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Rare Coin Markets in August 2009, Part 1

Part One of a Three Part Series on the state of the Rare Coin Market. by Greg Reynolds

Proof Saint Gaudens $20 Gold coinsIn early August, while attending the recent ANA Convention in Los Angeles, I spent considerable time interviewing dealers and checking out coins that were being offered. Coin markets are very healthy in that there are plenty of buyers for scarce and rare coins at the current price levels, and there were a substantial number of serious collectors buying at the Convention or being represented by dealers. Certainly, collectors are more active now than they were in March or April, or even in June. Quite a few dealers and collector-sellers refuse to sell many of their coins at the current levels.

Some categories of rare coins have maintained their values or fallen only slightly over the past year; other categories have fallen 20% to 45%. My impression is that markets for scarce and rare U.S. coins, on average, are down 18% to 25% over the last twelve months, though many great coins have held their value.

There has always been a gap between the prices for coins that are mid range to high end for their respective PCGS or NGC assigned grades and those that are low end or have substantial negative characteristics. As is analyzed in my companion article, the price gap between the high end and low end for coins of the same type, certified grade and date (or equivalent date) has widened over the past twelve months and was especially evident in trading at the ANA Convention.

John Feigenbaum, president of David Lawrence Rare Coins, declares that, at the ANA Convention, he “found the market to be a lot more vibrant than expected with many of [his] contemporaries ready to do deals. The key remains that one has to price coins at current market prices, which are generally down from six months ago. But the difference between [the ANA Convention] and say the Central States show was that people were looking to do business. The last nine months have been lethargic at the wholesale level.”

John goes on to say that, at the ANA Convention, trading was very active at current price levels. From Feigenbaum’s “perspective, it was both an excellent selling show and an excellent show for buying”!

Steve Contursi, president of Rare Coin Wholesalers, reports “a good show. We bought and sold over one million dollars worth of coins including multiple $100,000 coins.” Contursi notes that “it is interesting that some areas are very quiet while some are hopping.” Action at the show was “collector driven. When collectors really want certain coins, they will pay whatever it takes to get them.” Contursi adds that, on the whole, “the market has gotten better since the January FUN show.”

While Contursi’s firm may be selling coins at higher prices, or accruing greater revenues, in August than it did in January 2009, my impression is that most dealers fared better in January. I strongly believe that markets were stronger, and there was much more excitement, at the January FUN Convention than at the August ANA Convention.

Chris McCawley reveals that he “had a great show.” I can attest that it is very likely that he did. Coincidentally, I happen to spend a lot of time in the vicinity of his table, and there was at least one interested collector at his table all the time. Sometimes, there were many. McCawley, though, is a specialist in half cents and large cents, an area that has been very hot ever since the Feb. 2008 Husak sale, which was followed by major early copper auctions in Sept. 2008, featuring Ray Rouse’s half cents and a few Naftzger early dates, and in Feb. 2009 when all of Naftzger’s Middle dates were sold.

Rich Uhrich is a specialist in circulated, Bust and Liberty Seated silver U.S. coins (1794-1891), though he deals in other coins as well. He reveals that he “sold more” directly to collectors in Los Angeles than he did at the “Denver ANA in 2006 or the Milwaukee ANA Convention in 2007.” Every time I walked by his table, Rich had a customer who seemed focused on Rich’s coins. Uhrich reports that he “got dynamite coins at the show, a lot of fresh material.” He was “very happy to get two PCGS [graded] 1867 quarters, an EF-40 and an EF-45.” Rich “never before saw circulated business strike 1867 quarters in PCGS holders.”

Dave Schweitz, in contrast, remarks that “there was very little fresh material at the show.” Schweitz’s specialties are much different from those of Uhrich. Schweitz deals mostly in gem quality coins, including many that grade 67 or higher. He is a leading expert in Indian Cents, Lincoln cents, all nickels, and silver coins that were minted from 1892 to 1964.

While Schweitz tends to deal in gems that cost thousands, Uhrich and Wayne Herndon sell quite a few coins that cost much less. “Coins priced less than $100 sold well at the ANA Convention,” says Uhrich. Herndon also reports that “material under $100 is selling well.” Wayne has not “really seen a drop in demand or prices for this [sub-$100] material. In fact, [his] sense is that demand there is as strong now if not stronger than in the past year or two.” It is a good sign that such interest continues, even during a sharp recession.

Matt Kleinsteuber reports that coins priced from “$50 to $500 are selling well. In some areas, $50 to $500 coins have seen mild price reductions, of maybe 10%, while others are up 10% such as most [pre-1934] Lincoln pennies. Expensive Lincolns, $5000 plus, are a little harder to figure and are probably down 20%” over the last year. Kleinsteuber is lead trader and an expert grader for NFC coins. Also, he is an instructor in intermediate level grading courses at ANA summer seminars.

California dealer Curt Mease “found that that coins priced less than $5000 held their value over the past year much better than higher priced coins.” Likewise, Rich Uhrich concludes that the “number of buyers for rare dates that cost more than $5000 has declined, and prices for these have gone down 10 to 20%.” Mease suggests that “most coins priced at over $10,000 have gone down 10% to 30% over the last year.”

