Kris Oyster Interviewed, on Coins for Collectors, the future of Superior Galleries, Generic Gold, Paper Money, and more!
By Greg Reynolds
I. Who is Mr. Kris Oyster?
For around thirty-five years, Mr. Kris Oyster has been a coin dealer and he is currently well known on the nationwide show circuit. As the managing director of numismatics for DGSE, Oyster rose to fame when DGSE acquired Superior Galleries in 2007, as Superior has been a fixture in the coin business for many decades. Now, for the first time, he has agreed to be interviewed for a nationwide audience.
Greg Reynolds: Are you Managing Director of Numismatics for both DGSE and Superior Galleries? What does this job entail?
Kris Oyster: Yes, for both, and, as managing director, I am responsible for all aspects of the numismatic division of DGSE Companies nationwide .
GR: How long has DGSE been in business?
KO: DGSE has been a big name in rare coins since the firm was [organized] in 1977. I have been a coin dealer since the mid 1970’s. I became involved with DGSE in 1997. DGSE is a publicly traded company.
GR: Is DGSE well known to people in Texas?
KO: Dallas Gold and Silver is a household name in the Southwest. DGSE began in a local mall and has expanded into a hundred million dollar business. We are a major wholesaler and retailers of fine jewelry and diamonds as well as sports memorabilia,bullion products, rare coins and currency. Our revenue in 2008 was in excess of $105 million dollars. Rare coins and currency accounted for $17 million dollars of these sales in 2008. We are at almost all major coin shows as well as most regional venues. We have showrooms in Dallas and Euless, Texas, also near Charleston, South Carolina, and of course our Superior Galleries and Superior Gold and Diamond operations in Woodland Hills [in Los Angeles County]. My office is at the headquarters in Dallas. Gary Shepherd is our coin man in Euless and Brian Cohn handles our Charleston area operation.
GR: Do you serve collectors at all locations?
Yes, we even have a large cent expert on staff, Mike McKee. When I met Mike, he was 12 years old. He come into the DGSE headquarters store with his dad to buy [better-date] Lincoln pennies for his collection. We even buy and sell ancient coins. Ronnie Deschane is our on-hand consultant for ancients. Our coin expert in Euless, Gary Shepard, specializes in circulated U.S. coins that thousands of collectors want to buy, like Indian cents, Shield nickels, Barber coins, Morgan dollars, Liberty Seated series, and Extremely Fine to MS-63 19th century gold coins. We do a large business in not so expensive collector coins. We sell a big mix of collector coins, from colonial times to 2009 Proof sets. When I say that all collectors are welcome, I really mean it.
GR: What are your specialties?
KO: U.S. gold coins, U.S. paper money, and Morgan dollars.
II. Oyster’s Background and Perspective
GR: How did you get started in coins?
KO: I started as a kid collecting coins with the [standard] blue folders. I collected Mercury Dimes, Washington Quarters, Walking Liberty Half Dollars, and of course Lincoln Pennies. I would to the bank and buy rolls of pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters and half dollars. I would return the rolls and ask for more. Back then, you could open a savings account for five bucks. So, I did business with more than one bank. I had friends who collected too. I think I started when I was around ten or eleven years old. I never did put together a good set of Indians. There were not that many in the rolls. I only got a few dates of Indian Head pennies.
GR: What were your favorite coins as a kid?
KO: I really liked Mercury Head dimes. I was fascinated by the design.
GR: Did you find a 1916-D in a roll?
KO: I found a lot of 1916s but never a 16-D. I found 1921s. I found every other date in the Merc set. In the blue folder, there was a blue tab over the 1916-D hole that said “Rare” so I did not really expect to find it.
GR: Did you every buy a 1916-D dime later in life to complete the set?
KO: I never did. Now, I handle a lot of 1916-D dimes every year. As a dealer, I get to handle, and see a lot more, famous coins than I [ever did as a collector].
GR: Did you keep collecting when you were in high school?
KO: Yes, when I was in high school, I never went to a coin show or coin store. I found plenty of neat coins in change, including Standing Liberty Quarters and War Nickels [1942 to ’45 Jefferson nickels of a special alloy]. I was fascinated by War Nickels, by their different color and their big mintmarks. Also, I had an empty Tang jar that was full of 1943 steel pennies that I found in change or in rolls.
