Jeff Garrett: The Hobby Moves Online

Posted on 7/2/2020

Markets are no doubt being tested by the COVID-19 crisis; so far, the rare coin market is passing.

The internet has been one of the most significant driving forces for numismatics since the late 1990s. Indeed, the hobby has been forever changed by this amazing tool of the modern age. Collectors now have more information available at their fingertips than advanced hobbyists from decades ago ever could have dreamed. Doing numismatic research when making a purchase decision is now ridiculously easy. Information such as basic rarity (population information), price guides and auction records are all available on the NGC website,

Collectors also have access to rare coin dealer inventories around the globe. There are important rare coin auctions on a weekly basis. This is so different from years ago when coin shows, trade journals and coin shops ruled the market for rare coins. If you lived in a remote location and disliked travel, your access to rare coins was very limited. To say the least, a lot has changed in 20 years.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further driven the rare coin market to the internet in a major way. For the last 40 years or so, my monthly routine included attending at least two coin shows somewhere around the country. Sadly, I have not left Lexington in over three months. Nearly all of the business I have been conducting has been on the internet — either direct sales or wholesale to others who sell on the web. However, business has been amazingly brisk!

Because of quarantines, stay-at-home orders and lost jobs, Americans have been home surfing the internet in record numbers. Many of them have either discovered or rediscovered the hobby of numismatics. A few months ago, the American Numismatic Association (ANA) conducted a membership promotion during National Coin Week. Over 3,500 new collectors signed up as members of the ANA. That is a staggering number of new members in such a short time. ANA membership now stands at over 28,000 members.

Winners and losers in the rare coin game

As with every crisis or seismic event, there will be winners and losers. Nearly every coin dealer I have spoken to in recent weeks who has a significant web business is doing very well. Some have even related to me that they are experiencing records sales. The extremely large firms with rare coins and bullion operations are seeing sales explode. Their biggest issues in recent weeks have been finding material to sell.

Losers in the COVID-19 crisis include the large number of dealers who count on coin shows for the majority of their business. Coin shows everywhere have been canceled since mid-March. The ANA World’s Fair of Money scheduled for Pittsburgh in August has been suspended until a later date (if it can happen at all). I and many others were hopeful a few weeks ago that we might be able to start attending shows soon. The recent rise in coronavirus cases around the country now puts that in doubt.

Many major players in the hobby have discovered how important coins shows are to the supply chain. The flow of new material that normally traded during a major coin show has now been eliminated. A lot of smaller dealers would buy coins across the counter in shops and sell them at shows. The supply of new material in shops has slowed to a trickle, and there are no shows to attend. Even the dealers who produced new coins by having them graded at shows are being seriously impacted.

The good news of all of this is that coins are selling well on the internet, and the supply of new coins has been drastically reduced. For several years now, the rare coin market has been negatively impacted by an oversupply of coins. More coins were coming onto the market than new collectors willing to buy them. There has been sustained price erosion of rare coins for several years. If the current market conditions continue, there is little doubt that prices for rare coins may finally move in a positive direction.

An 1895 Double Eagle graded NGC PF 67 Ultra Cameo that realized $234,000 in a recent Heritage Auctions sale (and featured in the table below).
Click images to enlarge.

Getting to the art of the matter

This past Monday, the art market experienced a major test when Sotheby’s conducted a marquee evening auction online and by phone. The Monday night sale fetched over $360 million, with the highlight of the sale being a Francis Bacon triptych that sold for nearly $85 million. Bidders around the world participated in the live-streamed event.

Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus by Francis Bacon
Click image to enlarge.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the auction house had to convince consignors to continue with the sale despite the current COVID-19 crisis. Reportedly, Sotheby’s had to give price guarantees to secure several of the major pieces that were sold Monday night. I’m sure executives of the firm are breathing much easier now based on the results.

The next market challenge for the rare coin market will be the Heritage and Stack’s Bowers 2020 ANA sales, which have now been moved online due to the suspended convention in Pittsburgh. There are several major collections being offered for sale, and I’m sure both auction houses are hoping for the same success that Sotheby’s experienced. It is obvious that rare coin buyers are becoming more comfortable spending large sums through online bidding.

It would be interesting to ask if returns have increased given that buyers have not personally examined the coins. Digital photography has become so advanced that it may no longer be an issue for collectors. Some buyers still have representatives examine coins, but given travel restrictions, that may not be possible for the time being.

There have been a few major tests of the rare coin market at auction in the last couple of months as well. Heritage conducted the June Long Beach Sale in Dallas with nearly all of the buyers participating online. The sale was very successful, from what consignors have related to me. There were very few unsold lots. Below is a list of the NGC-certified coins that sold for over $25,000.