“Gold coins are still the hottest part of the market,” declares Jeff Garrett, who is a leading expert in rare gold coins. While Garrett may be a little biased in this regard, many others expressed similar observations. Also, the discussion here is about scarce and rare coins, not generics, which are extremely common and are marketed mostly to non-collecting investors or speculators. Kris Oyster is an active trader in generic gold, and he points out that generics have been hot all year, especially Liberty Head $20 gold coins.

Oyster is the Managing Director of numismatics for the Dallas Gold & Silver Exchange, which owns Superior Galleries and other entities. Oyster reports that “mid range to high end, better date Twenty Libs and Saints were flying at the ANA Convention. Prices for better date, uncirculated twenties have stabilized over the past three months. The better stuff is trading at 20% less than one year ago,” Oyster finds.

Kleinsteuber is mostly in agreement with Oyster regarding better-date $20 gold coins. “Better-date Liberty Head twenties are on fire. They are very easy to sell at current or higher levels. Dated Saints were weak for a while, have picked up stream and are doing well now,” Matt concludes.

“Pre-1934 gold,” Herndon says, “continues to be hot. It appears almost anything gold is in demand.” John Feigenbaum notes that the “most solid area price-wise is gold.”

Garrett does point out, however, that “the weakest part of the market is for C mint, D mint, and O mint gold in the $10,000 to $25,000 range, [especially] coins of marginal quality. Many of these issues have dropped 10% to 25% in recent months.”

Kleinsteuber agrees with Garrett that “C and D mint dated gold coins are way off, as a rule.” Matt believes that “the $2500 and less C and D Mint coins are not significantly off in price as they are what [currently active] collectors [of these] can afford, but coins in the $10,000 plus range are off up to 30% if you need to sell this month.” Kleinsteuber concludes that, “overall, the market for better-date gold is off more than 15% over the last year.”

I noticed that there were extremely few pre-1916 Proof U.S. gold coins, of any date, available on the bourse floor. Usually, there are a startling number being offered at ANA Conventions including pre-ANA and ANA auctions.

During the pre-ANA Platinum Night event, Heritage auctioned a small group of highly NGC certified post-1865 (With Motto), Proof Liberty Head Half Eagles. An 1867, PF-67 Cameo with a CAC sticker of approval, realized $69,000. The exact same coin sold for $86,250 at a Heritage auction in Oct. 2008. The pertinent point here is that the current price is about 20% lower, and, I believe, $69,000 is a somewhat strong price in the current market. An 1898, Proof-67 Ultra Cameo, sold for $60,375. I expected it to bring slightly less.

An 1883, PF-66 Ultra Cameo realized $40,250 this time and $46,000 in early December 2008, at which point rare coin markets were falling considerably. Unsurprisingly, this 1883 Half Eagle sold for 12.5% less than its December realization at auction.

Coincidentally, both Heritage and B&M auctioned a 1904 Half Eagle ($5 gold) that is NGC certified Proof-67 Cameo. Both came from collector consignments. The one that Heritage sold is from the ‘Wisconsin Type Set’ and it realized $43,125 and B&M auctioned the Annapolis collection 1904 for $46,000. In contrast, Heritage sold another 1904 Liberty Half Eagle, also NGC certified Proof-67 Cameo, for $60,375 in May 2008. The two that recently sold each brought more than 20% less. While comparing prices without comparing actual coins can be misleading, I am attempting here to choose results that give an idea of current market levels and illuminate changes.

Mease notes “substantial activity” in Proof gold, mainstream Brilliant Proofs (up to 1907) and especially in Matte Proofs (1908-15), at the ANA Convention. The Pre-ANA and ANA auctions were not overflowing with Brilliant Proof gold, though there was a startling array of Matte and Roman Finish Proofs in the B&M sale, including many in the Annapolis collection. The Annapolis collection Roman Finish Proof 1910 Half Eagle ($5 gold) realized $48,300. It is NGC certified Proof-67, as is another, from a different consignment, which sold for $57,500.

Heritage auctioned three Matte Proof Saints ($20 gold coins) that are NGC certified as Proof-67, a 1911 and two 1912s, which realized $103,500, $69,000 and $71,875, respectively. B&M auctioned one NGC certified PF-67 1912, from the Annapolis collection, for $69,000. The values of most Matte Proof gold coins have probably dropped more than 20% since August 2008, though Proof Saints may have fared better than Matte Proof Quarter Eagles, Half Eagles and Eagles.

In Part 2, discussions involve copper, nickel and silver coins, plus very rare gold coins. Some reflections on the ANA Convention are included as well.
[ Continued in Part 2 – Click Here to Read ]

©2009 Greg Reynolds for

About the Author

Greg Reynolds is a numismatic writer, researcher and analyst. Greg has examined almost all of the greatest U.S. coins and most of the finest type coins and patterns, He has extensively researched the pedigrees of important numismatic properties, and he has written about and analyzed numerous auctions, private sales and collections.

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