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Jeff Starck

Starck Contrasts

Jeff Starck

Jeff is a senior editor and was Coin World's 2003 Margo Russell intern and joined the staff in 2004. Jeff has been a collector since childhood and fondly remembers the challenges of completing Whitman folders by pulling coins from circulation and searching rolls from the bank. His current collecting interest focuses on Missouri-related numismatics and exonumia. He is the primary writer for the World Coins section in the monthly Special Edition and is responsible for Coin World's coverage of world coins and weekly International page. He graduated with a bachelor of arts degree from Webster University in St. Louis where he was editor-in-chief of its weekly student newspaper.

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Archive for '2016'

    Day three, World’s Fair of Money: Some Items Aren't For Sale

    August 12, 2016 4:03 PM by

    When you go to a coin show and look at coins, it’s to buy them, right? That seems like a ridiculous question, but the answer isn’t so cut-and-dried.

    One of the simple pleasures of attending many major coin shows is to see collector exhibits. These cases are full of interesting presentations of numismatic material, sometimes in unconventional combinations, but always with an educational flair.

    The collector exhibit during the ANA World’s Fair of Money in Anaheim is no different. Although the number of exhibits is down from recent years, the distance to travel and location outside a central air hub seem like likely culprits.

    Still, the exhibits that are here include some fascinating topics of the broadest manner. You can learn about prisoner of war scrip or Austria’s colorful silver-niobium coins. Coins of the Pope and the medals of the French Revolution are contextualized with contemporary events and images. Magnifiers at some displays like the Gods & Goddesses on ancient gold coins allow for closer inspection, especially important on these smaller objects.

    Connecticut coppers are fascinating enough – coins from America’s colonial days have an alluring cachet as it is! – but then to see error versions of these historical nuggets adds a whole new dimension.

    A special category is tailored to the location, so one exhibit features a real life princess, Hollywood and Monaco’s Grace Kelly, while others highlight elongated cents available at Disney parks.

    One of the most intriguing entries features cent coins that have been turned into objets d’art, prisoner folk art. Inmates at the Ohio Penitentiary turned a pair of Wheat cents into a pair of salt and pepper shakers. This phenomenon extended to prisoners in other countries, too, as witnessed by miniature teapots created from Canadian cents.

    Visitors to the show can still cast a vote for the People’s Choice Award, but if you can’t make it to Anaheim this time around, be sure to plan some time at the next major coin show to see these passion projects. And you’re sure to learn something too, and enjoy these objects in a whole new way. 

    ​Day two at the World’s Fair of Money: Waiting in line for a potential payout

    August 11, 2016 1:57 PM by

    It’s not quite 2014, when police had to control traffic and people slept on sidewalks in hopes of cashing in on a coin show release, but the 2016 American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money has its own numismatic blockbuster release causing a rush of buyers.

    As Coin World reported several weeks ago, Mish International Monetary Inc., in conjunction with Champion Hong Kong Auctions, coordinated the release of special show Panda medals, in this case marking the 125th anniversary of the ANA. The medals were struck in China and designed by a designer of the Chinese Panda coins.

    In 2014, raucous crowds of would-be buyers waited in line for the John F. Kennedy gold 50-cent coin issued by the U.S. Mint. In that case, the coin was debuting at the show but was available also in the Mint’s other sales venues. Only 500 per day were to be available at the Chicago-area show.

    After three days of hysteria and pandemonium over the release and potential immediate profits, which taxed the patience of the Rosemont, Ill., police, the ANA and the U.S. Mint suspended sales and essentially stopped issuing limited releases during ANA shows.

    Here in Anaheim, the crowds are much smaller, and so far no police have been called out, but there are echoes of 2014.

    Sales of the Panda medals began at 2 p.m. on the show’s opening day (Aug. 9). A total of 100 1-ounce silver examples of the medals became available to those who waited in line, for $100 each and $8 tax. Medal sales are limited to one per ANA member, and two for booth holders. All 100 of the medals were sold out within the hour.

    On Aug. 10, 180 1-ounce silver medals were allotted for dealer sales, beginning at 9:15 a.m., with another sellout. By 2 p.m. Aug. 10, when another round of public sales began, there was palpable demand. The line contained between 30 and 40 buyers when sales began, and continued to grow until about 2:30, when some individuals verbally debated whether it made sense to join the line at such a late point in the process.

    A few of the buyers in line reminisced about camping outside the Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont. Another spoke confidently about obtaining one medal each day (another 75 are available to the public today, Aug. 11), and his plans to keep all three, regardless of where prices go. Another mused that, as he was retired and on vacation, he was happy to make $20 that a dealer paid him to stand in line in his place.

