Archive for December, 2015

December 17, 2015

Buyers want the best in rare coins and fine art: The Investment Column


The rare coin market is often compared to the art market, and the comparison is useful in some limited regards. Both markets are somewhat thinly capitalized when compared to other asset classes, both deal with often unique objects that generally have clear comparables in terms of quality, desirability and rarity, and there are relatively high transaction costs when buying or selling.

More often than not, most expensive U.S. coins go to U.S. buyers, while the art market is more global in its scope.

Take the 1917–18 Reclining Nude painting by Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani that sold at Christie’s on Nov. 9 for $170.4 million. The picture went to a Chinese buyer who plans to display it in his private museum in Shanghai. The work had been off the market for 60 years and seven bidders remained at the $100 million level, showing the massive appetite for masterpieces that are not easily found.

The nearly $500 million auction, titled “The Artist’s Muse,” combined the Impressionist and Modern and Contemporary categories and offered 34 carefully selected works. Of the 34 works, 24 sold, showing that the art market is strong at the top, but that buyers remain selective.

The same can be said for the rare coin market.

Attending the previews of the huge sales held in early November in New York by Christie’s and its primary competitor Sotheby’s reminded me of the huge volume of works of art of varying quality that trade hands. Not everything is a masterpiece.

The major sales by the two firms in the spring and autumn in New York now routinely collectively realize more than $2 billion each season.

Some pieces offered — like the Modigliani — jumped off the wall and had a presence. These pieces are considered trophies.

Others were hampered by too optimistic expectations from their owners and the auction houses, did not meet their reserves, and went unsold. Or, they were expensive, but easily replaceable, had been lingering on the market and lacked freshness, or were not characteristic of the artist or from the artist’s prime period.

But perhaps the strongest link to the rare coin market, and one that’s seen in nearly all collectible markets, was that quality ruled. The top works were exceptional in condition, rarity and provenance and the market rewarded these, as long as they were accompanied by a reasonable estimate, with record prices.

The same can be seen in the rare coin market today, where high quality rarities, such as those in the D. Brent Pogue Collection, perform strongly while other coins seem to return to the auction block multiple times before finally finding a buyer at a bargain price.

December 16, 2015

1916 – 100 Year Anniversary!


100 Year Anniversary!

While Paris was being bombed for the first time by German Zeppelins and Woodrow Wilson was President, three gold denomination of coins were minted in 1916; the $5.00, $10.00 & $20.00. San Francisco was the only mint that produced gold coins that year.

The 100th anniversary of this historically significant year in World History is upon us. Centennial coins often do well near their 100th anniversary. For example, the 1892 Columbian ½ dollar went up over 1000% near its 100th anniversary.
Centennial Coins perform well no matter the trends of the market. Over the past few years these have become increasingly difficult to obtain.

1916-S $20 Saint Gaudens


Mint: San Francisco, Mintage: 796,000, Composition: Gold, Fineness: 0.9000, Weight: 33.4360g, AGW: 0.9675oz, Diameter: 34mm

The 1916-S seems to have been minted to a very high standard of quality. The strike is almost always very sharp and the surfaces, although they occasionally show signs of very fine granularity, do not have the metal flow problems encountered on many examples of the 1915-S. Luster is always very good to excellent and the color is usually a very appealing rich greenish gold, sometimes with a light orange or coppery tint. High-grade examples of this issue invariably have great “eye appeal.”

1916-S $10.00 Indian

Mint: San Francisco, Mintage: 138,500, Composition: Gold, Fineness: 0.9000, Weight: 16.7180g, AGW: 0.4837oz, Diameter: 27mm

This date and mint was well represented in the European banks and examples continue to be found there. Most seen however are at the lower end of the Mint State range with Choice and Gem examples quite scarce. The date is usually found well struck with subdued luster. The Smithsonian collection contains two Superb Gem examples, one of which would easily grade MS 67. The Norweb coin appears to be the finest example in private hands.

1916-S $5.00 Indian


Mint: San Francisco, Mintage: 240,000, Obverse Designer: Bela Lyon Pratt, Reverse Designer: Bela Lyon Pratt, Composition: Gold, Fineness: 0.9000, Weight: 8.3590g, AGW: 0.2419oz, Diameter: 21.6mm, Edge: Reeded

Due to the existence of a small hoard of approximately 200 pieces that surfaced a few years ago, it is possible to locate this issue in MS-63 or lower grade with only a moderate amount of difficulty. Since the hoard did not contain any gem or even MS-64 quality coins that I am aware of, at the higher levels this date is still quite rare, although it is more often available in MS-65 condition than any San Francisco Mint Indian Head $5 other than the 1908-S. There are several MS-65+ specimens known and a few others that might even reasonably be called “Superb.”
The 1916-S is invariably well struck and the mint mark is bold but lacking definition. Most of the known Mint State specimens are from the same hoard, and they typically have frosty, very finely granular surfaces and only average lustre. A few pieces (not from the hoard) have excellent lustre and surfaces that, while not exactly as satiny as some 1908-S or 1915-S specimens, are more satiny than frosty. Most of the hoard coins have a light greenish gold and orange toning. Other examples of this issue vary from bright yellow gold to rose colored gold to a medium coppery color.