KO continues: When I was probably around nineteen years old, my brother and I had a booth at a local flea market. We put my coins out for folks to see. People eagerly bought them. So, my brother and I started aggressively buying and selling coins. We ran ads in a newspaper. Our business grew and grew. A long time later, our business became part of DGSE.
GR: Do you continue to collect coins?
KO: Even after I became a dealer, I kept collecting. I have always had the collector mentality. I admit that I do not spend much of my income on rarities. Today, I am pleased just to be able to handle many rare coins. I do not have to own them all.
GR: Do DGSE and Superior handle a wide variety of rare coins?
KO: We handle certified and non-certified, primarily U.S. coins. We dabble in foreign also.
GR: How do you feel about the grading services?
KO: I am fond of NGC and PCGS. They have certainly been the industry standard. They continue to maintain quality and integrity for our industry. ANACS is a decent service. ANACS does an excellent job of authenticating key date coins. Also, PCGS currency and PMG are doing a good job with paper money. They are dependable.
GR: Do you think that grade-inflation is a big problem?
KO: It is a problem, not that big. Over the last three years, NGC and PCGS have done a good job of controlling grade-inflation. I have confidence in these two services.
GR: Are you concerned about the dealers who continually remove coins from holders and resubmit them in hopes of receiving higher grades?
KO: The rule is probably that they will get the same or lower grades. I do not think that the crackout game is all that it is cracked up to be. You hear about the home runs, but you will never hear about the ten or twenty times when the crackout dealer gets the same or lower grades. There are a lot more strike-outs than home runs.
GR: Do you think that coin doctoring a problem?
KO: It is a problem, but I think that, over the last two or three years, the grading services have done a good job of refusing to grade doctored coins. The grading services employ sophisticated methods to [detect] doctored coins. It is not easy and grading is a human process. I do not think it will ever make sense to grade coins with a computer. A lot of things go into a coin’s grade. Some of the things [relate to] eye appeal. Nobody’s perfect. The two leading services are trying hard and I think that they do a good job, even better than the job they were doing a few years ago.
GR: What do you think of the CAC?
KO: CAC is a good service. It is always helpful to get another opinion from top experts.
GR: Do you pay a premium for CAC stickered coins?
KO: I do because when I sell them I can get a premium for them.
GR: Do you think that the CAC provides a service that is really needed?
KO: It gives an extra piece of mind to the skeptical collector. Besides, a 64 grade coin can be a 64.1 or a 64.7; the coin that grades 64.7 is worthy of a CAC sticker. Graders are just human. A CAC sticker enhances the value of some coins more than others.
GR: As for inexpensive coins, which ones do you think are appealing, logical choices for collectors who have relatively low budgets?
KO: The greatest coins for collectors on relatively low budgets would be Indian Head pennies, Buffalo Nickels, Mercury Dimes, and Walking Liberty Halves. I really like the design of the Standing Liberty Quarter. It has great representations of Miss Liberty, a flying eagle, a shield, and neat stars. All these series could be collected by those collectors who spend less than $10 a coin. For those who can spend up to $100 for each coin, they can buy many of them in relatively high-grade condition.
GR: Suppose, in an imaginary setting, you were given $10 million to spend on coins, subject to the condition that you agree to never profit from the sale of the coins that you acquire. You would thus be a pure collector. You would not be permitted to ever sell the coins that you acquire with these funds, and, after you die, the coins would be donated to a charity that you would not be permitted to choose.
KO: I would buy many, higher grade, rare date U.S. gold coins. I really enjoy handling Pan Pac fifties in 65 or higher grades, which are stunning. I would buy a pair in 66 grade. Mostly, I would collect $20 Liberties by date, in MS-63 or higher. When I cannot find one that grades at least 63, I would try for a nice AU. I would try to buy the NGC certified AU-55 1870-CC that I saw last year. It is a real showstopper. It is probably the finest known 1870-CC. I would also buy Type 1 and Type 2 Double Eagles in MS-65 grade. These are rare and cool.