    At one point ANA officials and Positive Protection security staff came by to separate and control the line, but merely to clear the aisle; they didn’t stay long. Ronald Gillio politely asked those in line to maintain a comfortable distance from his booth so that would-be customers could browse his wares, unimpeded, while representatives of Hugh Wood Inc., an insurance firm for collectors, chatted up a few people in line, answering questions about their services.

    Successful purchasers of the 1-ounce silver medals at the show will be entered in a drawing for the chance to buy one of the 12-ounce silver medals, for $888 each (a 1-ounce gold medal is also being made).

    As this is being written, a few sellers have listed the 1-ounce silver medals (the only ones available so far) on eBay, with prices ranging from $289.95 to $599.95, but no verified sales are recorded there. Sales of the similar 2016 medal issued by Mish and Champion for the World Money Fair in Berlin (offered for 70 euros) soon soared to the $200 to $300 range, as issued, with higher prices for issues that were encapsulated and in “perfect” condition. Prices have settled somewhat, but there remains strong demand for these limited edition show Panda medals, a stark contrast to the gold Kennedy half dollar which lost its luster just a few months after its tumultuous release. 

    Day one of the World’s Fair of Money: Viewing a once-in-a-lifetime rarity, for the third time in 15 years

    August 10, 2016 2:11 PM by
    ​The American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money is, at its core, an event for collectors to buy and sell, and learn. But it seems every few years a rarity of epic proportion adds another element to the mix.

    The ANA show opened on Tuesday, providing the collecting public the first chance to view a 1974-D aluminum cent. To say the coin is rare is to gloss over the story of its production — of course it’s rare — it shouldn’t even exist. 

    As Coin World ’s Paul Gilkes has skillfully reported, the coin was in the family of a late U.S.Mint assistant superintendent in Denver, with whom it surfaced recently. Earlier in 2016 the U.S. Mint and the family reached an agreement to transfer ownership to the U.S. Mint,  allowing it to be placed on display at the Mint’s booth here in Anaheim.

    As the flyer accompanying the display reports, “The return of the unauthorized Denver specimen supports the longstanding and fundamental principle that items made at United States Mint facilities, but not lawfully issued or otherwise lawfully disposed of, remain property of the American people.”

    It’s fantastic ammunition for the ongoing battle between the government and owners of illicit numismatic items, which frequently are placed on display at ANA shows.

    The first ANA show that I ever attended was 2003, in Baltimore. The show played host to a famous reunion of all five 1913 Liberty Head nickels, an event made possible by the re-emergence, and authentication, of the George O. Walton example after a nationwide search with a hefty financial reward.

    I’m sure I didn’t understand the importance of the event,and the rarity of such a confluence of history — it was, after all, my first major coin show, period, despite being a collector for more than a decade.

    In 2006, when another group of famously contested rarities came to the ANA show, I’d like to think that I was far more aware of the display’s significance.

    That year, in Denver, the star of the show was a display of 10 of the 1933 gold $20 double eagles, which had been turned over to the Mint by the family of a deceased Philadelphia jeweler (the legal battle over these coins continues, and just last week the government won a major ruling).

    It seems that every year at a World’s Fair of Money, there are fascinating displays of major rarities, whether by commercial or educational entities. These aren’t for sale, and there is no charge to view these historic items of our collecting heritage. They are just there, to be enjoyed, studied and appreciated. And that’s well worth the trip! 

    At the ANA convention: ​Fun with coins before the show begins

    August 9, 2016 12:32 PM by

    This morning the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money formally opens to the public, but I’ve already notched one day of coin show fun even before the show began.

    One of the benefits of arriving early to the show is the chance to spend time viewing lots in the auctions scheduled during the show. With a calendar full of meetings, educational forums, club gatherings and of course bourse shopping, taking time before the show begins to browse the highlights makes wonderful sense. Even if you’re under the watchful eyes of several security guards, making you double think every muscle motion and action so that you make clear you have only good intentions.

    For writers, it’s a great chance to see coins that we’ve written about but may never have held in our hands.  

    There’s something awesome about holding a gold litrae once in the famed Nelson Bunker Hunt Collection. This coin (a highlight of Stack’s Bowers Galleries sale) was issued circa 405 to 395 B.C., more than 2400 years ago! Here is something that circulated on this planet as money before the time of Christ, and I’m holding it in my hand!

    There is a romantic lure to ancient coins, because they provide insights into and, more importantly, a connection with the civilizations that shaped the West and left a tremendously fascinating history.

