Pre-FUN Observations

I think this year's FUN show will reveal alot about the direction of the market for the year. On Wall Street, it's a known fact that if January is strong, the rest of the year is as well. I can't state this with total certainty as far as coins go but my experience is that a strong FUN generally means the rest of the year will be good as well. Early reports from the pre-FUN show (which I am not attending) are interersting. Some dealers clearly "get" the fact that the market isn't as strong as it was and that their coins need to be repriced to sell. Others appear to be in strong denial mode. If you notice minimal changes in your favorite dealer's inventory after this show, you'll quickly figure out if he or she "gets" it or not.

For me, a problem at past FUN shows has been a lack of material. I'm not sure this will be the case this year. I've already bought some pretty outstanding new coins and I have the feeling that buying this year will not be as hard as in the past. Plus there is always the looming specter of $100 milion+ in coins at the auctions.

Someone asked me the other day what the keys will be to a dealer's success (or lack of it) in 2009. I think it boils down to three simple things: ample capitalization, having good clients and having established programs to sell into. Any dealer who is weak in at least two of these three areas is in for a long year.

I'm not totally certain that the rare date gold market is going to be as easy to analyze post-FUN as is, say, the type coin or widget markets. None of the major auctions are especially strong in any of the important areas of dated gold. Early indications appear that nice pre-1834 gold seems to be doing fine, particularly if the coins have been approved by CAC. The Heritage sale contains an important collection of Indian Head eagles so we will, no doubt, get a feel for what gem examples of the rarities in this aerea are worth. But I'm afraid that areas like C+D gold, TYpe One and Two double eagles and Carson City issues won't be as easy to gauge; at least not for the next month or two.

Numismatics and the Current Economy

If you follow economic news in even the most cursory fashion you are, no doubt, aware of the fact that the news has been pretty grim for the last few days. Lehman Brothers is gone, Merrill Lynch has been sold in a distress situation to Bank of America, AIG is looking perilous and the stock market yesterday had its single worst day since immediately after 9/11. How does this affect the rare coin market? The first thing to remember about the coin market is that no matter how “big” we’d like to say it is, in reality it is a tiny, tiny blip on the financial horizon. Most investors don’t know that there is a coin market, let alone understand the actual dynamics behind it. So from the “drag down” perspective I don’t think we have a lot to worry about. In other words, your set of Gold Dollars isn’t going to lose X% of its value because AIG stock is in the proverbial toilet.

It is pretty obvious to me that the short term affect of the meltdown of the financial sector is not good for the coin market. When the stock market loses close to 5% of its total value in one day and the economic picture looks painful (to say the least), many people’s focus turns away from pursuits like coins. By the same token, you could say that in these times, people turn to pleasurable pursuits like coins exactly because of the fact that it helps them forget about the Big Picture.

I think the medium to long term outlook for the coin market may be better than most realize. Once things settle down (at least until the next round of consolidation in the financial sector) people are going to be seeking new asset classes and markets like precious metals and coins may possibly prove appealing to a new wave of investors.

If you have read this blog over the last few years, you know how I feel about short-term investments in coins. I still do not like being short in any area of numismatics, but if gold continues to drop I would strongly consider buying something like generic double eagles to have a position. It seems to me that the long-term outlook for gold is rosy and given the scary things that we are seeing right now with banks and financial institutions, having something tangible like a little gold position might not be such a bad decision.

I do not expect to see really good coins getting cheaper any time soon. If you are a serious long-term collector, this is a good time to reflect on what your goals are. Hopefully, you didn’t expect to be in and out of the market in a year or two and, hopefully, you will not panic and decide to dump your coins.

I think this is an important point to address. Panic selling is never a smart thing to do and I think anyone who takes their collection to the next major show and announces that they “have to sell” is setting themselves up to get sliced and diced. Yes, the economy looks scary right now. But hopefully you haven’t been buying coins with funds you need for essentials (food, clothing, shelter, etc.). Just sit back, take and a deep breath and enjoy what you’ve got.

I’ve stated repeatedly that your coin collection needs to be viewed as a long-term work in progress. If the market goes up, that’s great. You’ll make some money on your purchases and everybody likes some paper or actual profits. If the market goes down, you might be able to buy the key date that seemed pricey a few months ago for 75 or 80 cents on the dollar. We’ve been in a bull market that’s lasted a long time and many new collectors are spoiled. Just ask a collector who was active in the 1980’s and 1990’s what it was like to slog through a seemingly unending bear market.

The bottom line is I’m not ready to call an end to the Good Times in the coin market. I think people will be more tentative in the next few weeks because of the financial crisis and the overall weakness in precious metals but we’ll continue to see strong prices for nice coins whether at auction or via private treaty sales. The 4th quarter of 2008 is certainly going to be interesting, to say the least.

2008 Crystal Ball Survey - Part Two

In the second part of this series, I reveal my answers to the final question from the Rosen 2007-2008 Crystal Ball survey. There are some very interesting questions asked here and some controversial answers so read on for my insights into the current State of the Market. For the following six (6) questions I ask you for your Best Buy selections in a number of series. Please detail why you made your picks and the potential you see for them.

10. Your Best Buys for U.S. Type Coins.

a. Seated Dimes, Quarters and Half Dollars in Mint State-64 to Mint State-66. I think you will see significant appreciation in this area in the coming year or two. b. Barber Dimes, Quarter and Half Dollars in MS64 to MS66 and PR64 to PR66. They aren’t the most attractive coins in the world from the standpoint of design but they are very cheap right now. You can buy a pleasing MS65 Barber Dime for less than $500. c. Gem Trade Dollars. I just never seem to see true MS65 Trade Dollars. Current Bluesheet bid for MS65’s is something like $7,000. They are great deals at double to triple this price. d. Large Size Bust Dimes and Quarters in just about any grade from VF and up. For every one of these you see, there are about ten Bust Halves. If I were going to start collecting coins I think I’d do a date set of Large Size Bust Dimes and maybe expand it to include all of the Redbook varieties. Most of the dates can be bought in nice VF and EF for less than a few thousand dollars.

