What's Hot/What's Not: End of 2008 and Beginning of 2009

What a difference a year makes. I can remember sitting down in December 2007 to compile my annual What’s Hot/What’s Not list for 2008 and thinking “every area in the market is so strong right now, what am I going to force myself to list as ‘not hot?” Fast forward to December 2008 and now it seems like I have to pull ideas out of the hat like Numismatic Rabbits to come up with areas that are hot while the “not so hot” areas seems a lot easier to ponder. But perhaps I’m being a little harsh here. Just as in late 2007 where the real truth of the market was not as obvious as it seemed (in retrospect maybe not every single facet of the market was so strong...) perhaps the real truth today is that while some areas of the market do seem poised for major corrections, others will probably hold out better than eternal pessimists like myself might presume.

OK, enough of the prelude. Let’s get to the heart of the matter and discuss the Hot/Not Hot list of 2009.

I. Hot Series in Late 2008/Early 2009

a) Great Coins

My guess is that really great one-of-a-kind, super-duper, unforgettable types of coins will do well in the coming months. Obviously, only a small number of coins qualify as such. What would a few examples of these be? Taking the Heritage 2009 FUN Platinum Night sale as a base, I think examples would include the ex: Garrett 1815 half eagle graded MS64 by NGC (Lot 4062), one of two known 1842-C Small Date half eagles (this one is a PCGS MS62 and is Lot 4069) and the uber-cool NGC PR64 1842 half eagle (lot 4078) that is one of just two known and has a fantastic pedigree that goes back over a century. The market for coins like these is limited but the buyers who are likely to purchase any of these have deep pockets and are probably a bit more Recession-proof than Joe Collector.

b) Solid Collector Coins in Strongly-Collected Markets

To use a non-gold coin series as an example, take a look at the prices that interesting Large Cents have been bringing at auction in the past year. There are three different collector bases for Large Cents (early dates, middle dates and late dates) with very little overlap but similarly zealous enthusiasm. This will be severely tested in 2009 when the Naftzger middle dates, Dan Holmes and March Wells collections all go on the auction block. Will this be a scenario like the Southern Gold Tsunami of 1999-2000 when three major collections flooded the market and effectively killed it or will it foster new collectors and inject even more life into this area of market? I tend to former the later scenario.

To further add to this point, I think the collector-oriented gold coins that are the strongest right now are those in the sub-$10,000 range. The air is a little thin for coins priced above this unless they are very fresh, very choice and very interesting.

c) Type One Double Eagles

This area is strong for two reasons. The first is the good ‘ol double play impact. With any Liberty Head double eagle worth at least $1,000-1,100 in XF grades, this added value and demand for the boring, lower-grade common issues. The second is continued collector demand for higher grade and rare issues. As an example, the key 1854-O and 1856-O remain in great demand and both set record prices in 2008 at auction. I can think of at least six other dates off the top of my head (1854-S, 1855-O, 1859-O, 1860-O, 1861-O and 1863) that also set price records in 2008 whether at auction or via private treaty. I believe that demand will remain very strong in 2009 for interesting Type Ones.

II. Not Hot Series in late 2008/early 2009

a) Schlocky Overgraded Coins in Nearly Any Series

Let’s face an unavoidable truth: there are a lot of really junky coins overhanging the coin market right now. If you look on many dealers’ websites (or in their cases at a show like FUN) you are going to see some familiar faces. You know what I mean: coins that have been around for months (or years in some instances) because they are too dark or too bright or have some sort of problem that makes them low-end for the grade. In the past, there were always bottom feeder collectors and dealers who would buy low-end “stuff” at the right price but many of these individuals have been Slapped by the Recession already and are not as active as they were. Until much of this stuff leaves the market (and there are hundreds of millions of dollars worth of coins like this out there right now) expect to see them languish in dealer’s inventories (or go unsold at auction) and drag values down in the published price guides.

b) Unpopular Coins With Questionable Market Premium Factors

If a coin in a largely unpopular series is currently selling for a 10-30% premium because of a low mintage figure or a slightly low PCGS/NGC population, it is likely that it will lose much (or all) of its MPF. Some examples of these coins are a number of the quarter eagles from the 1880’s and 1890’s, certain lower mintage Three Dollar gold pieces from the 1880’s and many of the San Francisco Type Three double eagles from the 1890’s and early 1900’s in grades up to and including MS63.

c) Crappy, Processed Charlotte and Dahlonega Mint Gold As someone who is pretty widely-known as a leading dealer in Charlotte and Dahlonega gold, it pains me to look at a majority of the coins on the market today. Overgraded junque is, I’m afraid, the rule rather than the exception and a considerable amount of said material overhangs the market. Until recently, there were always bottom feeders who bought the nastiest C+D rejects at the right (read: c-h-e-a-p) price but many of these Numismatic Catfish have current cashflow crises to deal with. Personally, I’d like to take the 300-400+ truly vile C+D coins that travel like gypsies from auction to auction and inventory to inventory and melt them. This would allow the nice, original coins (which still have solid collector demand) to regain their place in the sun.

d) Indian Quarter Eagles

Dead as a doorknob. Sleeping with the fishes. Circling the drain. Numismatic Cannon Fodder. Muerto. Did I mention that this series is pretty slow right now?