As I write these words I have fond memories of our recent auction at the Whitman Coins & Collectibles Expo in Baltimore. Actually, make that plural, auctions! What with several catalogs and, in some instances, two sessions running simultaneously, it was a dynamic event all by itself -- never mind that one of America’s most active coin conventions, complete with a large bourse, was going on at the same time.
The event was excitement from beginning to end. Time was when our auctions were self contained, so to speak. Going back a long time, as an auction approached, I and others would take stock of the number of people looking at lots, those filling out bidder cards, and so on. A room would typically have dozens of chairs put in for bidders, but often we needed to call for extras. All bidding was done right there -- on site by floor bidders. The Internet was unheard of, of course, and telephone bidding was very rare. If you wanted to own a coin, you showed up in person or else commissioned an agent to represent you.
Today in 2012, including in our Baltimore sale, the scene is vastly different. The number of people in the audience does not make much difference. Although we had a comfortable group on hand at all times, thousands of people checked in on the Internet. Action was fast and furious, both from the floor gallery and from the Internet, resulting in excellent prices overall. However, if there had been no in-person attendance at all, I venture to say that the sale would have been a great success. Indeed, probably the majority of coins sold at auction today are Internet only. Witness Teletrade, a highly successful division of Spectrum Group International.
High-priced highlights were many in the Baltimore sale. Among federal coins I mention a 1919-S Standing Liberty quarter, MS-67 Full Head certified by PCGS, that crossed the block at a record $184,000. Who would have believed it? A 1796 Draped Bust half dollar, O-102 variety with 16 stars, in evenly circulated Fine-12 grade, climbed to $69,000. This and the 1797 half dollar were short-lived and with low mintages and are essential for the completion of a type set. Examples are in demand at all grade levels. Among gold coins, an 1898 Proof-67 half eagle fetched $92,000, a Sand Blast Proof 1908 of the same denomination, certified Proof-65 by PCGS and with a CAC sticker, climbed to $57,500, a 1799 eagle in MS-63 (PCGS) grade went to $80,500 and a Gem Proof 1892 Liberty $10 brought $53,188.
All bets were off when it came to colonial and early American coins. We had a special session featuring these, in cooperation with Colonial Coin Collectors Club (C4). This began on Friday evening, but who would have anticipated the fireworks that took place? Excitement prevailed, and bidding was so extensive and protracted that the session did not wind down until 3:00 in the morning. Over the years we have had a number of sales run past midnight, but this set a record. Highlighting this sale was a 1652 Massachusetts NE sixpence in VF grade, found in a field, and prior to the auction evaluated in the low tens of thousands of dollars. When I checked on it on Friday the bid stood at $28,000. This seemed inexpensive, of course, and I thought it might double or triple that. However, I was not prepared at all to see it go to a record-breaking, indeed truly incredible, $431,250. In the annals of colonial coins sold at auction this certainly will echo for a long time in the halls of numismatics!
A 1721-B French Colonies sou of the Rouen Mint, W-11825, in VF-20 brought a very strong $23,000. A generation ago very few people collected these. Enter our fine friend Bob Vlack, who wrote a reference book on these and the rest is history. Today they are widely collected. A 1787 Excelsior copper, W-5790 with a portrait of George Clinton, Fine-15, brought $218,500. The three colonials I have mentioned are all from the John Royse Collection which Stack’s helped form over a period of years. I don’t know Mr. Royse’s cost figures, but I can guarantee that the results of the sale were such that it would have been difficult to place the equivalent amount of money in any other investment that would earn the same return. Of course, John did not buy the coins as an investment -- he bought them to enjoy. As I have said many times, with careful buying a fine collection can provide challenges and pleasures for a long period of years, and then upon its sale yield a very strong financial return.
Now the staff is looking toward our January sales. At the New York International Numismatic Convention at the Waldorf, Rick Ponterio and his staff will be presenting a dandy offering of foreign and ancient coins, laden with interesting pieces from entry level -- or affordable so to speak -- to world class rarities. The catalog is now in process. Then follows our Americana Sale from January 22 to 24, in New York City, at our own auction gallery plus a session at the nearby Le Parker Meridien Hotel, a New York favorite just a few steps from our office. This will feature coins, tokens, medals, and paper money in all categories. One of the sessions will be Rarities Night showcasing the Cardinal Collection with its landmark pieces, topped by the finest known 1794 silver dollar.
Although this might seem like my life is a long string of auctions, nothing could be further from the case. I have also been busy in other areas of numismatics, including with Whitman Publishing, LLC, the staff of which is very busy preparing for the 2014 issue of A Guide Book of United States Coins. Lots of fun!