After the dust settles from a major coin show and a major auction, there are always a number of things that can be learned. I learned a lot from the 2008 FUN show and, more specifically, from the Heritage FUN auction.
1. If someone is wealthy and they really want a coin, price no longer appears to be an object. Case in point: the 1805 quarter that was sold as Lot 2775 in the Platinum Night 2008 session. It was graded MS66 by NGC and it brought an absolutely incredible $402,500. What is even more incredible is the fact that this exact coin sold for $74,750 one year ago (almost to the day) in Heritage’s 2007 Platinum Night session. With the click of a mouse, even the most inexperienced collector could have determined this, thanks to Heritage’s unparalleled degree of transparency. Clearly the coin market is strong right now but a nearly-six times increase in the price of a neat but not world-class coin? Gulp. And you want to know something even more amazing about this sale? The two collectors battling it out for the 1805 quarter were bidding on line and, in all probability, never saw the coin in person or had an independent dealer look at it for them. In fact, they may not have even had a bidding strategy other than: “I want this coin and must have it no matter what it sells for.” And this was just one of many prices in this sale that I regard as absolutely amazing.
2. The last time that coins sold for numbers like this at auction may well have been at the 1979 and 1980 Garrett sales. There is one HUGE difference between those numbers and today’s seemingly crazy auction prices. In 1979 and 1980 the end users for most of the six and seven figure coins that were selling at auction were dealers. Today it is virtually all collectors. That makes me think that the coin market of 2008 is a lot healthier than the admittedly twisted market of 1979 and 1980.
3. Heritage has created a model that rich new collectors trust and that they obviously find entertaining to use. Collectors can bid live on their computers even if they are in a hotel room in Kuala Lampur and they know the reserve and/or opening bid level for every coin in the auction. Unlike at most other coin auctions, these collectors know they aren’t going to get jerked around at a Heritage sale and that’s why we are seeing something unparalleled in numismatic history beginning to emerge in 2007 and 2008: exceedingly wealthy people who will never set foot in a coin show and whose identity will never be known to more than a small group of industry insiders are quietly dominating the high end of the market like never before.
4. Previously dormant areas of the market can turn around very quickly. As an example, Proof silver coins from the 1840’s and the 1850’s were extremely tough sales for many years. In fact, I can remember dark, overgraded coins from the Starr sale in 1992 languishing in the market for at least five to eight years and some of the less attractive coins from the Pittman sales taking years to find homes. Out of the blue, these early Proofs are now selling for huge prices. In the Platinum Night session, a group of four very rare Proof quarters (1841, 1844, 1845 and 1850) brought a remarkable $1,322,500 including $460,000 for the 1850 in NGC PR68. Before the auction I would have guessed that these four coins would have brought in the area of $750,000 collectively. From what I hear, there are now two or three deep-pocketed collectors who have suddenly started to put together date sets of business strike and Proof Seated coins. That fact, plus the availability of some very rare and really exceptional issues in the FUN sale created a Perfect Storm scenario and ignited a formerly-dead series. Which formerly dead series will be next?
5. In the area of branch mint gold, it was interesting to see the very strong performance of many issues. The strongest prices realized were for the key date or one-year type issues that have been in great demand for the last few years. In the gold dollar series, a very nice PCGS AU58 1855-D sold for $37,375 (Trends for this issue in this grade is $35,000). The fact that this piece was choice, original and well struck helped propel it to what has to be a record price for an 1855-D dollar in this grade. There were some very attractive 1861-D half eagles in the sale and this is an issue that has shown great demand in the last few years but very few pieces have been available. A PCGS AU58 sold for $43,125 (Trends is just $35,000) and a spectacular PCGS MS63 brought $207,000 which is a record auction price for any Dahlonega gold coin.
6. When I was discussing the “how to” details about the Carolina Circle collection with its owner, one of the most important decisions to make was whether to regrade the pieces that had been slabbed years ago or to leave them as is. Given how hard it is to find a fresh deal these days, I made the decision to keep them in their original holders. Was my choice right? At this early point, it’s hard to say with certainty as you can rest assured that virtually every one of the old holder coins will be broken out of the original holder and sent to PCGS or NGC to be regraded. But given the prices that many of these coins brought, I’d have to say that people are going to have to hit some pretty major Grading Home Runs. Here are just a few examples. An 1841-C $5.00 in an old PCGS AU53 holder sold for $13,800. With AU58 Trends at $12,000 this means the coin will have to grade at least MS61 to be a decent deal. An 1846-C in PCGS AU53 brought $12,650. With AU58 Trends at $14,000 this coin will need to grade at least AU58 and even at that level the dealer who purchased it won’t make any money. A very attractive PCGS AU50 1851-C sold for $12,650 which is considerably more than AU58 Trends. To be even a marginal deal for the buyer this coin will have to grade at least MS60 to MS61. One final half eagle of interest was a lovely PCGS AU58 that brought a rousing $17,250. With MS62 Trends at $15,000 this coin will have to grade at least MS63 to be a good deal. From AU58 to MS63 seems pretty optimistic to me...
7. The appearance of CAC coins in the FUN sale was of great interest to many market observers, myself included. I am planning to write an in-depth analysis of their performance in my next blog but the early results seem pretty strong with premiums ranging from a low of 10% to a high of well over 50%.