Looking for value? Coins for thought

Posted on 10/12/2017

Opportunities for price-conscious buyers, as 'Hallogivingmas' approaches

Early October, leaves falling, MLB playoffs in full gear, and retailers having a field day. I mean all at once, it is “Hallogivingmas” — what I refer to as Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas merchandise all simultaneously on display, gaudily fighting for consumers’ attention and wallets.

For retailers, ’tis the season for the big push to increase their respective bottom lines. To some degree, the same is true with the coin market as dealers are not shy about jettisoning stale coins or those that just don’t make the eye appeal chart at bargain levels.

Considering Hallogivingmas is just around the corner, I didn’t think it was too early to start formulating holiday gift lists. So I thought I would cull through my data and report on a few numismatic prospects that seem to be better values as we near the final chapter of 2017.

Golden opportunity

Everyone loves gold! For requisite gold bugs or lovers of the gorgeous $20 Saint-Gaudens, I share good tidings. With gold spot hovering around $1,280, I noticed that one prominent dealer and auction house was offering certified NGC MS 63 $20 Saints at $1,390 and NGC MS 65’s at $1,485! This is equivalent to just a shade under 20% over melt values for MS 65 and about 11% over for the MS 63’s! This is really tremendous, as the premium over spot for quality collectible numismatic US gold is at historic lows.

It doesn’t seem like it, but exactly a decade ago I was reporting in the Greysheet that gold was on quite a streak, but easing back to $737.40!

As I write this report, gold spot is nearly $550 more today per ounce than on October 12, 2007. Yet a decade ago, MS 65 $20 Saints were “Bid” at $1,260 and “Ask” was $1,310! That’s equal to nearly 84% above melt for MS 65’s! Even MS 63’s were trading at 27.5% over melt.

The 1924 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle, a "Type" date for that series.
Click images to enlarge.

Certainly, at present, in consideration of such minute spreads over their precious metal content, $20 Saints should be marching in to respective collections everywhere.

As one longtime collector, J.J., relayed to me: “Saints are truly golden at these levels. I am trying to pick up as many of the ‘common’ dates as I can in MS 63 to MS 64.” I concur — a great strategy.

Bargain Princesses

Now something for the more serious collector: Another truly remarkable value is the $3 gold Princess type. Take this into consideration. A decade ago, the common type coin (1878) was “Bid” at $6,850 and “Ask” $7,150. Today, scanning the various electronic trading networks, I note several nice NGC MS 63’s for sale at $2,675!

To me, this is an extraordinary opportunity for the astute numismatist. The series (1854-1889) is endowed with a bevy of rare dates and true icons, such as the 1854-D and the landmark and unique 1870-S. Even the type coin 1878 was limited to a mintage of just 82,304. As of this writing, according to the NGC Census, there are just 1,095 MS 63’s accounted for, spanning the entire series, and just 523 allotted for the 1878.

The 1878 $3 Indian Princess, a "Type" date for that series.
Click images to enlarge.

Compare that with the “type” $20 Saint in MS 63, such as the 1924. Viewing the NGC Census, you will find that just under 109,000 have been graded MS 63 and a total of just under 320,000 coins populate the MS 63 column for the entire Saint-Gaudens double eagle series.

Both gold coins offer exciting opportunities. On one hand, the $20 Saints are tied so close to melt, it is, as an old friend would say, “a no-brainer.” However, for those looking at delving into the eclectic and exciting $3 Princess series, I believe there is a huge opportunity for considerable traction in this series as a whole, and given that the MS 63 1878 can be corralled for nearly 63% less than a decade ago, it warrants some serious consideration.

I have personally always admired the Longacre design (which was also employed on the Type III gold dollar). It shows off much more of the Princess’ glory in the larger $3 format. If my fellow Coindexters are able to salt away a few nice type coins when they appear at shows or through auction, I heartily recommending doing so.

Watch the commemoratives

Another series that bears watching is the classic US commemorative. The series has a long lineage of superbly crafted artistic and historic coinage. Beginning with the Columbian Exposition of 1892 through the 1954 Washington/Carver, the series has had its ups and downs.

While boasting a cavalcade of low mintage and exciting design elements, the series has definitely been a roller coaster to track for price guides. I recall over a decade ago watching various dealers posting elevated bids only to see their higher bid and their solely individual support disappear, usually within a few weeks. This scenario was played many times targeting individual coins, and telemarketers were able to latch onto a quantity of a certain commemorative, such as the 1938 New Rochelle “fatted calf.”

The 1938 New Rochelle, a silver commemorative.
Click images to enlarge.

This is an attractive coin from later in the series, boasting a low mintage of 15,266. Yet like most of the later-series issues, they were saved and did not enter circulation. Let’s face it: Any premium paid over face value for a coin in the mid- to late 1930s, while we were still recovering from the Great Depression, would have been taken care of. Accordingly, reviewing the NGC Census, there have been 2,389 New Rochelles graded, and those not graded as Mint State number just two, both AU 58, with the majority (43%) residing in the MS 65 column.

While a coin such as the 1938 New Rochelle (and many other popular entries within the classic silver commems) can still be purchased in modest volume in grades above MS 65, the ability to cherry-pick eye-appealing coins at little or no premium brands these low-mintage classic commems a good bet for appreciation. For reference, on this day a decade ago, MS 65’s were “Bid” $475 and “Ask” was $525. Today, the NGC Price Guide has MS 65’s valued at $460, or almost exactly where the coin was trading a decade ago.

As savvy veteran or newcomer collectors enter the marketplace, supplies of quality, attractive, low-mintage coins such as the New Rochelle will be drying up. Coins for thought!

Until next time, happy collecting!

Jim Bisognani is an NGC Price Guide Analyst, having previously served for many years as an analyst and writer for another major price guide. He has written extensively on US coin market trends and values.

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