Steve Roach

The Art of Collecting

Steve Roach

Steve Roach, Coin World’s editor-at-large, 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, nearly three years at a major coin wholesaler and a stint as a paintings specialist at an international auction house have given Steve a rich understanding of the hobby, its market and the unique personalities and exceptional objects that make collecting meaningful. He joined Coin World in 2006 as a columnist, and has served as associate editor and editor-in-chief. He received his bachelor of arts degree from the University of Michigan, a juris doctorate from the Ohio State University and is a Certified Member of the International Society of Appraisers.

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Changing times need dynamic strategies

Reinvent or die.

At least that’s how the Old Master painting market is approaching its business, in light of demand that is shifting toward the Modern and Contemporary category and a supply of top Old Master works that is rapidly declining.

Old Master dealers and coin dealers alike are addressing shifts in the market by modernizing, embracing new technology and experimenting with different ways to make these sometimes dusty objects with often heavy, serious subjects relevant to a new generation of buyers. 

Famed Old Master dealer Johnny Van Haeften reflected the thoughts of many coin dealers. Commenting on how he’s changed his business to reflect changing times he said, “I probably resisted change to start with, but it’s so important to keep up with the times,” before adding, “Now, I feel very relaxed about it, and very confident about the future.”

Across nearly all collectibles categories — including coins — more rare objects are being sold at auction. According to Artnet, the value of fine art sold at auction has more than quadrupled in a decade, jumping from $3.9 billion in 2004 to more than $16 billion in 2014. Coin auctions have also exploded during this time period, with more big auctions filling the calendar with increasingly thick catalogs.

Art, along with rare coins, remains attractive as a safe haven for wealth. 

But unlike the U.S. coin market, which is fairly diversified with a broad middle-market, the painting market is becoming increasingly focused on a few paintings by a few artists. This means that dealers have two choices: either specialize closely or diversify widely. 

Oddly, while the coin market has experienced a diversification and expansion that’s redefined what a $1 million coin can be, the top of the market has remained relatively stable for the past few years (at least as evidenced by auction results for name brand rarities like 1804 Draped Bust dollars and 1913 Liberty Head 5-cent pieces). 

As the Old Master category expands, so must our hobby to remain relevant. Dealers and collectors alike need to remain flexible to adapt to changes in the marketplace.

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