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Steve Roach

The Art of Collecting

Steve Roach

Steve Roach, editor-in-chief, joined Coin World as a monthly columnist in 2006. Steve has been deeply involved with numismatics for more than 20 years, starting as a young coin collector in Michigan. Two years spent as a coin grader at ANACS, nearly three years at Heritage Auctions, and a stint as a paintings specialist at Christie's have given Steve a rich understanding of the hobby, its market and the unique personalities and exceptional objects that make collecting meaningful. Since 2009 he’s written Coin World’s weekly market analysis pieces and has handled legal stories including daily coverage of the 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagle trial, and as editor he writes weekly editorials.

He’s taught coin grading and authentication for the American Numismatic Association and was its ANA young numismatist of the year in 1997. He currently sits on the board of directors of the International Society of Appraisers and is a frequent speaker around the country on legal issues related to, and the valuation of, rare coins and fine art. Steve received his bachelor of arts degree from the University of Michigan with high honors in art history and his juris doctorate from Ohio State University.

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    Weighty ANA auctions full of once-in-a-lifetime possibilities

    July 28, 2014 11:09 AM by
    The American Numismatic Association’s decision earlier this year to have two official auctioneers — Stack’s Bowers Galleries and Heritage Auctions — means one sure thing: more auction catalogs. 

    The two firms competed aggressively against one another to fill their auctions. 

    While they likely stressed their differences to potential consignors, their resulting auctions have some things in common. Each firm has a rarity or two that will bring more than $1 million, each firm has at least four separate catalogs, and each firm is unleashing tens of millions of dollars of rare coins and paper money into the marketplace during the ANA week.

    The enormity of the catalogs when together (this doesn’t even include Heritage’s paper money auction, which we haven’t received yet) is staggering. The catalogs received by July 24 totaled almost 15 pounds!

    Then there’s what is inside those publications. 

    Page after page after page of coin photos, stories of collectors past and present, and research new and old to describe the lots and make them appealing to consumers (and to make the auction house’s work evident to consignors!).

    Some coins are fresh to market; others are old friends that have seen the auction block multiple times over the last decade.

    A friend saw a few of the catalogs on my dining room table at home and asked, “Who buys all of this stuff?”

    It’s a good question, especially considering the sheer number of lots — approaching 10,000 between the two firms — that will be coming to market all at once.

    The ANA show, in Rosemont, Ill., this year Aug. 5 to 9, is an exciting time for the rare coin market and the auction lots offered have been previewed for months in the pages of Coin World, while recaps will be found in our issues in the weeks post-ANA.  

    What’s great for collectors is the democratization of information available today. Both auction firms make their catalogs easily accessible online at their respective websites, with tools to help collectors make smart bids. 

    Every little bit of help is needed when trying to sort through this many lots, and while some coins will likely return to market quickly, others may go into collections and escape the market’s grasp for generations. The “once-in-a-lifetime” possibility is one of the things that make major auctions like the ANA sales so exciting.

    Remembering Debbie and those who make our hobby better

    July 9, 2014 10:29 AM by
    Our hobby is filled with many people who work behind the scenes, keeping the coin collecting hobby vibrant and the rare coin industry running smoothly. 

    Their contributions aren’t visible to collectors, but their work is essential. 

    Debbie Rexing was one of those people. She passed away on June 19, and with her passing, the hobby loses one of its most wonderful individuals. 

    She was just 52 years old and leaves behind three children she loved very much. 

    I had the pleasure of knowing Debbie for more than 15 years; she was in the marketing department when I spent summers working at Heritage as a teenager. She rose to vice president of Sales and Marketing.

    Her professional competence in keeping Heritage’s massive auction machine running was well-known, but she also brought a caring, personal element to every person she came in contact with. She remembered details, she cared about people, and she brought a tremendous amount of joy to those around her. 

    Her friend Brenda Wyen put it perfectly when she said to me, “It is difficult to put Debbie into words. It is rare to find a person who has so many wonderful attributes.”

