Jim Bisognani: A Decade of Weekly Market Reports

Posted on 2/4/2021

With iconic coins enjoying record demand, will there be a run on the numismatic market?

As I type away this first Tuesday in February, I didn’t need Punxsutawney Phil to proclaim that we will have six more weeks of winter. Duh! I live in New England, and we just had another major “snow event,” as they like to call them. Those of you out there who follow this column know I am a data and history maven, so I shall pass on this little nugget. It was ten years ago this week that my first Weekly Market Report was being assembled by yours truly.

It has been a fast-moving decade, and so much has transpired. Ten years ago, my first Weekly Market Report covered the Winter Long Beach Expo. A decade later and the Long Beach Expo has been cancelled. No, it isn’t because I was covering it. It is a just and valid precaution as our planet attempts to recover from a global pandemic the likes of which the world hasn’t witnessed in over a century.

A reality star turned politician was elected president. Reddit and followers fresh on the heels of slinging mud in the face of Wall Street shorting GameStop attempted to swing the pendulum into the precious metals arena, and yesterday the white metal was artificially propped up to levels not seen in over eight years before pulling back.

The state of the numismatic empire is complex. Yet at times, I guess not all that much. Coins, those beguiling metal discs — especially rare or trophy coins — have long been targeted by individuals who are not truly numismatists. Some reveling in history, art and antiquities are longing for a tangible extension of their passions.

Then, of course, the average coindexter — those who read Coin World or visit the NGC website or get the Weekly Market Report delivered to their inbox — are eagerly reading about and, in many instances, fantasizing about the coins they would collect if money were not an object of concern.

Oh yes, back to that first Weekly Market Report: I had just attended the first Long Beach Expo of 2011, and the report centered on the Long Beach convention and related auctions (the Goldberg’s pre-Long Beach sale and the Heritage Signature sale) that reeled in a combined $13.5 million.

One of my favorite coins that I referenced was this 1842-C Liberty Head Half Eagle, Small Date graded NGC MS 61 that realized $57,500 in the Goldberg sale.

Click images to enlarge.

Interestingly, less than a mere three months later, this same Charlotte Half Eagle appeared in the Heritage 2011 CSNS Signature sale, where it claimed $69,000! A coin of this caliber hasn’t appeared on the market since.

In early February of 2011, gold spot was hovering around $1,340, and silver spot was trading around $28.50 per ounce. Silver was just beginning its yearlong upward trajectory as it raced to a nearly $49 high at the end of April — perhaps a harbinger of what lies ahead in 2021.

The wildly popular Morgan and Peace Dollar series has found active suiters for culls from either series at $30 each and pre-1921 Morgans in VG+ are pegged at $33.25 with a bid offer of $39.25 for AU 50+ coins. As I type away on February 3, with silver spot hovering just under $27 per ounce, those Morgan and Peace Dollar culls are bringing over 44% above melt value: VG+ at 60% and AU50+ coins at nearly 90% above the melt value of each coin!

This tremendous demand by collector, investor or even manipulator will no doubt drive them even higher. To put these numbers in perspective, with the current gold spot price, the melt value of a $20 Saint or Lib is at $1,775. That would equate to around $3,350 for an AU+ Type coin!

Now from a visit to the average circulated Morgan to a prime-time beauty!

This fabulous and knockout gorgeous 1899 Morgan Dollar graded NGC PF67+ Ultra Cameo thundered to a rather impressive $39,600 at the just-concluded Heritage FUN auction. The memorable example (of this date) is tied for the finest, according to the NGC Census, within the coveted Ultra Cameo designation.

Click images to enlarge.

When this exact coin last appeared at public auction, it was a little over a decade ago at the 2010 Stamford Coinfest Signature sale (how many remember those old Coinfests?), where it realized $20,700. Personally, I think Ultra Cameo Morgans are a fabulous representative of this coin and they are, needless to say, rarely encountered. The following data reveals their true star status!