11. Your Best Buys for Gold Coins.

a. Any Charlotte or Dahlonega gold coin that hasn’t been scrubbed in EF and AU grades. There are fewer of these remaining than people realize. b. Better date $5 Indians and $10 Indians. In the former I really like the S mint dates in MS64 and MS65. In the latter I like virtually any P mint not dated 1911, 1926 or 1932 as well as the tough mintmarked dates in MS64 and MS65. c. Affordable Proof gold. I find that whenever I have an interesting piece of Proof gold in stock for less than $20,000 it sells quickly. d. Gem Matte Proof gold that hasn’t been conserved. Does any exist outside of museums or old-time collections? e. MS66 $2.50 Libs. Seems like they should have a greater premium over MS65’s than they currently do. This is a reflection of the fact that today’s 66’s are not much nicer than most 65’s. If grading tightens on this series, I think the 66’s have real upside.

12. Your Best Buys for Silver Dollars.

a. Semi-Key Morgan Dollars in MS65. I like dates like the 1898-S,1899-S and 1900-S. b. Rare date Peace Dollars in accurately graded MS65. If someone would ever take the time to write a really good collector guide to this series and promote them half as well as Morgans have been, these coins would really take off. They are a great value.

13. Your Best Buys for U.S. Commemoratives.

I’m not enthusiastic about any Commems but if I had to pick any, I’d stick with the issues from the 1910’s and 1920’s in MS66 with attractive light to medium color.

14. Your Best Buys for 20th century collector series.

a. Peace Dollars in MS65, as mentioned above. b. Non Full Head Standing Liberty Quarters. I don’t know this series very well but the non-FH’s seem cheap compared to the FH coins. c. Any Proof Barber coins which are decent looking and priced under $1,000. Good value!!

15. Your Best Buys for any other area of your choice.

a. One year type coins or coins with a good story. In the area of dated gold this entails issues like 1861-D gold dollars and half eagles, 1838-C&D quarter eagles and half eagles, 1839-C&D quarter eagles and half eagles, 1838 eagles, etc. As people move more towards type collecting within the dated series, we are seeing a huge premium paid for significant one-year type, first-year-of-issues, etc. b. Pretty coins that don’t command stratospheric premiums. I look through thousands of coins at every show at auction and am amazed at how few are pretty. If you can buy, say, an MS66 Barber Quarter with lovely color for a 10-15% premium over a dipped-out, mediocre example I think this is great value. c. Some ultra-rare coins are still good deals. I think the 1876-CC Twenty Cent Piece has the potential to be a $750,000-1,000,000 coin in the not-so-distant future. d. Proof Bust coins are still fair value, especially in the PR64 and PR65 grades. But beware of examples in slabs that are not Proofs. As a smart dealer recently told me, “if it doesn’t look like a Proof...it ain’t!” e. Colonials and Early Americana. This is an area that shouldn’t be tackled without an expert’s help but how can you not love coins like New Jersey or Connecticut Coppers in attractive middle grades for less than $1,000 per coin? I wouldn’t necessarily look at this area as an “investment” but I think it is one place where a comparatively small collecting budget can still go a long, long way.

16. The sheer scope and market value of Modern Coins has grown greatly over the years such that Classic U.S. coins are facing increasingly strong competition for collector interest. A) What does this mean for the future of the Classic Coin market?

There are always going to be collectors who prefer classic coins but I would expect that a sizable number of the new collectors who enter the market in the coming years will focus on moderns. Many younger collectors just don’t “get” classic coins and they vastly prefer modern issues. I’ve personally learned to accept this as a fact, just like I’ve come to accept the fact that there are at least two generations who barely know what a vinyl record is and who get all their music via MP3’s and online downloads.

B) What does it mean for the potential of the Modern Coin marketplace?

I think there are great opportunities for marketers and dealers in the modern coin market. It’s going to be interesting to see if this market is structured like the classic coin market or if it gets an entirely new structure. My guess is that there is some young guy out there who is going to become the Sean Fanning of the modern coin market—he’s going to develop the “killer app” that makes him a fortune and which revolutionizes the way modern coins are collected and bought/sold. I think collectors should be encouraged to specialize in whatever turns them on and if happens to be modern coins then more power to them!

17. Do you think rare coins are priced too cheap in relation to other investment areas? Compare to art, antiques, stocks, real estate, you name it.

As someone who is extremely interested in art, I find coins to be absurdly cheap. To be a serious player right now in an area like Contemporary Art, you are looking at spending $1 million++ for something that’s good but not great. I personally love 15th and 16th century Italian art but no matter how rich I was, I couldn’t buy any great works—they are essentially all in museums. But in the coin market you can buy museum quality rarities for $20,000. You need to remember, though, that there is one critical difference between art and coins. When you buy art, you hang it on the wall and impress your friends with your taste and high degree of sophistication. You can’t hang a coin on the wall and even if you could it’s way too small to make you the envy of your town’s Swanky People. I wouldn’t compare coins to real estate or stocks as that’s way too “apples to oranges” in context.

18. A) What one series strikes you as particularly undervalued?

There are lots of series I like but two that come to mind are Liberty Seated half dollars and New Orleans eagles. Both are big, both are relatively attractive from a design standpoint and both offer collectors an area where $5,000-10,000 will buy you something really special.

B) What dates and grades in that series make the most sense for an investor to buy?

In Seated half dollars, I like the No Motto New Orleans coins in MS63 and better, especially those with attractive light to medium natural color. The survival rate of these issues is very low and most are very rare in Uncirculated, despite being priced at less than $7,500 per coin for the most part. In New Orleans Liberty Eagles I like the No Motto coins in original, unprocessed AU and above and I like the With Motto coins in MS63 and better.

What is their upside potential?

I think many of the Seated half dollars that I mentioned above that currently trade for $5,000-7,500 could double within the next five years, especially if more people start collecting Seated half dollars by date. The good quality New Orleans eagles are already bringing well over CDN Bid when they sell at auction but the price reporting for these issues is about a year or two behind the actual market.