Date and Denomination Grade Price Realized
1895 $20 NGC PF 67 Ultra Cameo $234,000
1907-D $20 NGC SP 65 $180,154
1907 High Relief $20 NGC PF 67+ $168,000
1808 $2.50 NGC MS 61 $138,000
1879 $4 NGC PF 63 Cameo $138,000
1909 $5 NGC PF 66+ $75,000
1871-CC $20 NGC AU 58 $72,000
1895 $10 NGC PF 66+ Ultra Cameo $63,000
1907 $10 NGC MS 65+ $63,000
1908 $5 NGC PF 67 $57,600
1871-CC $20 NGC AU 55 $57,600
1854-O $3 NGC MS 62 $54,013
1900 $10 NGC PF 66+ Ultra Cameo $54,000
1863 $3 NGC MS 67+ $51,600
1826/'5' $2.50 NGC MS 61 $45,600
1834 $5 NGC AU 58 $45,600
1907 High Relief $20 NGC PF 65 $44,400
1795 $5 NGC AU 55 $40,800
1802 $1 NGC MS 62+ $39,600
Sommer Is Sixpence NGC AU 50 $37,200
1852 $50 RE NGC AU 55 $37,200
1890 $1 NGC PF 68 Ultra Cameo $36,000
Norse Medal NGC PF 67 $36,000
1910 $2.50 NGC PF 66 $33,616
1911-D $2.50 NGC MS 65 $31,200
1911-D $10 NGC MS 64 $31,200
1889-CC $1 NGC MS 63+ $30,000
1836 $1 NGC PF 63 $28,800
1908 $2.50 NGC PF 67 $28,800
1937-D Nickel NGC MS 66 $26,400
1893 $1 NGC MS 66+ $26,400
1801 $10 NGC MS 61 $26,400
1850-O $20 NGC AU 58 $26,400

The above sales are a good indication of the price stability of the rare coin market. A better indication can be found by comparing auction results of the same coin with a previous auction record. This is comparing apples to apples for signs of strength or weakness. The prices below compare results from the Heritage sale with prices realized in previous years.