A total of just 7,612 Proof Morgan Dollars appear in the NGC Census and of that figure:

  • 5,821 appear with a regular Proof designation, or 76.47% of all graded
  • 1,577 appear with a Cameo designation, or 20.72% of the total
  • And only 214 appear with the Ultra-Cameo designation — that is just 2.81 % of all graded to date!

Perhaps a bit of a surprise, in Ultra Cameo, the lion’s share appears within the PF 66 and PF 67 columns!

Now, back to 2021, and the coin market is offering a swift turnaround on many high-profile US and world rarities. The eyes and resources of major dealers are now focused on how to replenish their dwindling inventories. “It is a challenge, a real challenge,” proclaimed a well-known West Coast dealer. “I am finding myself paying as much as 50% more for coins that I actually owned and were in my inventory a year ago.”

This has been a common refrain from many sources as rare coins are just that — rare! Another dealer from New York said that he has a new category: “I call those coins in the $50,000 to $100,000 range ‘medium rare,’ while ‘rare’ refers to those coins in the $100,000 to $250,000 range.” Well, I suppose then — based on those terms used by the Empire State gent — that the just-concluded FUN sale featured a slew of “well done” entrees!

Consider the following bit of historic data: The recently concluded Heritage 2021 FUN Signature sale realized a powerful $63.4 million, with 87 coins each exceeding $100,000. Six of those coins shattered the million-dollar benchmark, and another five easily topped $500,000!

In total, the 2,268 lots averaged an astounding $27,950 per lot!

Now, let’s take a quick trek back in time to the 2011 Heritage FUN Signature sale held in Tampa, Florida, which claimed $45.4 million. In total, 63 lots realized over $100,000, yet only a single coin topped the million-dollar mark: the fabulous 1907 $10 Indian Head Periods Rolled Edge graded NGC Satin PF 67. It thundered to $2.185 million, and only one other coin exceeded the $500,000 mark.

Take a look the following data:

  • The average price realized per lot at the 2011 Heritage FUN Sale was just over $5,200.
  • The average price realized per lot at the 2021 Heritage FUN Sale came in at $27,950!

I know that you are probably saying: “Jim, if you take all those million-dollar coins away it will balance the average prices...” Well, of course, I calculated that for you. Even if I were to subtract the million-dollar sales from each respective auction ($2,185,000 from 2011 and $22,740,000 from 2021), the totals are still amazing for this historic 2021 edition.

  • The 2011 Heritage FUN Sale per lot average was $4,950.
  • The 2021 Heritage FUN Sale per lot average $17,970.

That, my friends, equates to an increase per lot of 263%.

Just for a comparison, here is a glimpse at what the market was like just before COVID-19 shook the world. Last year’s 2020 Heritage FUN auction (really, the last major live venue before the start of the pandemic) claimed $41.1 million, witnessed 65 coins top $100,000 and only one coin broke the million-dollar level. The next highest price realized was a mere $336,000. The average price per lot (including the $2.16 million coin) reports in at $10,691 per lot.

So, my fellow coindexters, what does this all mean? Collector coins remain in feverish demand. The coins that are ultra-rare and iconic are the darlings of well-heeled numismatists and those looking to trade paper assets for the tangible and historic. For me, coins are so much more portable and easy to house compared to a Van Gogh.

But truth be told, while it would be very difficult to truly make a run for, say, the silver market, it will only take a small portion of capital to corral a major position with mainstream numismatics. Consider the following hypothetical scenario involving the iconic 1909-S VDB Lincoln Cent. Virtually anybody with an inkling of numismatic interest is aware of this coin. Now, consider that if all the NGC MS 63 RD through MS 67 RD coins were targeted, bought and taken off the market.

Of course, it would take some time, but as of today, according to the NGC Census, this would number 518 coins. Figuring even at near-retail levels, this venture would only need about $2.165 million, or an average of about $4,180 per coin. So, for the price of one of the six coins that exceeded $2 million at the 2021 FUN sale, a mainstay icon and key date in top condition would be very hard to find at or near present levels.

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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