19. What are your one, two, or three most favorite coins in all of numismatics that you would qualify as "sleepers," very undervalued?

a. Truly original, accurately graded C&D mint gold coins in About Uncirculated. I wouldn’t be surprised if coins like this start bringing huge premiums over their scrubby counterparts in the near future. b. Just about any No Motto Seated quarter or half dollar in MS64 or better. Forget the original mintage figures of these coins as they are very rare. You can also forget the current pricing guides as they typically bring multiples of Bid or Trends at auction when they are offered for sale. c. Pre-1834 quarter eagles in nearly any grade. With the exception of the 1796 No Stars and the 1808, these are much undervalued. In fact, they are far rarer than early half eagles or eagles of this era but still sell at a discount because of their reasonably small size. Coins with unadulterated original surfaces are really hard to find! d. Proof Bust coinage. There have been very few Proof bust coins that have traded since the market started shooting upwards five+ years ago but, in my opinion, the few Proof bust coins that have sold have not brought nearly enough of a premium relative to their pre-2001 price levels. You can still buy a pretty nice Proof bust half dollar for under $50,000. That’s just too cheap for a coin as rare as this. e. Proof half cents and large cents from the 1830’s, 1840’s and early 1850’s. Here’s another area where many prices have been flat for the past decade or so. I love coins like Proof half cents from the 1840’s in PR64 Brown or PR64 Red and Brown for under $7,500. While I am not necessarily touting them as an investment, I think they are a terrific value.

20. A) Where are the young coin dealers? We remember hot-shot young turks of the past whose brilliant minds and trading skills were the envy of veteran dealers.

I think there are actually more people working in the coin business who are in their 20’s than most of us Old Dudes realize but very few of them standout as being the next Jason Carter or Ryan Carroll (the two best young coin dealers from the 1990’s and 2000’s, respectively). I think it’s very hard being a dealer in this day and age given the cost of starting a business and maintaining an inventory. When I started my own firm in 1984 I had less than $50,000 in capital. This wouldn’t get a young kid very far today. That said, this is a great business for young entrepreneurs. The typical successful coin dealer is now in his 40’s or 50’s and doesn’t want to work as hard as 10 or 20 years ago. There are a lot of A-level dealers who are going to retire or semi-retire in the next decade and I wonder who is going to take their place. If I had a 16 year old kid, I would certainly encourage him to take over my business as I start to wind things down in the next few years.

B) What's the future of being a coin dealer?

I anticipate that the coin dealer of the future is going to be valued more as a conduit of information or as a broker than anything else. I would expect that margins will continue to decrease. I think the days of the brick and mortar coin shop is just about history but I do expect there to be a continued need for highly competent, specialized dealers. I think you will also see a few mega-dealers emerge who become dominant forces in the market; as Heritage is currently on course to becoming right now (if they haven’t already done so...) I’m happy I’m not a young, struggling kid just coming up in the business although I see a lot more opportunity for mentorship and guidance than when I was coming up in the early 1980’s and things were A LOT more cut-throat.

2008 Crystal Ball Survey - Part One

For the last few years, I have been asked by Maurice Rosen, publisher of the excellent Rosen Numismatic Advisory newsletter, to be a contributor to his annual Crystal Ball survey. This feature, which generally has the participation of a half dozen or so very knowledgeable dealers, is an excellent way for me to analyze the coin market and the questions asked by Maurice are diverse and interesting. Here are my answers to the 2008/2009 RNA Crystal Ball Survey. Please note that due to the length of this article it will appear in two parts. 1. What's your outlook for the coin market in 2008/2009?

I think the market will be mostly strong in 2008 although I think we will see continued bifurcation as we have the last few years. By this I mean I think there will be great strength at the absolute upper end of the market and we will also see good demand for interesting lower priced coins but the middle market will continue to be weak; possibly more so than in 2007. I foresee some weakness in the economy in 2008 and I would imagine that because of the housing slowdown we will see fewer people throwing sizable amount of disposable income at things like coins. Really good coins, though, are going to do awfully well in the coming years. There just aren’t many of them around.

2. What areas of the market look to be the best performers in 2008/2009? Please state your reasons.

I think type coins will be a very strong performer in 2008, especially Seated and Barber coins in MS64 to MS67 and PR64 to PR67. Coins like this have been too cheap for too long and people have finally gotten wise to this. Early coins have gotten too expensive for most people (in higher grades) and the grading standards tend to be pretty atrocious in this area. I think a number of collectors are realizing that a smart place to be is in the Seated and Barber arena. You can still buy really nice coins that are 100+ years old for less than $5,000.

I expect that rarities and trophy coins will be extremely strong this year. I find it amazing that an 1804 $10 sold for $5 million dollars recently and I’ve got to think that $1 million dollar sales are going to be reasonably routine in 2008 and 2009.

I would expect that Proof Gold will do nicely in 2008 as will better date $5 Indians and $10 Indians.

In rare date and early gold, I think anything that is choice and original will be in demand this year. I am already noticing a large price spread between crusty coins and scrubbed coins and I think this will continue as originality becomes more and more in vogue in 2008. Here’s my advice for collectors and investors in 2008, 2009 and beyond. Buy coins that are interesting and which have good aesthetic appeal.  

3. What areas look to be the weakest? Again, please state why.

I would expect that silver commemoratives are going to stay very weak in 2008 unless some large marketing firm decides to promote them. They seem like great values right now but there are just too many of the little buggers around and unless you can count on selling thousands and thousands of coins, you can’t control the promotion.

I would have to think we will see some weakness in Registry Set coins that are perceived to be overvalued.

I also think that, with the exception of gold dollars, small-sized coins are not going to do well. As collectors get older and older, few people are able to see coins like Three Cent silvers and half dimes.

This is going to sound a little bit general but coins that are ugly are going to do poorly in 2008. No matter what the plastic says, if a coin is off quality, it will be hard to sell.

