What's Hot/What's Not: The Coin Market As of May 2009

It’s been a longstanding tradition of mine to write a What’s Hot/What’s Not blog a few times a year. The last time I did this was, I believe, around the beginning of 2009. A lot has changed since then and, as we head into the summer, I’d like to share my thoughts about the coin market in general and United States gold coins to be more specific. In the past, it was always very easy to discuss those areas of the market that were “hot.” But with the current economic situation, it probably makes more sense to discuss what’s “not in meltdown mode” instead of what’s doing well.

I’ve been pretty surprised at, all things considered, how well the market has held up. When you consider that most people’s 401k plans are down 50-60% since September 2008 and that many people’s homes have lost 50% or so in value....the losses that we’ve seen in many parts of the coin market aren’t looking quite that bad.

Let’s take a look at a few specific areas and see how they are holding up and what my forecast is for them in the immediate future. The first is early gold. I would have to say that the early gold market has held up far better than most other areas in the coin market. Prices are down around 10-20% for the most part but demand for early gold remains strong and many early gold coins remain quite liquid. The biggest change I’ve noticed in this area of the market is related to quality. If an early gold coin is very nice (nice enough, in this case, to have received a CAC sticker) it is a reasonably easy sale even in this market. I think this is especially true with coins in the $5,000-20,000 range. The more expensive early gold issues are harder to sell right now, even if they are very nice and/or very exotic.

One area of the early gold market that seems to be experiencing a noticeable price correction is the Capped Bust Right Heraldic Eagle ten dollar gold type. I think this is very understandable when you consider that these coins got very pricey in the past few years and that many of the ones in third-party holders are just awful.

I’d have to call the Charlotte and Dahlonega market pretty spotty right now. In their February Long Beach sale, Heritage had a massive amount of C+D gold coins and many prices were very cheap. But unless you really understand the market (and saw the coins in the sale) it is hard to make bold declarations. My take on the C+D market is that there are a lot of truly wretched coins on the market right now and the bottom feeders are either out of money or able to buy the schlock so cheaply that they are dragging prices down for the decent coins. As far as really nice (or really rare) C+D gold goes, this is an entirely different market altogether. Coins like 1855-D gold dollars or 1856-D quarter eagles in wholesome Extremely Fine and better grades are doing just fine and I’m not sure they’ve dropped in value at all since September 2008.

Proof gold is another area that has clearly dropped but I’m not really certain exactly how much. It is clear that the not interesting, bright-n-shiny pieces are off at least 20% or in some cases even more. But it is hard to figure out what really nice Proof gold is worth right now since so little of it has sold in the past six months. My guess is that a high quality, low mintage issue from the 1860’s or 1870’s would bring around 10-15% less than it might of a year ago. The areas that seem hardest hit by the current Numismatic Malaise include Matte Proofs and smaller denomination Proofs from the late 19th century.

20th century gold has been hit harder by the economic downturn than 19th century gold. Expensive coins in the Indian Head series (quarter eagles, half eagles and eagles) are clearly weak. These areas were actually slumping even before September 2008 and for a variety of reasons. The Indian Head quarter eagle series had its major market maker pull way back with purchases, causing a significant drop in demand. Better date Indian Head half eagles and eagles have always been rather thinly traded and, as been the case for as long as I can remember, by happenstance both happened to be at low ebbs in their typical up and down flow. Saints had been very active until early 2007 but the market slowed down after a number of major collectors either sold their coins or cut back on their purchases. Ironically, the generic issues in these four series have been very solid performers in this market.

Two areas that seem to be holding up rather well are New Orleans gold and Type One double eagles. These are markets that are dominated by collectors and there is almost always strong demand for the limited number of choice, interesting coins that are offered for sale. I am noting a softening in the very high end of both of these areas (i.e., issues such as 1866-S No Motto double eagles) but the low to upper-mid price range of both areas seems pretty liquid right now. Coins that are in demand right now include better date New Orleans half eagles and eagles in the EF40 to Uncirculated range, Type One Philadelphia double eagles that are priced in the $2,000-7,000 range and anything in these two areas that is “exotic.” (an example of this would be a No Motto New Orleans eagle in Uncirculated that is one of fewer than four-five known).

From my own personal experience, I am noting a resurgence of interest in the last 45-60 days. I am selling considerably more coins now than I was a few months ago. But, there is a clear difference in the market. Collectors are much more selective than they were before and expensive coins (in my case, $20,000 and above) take longer to sell than they did in the past.

I expect the next few months to be pretty quiet. There are only two significant shows between now and the Summer ANA and at least one (the Baltimore show in June) is likely to have much lower attendance than the other editions of this convention. I think prices will hold firm between now and ANA with occasional spikes up and down that are mostly related to bullion movement.