Dr. Sol Taylor

Coin Collecting and the Current Recession

By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
Saturday, January 10, 2009

attend at least four coin auctions a year. I am not there to set record prices, but to buy certain items (Lincolns and Indian head cents) that are either better than what I have or maybe good for trading purposes.
    In the past four sales, all in 2008, I have been able to buy only two lots out of some 15 lots I bid on. I was outbid on all of the others.
    In a recent column, noted coin dealer Q. David Bowers indicated that in a 2008 auction, he bid on four lots and won only one.
    The results of major auctions held by Bowers & Merena, Stacks and Heritage all reported record-setting sales numbers for 2008. This is not only applicable to coins in the six- and seven-figure categories. Coins at the lower end of the spectrum have also seen strong increases despite the general economic conditions.
    In the most recent mail-bid sale by the Society of Lincoln Cent Collectors, most of the 104 lots brought record prices. Even the common rolls of circulated wheatback cents went for well over the usual wholesale figures of $1.25 to $1.50 per roll.
    One could conclude from the wide range of data that collectors are unconcerned about the general economic status. And at the high end of the spectrum, rare coins that passed $1 million also set a record for a single year, and coins in the six figures set new records, as well. For sales data from Heritage auctions, go online to HA.com.
    The recently completed sales of the John J. Ford estate set a record for the collection of a single collector — $58 million. Even in these times, when a rare coin collection comes on the market — such as the Ed Price collection of high end early dimes and quarter eagles ($2.50 gold pieces), which brought nearly $3 million — bidding has been vigorous and as come from many sources, including other collectors, dealers, museums and investors.
    This was true for several keynote collections that came on the market in 2008, including a fabulous silver dollar collection featuring one of the 15 known 1804 silver dollars and a proof 1802 silver dollar. These two alone are worth about $5 million.
    In his 55 years as a dealer, Bowers commented that coin prices have been steadier than the economic barometer even in such "down" years as 1980 when speculation fever drove common silver coins to balloon values of 25 times face value. Such common coins are worth closer to eight times face value today. In the boom market, the rarer coins held their own.
    The recent collapse of the stock market from highs of the Dow Jones in the 12,000 range to about the 8,000 range hurt millions of investors whose stock values plunged 20 to 35 percent. In the same year, we saw gas prices top $4 and edge close to $5 per gallon. The Madoff scandal eroded some $50 billion of capital. The three major auto dealers are pleading with Washington for bailout funds to continue operating. Dozens of key stores and businesses have closed and many others have scaled back, and more gloomy business news made headlines all through 2008.
    And despite these facts, coin auctions kept setting record prices — especially in the rare coin categories.
    I can only imagine what the $100,000 invested in WorldCom stock 20 years ago would have resulted in if the same money 20 years ago had bought a run of Mint State-65 and Proof-65 coins from the 1870s to 1900s. Dream on.