4. Since the 2001 lows, coin prices by some averages are up 20-50% but gold is up about 200%.

A) Have your clients expressed concerns about this?

How could they not express concern? While some areas of the market have done fabulously since 2001 (early type, early gold, rarities) many other areas have been extremely flat. In some cases, truly rare coins in relatively popular series are actually down in value since 2001, especially if you take out the gradeflation factor(s).

B) What do you tell them?

The truth. Which is, in my opinion, that as much as I love coins and the coin market in general, there are some problems that need to be cleaned up. These include accurate price reporting and the need for greater consistency among the grading services.

C) How do you see coins and gold performing from here on?

I think we’ll see gold break through the $1000 barrier but I’m not really sure where the short-term and medium-term caps are going to be. Perhaps $1250-1500-- after that, who really knows? I think price performance in the coin market is going to be selective. As I mentioned above, the market is becoming more and more bifurcated. I think there are going to be fewer collectors in the future but there will be more extremely rich people dabbling. If you buy the right coins and hold them long enough, you should do well. If you buy so-so or average quality coins you won’t do as well. Investors should learn to think like collectors and buy the sort of collector-quality coins (and, no, the expression “collector quality” does not mean 1901-S quarters in Fine) that have traditionally appreciated well over the course of time.

5. The U.S. Mint is the biggest coin dealer. Are they helping or hurting the coin market? Please explain in detail.

I can’t possibly imagine that it’s helping the coin market that hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent on modern products that might (or might not...) be spent on rare coins. At least the Mint is now far more receptive to collectors than in the past and they seem to have extended the olive branch to the collecting community after years and years of disliking us.  

6. Coin grading has come a long way since PCGS started in 1986. A) What further advances are needed? B) How would they impact the market?

I’ve spoken with clients of mine who are involved in hedge funds or private equity groups and most of them won’t do a coin deal because the numbers are just too small. These guys are looking at doing $250 million+ deals (in many cases more than this) and a little $25 million to $50 million coin deal is just too small for them. That said, there is always the chance that a hedge fund guy who loves coins might do a fund as sort of a lark. But every time we’ve seen large funds in the coin market, the results have not been good.

If a fund were to be established, it needs to be run by someone like John Albanese who is very smart and very ethical. I assume that a fund run by someone like John would focus on really rare coins like Proof gold, early type (silver and gold), classic rarities and popular individual issues like High Reliefs, Pan-Pac Octagonal and Round $50’s, etc. This is essentially what the Ohio Fund was focusing on and I think they did a very good job in terms of buying coins and focusing on specific market areas.

7. A) How do you feel about the concept of "seals of approval" on graded coins?

I wish they weren’t needed but I think at this point in time they are a good idea—provided, of course, that the people involved with them are doing it for the right reasons.

B) What will the effects be of such slab labeling?

I think we are already seeing an effect. At least one of the services has become considerably more conservative in their grading in the past six to nine months.

8.Coin auctions: A) What's your best advice to consignors?

1. Don’t assume that auctions are always the best way to sell all coins.

2. Learn which firms sell which types of coins for the most money. As an example, I use one auction firm exclusively for any very low population 20th century coin I own as they get much better prices for these coins than anyone else. Conversely, I use another firm exclusively for more “sophisticated” coins as they do a better job describing them and their audience seems to be a bit more dialed in to these sorts of coins.

3. Don’t choose an auction firm solely based on their consignment rate. You get what you pay for.

4. The best times of the year to sell coins at auction are at FUN in January and at the ANA in July or August.

5. Hire an advisor to help you decide how to best market and sell your collection even if you think you know what you are doing. If you do it totally on your own the chances are good that you will leave money on the table.

B) What's your best advice to bidders?

1. Hire a well-qualified representative to bid for you at auction. It is the best 5% you will ever spend.

2. Never bid sight unseen on any coin at auction worth more than $1,000. And, no, you can’t accurately grade a coin based on images!

3. If you attend an auction in person, come prepared. Know what you what to bid on, what you want to spend and how much you are willing to stretch on any coin.

4. Sometimes the best auctions are the ones you don’t buy out of but which you learn from.  

9. Two sophisticated investors come to you to provide them a portfolio for a 5 to 10 year hold, one investing $25,000, the other $250,000.

A) How would you construct the portfolios?

$25,000 portfolio, as follows:

1. Stars Obverse Liberty Seated Dime, PCGS or NGC MS66, cost $4,000-5,000+. I think this has the potential to be a $7,500 coin.

2. No Motto Liberty Seated Quarter, PCGS or NGC MS65, cost $5,000-7,000+. If possible I would try to find a coin dated in the 1840’s and pay a premium of 20-40% for it. This could easily become a $10,000++ coin.

3. Barber Half Dollar, PCGS MS66, cost $4,000-5,000. I can see this coin becoming worth $7,500-10,000.

4. Liberty Quarter Eagle, PCGS or NGC PR65 Cameo, cost $12,500-15,000. I think this has the potential to become a $20,000 coin.

For the silver coins, I would try to buy very pretty originally toned pieces and for the Proof gold coin I’d try to find a coin that was not over-conserved.

$250,000 portfolio as follows:

1. A neat early copper coin, such as a 1793 half cent in AU or a nice Wreath cent or a pretty 1794 Cent with a good pedigree. I would avoid a Chain Cent as I think these are currently overpriced. I’d spend around $25,000 on this coin and I think it has the potential to double in the next five years.

2. A cool $25,000 early silver coin. It might be a really nice AU 1795 half dollar or a very pretty early dollar (preferably a 1796, 1797 or 1798).

3. A Large Size Bust Quarter in PCGS or NGC MS65. I’d be very selective when buying this coin and would hold out for a coin that had great original color, minimal friction on Liberty’s cheek and a good strike. I’d be willing to spend up to $25,000 on the right coin. This type could be worth $35,000-45,000 in a really hot market.

4. A great looking piece of early gold in the $25,000-35,000 range. I might look for a nice MS63 to MS64 Capped Bust Right half eagle or a Fat Head half eagle (1813, 1814, 1818 or 1820) in MS63. Again, I’d be ultra-selective and avoid a piece that has been processed. Although early gold has gone up a lot in price in the last five years, nice coins still have upside potential.

