For better or worse, the current market has come to heavily rely on auction prices to determine the value of a wide range of coins. I am often asked: do auction prices represent wholesale or retail? A one word answer: both. The coin market is quite possibly the most transparent market there is in any hobby or collectible. PCGS, NGC, and Heritage provide comprehensive databases for nearly any major issue of United States coin, in a variety of grades. In theory, even an unknowledgeable collector now has access to records which only the most sophisticated dealers and collectors could access as recently as a decade ago.Read More
I had a personal investment in the recent sale of Dr. Steven Duckor’s gold dollar collection at the Heritage 2014 Platinum Night auction session. Steve is a good personal friend of mine (and of my wife Irma) so we wanted to be there to cheer him on. I also helped him assemble the set and, as a dealer, you don’t often get the chance to sit with a client while his world-class collection is being sold at auction.Read More
The ANA week has never been easy for a small numismatic firm like mine to handle, and when I learned that this year’s version included not one but two companies’ auctions I let out an audible groan. This was repeated when I saw the offerings online: both Heritage and Stack's Bowers had impressive sales, and I would need to carefully view them.
I booked flights to Orange County and Dallas to view the sales in person and at my leisure. One thing I have learned about auctions is that viewing conditions have to be ideal. For me this means the following: my special coin lamp, my music played loud over headphones, no distractions, and plenty of time to take notes on the coins I’m most interested in. I can’t do this at a coin show as, by then, my nerves are frazzled and I can’t properly concentrate. And when I don’t pay full attention, I make mistakes. In my level of dealing, a small mistake can equate to thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars so I want to be cautious, careful, and critical.
The sales were very successful for me. I spent in excess of $2 million dollars including a record-setting purchase of the ultra-rare 1861 Paquet double eagle. (But that’s another story.) The tale I want to tell here is about three coins which I have chosen for what I believe to be their overall level of interest to gold coin enthusiasts.
1. The One I Got at My Price
Lot 11077, Stack's Bowers. 1804 Small 8 over Large 8 half eagle, PCGS AU55, Old Green Holder.
A good client of mine has been searching for the “right” 1804 half eagle for the better part of two years. We’ve bid on a few at auction and always come up just a hair short; on others I’ve put the kibosh to the coin due to quality issues. The above referenced coin, after I saw it in person, was exactly what this collector would want and I knew it was a coin he would be excited about.
After we discussed it on the phone, we debated the value. I told him it was a coin I would gladly bid $10,000 on to stock it for my inventory. We decided to go to $11,000 in the sale, and I was told, “Don’t let this one get away.”
The coin opened at $9,000 and another floor bidder jumped in at $10,000. I bid $11,000 and waited to see if my bid would be topped. After a long pause, it wasn’t, and the coin was mine.
The collector texted me about fifteen seconds after the lot had closed and asked, “Was that our bid?” When I told him it was, I got back a short but rewarding text: “YESSSS!!!!!!!” He was happy, I was happy, and the coin now has a great new home where it will be appreciated for years and years.
2. The One I Ripped
Lot 12010, Stack's Bowers. 1854-S double eagle, PCGS MS64, ex SS Central America.
I’m going to be honest. It took me longer to “like” the SSCA coins than most gold coin experts. I had trouble with the coins due to the conservation and the lack of “originality.” But as time has marched on, I have come to like these coins, and certain coins from this wreck really excite me. This 1854-S was one coin that truly floated my boat.
This specific coin was the single finest of only 25 examples of this date found on the S.S. Central America. In addition, the 1854-S is a condition rarity in the Type One double eagle series, and it is desirable as the first double eagle from the brand new San Francisco mint. Not to mention the fact in person this coin was outstanding; quite possibly the best 1854-S double eagle I had ever seen and clearly finer, in my opinion, than the PCGS MS65 which sold for $115,000 in the Heritage 10/08 auction.
With this information at hand, I decided that I would bid up to $80,000 hammer on this coin and I might even stretch a bit if I had to. The coin, it turned out, was reserved by the consignor at $57,500. This meant that a $60,000 bid was required for a potential sale. The auctioneer opened the lot, I bid, and in a matter of seconds, it was hammered to me at $60,000, meaning I purchased it all in at $70,500. I considered this to be an excellent purchase and I grinned quietly, waiting for my next lot to come up in a few minutes.
3. The One That Got Away
Lot 4120, Heritage. 1865-S double eagle, NGC Improperly Cleaned, Uncirculated Details.
I don’t generally buy “problem coins” and I never, ever, ever doctor said pieces, but this lot was a really big riddle to me. It was the first and only truly Gem example of this date that I had ever seen except for one big problem: it had been lightly cleaned around the date years ago. Without this cleaning, this was a slam-dunk MS65 and, as an example with original surfaces (i.e., not from the Brother Johnathan or Republic shipwrecks) it could easily be worth $50,000++.
I had a dealer friend who is smarter than I am about such coins look at this and he agreed with me that it was a “no grade” now and likely a “no grade” in the foreseeable future. Still, I was haunted by this coin, and I threw in a bid of $5,000 just for the heck of it.
The coin wound up bringing $11,162.50, and I can guess which dealer bought it even without knowing the answer. I will be on the lookout for this coin in the near future and I won’t be shocked if it is in a “regular” MS65 holder and priced at some crazy number.
So there you have it: two sales, three coins, and one very tired dealer’s opinions. I greatly enjoyed my participation in both of these sales, and thanks go to Stack's Bowers and Heritage for putting on such a great group of coin auctions.
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If you collect very rare or finest known coins, figuring out what to pay for an item that you need for your collection can be difficult. Here is a real-life example of how I came up with what I believe to be an accurate value for a one-of-a-kind coin. The coin that we are going to use as our Coin Pricing Lab Experiment is the Finest Known 1860-C half eagle; an item that my firm recently handled.Read More