Where Have All the Nice Coins Gone?

This has been one of the “driest” times in the coin market that I can recall in terms of availability. While I have bought and sold some pretty remarkable coins so far in 2009, it has been a source of wonderment to me how few choice, interesting pieces have been available this year. And I don’t see this changing anytime soon. Why is this? I’m not certain that there is a “right” answer to this question. Being a serious ruminator, I have thought a bit about this and have some suggestions as to why we are currently experiencing the Great Coin Famine of 2009.

1. Large numbers of coins have been conserved, dipped, processed and generally monkeyed around with in the past few years. In fact, I think the number of coins that have gone from choice and original to bright-n-shiny (or, at the very worst, from decent to ugly) is far greater than anyone realizes. You know how you read the depressing articles in the newspaper where they tell you the number of Sumatran tigers in the wild has suddenly dropped to fewer than 100 because of aggressive deforestation? I think we have seen a similar situation happen with many series of U.S. coins. Really nice coins that were once accepted as being relatively available aren’t as available anymore because most of the “nice coins” aren’t so nice anymore.

2. Good coins are in strong hands and now that the economy seems to be better than it was in September 2008, people aren’t panic sellers anymore. Let me expand this thought. After people’s stock portfolios dropped dramatically in late 2008, you saw some collectors (primarily newer ones) quickly and dramatically sell large portions of their collections. But many of the collectors who had been in the coin market for a longer period of time did not panic and did not sell. (They may not have been actively buying, either, preferring to be in a “hold” position...) A year later, many of these individuals have seen their stocks rise and they are no longer feeling as worried about their investment as before. In my experience, the strong collectors of pre-2008 are more active than they were six months to a year ago and this has taken more nice coins off the market.

3. The market for nice coins is broader than most people imagine. Because of the Internet, there are more people selling more coins to more collectors. That’s not even mentioning the incredible growth of Heritage and Ebay in the last five years; two firms that have the ability to sell a tremendous amount of coins.

4. With very few exceptions, the old-time collections of coins from the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s are well-dispersed and, with them, the concentrated numbers of high quality coins has dissipated as well. If you look at auction sales from the 1970’s and 1980’s it was not uncommon for firms like Stack’s, Superior and Bowers and Merena/Bowers and Ruddy to routinely sell very cool collections of coins that had been assembled years ago. Today, these collections are almost never seen.

Will the Where Are the Nice Coins scenario change any time soon? I’m afraid not. I would expect to see some more interesting coins become available during major auctions like FUN and ANA but I think the era of abundant interesting coins is disappearing about as quickly as the aforementioned Sumatran tigers.