5. A small group (four to six coins) of Colonials priced in the $2,500-5,000 per coin range. I would use an expert in this area to be my guide and would shoot for coins that he thought were accurately graded and really attractive for the issue. This is a $10,000-20,000 investment that could double in the next decade.

6. A really neat New Orleans half eagle or eagle from the 1840’s worth $20,000-25,000 would be my next purchase. Having focused a significant amount of attention on these coins in the last few years, I know how incredibly rare they are and I think they are still wildly undervalued.

7. I’d finish the portfolio off with one or more of the following: a great piece of Proof gold from the 19th century, preferably in PR65 or higher and preferably with an original mintage figure of less than 50 coins; a few great No Motto Liberty Seated silver coins, preferably No Motto mintmarked coins in MS63 to MS65 with pleasing original color and a few neat collector coins—things like perfect EF Carson City half dollars or lovely original AU Bust halves. All of these areas still seem like good values to me and have excellent upside.

2007 Crystal Ball Survey

I was recently asked to participate in the annual Crystal Ball survey published by Maurice Rosen. Although some of these questions are not totally pertinent to the area of rare gold coinage, I think there is quite a bit of interesting reading here. 1. We had a great market till May, then a slump. What's your outlook for 2007/2008? Please explain in detail.

I think the coin market is going to be very two-tiered in the next year. I think that really good/really interesting coins will continue to show strong demand while average quality/uninteresting coins will be very soft. We’ve had a great run the past few years but it seems inevitable to me that certain areas will slow down. I think the market weakness that we saw in 2006 reflected the fact that many areas which had performed well the past few years were strong because of dealer promotions. When the promotions stopped or the dealers decided to take profits, the demand for these series dropped quickly.

I think the price of gold will fluctuate between $500 and $600 throughout the year and we will see occasional run-ups in generic prices but nothing spectacular.

I’ve noticed that coin buyers are becoming more sophisticated and I think that choice, original coins will be strong in 2007. As an example, if you have two MS65 Bust Halves for sale at an auction and one is a true Gem with nice color while the other is dark and shows obvious rub on the high spots, the nicer of the two might bring 50%+ more. This schism between true quality and junk will be more graphically illustrated in 2007 (and beyond).

2. What areas of the market look to be the best performers for 2007/2008? Please explain why.

I think better date Seated Liberty coinage in Mint State will do well in 2007. There are still some really good values in this area, especially in the quarter and half dollar series. I love just about any No Motto Seated coin in MS64 or better. Attractive, properly graded examples of many of the so-called common dates are much, much harder to locate than people realize.

Early gold will continue to be strong but buyers are becoming more selective in this area. I really like pre-1834 quarter eagles. They are many, many times rarer than comparable half eagles and eagles yet are often priced at considerably lower levels.

Proof gold will continue to be a strong performer, especially larger denominations. My favorite coins are the pre-1890 issues with mintages of 50 coins or less in PR64 to PR66. These coins are really rare and they are very appealing to wealthy investors.

I really like the potential of New Orleans gold coinage, especially No Motto half eagles and eagles. People have finally realized how rare these issues are in higher grades and they like the fact that Condition Census coins can often be acquired for less than $10,000.

It seems that Commemorative Gold is about due for a promotion and this looks like a good area right now for speculators. I like most of the issues in MS65 and MS66.

Variety collecting has really become popular and I think that very rare varieties in popular series will do quite well in 2007. It always impresses me to see what serious collectors will pay for very rare Sheldon or Overton varieties in specialist auctions.

3. What areas of the market look to be the worst performers for 2007/2008? Please explain why.

Small sized type coins like Three Cent Nickels, Shield Nickels and Liberty Nickels are cheap right now but for a good reason. These coins are boring. No one really collects these series any more (except as type coins) and I can’t see any real reason for these series gaining in popularity.

With certain exceptions, I think that Barber coinage will remain soft as well. There are not many collectors working on complete sets of Barber coins and unless a very rare, very low population piece is offered (or a nice mid-grade circulated example of a rare date) most issues show little demand.

I think many key date 20th century (and late 19th century) coins are overvalued. Issues like 1901-S quarters and 1916 Standing Liberty quarters have dramatically increased in value and I think they are now very overpriced.

Common date Bust Dollars in Fine-Extremely Fine have gotten pretty pricey in the last few years and I would not be surprised if this market shows some correction. Lots of the pieces I see in this grade range are very overgraded. That said, I still like nice AU and better Bust Dollars as long as they are original and attractive.

It seems like you just can’t give slightly off-quality Silver Commemoratives away and I think this market will stay soft unless some large marketing firm decides to promote Commemoratives. If a Commemorative isn’t gorgeous, it is very hard to sell.

In nearly all series, I think low-end, marginal coins will be harder to sell in 2007. Even in really popular areas like early Type, coins that are clearly ugly for the grade just aren’t going to be as liquid s they were back in 2005 or early 2006.

4. Since the lows of 2001, gold almost tripled, but rare coin performance severely lagged gold. Some indices show gains of 20%-40% from 2001 to the highs of 2006! (A) What accounts for the disparity? (B) What does this portend for the future?

I think the weakness in generic gold has to do with the fact that many of the older telemarketing firms who used to promote these coins are no longer actively supporting the market. They’ve moved on to other areas with larger profit margins and that’s why the demand for bread and butter generics like MS65 Saints is nowhere what it used to be. If there is no real level of demand for generic gold, then I expect levels to continue to lag the performance of gold.

5. (A) Do you think that "Ohiogate" had a detrimental impact on the market? If yes, how so and why. If not, why not? (B) What lasting effects can we expect from "Ohiogate?"

I originally thought it would have a very detrimental short-term effect, given the fact that a huge amount of coins were being dumped on the market under the direction of a liquidator who had no clue how to properly market them. I was surprised that the market was, for the most part, able to absorb the Fund’s coins. However, I do not think the full ramifications from the scandal have been clearly felt yet. The Fund was a huge entity in the market with their fingers in a lot of pies. It will be very interesting to see what happens in the next year or two.