    Major coin shows, and our hobby won’t be the same without Debbie, with her laugh and seemingly ever-present smile.

    Her joie de vivre will be missed. 

    Rational values: Considering current prices for rare coins

    June 2, 2014 12:07 PM by

    I recently received a mailing from an art dealer in New York City specializing in 19th and 20th century American paintings.

    The message was simple. It asked, “Why is the combined value of a coke bottle, a car crash, and a balloon dog worth more than the total value of every American 19th- and 20th-century painting sold at auction in the last three years?”

    It answered, “Because it’s no longer good enough to just keep up with the Joneses. Why not buy what you love — seek rational values.”

    The mailing cheekily refers to eight-figure works of art by Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons that have sold at auction recently, and pokes some fun at the meteoric rise of the top of the contemporary art market over the past few years.

    It was especially appropriate in the wake of mid-May’s Contemporary and Modern painting auctions in New York City, which brought more than $1.5 billion and included nearly 20 works that sold for more than $20 million each.

    Christie’s Brett Gorvy had promised before the auctions that the sales would resemble “gladiator sport at the highest level.”

    Rational values is something that a market loses when the heat is turned up, as it is with the contemporary art market.

    In contrast, in a decade, how will the prices achieved for the various coins and tokens in the various Eric P. Newman auctions be considered?

    The top coins at these sales have rested at the $1 million to $2 million level and even the top rarities in American numismatics like 1913 Liberty Head 5-cent pieces and 1804 Draped Bust silver dollars trade at the $2 million to $4 million level at auction.

    The art dealer’s directive: “buy what you love — seek rational values” seems especially fitting in today’s market where the number of old collections coming to market dwindles each year.

    Coins from old collections like Newman’s may seem pricey now, but history has a tendency to reward quality and rarity with price appreciation.

    A great coin collection isn’t likely going to help you keep up with the Joneses (unless they’re coin collectors), but when compared with other markets, even expensive coins seem to provide rational values at their current price levels.

    One of the best parts of my job

    June 2, 2014 11:28 AM by

    The best parts of my job as editor-in-chief of Coin World is being able to better connect our readers with the coin collecting hobby. This requires me to get out of the office and travel, usually on weekends.

    Like any work travel, sometimes it’s a bit tedious, but more often than not it’s a pleasure. Such was the case when I visited the Central Ohio Numismatic Association and with the coordination of club president Stephen Petty, and with co-instructor Tony Cass, led two grading seminars on a gorgeous Saturday morning.

    The best coin events are like reunions with friends. Tony and I met when I was grading part-time at ANACS when it was headquartered in Dublin, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus. At ANACS I also met Eric Justice, who attended the seminar along with two of his sons.

    This was the second time the course was offered by the club. The class is an abbreviated version of the Introduction to Coin Grading class that I help teach every few years at the American Numismatic Association Summer Seminar in Colorado Springs, Colo.

    Unlike the ANA Summer Seminar, where students have the better part of a week to absorb grading, a coin club course is substantially shorter at just few hours. Tony and I pass out a box of 20, or so, coins and ask students to look at them, make notes on what makes them interesting, and assign them a market grade.

    After a break, we discuss the coins and use the individual coins to describe market grading, which takes into account wear, eye appeal and other intangible factors.

    Among the stumpers in the class was a 1935 Connecticut Tercentenary commemorative half dollar with thick, rich original toning that approximates the color of algae. The grade: Numismatic Guaranty Corp. Mint State 67 with a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker indicating quality within the grade. It wasn’t a popular coin with the class, with students being thrown both by the weird color and the general unfamiliarity with the commemorative issue. However, since it was recently given a green CAC sticker, I had some confidence that the coin didn’t “turn” in the slab.

    At each of these seminars, I’d likely say that I learn just as much (if not more than) the students and it’s great to connect with Coin World’s readers.