    Or consider the distater of Athens featuring Athena and the bull in the famous design. Rotate the coin at an angle and you immediately sense the depth of the engravers’ art, giving motion to the bull. The roughness and crudity of the edges reinforces our understanding of the violent manner by which ancient coins were struck, brute force manufacturing, measured in manpower.

    Try experiencing that in digital photos — you cannot! It takes the 3-dimensional interaction to experience more fully that which captivates us collectors.

    For collectors, lot viewing obviously provides a chance to compare similar coins which different pre-sale estimates. The green patina catches the light differently, or the wear on one Extremely Fine coin suddenly becomes more noticeable when placed side-by-side with an About Uncirculated example.

    There is a practical purpose as well, especially when it comes to group lots – most major auction houses don’t have images of group lots because the time and expense is cost prohibitive.

    Now that I’ve seen the contents of the Wiener Cathedral medals lot, for instance, I am much more likely to bid because I see one featuring Westminster Abbey (where I have been).

    And, the bottom line is just that —– that seeing is believing and believing is wanting. Lot viewing translates pictures on a page to physical objects of desire. Instead of merely being photos in the abstract, the reality of the items before me makes me covet them all the more.

     As much as I want to view all the cool stuff in the Heritage auctions — my wallet might thank me if I don’t.

    Who am I kidding? Collecting is a drug, and it’s in my blood and on my brain. The show’s about to start, and it’s time for another fix!

    Three ways to overpay for coins

    February 1, 2016 7:21 PM by

    ​Recently I explored three ways to make money buying world coins, so now it’s time to discuss the flip side of that notion.

    Here are three ways to really mess up when it comes to buying world coins. 
     
    Lack of knowledge — on the part of the buyer
    Just as knowledge can prove to be an advantage to some buyers, a lack of knowledge can prove to put collectors at a disadvantage.
     
    To wit: it is not enough to know what a catalog value is, for instance, to know what a coin is worth.
     
    A few months ago, a local coin shop’s “bid board” offered the tantalizing prospect of obtaining a 1972 silver 10-mark coin from East Germany at a fraction of its stated catalog value of $65. 
     
    There is no shortage of coin pricing guides and catalogs that attempt to capture the value of thousands of coins in multiple grades, but these serve as snapshots of the market at best, and are subject to the biases and experiences of those who compile them.
     
    In this case, the excitement of bidding $20 for a coin worth more than three times that amount was tempered by the hard data — sales on eBay had not approached the catalog value, though there certainly was some “wiggle room” between the bid board amount and the actual retail value.
     
    If I had continued to bid on the German coin based on the stated catalog value, which was way, way higher compared to the actual market, then I could have made an unwise purchase.
     
    Whether the market had moved or the cataloger made an input error or just missed the mark (it happens to all writers and editors on occasion), the catalog showed a value that was way off. 
     
    Leaning too heavily on a catalog (or even several pricing references) could put buyers in a uncomfortable position if the market has moved since the publication date. 

    A moving market 
    Sometimes, the market moves more rapidly that one expects, and certainly more quickly than an annual catalog can reflect.

    The red-hot Chinese market peaked in 2011, with modern and historic rarities selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and in some cases millions.
     
    But then the bubble burst. 
     
    Prices have stabilized in the five years since then, but never have they approached the gargantuan figures from auctions and bourse sales late in 2010 and for a good part of 2011. 
     
    The market for Russian material has lagged in recent years as well, as the eroding price of oil erased the fortunes of many members of the wealthy class.
     
    The military invasion of Crimea and resulting sanctions one year ago have sent the ruble into a spiral, reaching the lowest value against the U.S. dollar in late January 2016. 
     
    Dmitry Markov, a U.S.-based dealer of Russian material, noted that the exchange value of the ruble had almost doubled from the 2015 to 2016 New York International Numismatic Conventions, affecting prices for some Russian coins.
     
    “A bronze coin is not a piece of bread — it’s not a necessity,” he told Coin World.
     
    Timing the market can be tricky, whether it’s buying ultra-expensive rarities at auction or stacking silver when it’s $35 an ounce (a pain I experienced several times over!). 
     
    An emotional purchase
    A third way to overpay when buying world coins is by making an emotional purchase.
     
    We’ve all had that purchase or two that served as a lesson in checking our emotions and patience.
     
    The most vivid lesson for me occurred during a local coin club auction, when I bought a Sidney, Ohio, medal for a famous, local bank.
     
    I just “HAD” to have the medal — though I owned one in copper.
     
    With silver around $25 an ounce, I paid $35 or so. I had never seen one before, and the part of my brain focused on want took over from the logical portion that, rightly, suggested that there would be other examples to come to the market, especially given my proximity to the issuer.
     
