US Coins

Monday Morning Brief for Jan. 3, 2022: Auctions are changing

During the past two years, most numismatic auctions have been conducted mostly remotely in response to pandemic restrictions. While some of the excitement is muted, even for sales of coins like the 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagle in June 2021, dealers and and collectors are finding benefits.

Original images courtesy of Sotheby's.

The COVID-19 pandemic that has gripped the world for the last two years shows few signs of abatement. It seems like every time there is some hope of an improved situation, a new more virulent variant surfaces.

I have written at length about how the numismatic community has risen to the challenge of ensuring that the hobby prospers despite the many restrictions that have forced the cancellation of conventions and educational activities, and have led auction houses to embrace digital-only auctions more than ever before. For the latter, especially, the news is good.

In a column written by veteran professional numismatist Jeff Garrett published at the Numismatic Guaranty Co. website just before Christmas, the dealer and former American Numismatic Association president says, “Nearly every company with a substantial web presence has been experiencing a massive increase in business, including rare coin auction companies. Billions of dollars trade hands each year through online auctions, and for the first time, most of it is online only.”

Garrett acknowledges the pros and cons of not being able to attend a live auction in person. Some of the excitement is muted, especially when a major rarity comes to market and bidding gets hot and heavy. However, Garrett appreciates the resources available to him that are missing on the auction floor — knowing immediately what his bid will actually cost once the buyer’s fee is added (no need for mental calculations). He adds, “price guide and population information available online for each lot is also an amazing time saver and financial tool.”

Different auction houses have responded differently to the new world, he notes. Firms like Heritage Auctions and Stack’s Bowers Galleries have wholeheartedly embraced online auctions. Legend Rare Coin Auctions, which offers boutique auctions, continues to embrace the in-person experience.

No matter what approach auction houses have taken since the start of 2020, they have made it work for their bottom line. The future is uncertain, but the experiences of the last few years suggests that at least in this arena, it will be bright.
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