Jim Bisognani: Coins and Coping with COVID-19

Posted on 3/19/2020

Instead of jumping ship, jump into your collection.

Well, the good news is that as this article posts, the first day of spring is finally upon us. Of course, the bad news is that at this moment in 2020, the world is consumed with the havoc wreaked by COVID-19 virus. The volatility of the financial markets has been an ominous sign of the global implications that this pandemic carries with it.

Numismatics most definitely takes a back seat now. Yet for many a coindexter, the quiet passion and joy that the hobby evokes can curry some needed solace. And considering that much of the nation’s workforce may be punching the timeclock from home for the foreseeable future, perhaps a break from the news of the day could be therapeutically interrupted by pulling down an auction catalog or reference book or by revisiting some coins in your own collections, which perhaps had been sequestered away.

Although we will not be making the rounds at local, regional or major coin shows for the near term, we do have the internet-only auctions, our favorite dealers’ websites and eBay to occupy us through the duration, as well as numerous online resources for expanding our coin knowledge, like NGCcoin.com's Coin Explorer, Census, Price Guides and the NGC Registry.

The NGC Registry is a free online platform where you can organize your collection and compete with fellow collectors for prizes.
Click image to enlarge.

One true coindexter friend of mine, Billy from my neighboring Pine Tree State of Maine, advised me that he too was relegated to working from home. He and his family are all well and getting acquainted with this new and hopefully short-term lifestyle.

Bill has also found that his numismatic hobby has been a great escape for him: “Hey, without any sporting events to watch, I have really enjoyed looking at and getting reacquainted with my coin collection and have bought a few new coins online.”

However, there is one catch that Bill couldn’t help but add: “Right now, with a family of five, I would rather have my wallet stuffed with sheets of Charmin than an equal amount of dollar bills. I guess it really boils down to what you had for lunch, but I would rather use the Charmin than old George!”

Please don’t squeeze the supply

For better or worse, I decided to put this conundrum into numismatic terms. One of the true staples for humankind during the coronavirus pandemic — toilet paper and its hoarding — certainly bears (or bares) watching. It was just one week ago when nine mega rolls of that squeezable national brand were selling for around $22 with shipping on eBay, or approximately the cost of one US Silver Eagle.

Flash forward to today and the same pack of TP is averaging around $60 with shipping, or the equivalent of at least four Silver Eagles with silver spot hovering around $13 per ounce.

Amazingly though, on Monday morning, I was greeted with silver spot reeling back to as low as $11.70 per ounce, which is equal to an 11-year low, before rebounding to just south of $13. With a quick glance, it is obvious that all popularly traded metals have felt an immediate negative impact. Startling news indeed, but the retort of my old boss blared and beat loudly in my brain: “Any major movement — up or down — will immediately transcend into a buying or selling opportunity.”

For me, this would signal a buying opportunity with American Eagles and 90% silver US coins being especially attractive. Of course, there should be a careful balance whether you purchase bullion-related coins or rare US coins. While the metals and bullion-related coins are often perceived as a store of value, carefully consider your individual situation to make the best choices for your collection.

The 2020-W Proof Silver Eagle with the NGC Early Releases designation and label and with the NGC First Releases designation and West Point Mint Gold Star Label
Click images to enlarge.

As our hobby and business ventures will be enjoyed by an armchair-based army of coindexters and coin dealers for the time being, I reached out to a pair of major players to get their valuable input on collecting and investing in these unprecedented times.

Ian Russell, President of Great Collections

I asked Ian if he had noted any change in the volume or type of business generated since COVID-19.

“Not at all. We’ve had very strong auctions, and we have been keeping a very close eye on it [COVID-10], too. Even last night [a March 15th sale], thousands of people were bidding in the auction, and we haven’t seen any drop-off at all. If anything, there’s been more interest than usual. We have a group of buyers eager to buy gold and silver coins and probably taking money out of the stock market and buying coins, so we’ve been very assured by their activity.”

Although silver was trading at an 11-year low, Ian shared this insight: “One thing that’s happened is that premiums for immediate delivery have increased substantially, so you’re not getting all the benefit of the silver price going down. Silver rounds that used to trade for about 30¢ over spot are now trading three dollars over spot with dealers, and Silver Eagles aren’t trading at $2.20 over spot anymore.”

I also asked if there were any series that seem to be attracting more interest at this time

“Not anything particular — pretty much solid demand across the board. We’ve seen very strong prices for key and high-grade coins even after the stock market was dropping precipitously. In fact, our 2020 sales are way ahead of 2019 as of the same time, and our pipeline is very deep. We just got an 1879 $4 Stella graded NGC PF 65+ Ultra Cameo that will be coming up for auction in a few weeks. It’s slated for our April 26 sale.”

The 1879 $4 Stella graded NGC PF 65+ Ultra Cameo to be sold from Great Collections.
Click images to enlarge.

Ian also had this to say about the coin industry compared to others: “We are also in a little bit of an unusual industry because people are also putting money in here to feel safe in these troubled times. I think if you own a restaurant right now, you’d be in trouble. Restaurants around where I live are closing or have very limited hours right now. In short, the coin market is okay still. It really is. I mean, the statistics we have, we are looking at as closely as ever, and numbers are very strong.”

John Brush, President of DLRC 

I asked John if he had noticed any difference in business overall since the COVID-19 outbreak.

“We’ve had a heck of a lot of people calling and trying to sell us their bullion. We kind of expect it when the prices are going crazy. I feel bad for all these bullion dealers. They are the ones who are going to be in the throes of whatever is going on. Interestingly, however, we have witnessed a marked increase in people buying through our website, especially on Sunday, so I was very happy with that.

“Whatever the ultimate effects of this pandemic, there are two things that are going to be in favor of coin dealers. If you have an online presence, there’s going to be a lot of people at home looking for hobbies and things to do, shopping online, etc. The second is a lot of people have always viewed coins as a hedge against everything else. We’re seeing record amounts of money leaving the stock market now. So, there is going to be a lot of movement there, and that could prove very interesting.”

So, if you have disposable income what do you think you should be buying?

“I mean, you see a lot of coins that have been slipping through the cracks the last six months, especially in these major auctions. I think you might not target the registry quality coins because they have been bringing too much money as it is. But I think that you’ll see coins right below that — condition census coins — that you know there might be a couple of better, but these coins are very nice. Anything with eye appeal I think is good to start picking up. People are going to start collecting what they were working on or remember what they had collected.”

John imparted these sage words for new collectors entering the fold at this time...

“It is very important that coin grading stay steady now because the quality and the eye appeal is going to be so very important to these people who are new to coins. Some of them might not be very educated buyers if they’re coming in from the outside. They really need to have some type of baseline for what they’re enjoying, what they’re liking and what they’re paying for.

“I mean, while bullion prices are all over the place, no one is trying to sell their rare coin collections right now, plus I think people are going to be happy to add to their collections. Some will say that the stock market has been overvalued, so let’s go somewhere else. Coins are at an excellent place for historic values. I mean, these things are so cheap compared to where they have been. Why not jump in and have some fun?”

My sentiments exactly, John! Jump in, don’t jump ship.

Until next time, be safe and happy collecting!

Jim Bisognani is an NGC Price Guide Analyst. He has written extensively on US coin market trends and values.

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