US Coins

Despite pandemic, PNG sees 2020 as strongest market in recent years

The Professional Numismatists Guild released its recap of the rare coin market in 2020 and found “one of the strongest U.S. rare coin and paper money markets in recent years,” despite the cancellation of most major coin shows due to COVID-19.

Auctions continue to grow as a retail option for collectors to buy coins, with the PNG survey finding a prices realized total for U.S. rare coins sold at major public auctions in 2020 at nearly $369 million. The 2020 total improved on the $325 million in 2019, $345 million in 2018, and $316 million in 2017. PNG president Richard Weaver called it “the strongest rare coin market we’ve seen in years,” explaining that the strong 2020 auction results were a result of several major collections coming to market, while, “the pandemic intensified the market [which] also provided liquidity for some collectors who needed cash.”

Heritage Auctions led with $183 million in sales of U.S. coins and $33.5 million in paper money, followed by Stack’s Bowers Galleries with sales of $88.1 million in auctions of U.S. coins and $14.9 million in U.S. paper money. Stack’s Bowers also offered the year’s top U.S. coin — an 1804 Class I Draped Bust dollar graded Proof 65 by Professional Coin Grading Service that realized $3,360,000 on Dec. 17, while Heritage sold a 1927-D Saint-Gaudens gold $20 double eagle for $2,160,000, graded PCGS MS-65+ with a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker at its January 2020 Florida United Numismatists auction. The sales served to bookend the year in a way.

The market for rare coins expanded globally as well, with a record setting $4,188,393 being paid on Oct. 29, 2020, at a Baldwin’s auction in the United Kingdom for an ancient Roman EID MAR gold aureus of Brutus, celebrating the murder of Julius Caesar, produced in 42 B.C.

The strong sales for coins at auction was part of a larger trend for top-quality items seen in many collecting fields. Mark Salzberg, chairman of Certified Collectibles Group, said, “The markets for collectibles have not merely survived the COVID-19 crisis, they have thrived. There is no doubt: collectibles are an asset class. A broad range of collectibles, including rare coins, banknotes, comic books and trading cards, have become highly liquid and fungible.”

While the top of most collecting categories rose, more average items languished in dealer inventories and stalled at the auction block. Regarding the fine art category, Sebastian Duthy, chief executive at Art Market Research tells the Wall Street Journal, “Collectors increasingly expected to pay ‘Covid-prices’ and average values were down by the end of the year,” adding, “there were half the number of individual artists records at auction when compared with 2019.”

Salzberg sees a significant difference between rare coins and more traditional investment asset classes: “People talk about collectibles alongside stocks, bonds and other traditional investments, but there is a key difference: they love their collections.”

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