KO continues: Long ago, the $20 Liberties were often discounted, dismissed, or not collected, because people thought they were not real pretty coins. From the 1850s to the early 1900s, [when they circulated,] these coins got less respect than they should have gotten. Almost all of them got spent often, tossed around, and generally beat-up. It is nice to see ones that escaped excessive handling and have not too many marks. [Moreover,] I think $20 Liberties are an important part of history. In the 19th century, a lot of people did not trust checks or even paper money. [Consider] the way of life in the West. There was not a banking system that served everybody. People used $20 Liberties to buy equipment, [luxury] goods, houses, acreage, horses, and cows. They were a big part of American life in the second half of the 19th century. Saint Gaudens twenties did not circulate as much. By [the second decade of the 20th Century], the Federal Reserve System was set up and all the large denom gold certificates, $20 up to $1000, really circulated; coins were kept as a backup to the currency at the time. To me, $20 Liberties have more historical meaning than $20 Saints. Though I like all twenties, I would [prefer] a complete set of $20 Liberties. [Additionally,] I would try for a really nice set of Bust $10 gold coins; these are cool, historical, and hard to find without too many marks and problems. They were big money items in their time. Humbert octagonal $50 slugs were also the big money items of their time and place. They are neat, really big coins and they are part of California Gold Rush history. I would collect all the varieties.
III. Superior Galleries
Greg Reynolds: Why did DGSE move Superior Galleries From Beverly Hills to Woodland Hills?
Kris Oyster: There are more collectors in the Woodland Hills area. There are five million people in the San Fernando valley. There, we buy and sell a lot of coins and jewelry, more than we were doing in Beverly Hills. We have more space and more customers in Woodland Hills and there is plenty of free parking. Parking is painful in Beverly Hills.
GR: Are there any current plans for Superior Galleries auctions?
KO: Not at the current time, but we are a flexible corporation. The auction business has been slow over the past couple years for [almost] everyone. We will consider auctions in the future. For most coins, not ultra rarities or really special items, many buyers in auctions are dealers who will not pay more for coins than we will. For now, we think that we can now better serve our customers by buying and selling coins outright.
GR: What are the plans for the future of Superior?
KO: We are building new websites for Superior and other branches of Dallas Gold & Silver Exchange. Superior is a great name; it has been around since 1929. Superior has always been a respected and trusted dealer of rare coins. We are going to carry that tradition forward. We are serving people who have been Superior customers for years. Our goal is to be a full service coin dealer for people of all income levels, from basic collector coins to high-end rarities. We have something for everyone. We also pride ourselves in being a leading dealer of rare currency. Soon, there will be a lot of scarce coins and notes available on the Superior website.
GR: How is Superior now different from it was in the past?
KO: We are more aggressive buyers. In the past, Superior was a leading auction company. Now, Superior and DGSE spend tens of millions buying and selling most everything, rare coins, generic coins, bullion, high end watches, jewelry of all sorts, and sports memorabilia. We always have millions available to buy from people who want money right away.
GR: There have been changes in personnel at Superior. Do you wish to put forth an announcement?
KO: I wish to announce the addition of Aaron Ware as numismatic manager of Superior Galleries. He is from Nevada and is [a specialist] in Carson City coins. He has years of experience in dealing in all types of U.S. coins.
IV. Generic Gold
GR: Are you a very active dealer in generic gold?
KO: Yes, [in terms of certified generics], we deal in PCGS and NGC Liberty, Indian Head and Saint Gaudens gold coins, common dates in AU-50 to MS-65 [grade]. When there is a shortage of bullion on the market, then many more investors turn to generic gold and are willing to pay premiums to insure immediate delivery.
GR; Which generic gold issue is the most popular?
KO: PCGS or NGC certified MS-64 Saint Gaudens $20 gold coins of common Philadelphia dates, 1908, 1924 to 1928. They are currently trading for $500 over the price of gold.
GR: Do PCGS certified Saints bring the same prices as NGC certified Saints?
GR: How about PCGS or NGC certified gold coins with CAC stickers of approval?
KO: For most generic gold coins, CAC stickers add some extra value.
GR: For PCGS or NGC certified MS-66 grade, common-date Saints, would a a CAC sticker be worth much of a premium?
KO: MS-66 Saints with CAC stickers bring 10 to 20% more.
