The Great RYK/DWN Mashup Redux: Two Numismatists, Nine Questions, Eighteen Answers

One of the most popular blogs that has appeared on this website was entitled "The Great RYK/DWN Mashup" and it appeared around two years ago. In it, I volleyed back and forth with collector Robert "RYK" Kanterman and discussed gold coins, the coin market and more. After much pleading from our respective fan clubs (OK, actually from me pleading with him to help me come up with another popular blog...) we've decided to agree to disagree, 2012 style. And away we go!

Note: For each answer, "RYK" represents Robert Kantertman while "DWN" represents Douglas Winter Numismatics.

1. If you could own any shipwreck gold coin, which would it be?

RYK: I have a strong preference for the SS Central America coins. In my opinion, they were the best preserved and best conserved. Even though I am a "dirty gold" guy, I would choose the nicest 57-S $20 I could afford, and these are available in a range of price points. I would be tempted to find one of the branch mint gold specimens, a territorial piece, or even a 55-S or 56-S $20, if I wanted to get a little more exotic.

DW: Agreed. I've become a fan of nice, natural-appearing 1857-S SSCA double eagles in the MS64 and MS65 grades. But, and this is a big but, I caution buyers to be highly selective and stick with PCGS coins in original gold foil holders that haven't changed. The coins were conserved; some very successfully and some not so successfully. Take a look at any Heritage sale and you'll see coins caked with white gunk from conservation gone awry. Yuck....

2. Should established US gold coin collectors consider territorial gold?

RYK: I would say a resounding "Yes!" A nice Bechtler piece or set complements a southern gold collection nicely, and some of the California private mint or assay gold pieces go well with any set that includes early San Francisco gold. The Colorado, Oregon, and Utah gold pieces are also a good fit for 19th century gold enthusiasts. One drawback is that they are generally fairly expensive, and might burn coin money required for the big hole in the set.

DW: I like Territorials but am not sure that I share RYK's enthusiasm for them in a rare date gold set. Now, if you are collecting Charlotte gold dollars than a C. Bechtler and A. Bechlter dollar makes sense. Or, if you collect Liberty Head double eagles from the No Motto era a Moffat double eagle makes sense. But I'm not sure how an Oregon or a Mormon piece fits into a regular issue set. And as RYK said, the big bucks that such a coin costs might take away needed funds from a regular issue that is more integral to your set.

3. What is your favorite Dahlonega coin for someone wanting just one for their collection?

RYK: In the sub-$2500, an original, choice VF or XF quarter eagle or half eagle from the mid-1840's would be my choice. They are generally well-produced, nearly 170 years old, and made from gold mined in the southeast.

At the next price level, there are two choices that I see: going up in grade from my lower price point selection or choosing a more interesting coin. I would do the latter, like an 1839-D $2.50, 1838-D $5 or 1839-D $5 in original XF-45.

If money is unlimited, I would wait for on of the super high-grade pieces that come on the market once a year or so. The most recent was the 1855-D quarter eagle in 63.

Overall, unless I was a half dime or trime collector, I would avoid the gold dollars as a consideration.

DW: For a first purchase in the $1,750-3,000 range its hard to argue with a nice EF half eagle. Look for an original coin with nice surfaces and color. They still only command a 15% premium over the junky coins I see daily.

For a "tier two" coin, I like Robert's idea of buying something snazzy like a one-year type or a first-year issue. Coins like this have become very popular and the value isn't quite as good as it used to be but the liquidity of, say, a nice EF45 1838-D half eagle is better than ever.

If you are lucky enough to have the budget for a five figure "exotic" issue, I'd look for a high grade example of something really rare, not a high grade example of a common date. I like coins like 1856-D quarter eagles, 1854-D threes, 1842-D Large Date half eagles, etc because they are so seldom seen in high grades.

I disagree with RYK about gold dollars. Don't hate on the little guys, RYK. Gold Dollars are a great series to collect and the 1849-D is a wonderful first coin for the collector. Plus its hard to not like rare dates such as the 1855-D, 1856-D, 1860-D and, most of all, the coveted 1861-D.

4. Is New Orleans gold more popular than Charlotte gold?

RYK: Ten years ago, I would have said that Charlotte gold is more popular, but today, I would say the opposite. One thing that favors New Orleans gold over Charlotte including is that more denominations are available, including the immensely popular $20 Liberty gold and the increasingly popular $10 Liberty gold. I think that the desirability of the New Orleans quarter and half eagles has increased and the scarcity of some of these issues is now more widely appreciated. In Charlotte, there is just not much new, and there appears to be a relatively steady march of coins on the market.

DW: RYK, you ignorant slut...Oh wait....

I'm afraid Robert is correct. As someone who has really helped to "create" the New Orleans market, I'm wowed at how popular these coins have become and much they have appreciated price-wise since, say, the late 1990's. And how Charlotte hasn't.

Charlotte gold is somewhat in the dregs although collector-quality coins are strong. I put an 1841-C half eagle in nice PCGS EF45 on my website the other day and got seven orders for it in less than a five or six hours. But, that's the exception and not the rule. There are alot of good Charlotte coins available right now and if a few heavy hitters decided to get serious, they could put together great sets over the course of a few years.