I think the biggest lasting effect we might see from Ohiogate is that larger intuitional investors who might have previously toyed with the idea of getting into coins might not be as anxious after they hear the gory details from this story.

6. (A) What will it take for a large financial institution to make a commitment to the coin market? (B) What specific sectors of the market would be most likely emphasized in the portfolio of a large coin fund?

I’ve spoken with clients of mine who are involved in hedge funds or private equity groups and most of them won’t do a coin deal because the numbers are just too small. These guys are looking at doing $250 million+ deals (in many cases more than this) and a little $25 million to $50 million coin deal is just too small for them. That said, there is always the chance that a hedge fund guy who loves coins might do a fund as sort of a lark. But every time we’ve seen large funds in the coin market, the results have not been good.

If a fund were to be established, it needs to be run by someone like John Albanese who is very smart and very ethical. I assume that a fund run by someone like John would focus on really rare coins like Proof gold, early type (silver and gold), classic rarities and popular individual issues like High Reliefs, Pan-Pac Octagonal and Round $50’s, etc. This is essentially what the Ohio Fund was focusing on and I think they did a very good job in terms of buying coins and focusing on specific market areas.

7. As we close 2006, how do you assess the state of coin grading? This is a broad question. I leave it to you to comment any way you want.

My complaints about the services today are the same as they were ten years ago. I do not think that either of the majors rewards originality and I see lots of coins in holders that I think are very, very marginal at best. In my area of specialization (rare date gold), I think both services have really diminished the market’s expectation of what an AU58 should look like. Coins with little or no original mint luster are graded AU55 or AU58 and this has lessened the price premium for certain dates in these grades.

On a related note, kudos to NGC for having the best customer service I’ve ever seen in a company that I do business with on a regular basis.

8.(A) How important are Modern Coins becoming to the market? Despite many people deriding them, many coins bring high prices in super-grades. (B) What are your overall views and recommendations for investors?

I’m sure every answer you’ll get about modern coins is that they are horrible, the market is totally one-way, the coins are ugly, etc. Although I basically agree with these points, I can’t completely denounce the modern coin market. I don’t like the coins and I can’t see why anyone would want to collect them but, by the same token, I can see how someone might not be as turned-on by 18th or 19th century classics as I am. I take a “live and let live” attitude with moderns. I do not plan to ever deal in them but if someone chooses to collect these coins, more power to them. They are affordable, easy to buy and, hopefully, are a good stepping-stone to more sophisticated market areas.

That said, I would NEVER recommend any modern coin as an investment. As far as collecting these coins, I think at $50 or $100 per coin, moderns are just fine. But I would caution the investor to avoid expensive PR70 and MS70 moderns as they have lots of downside risk, in my opinion.

9. Two sophisticated investors come to you to invest for the long-term. One has $25,000, the other $250,000. Each investor wants only a few coins. What do you recommend to each and why? Please state the upside potential for your picks.

For a $25,000 package, I would suggest the following. I would choose an interesting No Motto Seated quarter or half dollar in MS64 or MS65 in the $7500-10,000 range. I’d try to find a coin with a population of fewer than ten coins with relatively few higher and a piece that was original and very attractive. Then, I’d find a New Orleans half eagle or eagle in the AU58 to MS62 range that was Condition Census quality in the $7,500 to 10,000 range. With the remaining money, I would find a piece of Proof gold that was relatively affordable (around $10,000) but which had a lower mintage figure than a “common” date. I think this would be a small but neat group of coins.

For a larger budget collection, I would start with two pieces of early gold. I’d try and find a rare Fat Head half eagle struck in the 1820’s or 1830’s in Uncirculated in the $25,000-35,000 range and a quarter eagle from this era in MS62 or above in the same price range. I would then look for a really neat piece of Proof gold; something like a PR65 quarter eagle from the 1870’s or a high end PR64 half eagle from this decade. I’d figure to spend another $25,000-30,000 on this piece. Then, I would look for a Gem Large Size Bust quarter in the $15,000-20,000 range or a killer MS66 Bust half dollar. After this, I would try and buy one great early copper coin; something like a 1794 cent in Uncirculated with a great 100+ year pedigree. I’d budget around $20,000 for this coin. Next, I’d buy a sexy $10,000 Colonial coin with a Ford pedigree. The Ford sales have been a little under the radar to those who don’t specialize in Colonials but this is easily the greatest offering of early Americana in our lifetime. I’d look for a high grade example of a popular issue like a Pine Tree shilling or maybe a New Jersey or Massachusetts or Connecticut copper. I would finish off this collection with a few great 19th century gold coins; maybe a couple of very high grade Carson City or Dahlonega pieces or some killer New Orleans coins. I would be highly selective here and focus on really nice, really high end coins. If I had another $5000-10,000 left I would buy a few great plated Chapman auction catalogs. These are rare, undervalued and incredibly neat.

If I had a chance to buy an 1838-O half dollar or an 1876-CC twenty cent piece I’d choose one of these two classic rarities as my $250k portfolio and punt the group of coins listed in the paragraph(s) above. I’ve always felt that these were the two “Great American Rarities” that were truly undervalued, even though they have appreciated significantly in the past few years.

10. Increasing government regulations, further losses of privacy, more taxes, these are all likely to impact our lives in the years ahead. (A) How might they impact the coin market? (B) What specific advice do you have for today's investors?

I don’t really feel qualified to answer this question so I am not going to delve into it…except for one quick comment. I’m going to assume that a big issue in the coming years for the coin business will be an Internet sales tax. My business has grown exponentially over the years due to the Web and I think that an Internet VAT-type tax could really hurt the growth of the coin market.

