Just as “location, location, location” is the mantra in real
estate, “auctions, auctions, auctions” might be the motto of the 39th
annual New York International Numismatic Convention.
The convention, held at the historic Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New
York City, featured nine days of auctions that topped $41 million in
prices realized, eclipsing the $34 million total of 2010.
How popular were the auctions?
More than anecdotal evidence suggests interest was high:
Ponterio’s marathon sessions of auctions stretched until 2 a.m. both
nights of its Jan. 7 and 8 sale.
Bidders spilled out of a sardine-can-tight bidding room at the
3:20 p.m. start of Gemini Numismatic Auctions’ Jan. 9 auction, and
though the show had ended at that point, one full day of sales still
remained on the schedule.
Public attendance, however, was essentially flat: convention staff
counted 1,807 public registrants compared to 2010 when 1,812
collectors attended the show. In 2011, attending collectors
represented 35 foreign countries and 38 American states, according to
bourse chairman Kevin Foley.
Snowy weather in suburban New York Jan. 8 may have kept the bourse
relatively lighter than in the past, but still crowded for a Saturday.
The number of professional preview attendees — those willing to
pay $100 to start buying and selling before the show opened to the
public on Friday, Jan. 7, at 10 a.m. — was 170 people. That is down
slightly from 2010, when it numbered 179.
Three segments of strength
Dmitry Markov, a principle in the New York Sale consortium, saw
three segments of strength at the show. “The three hottest markets for
foreign coins are Indian, Chinese and Russian,” he said.
Collectors following the Chinese market required a capable
calculator to quantify the price explosion on some pieces.
Classical Numismatic Group’s Triton XIV auction was rife with
examples of the mushrooming market for Chinese coins.
On the high end of the market, an undated (struck 1897) Imperial
Dragon type silver half dollar (3 mace and 6 candareens) of Jiangnán
Province, struck at the Heaton Mint, realized a hammer price of
$180,000. The coin, graded Proof 67 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp., had
a $50,000 pre-auction estimate.
In what might once have been called the lower (or more affordable)
end of the Chinese market, a Regnal Year 24 (1898) silver yuan dollar,
of the Imperial Dragon type, struck at the Fengtian Mint for Fengtian
Province, realized $70,000 against an estimate of $1,000.
While many examples are more moderate — realizations of only 20
and 30 times estimate — it is clear that what was once affordable to
many collectors is no longer so.
It was not just the CNG auction: a similar example residing in the
Ponterio auction also exceeded expectations. A Year 33 (1907) silver
dollar, struck at the Pei Yang Arsenal for Chihli Province, graded NGC
Mint State 63, realized $32,450, against a $1,200 to $1,500 estimate.
Other areas also hot
Other segments experienced similar, if not so astounding, results.
As Markov noted, the heated market for Russian coins was reflected
in the auctions.
However, even Markov was surprised with the results that small
Russian gold coins were bringing, noting that usually collectors have
no problem paying high prices for large Russian rarities, but in the
past have balked at paying similar prices for their smaller brethren.
Not so this year.
A 1703 gold ducat of Peter I, weighing 3.3 grams, was graded
Extremely Fine 40 by NGC. With a pre-auction estimate of $75,000, it
realized $230,000. “I can’t think of any other country where
small-size gold would bring that much,” he said. “This just shows the
craziness and strength of the market in general.”
The apparent market resilience reached ancient coins as well.
A highlight from the CNG Triton XIV auction was a circa 357 to 356
B.C. silver tetradrachm struck for Amphipholis, in Greece. The coin
was graded Good Very Fine. It realized a hammer price of $700,000
versus a pre-auction estimate of $200,000.
Another example of coins blowing past their estimates was in
Freeman & Sear’s Jan. 4 sale.
The ancient coins of Syracuse, Greece, are classics, and a circa
400 to 395 B.C. silver decadrachm, struck from unsigned dies in the
type of the famed Euianetos, realized a $260,000 hammer price. The
coin, toned and graded EF, had a $150,000 pre-sale estimate.
Other segments of the market also fared well on the bourse,
dealers told Coin World.
Christopher Eimer, medals expert and author, noted a strong
reception for the second edition of British Commemorative Medals
and Their Values, which was published in late 2010. Eimer sold
out all of the copies he had and Charles Davis, who sells books for
Spink in the United States, nearly cleared his table of the Eimer book
as well. Eimer said that both interest in and the market for medals
have increased steadily in recent years.
Coins of many countries are becoming cost-prohibitive, he said, so
“people are looking at medals.” A collector can buy a medal from the
17th century of superb quality bearing the same portrait that appears
on the coinage that is now out of their price range, for less money.
This growth in the market for medals “holds across whichever
country you choose to name,” Eimer said.
The table where Allen Berman could be found was busy throughout
Berman said he was able to buy “quite a bit of Chinese coins on a
hobbyist level price,” with ancient coins available “across the board.”
Selling was constant, though, and Berman saw an economic factor at
work. “People are beginning to see that the dollar may be declining.”
Coin collecting, compared to other hobbies and entertainment like
going to the movies or water skiing, where “there’s nothing left at
the end,” at least leaves collectors with something after they’ve
spent their money.
“It makes it easier to rationalize spending on a hobby like this,”
Berman said. ■