5. What gold coin or coins is/are currently in greatest demand from rare date gold collectors?

RYK: I think that the single coin that is in greatest demand among rare date gold coin collectors is the 1861-D $5. I recently told Doug that if he had a dozen XF-45s, he could quickly sell them all and for strong money. Honorable mention would go to the 1861-D $1, better date $5's and $10's from the 1860's, 1870-CC $10, and the 1861-O and 1879-O $20's.

DW: Ah, Grasshopper, you have learned well. Oh and where are those dozen 1861-D half eagles?

The market is very rarity-oriented right now and people are looking to buy sexy, low mintage coins with alot of "oomph." Other coins I would add to RYK's list include the 1855-D dollar, 1854-S quarter eagle, 1864 quarter eagle, nearly any pre-1800 half eagle, 1864-S half eagle, 1875 half eagle and eagle, 1841-O eagle, 1883-O eagle, etc.

6. Is collecting San Francisco gold on the rise/falling/stable?

RYK: San Francisco gold is, in my opinion, gaining in popularity. The market demand for the better date coins was evident in th e recent Littlejohn sale, and there was a very interesting San Francisco gold collection in the Heritage FUN sale that did very well, too. It would be great if a rare date gold specialist (ahem) or Western gold specialist would publish a book on SF gold (1854-1880) as I think that this could give these coins some much-needed publicity among potential collectors.

DW: Hey, thanks RYK. Make me do another book, huh?

Actually I have thought about doing a book on SF gold for many years and if I could get a partner to assist me I would (ahem, potential partner, you know who you are...). I think this would help the market for these coins. For years and years, this was a dead area. The popularity of SF double eagles, brought on by the shipwreck discoveries of the last two decades, has spurred demand for smaller denomination coins as well.

I think you have to look at SF coins as two distinct markets: the 1854-1879 coins and the post-1880 cons. The first group is suddenly doing pretty well and I personally am selling alot more interesting SF coinage today than I was two or three years ago. The second group seems dead but I can see the potential for coins like an 1888-S eagle in MS63 (to pick a random date in a random grade) with premiums so low over generic issues.

7. Should coin collectors bother with coin shows?

RYK: Absolutely! Aside from seeing lots of coins, the ability to view auction lots in person, view exhibits at the bigger shows, meet other collectors, and network with dealers makes any coin show worthwhile. I have often said that even if I were broke and had no coins to sell, I could have a great time at a coin show.

DW: To me, coins shows are somewhat of a necessary evil. With the exception of FUN and Summer ANA, most coin shows are too long and aren't always productive. But I'm jaded and have been going to 15-20 shows a year for nearly three decades.

For the collector, shows are great. You can't beat the ability to look at coins, to view auction lots, to look at exhibits, etc. I'd say you have to fine-tune your BS detector as you are going to hear alot of Newspeak.

8. Are auctions good venues to buy in?

RYK: Yes, with an asterisk. It depends a lot on factors including specifically which auction venues, have you viewed the coins, are you using an agent, are you bidding live or by proxy, etc. If you are playing sight-unseen with proxy bids over the internet, you are going to get burned a lot. If you are bidding in person or with a specialty dealer, there may be some opportunities.

I would add is that some coins that are purchased at auctions could be bought outside the auction venue for less money, less risk, and less hassle. If you are considering a 1901-S $10 in 64 in an auction, it makes no sense to bid sight-unseen and compete with others for the coin. If it is lovely and undergraded, someone smarter who has seen the coin will know that and outbid you. If the coin is a pig, you will win it. It's a classic "heads-I-win-tails-you-lose" situation.

DWN: The whole auction market has changed so much in the last five years. The simple way to put this is that they have transitioned from wholesale environments to retail environments.

Many new collectors feel safe buying at auction as they figure that "if there was an underbidder, I'm safe having paid just 5 or 10% more." This is wrong on many levels. And it is even more wrong when you consider that most collectors are bidding at auction on a sight-unseen basis and relying on images.

It's just a matter of time before buyer's premiums at sales rise to 17.5% or even 20% and at that point, I'd say that auctions might not be the best venue to buy in. You have to take this with a grain of salt coming from a dealer who is essentially competing against the auction firms both for product and for buyers but I know that I am now much less reliant on auctions both as a buyer and and a seller than I was a few years ago.

9. What makes a coin desirable?

RYK: This is a very personal thing, and if you ask ten collectors, you will get eleven different answers (because at least one collector will change his mind). The factors that go into desirability include, but are not limited to, design, condition, value, metallic composition, age, scarcity, history, provenance, originality, and market demand. I tend to rank scarcity, numismatic history potential for price appreciation and originality in the more important category, and design, condition, and value in the less important group.

DWN: As a dealer, my answer is bound to be different from RYK's. I am looking for coins that I think will sell well and that I will be excited about handling again and again down the road.

To me, the factors that make a coin desirable include: its level of value (is it a good deal or a bad deal?), its degree of absolute rarity (is its price predicated solely on its grade?), its degree of originality (has it been cleaned, processed or dipped in recent years?), its eye appeal (is it pretty?) and its level of liquidlity (if the market pulled another 2008 contraction, could I sell this coin in 30 days or less?).

Robert and I will be taking our show on the road and expect to see us at a Holiday Inn near your town sometime soon.

Do you more questions that you would like to see answered by the RYK/DWN mashup team? If I can persuade RYK to take some time away from his busy Fantasy Baseball schedule, perhaps we can have a Round Three of the Great Debate sometime soon. Email your questions to me at