got a feeling of satisfaction when I was able to purchase the coin at a small show in Roosevelt Field Mall. This year I presented a Gem 1909-S VDB MS 66 RD to a client; he smiled ear to ear, very much like me when I was young, only he was 65 years old and equally as happy. There is a personal satisfaction that comes with the completion of a set, down to the last “key date” The sense of accomplishment, the pride of ownership, holding history in your hands, that is what the hobby is about. Nowadays, I get to experience that with clients and it never gets old!”

Well said my friend! To all my readers, Coindexters and comrades in coindom have a happy holiday season!

Until next time, happy collecting and happy New Year!

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 frequently attends major coin shows and auctions.

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