GR: Let us talk more about the premium that PCGS or NGC certified, common date Saints realize over the price of gold. Has this premium fluctuated much over the past couple of years?
KO: Two years ago, a MS-64 Saint would trade at about $75 over the price of gold, and a MS-63 for just $40 to $50 over the gold price. In early December 2009, MS-64 Saints got to $2040 when gold was around $1150. So, the premium peaked at about $900!
GR: I wonder if you truly intended to answer my last question in the way that you did. In two years, did the premium, over the bullion price of gold, for MS-64 grade Saints really increase from $75 to $900?
KO: Yes, it has proven to be fascinating. The investors [who] bought them for a $75 premium, when gold was in the $600 to $800 per ounce range, look like geniuses now.
GR: Do you think that the premiums will settle at a certain level?
KO: The premiums will always remain higher than they were before all this started in 2008. I think that economic uncertainty, government bailouts and government budget deficits, and the declining value of dollar, have affected the prices for generic gold, and will for a long period of time.
GR: Did premiums also greatly increase for PCGS or NGC certified MS-63 grade Saints?
KO: In May 2008, at the TNA show in Fort Worth, Texas, I was selling MS 63 [certified] Saints at $45 over spot. During much of 2009, I was selling the same coins as fast as I could buy them at $500 over spot.
GR: Was the price of gold in the same range in early 2009 as it was in early 2008? If so, why would there be such a shift in demand for common-date Saints?
KO: Yes, the same range. Maybe economic problems and government budget deficits have sparked more interest in gold as a safe haven for cash?
GR: What about the premiums for not certified common-date Saints or Liberty Head gold coins?
KO: Raw $20 gold pieces that were being melted in 2008 were bringing $275 over spot in 2009!
GR: In 2008, were people really melting many Liberty Head Double Eagles ($20 gold coins)?
KO: Yes, in 2008, there was no demand for generic low grade US gold coins and many low-grade coins, with problems, were simply melted for the value of the gold.
GR: In 2009, were buyers of generic gold looking primarily for Double Eagles?
KO: Double Eagles are the most popular, but all gold coins were in strong demand across the board, and still are in 2010 but not as much.
GR: Do you think that collectors should sell their MS-60 to -64 grade common date, 20th century gold coins?
KO: I sold mine, but who knows? Either the price of gold [bullion] or the premiums could skyrocket. No one can predict the future.
V. Paper Money
GR: What are your favorite notes?
KO: Large Size 1918 series, $500 and $1000 bills; I think they are wonderful looking notes. I love the small size $5000 and $10000 bills. They are fantastic representations of the strength of U.S. currency. I am fascinated by obsolete banknotes; some are really beautiful, with gorgeous vignettes. Some of these are fascinating, historical notes; Many look great, are artistic, are important pieces of history, and are readily available to collectors.
GR: Which is the rarest National Banknote that you have ever handled?
KO: I handled a Barnwell, South Carolina $5 National. It is one of only three of the bank [of any denomination]. All are $5 notes like this one. This was part of an estate [holding] that was purchased by our people at our store in South Carolina. There are lots of currency collectors in South Carolina and very few banks [in that state] issued Nationals.
GR: Have you bought and sold many rare notes?
KO: I really enjoyed handling some important rarities, including one of the finest known $10,000 notes from the Binion Display, as well as many extremely rare Texas National Banknotes. I have bought and sold three of the thirteen existing 1918 $500 Federal Reserve Notes (FRN) of the Kansas City district. Also, last year, I had a 1928 Boston District $1000 FRN, one of less than fourteen known. It resides in a PMG VF25 holder.
GR: Are many of your customers enthusiastic about rare notes?
KO: Yes, for example, last year, I sold a 1918 $1000 FRN of the San Francisco District PMG AU55. We also sold the same customer a coffee table book on paper money,“100 greatest American Currency Notes,” and the actual note we sold him was the note used in the illustration in the book. He was very happy to take his treasure home, #74 in the book. [Next,] he purchased a 1918 $500, [which is listed as] #89 in this book, although not the illustration note; his far outshines [the illustrated] example. His is a rare Kansas City District, PCGS [graded] AU 55 note. He is very satisfied.
2010 Greg Reynolds
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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