11. Your Best Buys for Type Coins in MS and Proof.

As I mentioned above, I love No Motto Seated quarters and halves in properly graded MS64 and above. These coins are really rare and really good deals. New Orleans half dollars from the 1840’s in MS63 and above seem to be one of the best values in the market right now. It’s hard to find these coins but when they are available you can purchase some legitimately great coins for under $7,500. I’ve always had a soft spot for Flying Eagle cents in Gem Uncirculated. If you can find coins that are well struck, free of mint-made defects and which are not dark, they are great values at current levels. For many years, I’ve thought that Proof Braided Hair half cents in 64RB and better are really cheap at current levels. I’m not saying that they are great “investments” but they seem like a lot of coin for the money.

I think that very pretty type coins in MS65/PR65 and better are, in general, good value right now. By this, I mean coins that have very pretty (but not too deep) multi-colored toning. I would avoid ultra-high grade coins that have a high premium over the next grade down and I would avoid coins that have a huge premium for Cameo/Ultra Cameo designation. I think a lot of low population Ultra Cameo coins run the risk of growing populations when coins graded a number of years ago are resubmitted.

12. Your Best Buys in the Gold Coin sector.

In early gold coins, I love the quarter eagles struck from 1821 through 1834. They are extremely well priced in comparison to early half eagles and eagles. I have a few clients right now who are assembling date sets and I am amazed at how hard it is to find a number of these early quarter eagles.

In the Liberty Head series, I think New Orleans coins offer unbeatable value. My new book has created a number of new collectors and I’d say that high grade New Orleans gold from the 1840’s and 1850’s tends to be, in most cases, many times rarer than Charlotte and Dahlonega issues from this era—at lower price levels!

An esoteric but much undervalued series of coins is the Philadelphia eagles from the 1840’s. There are a few dates (such as the 1844, 1845 and 1846) that are almost impossible to find in any grade above AU50 but which are still relatively affordable. And unlike most mintmarked coins, not all of the Philadelphia pieces have been dipped-n-stripped.

If I were a rich guy who liked 20th century gold, I think I’d focus on Indian Head half eagles. These are by far the rarest 20th century gold pieces in Gem Uncirculated and a number of dates in this series (1909-O, 1911-D, 1912-S, 1913-S, 1914-S and 1915-S) are excessively rare in Gem. If you started a high grade set, you’d have less competition than in the Indian eagle and St. Gaudens double eagle series, so you might actually have a shot at the really great coins if and when they become available.

13. Your Best Buys in Silver Dollars.

I’ve always thought that Gem Trade Dollars were one of the rarest and most undervalued mid-19th century types.

I personally hate Morgan Dollars so I’m probably not that the best person to ask about “best buys” in this series.

I’m amazed that more people don’t try and assemble Peace Dollar sets. These coins are such great deals compared to Morgans. The series is short, completable and not terribly expensive in Gem. If someone was to write a really good guide to collecting Peace Dollars and a few of the larger retailers actively promoted this series, I think prices could rise dramatically. That said, I doubt this will happen anytime soon.

14. Your Best Buys in the U.S. Commemorative series.

Every time I’ve been asked this question, I always give the same answer: I like Gem examples of the pre-1928 silver half dollars. I don’t look at that many commemoratives but when I do, I find most of the issues like the Maine, Missouri, Alabama, Grant, Vancouver, Pilgrim, etc. to be washed out and “yucky.” I think undipped, lightly toned MS65 and MS66 examples of these early issues are cheap at current levels.

15. Your Best Buys among 20th Century Series coinage.

Superbly toned Proof 1936-1942 coinage seems to have disappeared as most of these coins have been dipped. I’ve always liked coins with lightly toned centers that become deeper in hue towards the edges. In PR66 and PR67, the silver issues from this era are very favorably priced right now.

16. Your Best Buys in any other sector of your choice.

In my primary area of the market (branch mint gold) I’d have to say that nice quality Charlotte gold is a good contrarian play right now. $20,000+ Charlotte coinage is a hard sale but it is inevitable that one or two new deep-pocketed collectors will want to create great sets of these coins in the coming years.

Three Dollar gold pieces were certainly due a correction after the great run they had in 2005 and 2006 but I think the market overcorrected. I like the low mintage dates from the 1880’s (like the 1881, 1883, 1884, 1885 and 1886) in Mint State and nice AU and better examples of the San Francisco issues. A great time to buy coins like this is when all of the “geniuses” who became Instant Experts on Threes last year have now moved on to greener pastures.

Nice New Orleans gold is a terrific value right now. In most cases, you can buy a scarce No Motto half eagle or eagle from this mint at a significant discount in comparison to a more available piece from Charlotte or New Orleans.

As I’ve mentioned about ten times, I really like No Motto Seated coinage in MS64 and better, especially New Orleans pieces.

I think, in general, that in nearly any series, “best buys” are always nice, original coins. It’s become so hard to find pieces that haven’t been messed with. I think down the road that really fresh coins will begin to bring huge premiums over the typical run-of-the-mill junk that you see most of the time.

17. What changes or innovations are needed to make the pricing of coins a better deal for investors? Just as reduced commissions (even the elimination of commissions!), plus much narrower spreads between bids and asks, have dramatically lowered trading costs for stock traders, what can be done to make our market more efficient and a better deal for investors?

The Heritage auction archive is an amazing tool. It enables a collector to see the price performance of nearly any coin over the past few years. If Heritage (or someone else) were to take this idea and include all of the major numismatic auction companies, this would be an incredible resource for collectors and investors. The ability to quickly and accurately track pricing is something that increases a new investor’s confidence level; especially in thinly traded market areas.

The advent of the Internet has increased the amount of transparency in the coin market in the past few years. I think the coin market is far, far more transparent than most any other collectible and, again, that is a good boost for investor confidence.

Something that has long hurt the coin market is that a decent number of neophyte investors are still making their first trades with brokers who are either taking advantage of them or are not providing them with the tools to turn them into long-term market participants. As an industry we still need to shed the last vestiges of the Wild West mentality of the 1970’s and the 1980’s and treat potential new investors with the attitude that the coin market is a great place to place some discretionary income in for the long term.

