The Denver ANA Convention can, for me at least, be described in one word: disappointing. I had said, in print, that I thought the 2006 would be a very strong show. What I forgot to factor in when I wrote this was that there would be three pre-show auctions which would siphon off well over $75 million of money that would have ordinarily been spent on the bourse floor. I have already mentioned the ANR sale, so I won’t go into greater detail. I did not attend the Superior sale (I decided to go home for the weekend and this was probably the only reason I was able to make it through a very grueling week of coin trading…) but I heard from a number of participants that coins went fairly cheaply and there were some excellent values to be had, especially on generic issues.
Heritage Platinum night was the final auction before the show began. I thought the selection of rare date gold was one of the weakest in recent Platinum night history. However, there were some interesting pieces that did extremely well. This included a lovely PCGS MS61 1796 No Stars quarter eagle that brought over $350,000. Most of the higher grade Charlotte and Dahlonega coins were bought back by consignors but a superb PCGS MS63 1856-C half eagle brought close to $50,000. Proof gold seemed strong as well which is no surprise given the fact that there was almost no notable Proof gold on the bourse floor.
The most interesting group of coins in the Platinum night sale was a run of Type One and Type Two double eagles from the Wyoming Collection. I purchased many of the higher quality New Orleans double eagles at levels that I felt were not cheap but not ridiculous. I wasn’t shocked by the prices that the 1854-O and the 1856-O brought ($287,500 and $316,250, respectively) as pre-sale Internet bidding was very strong for both of these coins. The highlight of the collection was the 1861 Paquet in PCGS MS61 which is one of just two pieces known. It sold to an Internet bidder for $1,610,000 which is a world record price for any Liberty Head gold coin at public auction.
The show itself began on Tuesday with PNG day. This is usually the slowest day of the show but even by usual standards this year’s edition was tremendously slow. In fact, the convention room was so lackluster and buzz-free that there were times I was very seriously wondering if we weren’t witnessing a Market Meltdown ala the infamous 1980 Central States show in Omaha where a roaring bull market ended with a whimper.
Things picked up somewhat on Wednesday and I thought that Thursday was fairly busy, although not nearly as much so for me as at previous ANA shows. Friday was my best day. I sold a number of expensive coins and met a few very interesting new collectors who are contemplating serious commitments in the arena of 19th and 20th century gold coinage.
For me one of the highlights was getting to see the collection of Bust Quarters formed by the Pogue family. It was on display at a dealer’s table and Brett Pogue showed me the coins individually and discussed their pedigrees. The Pogue collection is probably the single greatest collection of American coins formed during the modern era. I’ve had a chance to see a number of the coins in the collection and I can’t recall having ever seen a piece that was not exquisite. The hallmark of the collection is originality and it was amazing how evenly matched these coins were; with their wonderful coloration and complete originality.
After a week of being at a coin show, I have some observations about the market:
* There is no question whatsoever that the market is now very much a two-tier affair. There are really good coins and there is everything else. If you had really good coins at the ANA, you could ask nearly any price for them and they would sell. If you had boring coins, you had to price them at a good discount to generate any interest.
* This was the hardest buying show I can ever remember. While I did spend well north of $1 million dollars at the auctions, I was amazed at how bone dry the bourse floor was. When it came to deals, this year’s ANA was dry as well. I was offered two very interesting collections. I passed on both; one because I though the price was too high and on the other because it contained too many coins for me to deal with at one time. For better or worse, nearly all of the interesting fresh coins are going into the auctions.
* The quality of the typical Southern branch mint gold coin I saw was atrocious. There are some nice coins out there (I bought a few of them) but most of the Charlotte and Dahlonega coins I saw were overgraded and unoriginal. If you own crusty original C+D coinage, you have something really rare, regardless of date, denomination or grade.
* The market for Three Dollar gold pieces has softened. There were a number of pieces on the market. However, it should be pointed out that many of these were not nice and the really interesting dates in the series (such as the 1858, 1865, 1877 and the low mintage issues from the 1880’s) remained strong. The biggest correction was for higher grade coins (MS64 and better) in the common and semi-common category. MS66 Three Dollar gold pieces have dropped between 20% and 30% in recent weeks but are still worth considerably more than they were two years ago.
* The generic gold market is very soft right now. I would avoid speculating in this area unless you are able to follow pricing on a near-daily basis but it seems like some market areas are pretty good short-term plays right now.
* After getting a little panicky about the market at the beginning of the show, I am able to look at it with better perspective today, especially now that I’ve finally been able to sleep in my own bed for a night. I think we will see some short-term weakness in the market, especially in areas such as generic gold and “uninteresting” coins. But I think the market for really rare and really expensive coins is better now than it’s ever been. As long as the stock market remains flat (and it’s been as flat as a pancake for the last five years) you’ll see a strong market. The clear indicator of a weak coin market will be when stocks rebound and investors pull their money out of coins and go back to stocks.