Opportunities for Collectors in a Generic-Oriented Market

After I left what was, for me, a very productive Baltimore coin show, I was sitting in a restaurant at BWI airport, eating a crab cake. As I was finishing up, a dealer who I don’t know that well but who I respect for his knowledge and his connections came up and asked if he could join me before our respective flights left. As you can no doubt guess, our conversation almost immediately turned to the market. As this dealer was quick to point out, as far as gold coins go, we are currently in one of the more confusing market segments that either of us could remember. He made a comment that I thought was really profound. He said something along the lines of “the market is so strange right now, that if I had a fresh deal of Saints or $20 Libs it would probably get other dealers more excited than if I had a group of fresh Proof gold coins.”

At first, I thought this comment was sort of odd. But the more I thought about, the more it made sense. The market is so oriented right now towards generics and “stuff” that many dealers have all but overlooked rare coins. And I think this presents a few really interesting opportunities for buyers who have some extra cash.

Generic gold is on fire for a number of reasons. The “guns and gold” crowd is buying gold because they have a fundamental distrust of the dollar and don’t like the direction that the U.S. economy is headed. Investors are buying American Eagles and other issues to put into their IRA’s in the hope that this year’s contribution outperforms last year’s stock purchase. And large-scale telemarketers are selling the heck out of double eagles to new buyers who have left more traditional investments and like the idea of owning some physical gold.

As is always the case when an area of the coin market gets hot, other areas are forgotten. When you go to a coin show now, it is very interesting to observe what some of the very savvy major buyers are doing. I know of at least two very smart, A-level dealers who have virtually stopped buying anything numismatic and are focusing almost exclusively on ten dollar and twenty dollar gold pieces. As I mentioned above, I think this has created some great opportunities for more numismatically-oriented dealers like me and for serious collectors.

One opportunity for rare coin buyers right now is for PQ coins. With so many traditional buyers of PQ rare gold coins focused on generics I have noticed that many really nice coins are bringing almost no premium over many really schlocky coins. This is especially the case with Charlotte and Dahlonega gold. At the Baltimore show I was able to purchase a few exceptional PQ coins for literally no more than a 5% premium over the usual crappy dipped-n-stripped stuff that I saw all over the bourse floor and in the auctions.

Another opportunity right now for a more select group of buyers is expensive coins. Most dealers (myself included...) are having a hard time selling coins priced at $10,000 and up. If you follow my website you will probably note that while, as recently as last year, I might have had ten or even twenty coins priced at $10,000 or more, right now I have very few.

If you have the money and you are a collector of five and six figure coins, I think you call the shots. Unlike in 2006 or 2007 when dealers had an easy time selling big coins, dealers are far more aware today of the difficulty inherent in selling these coins. My guess is that if your favorite dealer has a $15,000 coin in stock that you’ve had your eye on since December he’s probably more willing to sell it for $13,000 now than he was a few months ago. (And if he’s not, this is a good sign that your favorite dealer may be doing something else besides selling coins in the near future).

As I mentioned before “real coins” are currently out-of-favor with many dealers and some collectors as well. What does this mean for the serious collector? It may not translate to saving money on the coins you want (although it is likely that this is true). More likely, it means that you will actually get a chance to buy some of those hard-to-find issues that might have been causing you grief in years past. Let me give you an example. At the Baltimore show, I was able to get second shot at a group of interesting double eagles. The dealer who got first shot would have ordinarily bought every coin as they were interesting, not unreasonably priced and pretty choice. Instead, he passed on about half the coins and I bought everything that was left over. Why did he pass? My guess is that some of the coins were above the price level that he is currently selling well and that much of his focus is on generics as opposed to rare coins.

There is one other opportunity for collectors right now that I think deserves a quick discussion and that is selling some of the generics that everyone seems so focused on right now. If you bought Saints or Libs more than a year ago you are probably in a good profit position right now. Let’s say you have a bunch of MS65 Saints that your average cost is $1,200 and you can sell them today for around $2,000. It seems like a smart move to me to sell your position at an $800 per coin profit (not a shabby rate of return for a one-year investment during an economic meltdown...) and use the profits to buy a rare coin or two that you have your eye on.