For those of us who experienced the coin market’s ups and downs in the 1980’s and 1990’s, perhaps the biggest surprise has been the relatively quiet Proof gold market of the past few years. While prices for Proof gold have certainly risen since the beginning of this decade, new collectors don’t seem to regard these coins with the same degree of awe that was seen in the recent past. If you are a Proof gold collector, please do not misinterpret the introductory paragraph I just wrote. I personally love Proof gold and there is no arguing the fact that a $25,000 purchase made in this area in, say, 2001 isn’t worth considerably more today. What makes me sit back and scratch my head a little is the fact that Proof gold just doesn’t seem to be as active a market right now as early gold or key dates from the 20th century. Why?
I have a few theories. The first is the fact that a huge number of Proof gold coins quietly went off the market between 2000 to 2006 to a specific overseas buyer. Today, the supply of interesting Proof gold is the lowest I can remember. If you look at the typical major auction, there are just a few pieces of Proof gold for sale and they tend to be coins struck after 1890 and, more often than not, smaller denominations. When years go by between appearances for rare Proof gold issues, it is difficult for there to be an active two-way market which then results in a lack of pricing information or stimulus for new collectors.
This brings me to theory #2. This lack of material has meant relatively little promotion of Proof gold in the past five years or so. A dealer like me can write articles about how great Proof gold is, how rare Proof gold is and what an excellent value Proof gold is, but if I don’t have any coins available to sell to potential new collectors or investors, what’s the point? If you look back over time, various dealers were always promoting Proof gold. I think the relative lack of supply has caused marketers, retail dealers and other traditional advocates of Proof gold to search elsewhere for trophy coins to sell to new clients.
Something odd that happened in the Proof gold market was an oversupply in the late 1990’s/early 2000’s. The coin market was not especially strong back then and within a few years you had at least four huge collections of Proof gold come on the market at once (Pittman, Reed, Childs and Bass). Proof gold issues that seemed incredibly rare in 1995 all of a sudden seemed kind of common in 2002. As an example, I can remember owning no less than three Proof 1869 quarter eagles at the same time in 2002. This is an issue with an original mintage of 25 and an estimated nine or ten examples known. How was I going to convince a collector that this issue was rare when I owned three of the darn things? Needless to say, I wound-up losing money on two of them.
Another thing that hasn’t helped the Proof gold market is the lack of original coins. I think this is especially true with 20th century issues. I know that I personally pretty much quit buying coins like Proof Indian Head quarter eagles, half eagles and eagles as well as Proof Saints a few years ago because it was so incredibly hard to find coins that hadn’t either been doctored or over-conserved. And it’s often hard for me to pay $25,000, $50,000 or more for a 19th century Proof gold coin that looks like the Gallery Mint produced it last month. I can’t imagine that I’m the only dealer (or collector) who feels that way.
I think what would really give the Proof gold market the shot-in-the-arm that it needs is if a fresh, interesting collection were to come onto the market. It would be especially interesting if this were an out-of-the-woodwork collection where the coins had been bought in the 1950’s and 1960’s; before the era of dipping and conserving (and more) became so prevalent in this area.
Do you have questions or comments about Proof gold? Please feel free to contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I would be happy to assist you in any way that I can.