    The next month, another example of the medal was offered at auction, perhaps drawn out by the strong bidding the month prior.
     
    With less competition, the piece sold for the medal’s melt value.
     
    When I look at that medal, it is a reminder to step back and remove emotions from the bidding process.
     
    Now that I’ve shared these thoughts on buying and selling coins, I’d love to hear/read your thoughts.

    How to make money buying world coins

    January 12, 2016 11:07 AM by

    ​Every coin buyer wants to find value. It is human nature to seek the best deal and the question of “what’s it worth?” is a natural, common phrase when collectors gather together. 

    Broadly, there are at least three ways that collectors can take advantage of situations and circumstances to secure good deals.
     
    Seller lacks specialized knowledge

    One way to snag value is to be armed with information. 

    The hobby is too vast for everyone to know everything, so specialization offers opportunities for deal-making in certain circumstances.

    On a small scale, this happened when I bought a dairy token that was from a town in the next county south of here. The seller, in that same county, had no idea that this “maverick” token was original to his own city, because by their nature, maverick tokens lack identifying details of the place of issue. 
     
    Though the town was not identified on the token, the token is listed in Ohio Merchant Tokens by Gaylor Lipscomb, where I had recalled reading about it. It was a fortunate stroke of luck, to have read about it, and to have recalled it. 

    That meant my $1 purchase — that I attributed — was worth five to 10 times the purchase price. 

    That is a macro level, but the same principle applies in other areas of the hobby. A Seated Liberty specialist pointed out to me multiple instances where generalist dealers, auction houses and grading services either failed to attribute varieties or attributed them incorrectly, allowing him to purchase them for prices that were discounted over their true value to the specialist. 

    Another Ohio dealer purchased world silver bullion coins from retail customers and then sold them as generic 1-ounce rounds, which carry tighter premium spreads above precious metal value than most bullion coins. In this case, the 2015 silver 1-ounce $5 coins from Tokelau showing the Great White Shark were considered generic, when a major bullion dealer was selling them for $2 each more than generic rounds.

    When it comes to bullion, with silver treading water at $14 an ounce, that reflects a hefty difference. 
     
    Liquidity or profit taking issues

    Some dealers might have issues of liquidity or be undercapitalized, which can lead to the bargain buy for the right customer. 

    A generalist Ohio dealer who buys a lot of silver destined for the melting pot had a cache of world coins, most of which were available at prices based on the “spot” silver price. 

    But in the pile he offered at “melt” were several nice world crown coins that, because of their design, size or mintage, carry medium to strong premiums over the precious metal value.

    With thousands of dollars tied up in the bin bound for melting, he just wanted to move what he could for his marginal percentage, and have funds with which to make more purchases.

    In a similar sense, profit taking can lead to bargains.

    If a dealer bought world coins at silver-based prices when silver was $10 an ounce, and never changed the prices on the holders as the value of the metal moved up, then those coins would each reflect a profit.

    It’s happened to me on several occasions, even with a generic half-ounce silver piece that sold for half of its true value. 
    By turning over those purchases right away, there was profit to be made. 
     
    Lack of exposure means bargains

    Simply put, not every pair of eyes can see every potential transaction. There is no equivalent to the National Security Agency or Santa Claus monitoring every piece at every sales venue.

    The world is ever smaller than it ever was, thanks to the Internet and auction sites like eBay, which have dramatically altered the antiques and collectibles markets. Used books might be the perfect example — suddenly booksellers across the country could inventory and sell their stock to anyone in the world. 

    True rarity became apparent, suppressing the high prices for items of false rarity. 

    At the same time, there are hundreds of dealers hosting their own auctions, and thousands of daily auctions at sites like eBay. A fool would think they could access all those options and act with timeliness to secure bargains. 

    Sometimes sellers incorrectly identify the item that they have listed in an eBay auction. 

    Coin World reports about new discoveries frequently follow that template, where an item is misattributed, meaning searchers casting a tighter net based on key words might skip over the listing, suppressing bids and ultimately its sale price.

    A St. Louis anniversary medal described as pewter by a seller on eBay actually was silver, but because of its toning, it sold for a song. 
     
    A group of five Eisenhower medals, each struck in silver, were purchased at a show for $5 per medal because the dealer thought they were copper-nickel. The Medallic Art Co. name and serial number on the edge, as well as the capsule style, were indicators that the pieces were silver, which was confirmed with additional research away from the show. 

    These are just some of the ways that buyers can obtain value.

    In the next installment, we’ll explore the other side of the coin, literally, when buying coins or numismatic items turns out to be far too costly.