Lot 3007 - 1842 Half Cent Restrike, Second Reverse (Reverse of 1840)
Stack's Bowers 1/2020:92003 (as NGC PF 66★ 4752079-001), not sold - Stack's Bowers 3/2020:3094 (as NGC PF 66★ RB 4752079-001), not sold - Heritage 6/2020:3007 (as NGC PF 66★ RB 4752079-001), $12,000.00
Lot 3029 - 1913 Buffalo Nickel, Type I
Heritage 1/2020:4135 (as NGC PF 68 5743596-005), $18,013.20 - Heritage 6/2020:3029 (as NGC PF 68 5743596-005), $15,613.20
Lot 3047 - 1858-O Quarter Dollar
Heritage 4/2016:4622 (as PCGS MS 64 28773477), $14,100.00 - Heritage 10/2016:3096 (as PCGS MS 64 28773477), $11,750.00 - Heritage 7/2019:3042 (as NGC MS 65 1883541-001), $13,200.00 - Heritage 12/2019:3076 (as NGC MS 65 1883541-001), $10,800.00 - Heritage 6/2020:3047 (as NGC MS 65 1883541-001), $10,500.00
Lot 3063 - 1818/7 Half Dollar, Large 8, Overton 101
Heritage 12/2019:3105 (as NGC MS 64+ 4882807-008), $9,600.00 - Heritage 6/2020:3063 (as NGC MS 64+ 4882807-008), $9,720.00
Lot 3070 - 1872-S Half Dollar
"Colonel" E.H.R. Green Collection - Partnership of Eric P. Newman & B.G. Johnson (St. Louis Stamp & Coin Co.) - Eric P. Newman Collection, acquired for $25.00 - Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society, Part II - Heritage 11/2013:33478 (as NGC MS 66 CAC 2037663-071), $21,150.00 - Heritage 6/2020:3070 (as NGC MS 66 CAC 2037663-071), $15,000.00
Lot 3072 - 1874-S Half Dollar, With Arrows
"Colonel" E.H.R. Green Collection - Partnership of Eric P. Newman & B.G. Johnson (St. Louis Stamp & Coin Co.) - Eric P. Newman Collection, acquired for $15 - Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society, Part II - Heritage 11/2013:33480 (as NGC MS 66 CAC 2037663-075), $39,656.25 - Heritage 6/2020:3072 (as NGC MS 66 CAC 2037663-075), $22,800.00
Lot 3153 - 1808 Quarter Eagle
Stack's 1/2005:3143 (as Raw Brilliant Uncirculated), $103,500.00 - Dr. & Mrs. Claude Davis Collection - Heritage 8/2010:3408 (as NGC MS 61 1846194-002), $138,000.00 - Heritage 4/2011:5325 (as NGC MS 61 1846194-002), $126,500.00 - Heritage 4/2015:5247 (as NGC MS 61 1846194-002), $123,375.00 - Heritage 6/2020:3153 (as NGC MS 61 5746683-001), $138,000.00
Lot 3161 - 1862 Quarter Eagle
Heritage 9/2011:4215 (as NGC MS 64 3465072-004), $14,950.00 - Heritage 4/2012:5218 (as NGC MS 64 3465072-004), $14,375.00 - Heritage 10/2012:5591 (as NGC MS 64 3465072-004), $14,100.00 - Tree Leaf Collection - Heritage 6/2020:3161 (as NGC MS 64 3465072-004), $14,400.00
Lot 3177 - 1854-O $3
Heritage 4/2013:4480 (as PCGS AU 58 25040784), $19,975.00 - Heritage 1/2014:5383 (as PCGS AU 58 25040784), $25,850.00 - Stack's Bowers 4/2016:13171 (as NGC MS 62 3721833-008), $58,750.00 - Heritage 6/2020:3177 (as NGC MS 62 5746680-003), $54,013.20
Lot 3180 - 1863 $3
Heritage 7/2015:3288 (as NGC MS 67 4195623-006), $61,700.43 - Claudia St John Collection - Stack's/Bowers 11/2019:3148 (as NGC MS 67 4195623-006), $55,200.00 - Heritage 6/2020:3180 (as NGC MS 67+ 5744383-008), $51,600.00
Lot 3190 - 1803/2 Half Eagle, BD-2
Heritage 12/2019:3284 (as NGC MS 61 1805757-009), $9,625.20 - Heritage 6/2020:3190 (as NGC MS 61 1805757-009), $9,006.00
Lot 3196 - 1808 Half Eagle
Robert Craig Family Collection - Heritage 1/2018:5025 (as NGC MS 63 3166333-007), $19,200.00 - Heritage 6/2020:3196 (as NGC MS 63 4626785-013), $16,200.00
Lot 3204 - 1834 Half Eagle, Capped Bust, Plain 4
Superior 9/1996:2265 - Heritage 4/2017:4264 (as NGC AU 58 3315999-001), $49,350.00 - Heritage 6/2020:3204 (as NGC AU 58 5746679-004), $45,600.00
Lot 3209 - 1846 Half Eagle, Large Date
Recovered from the wreck of the S.S. New York - Stack’s 7/2009:1019 (as NGC MS 64★), $17,250.00 - Heritage 8/2010:3500 (as NGC MS 64★ 3297120-029), $12,650.00 - Tree Leaf Collection - Heritage 6/2020:3209 (as NGC MS 64★ 3297120-029), $18,600.00
Lot 3219 - 1894-O Half Eagle
Heritage 12/2019:3319 (as NGC MS 64 463195-006), $12,000.00 - Heritage 6/2020:3219 (as NGC MS 64 463195-006), $10,800.00
Lot 3242 - 1860-S Eagle
Heritage 4/2014:5772 (as NGC AU 58 5055527-010), $25,850.00 - Heritage 6/2020:3242 (as NGC AU 58 5055527-010), $20,414.40
Lot 3244 - 1870 Eagle
Stack's Bowers 11/2019:3181 (as NGC AU 58 4631596-007), $9,600.00 - Heritage 6/2020:3244 (as NGC AU 58 5631596-007), $9,600.00
Lot 3251 - 1895 Eagle
Ed Trompeter Collection - Heritage, sold privately - Cody Brady Collection - Heritage 9/2019:4010 (as NGC PF 65 CAMEO CAC 238195-021), $78,000.00 - Heritage 6/2020:3251 (as NGC PF 66+ ULTRA CAMEO, after NCS conservation, 5744384-010), $63,000.00
Lot 3299 - 1907-D Double Eagle
Bowers & Merena (accompanied by a letter from Walter Breen) 6/1989:584 (as Raw Branch Mint Proof), $25,300.00 - Tree Leaf Collection - Heritage 6/2020:3299 (as NGC SP 65 4212378-001), $180,153.60
Lot 3312 - 1921 Missouri Half Dollar
Heritage 7/2019:3269 (as NGC MS 67 4882552-005), $9,900.00 - Heritage 6/2020:3312 (as NGC MS 67 4882552-005), $6,600.00

As more and more collectors turn to online purchasing, the hobby finally has a chance to grow. There has been a huge increase in Google searches for rare coins, bullion and collectibles. Many businesses in America and the world are going through difficult times.  The business of numismatics is very fortunate that so many individuals are turning to their hobbies for entertainment and comfort.

I personally miss coins shows the most and truly hope to see some of you again in the near future.

Numismatic auction provenances provided by:

Ron Guth, Chief Investigator
The Numismatic Detective Agency

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