I was recently having a numismatic conversation with someone about an auction (sad life, I know...) and the subject of "fresh coins" came up. This person is knowledgeable and I respect his opinion. And after three minutes of discussion, I realized that his view of freshness and mine were different. But then I got to thinking, "What is a fresh coin? Are there varying degrees of freshness? Can an ugly coin be fresh?" And so on and so forth. The term "fresh" has become an overworked piece of numismatic salesmanship; along with "original," "premium quality," and "crusty." And, yes, I freely admit that I am as guilty as anyone of overusing these terms.
The entire act of buying rare coins is a leap of faith; spending thousands of dollars for little discs of metal is a bit crazy when you think about it. To make ourselves feel better about these random acts of craziness we focus on the sophistication of our purchase(s). The savvy buyer wants to feel like he is getting a fresh coin; not one that's been around the block.
I've heard that the "official" reasoning behind the concept of freshness is that its a coin that has been off the market for five to seven years. I'm going to throw out a few hypothetical situations and, if you are still following this, I'd like you to think about whether the coins, in each instance, are or aren't fresh.
Scenario 1: I recently bought an important 1865-S Normal Date $10.00 in NGC AU58. This coin hadn't been on the market since 2007 but it had appeared in two concurrent Heritage sales during that year. I purchased it from a dealer who was representing the collector who purchased it directly out of the second aforementioned Heritage sale. Is the coin fresh?
In this instance, I'd say without hesitation that the coin is fresh. After its two appearances in 2007, it had resided in a collector's holdings since 2007. This was the first time it had appeared for sale since then and it was being purchased essentially from the person who had held it for the last four years.
Scenario Two: While playing golf at a country club in Pascaloosa, an auction director at Stack's-Bowers meets Louis Eliasberg's distant third cousin Tyrone at the snack bar. They begin talking and after the auction director learns that the golfer's last name is Eliasberg he determines that after his death, Louis Eliasberg's estate gifted Tyrone with a small group of coins. They appear at auction. Are they fresh?
They are not only fresh; they are extremely desirable because of the Eliasberg name. Had these very same coins been passed down to Tyrone by his uncle Rufus Sneed, the coins would lack the cachet of the Eliasberg pedigree.
What if the consignment contained nothing more valuable than a roll of slider 1923 Peace dollars and some heavily worn Liberty nickels? This would still technically be a fresh deal, but since these are mundane numismatic items, the degree of "freshness" is irrelevant.
Scenario Three: A group of crusty Type One double eagles surfaces at a bank in Belgium. Its purchased by a French dealer who then sells it to an American dealer with an office in Paris. It is shipped back to the States and graded. The coins are sold en masse to an American dealer who has them regraded then sells the group to another American dealer. Finally, the coins are brought to a show where they are broken up and sold piece by piece. The whole process takes only a month but the coins have been owned by at least five people and have they been graded twice. Are they still fresh?
In this instance, I'd say they most certainly were. Many so-called "fresh" coins actually have a busy background history and may have passed through many levels of the Coin Pyramid before they reach the top of the numismatic food chain.
What if these exact same coins had been consigned to a major auction and then bought back and re-offered for sale by the consigning dealer? Here's where the concept of "freshness" gets tricky. You've got a bunch of coins that were as fresh as fresh can be before an unsuccessful appearance in an auction. Are they suddenly "de-freshed?"
Scenario Four: A group of neat early gold coins appear at a small antique auction in Massachusetts. Every major dealer on the east coast attends the sale and the coins bring a fortune in brutal bidding. The successful bidders send the coins into PCGS or NGC for grading and then consign them to a major Heritage sale. They are virgin, untouched and crustier than crusty. But are they truly "fresh?"
Remember at the beginning of this blog where I mentioned that my conversation partner stated that a coin has to be off the market for at least five to seven years to be considered fresh? What about these otherwise-fresh coins which did appear at a small, obscure non-numismatic auction a month before they re-appeared in a major all-coin sale? Are they simultaneously fresh and not fresh?
Scenario Five: A great little group of Proof type coins from an old-time collection walks into a coin store and are purchased by the shop's owner. The coins are very deeply toned but appear to have nice underlying surfaces with cameo contrast. He sends them to NCS where they are conserved and come back with great visuals and high grades. He then consigns them to an auction. Are these coins fresh?
In theory, yes they are fresh; after all they've never appeared at auction and haven't been available for decades. But after being conserved they've lost their "fresh" appearance and now look like any other run-of-the-mill high grade Proof type.
This brings us to an important point and one that I think introduces an element of semantics into the discussion. "Freshness" of a coin refers as much to its appearance as it does it lack of appearance(s) on the market in the past five to seven years.
If a coin has an ugly, dipped-out appearance or it is obviously conserved I personally could care less if the last time it appeared at an auction sale was in 1939. By the same token, if the coin has great color, choice surfaces and a wonderful "fresh" look I don't personally care if its been in three sales in the last two years.
I believe this point is important but it's where the whole ambiguous nature of "freshness" exists in any collectible field.
Bottom line: if a coin is uninspiring and doesn't have a good appearance, the term "fresh" doesn't apply to it; no matter how long its been off the market. But if a coin is choice and has good visual appeal, the concept of freshness takes on a whole different meaning.
What are your feelings about freshness? I'd love you to add your comments after reading this blog.