18. Since PCGS and NGC began, we've seen a general loosening of grading standards. (A) Could standards in the future become stricter, thus reversing the trend of the last 20 years? (B) If yes, what event or events would cause this to take place. If you disagree, please explain why. I doubt very much that either PCGS or NGC is going to admit that standards have changed, let alone reverse them back to where they were in 1986/87. I think it’s more important, at this point, for collectors to keep up on current standards so that they can grade by the standards of 2007 and not by the standards of 1987. Wishing for grading standards to revert to where they were 20 years ago is sort of like someone wishing that you could buy an apartment in Manhattan tomorrow at 1987 prices.

19. What 1, 2, or 3 coins are your favorite "sleepers," coins you know to be much scarcer than generally perceived and, as a result, undervalued. Anything from the 1700's to date, your picks. Please explain why you picked them and tell us their potential.

Here are three coins that I regard as true “sleepers:”

1. 1845-O Quarter Eagle: With only 4,000 struck, this is a very scarce coin in all grades. Any original piece grading EF45 or better is really rare, yet you can still buy a very presentable example for under $10,000. This is the key issue in the New Orleans quarter eagle series, which is short, completable and getting popular.

2. 1847-O Half Eagle: Few non-specialists realize just how rare this date is in nearly any grade. It is the hardest New Orleans half eagle to find and it is nearly impossible to obtain in properly graded AU50 or better. I recently sold a very nice AU55 example of this date for $15,000. If this were a Dahlonega coin of comparable rarity, it would have been worth $25,000++.

3. 1841-O Eagle: I love this issue. It has a low mintage figure (2,500), it is the first No Motto eagle struck at the New Orleans mint and it is nearly impossible to find above EF45. Despite this fact, it is priced at a fraction of the second-tier double eagle rarities from the New Orleans mint (i.e., the 1855-O, 1859-O, 1860-O and 1879-O).

Can You Determine a Market Trend From One Auction Result?

Can you determine a market trend from one auction result? A few mixed results from a recent coin auction caused a number of clients to call me and ask me this question. My answer(s) were that, in each case, I did not feel that changes in the market could be determined from these results. Let me be more specific. In the November 2006 Heritage sale there was an 1845-O quarter eagle in NGC AU53 offered as Lot 1937. If you’ve read any of my articles on New Orleans quarter eagles, you’ll know that I LOVE this date and almost always try to buy it. But this coin was an exception to the rule.

Although you couldn’t really see them in the Heritage online images, this 1845-O quarter eagle had some really detracting marks on the surfaces. They were the sort of marks that, eight out of ten times, NGC would have no-graded the coin in question for “damage.” Which was sort of a shame, as the coin, with the exception of the marks, was not bad looking. But I decided to pass on the coin as I though the marks made it too hard to sell.

The coin was reserved for somewhere in the $5,000 range which means that it could have been purchased for $5,750 including the 15% buyers charge. In my opinion, $5,750 for an AU53 1845-O quarter eagle is very reasonable. Except in this case.

After the sale, a client called me (one who owns a nice AU58 example of this date, by the way…) and asked me if the fact that this coin didn’t sale indicated a weakness in the market for 1845-O quarter eagles. I told him that I didn’t think so, given the fact that the coin in question was not very nice.

Another lot in the same sale provided another interesting test case. This was an 1879-O double eagle graded AU50 by NGC and it was Lot 2570.

If you follow New Orleans double eagle prices at all, you know that nearly any 1879-O that has been offered at auction in the past four or five years has sold for full Trends or, in many cases, considerably more. But the 1879-O in this sale sold for around 75-80% of Trends. Did this suggest, my client asked, that the market for this date was getting weak and could he finally buy one for a reasonable price?

I had viewed this coin in person and hated it. I thought it had zero eye appeal. It was not only overgraded, in my opinion, but it had some detracting spots as well. Apparently other bidders agreed with me as well as it brought at least $5,000 less than what a nice looking example would have.

Does this weak auction result mean that the market for 1879-O double eagles is tanking? Not in the least. Now, if this trend continues for the next two or three times that an 1879-O is offered, my opinion would change. Especially if any of the future coins that sell cheaply happen to be nice for the grade.

The bottom line is this: I do not think you can make any profound analysis about values decreasing (or increasing) for a specific issue based solely on a single transaction.

Prooflike Gold Coins

Are Prooflike gold coins an interesting future collecting trend or are they yet another piece of clever marketing hype? Yes and possibly yes. Business strike gold coins are usually frosty or satiny in texture. Occasionally, a group of coins are struck from newly-polished dies and they show reflective surfaces. Such coins are termed as “prooflike” by collectors. There are certain issues, such as gold dollars from the 1870’s and 1880’s and three dollar gold pieces from the same era that are frequently encountered with prooflike surfaces. This is due to the fact that these issues have low mintage figures and most were struck from fresh, new dies.

In the case where most examples of a specific date come prooflike, a coin designated as “prooflike” is, in my opinion, not interesting nor is it worth a premium. The one exception might be in the case where a coin has a very reflective or “deep mirror” surfaces.

Other issues are rarely seen with prooflike surfaces. As an example, a small number of New Orleans eagles from the 1840’s are found with very reflective surfaces.

In the case where only a fraction of examples of a certain date come prooflike, a coin designated as “prooflike” is, in my opinion worth a premium. It can be worth a significant premium if the prooflike surfaces add considerably to the coin’s overall eye appeal.

What about very common coins like 1904 double eagles that are sometimes seen with Prooflike surfaces? In my opinion, if a 1904 double eagle is slightly prooflike or reflective only on one side it is worth no premium. If the coin is very reflective and actually resembles a Proof, then it is worth a premium. This begs the question: exactly how much of a premium? At this point it is hard to say. No one really knows how rare Prooflike coins are, on a relative and absolute basis. As the grading services collect more data from submissions of prooflike gold coins, perhaps it will be possible to know the answer.

My advice on Prooflike gold is to go ahead and buy pieces with very reflective mirror surfaces but just don’t get caught up and pay huge premiums in a market for which value levels are still highly speculative.