Jim Bisognani: No One’s Fool — World Coins Are on the Move

Posted on 4/1/2021

Several record-setting prices reflect the continuous surge of world coin popularity and demand.

As April rolls in, top-quality and rare US and world coins continue to perform powerfully at public venues — no fooling! While records for many coins have been set and surpassed in 2021, I still believe that numismatic nirvana has just begun.

Being a numismatist in my livelihood and my heart for nearly six decades, I must confess I am still passionate and excited to be a part of this hobby. Most nights, I am in bed scrolling through eBay listings, viewing raw and certified world coins on my trusty iPad. I am always compelled to compare prices of what has sold against the NGC Price Guide. This has often prompted my wife, Beth, to glance over and tactfully — if not factually — say, “Are you still working? Don’t you ever get enough of coins?”

Well, I can’t help it. I confess, most nights I do fall asleep with my iPad propped up on my chest, scrolling, watching and bidding until I fall into dreamland. On a few occasions, I have bid on something while I was asleep, and once, I accidentally bought something. (My finger must have touched “Buy It Now.”) My fellow coindexters, I don’t view this as a problem… do you?

Anyway, after a scintillating, record-setting Paramount World & Ancient Collection claimed $42 million at the end of March, world rarities have upped the ante once again. This splendid sale by Heritage Auctions was a true eye-opener for many collectors as prices tendered were well beyond any previously chartered territory. Perhaps more than any other in recent memory, this sale confirms a fervor for coins beyond the US.

Aside from the colossal 1937 Edward VIII 5 Pounds Pattern graded NGC PF 67 Ultra Cameo that captured the hearts of numismatic aficionados (and perhaps the spirits of Edward and Wallis Simpson) to the tune of $2.2 million, another 132 coins out of the 729 lots thundered over six figures! That, my friends, equates to slightly more than an astounding $57,500 per coin!

Great Britain 1937 Gold Pattern Edward VIII 5 Sovereign graded NGC PF 67 Ultra Cameo and pedigreed to the Paramount Collection. Realized: $2,280,000
Click images to enlarge.

The Edward VIII Gold 5 Sovereign also became the fifth NGC-certified coin to top $1 million in just the first three months of 2021. In a February sale of US rarities from the Paramount Collection, a 1907 Double Eagle realized $3.6 million and an 1880 Coiled Hair Stella realized $1.86 million. The three Paramount Collection coins are joined by two NGC-certified Brasher Doubloons from the Partrick Collection that were sold in January: a 1787 ‘EB’ on Wing Brasher Doubloon that realized $9.36 million and a 1786 Lima-Style Brasher Doubloon that realized $2.1 million.

Although it may seem unbelievable, just one year ago the world came to grips with a global pandemic. Protocols and safeguards were instituted, businesses immediately issued stay-at-home orders and the massive remote workforce evolved. We in numismatics, along with the rest of the world, were merely worrying about surviving.

Hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost and scores of businesses closed, yet the collectible industry somehow (perhaps unfairly) flourished. In 2021, a tally of the first quarter reveals that 11 coins have already sold for well over the million-dollar threshold, capturing a phenomenal $40.5 million in total! This pace could foretell a staggering 44 individual coins breaching the million-dollar mark this year! This is becoming a common refrain — one might say like a broken record.

While the prices realized for the aforementioned coins are often trophies and afford bragging rights for their buyers, I have observed this mania trickle down to sales for many modest or “collector friendly” world coin dates and series.

Speaking on a smaller scale

The tiniest coin ever produced at the Philadelphia Mint for the government of Panama, coming in at a mere 10mm, is the 1904 2.5 Centesimo of Panama. Referred to as the “Panama Pill” because of its truly diminutive size, the coin, while not at all popular when first introduced into commerce, has gained quite an enthusiastic following through the years.

The original mintage was a moderate 400,000, yet because of its tiny nature, many have been lost to the ravages of time. While circulated examples can still be purchased for a mere $20 or less, high-grade Mint State examples have been surging.

This example graded NGC MS 66 is endowed with a sparkling satiny luster that highlights the tiny obverse profile of Balboa. The reverse radiates blazing white frost, which envelopes the coat of arms of the republic. It recently sold for $512, establishing a new record for the grade.

Only 24 appear in the NGC Census graded MS 66, but 3 others claim MS 67. To date, the record holder for this type brought $750 at a Heritage Auctions’ Weekly World and Ancient Auction.

World gold type surging

Even what are considered “common” gold world coins, albeit those in high grade (MS 65 and better), are surging well above their previous “commoner” status. One of the most popular (and one of my favorite designed) gold world coins is the Switzerland 20 Franc coin minted from 1897-1949. I have always referred to this as the “Swiss Miss.” If you have never owned one and doubt that moniker, just take a look at the delightful peasant girl's profile set against the backdrop of the Alps!

Currently, MS 63 and MS 64 coins have been pulling in around 35% above their AGW which, as we go to press, placed them at $319. However, those graded MS 66 have been capturing upwards of $750! This 135% price increase over bullion level equates to high demand and escalating prices placed on Superb Ultra-Gem NGC gold world coins — even commoners like this 1949-B, which is the most plentiful graded MS 66 for the type with 378 examples performed mightily.

This dazzling gem, with blazing luster and the last date of the series, sold for a “bargain” $652 on eBay last week. Just a few months ago, coins of this caliber were selling in the $475 range. Among other things, this necessitates much more price updating!

Until next time, be safe and happy collecting!

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