Coin Rarities & Related Topics: The Jan. 2011 FUN Convention in Tampa
News and Analysis on scarce coins, markets, and the coin collecting community #35
A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds
The Jan. 2011 FUN Convention in Tampa was successful, lively, and very enjoyable. According to Cindy Wibker, the convention coordinator, more than 9500 collectors and members of the “general public” attended, plus at least 1500 dealers and non-dealing exhibitors. The grand total was thus more than 11,000! Plus, Wibker reveals that this year’s event featured a “record” number of tables on the bourse floor, 585, which includes tables for about fifteen coin clubs.
On the bourse floor, there were numerous exhibits of coins that were not for sale. Adjacent to the PCGS tables, Bob Simpson’s set of World War II era off-metal strikings of Lincoln Cents was on display. (Click to read my discussion of the recent sale of the unique 1943-Denver Mint cent in copper, and to read my discussion of the sale in 2008 of the 1944-S steel cent in this set.) The NGC display of “Vividly Toned Commemoratives” is covered in section three herein.
Scott Travers and Anthony Swiatek conducted educational seminars at the FUN Convention, as did others. In addition to speaking about the latest trends in coin certification and gold investing, Travers distributed free copies of the latest edition of his classic book, The Coin Collectors Survival Manual (seventh edition, 2010). Though I do not agree with all of Travers’ opinions, I recommend this book.
Bourse activity, exhibits, educational seminars, luncheons, and auctions are all components of a FUN Convention. Last week, I wrote about the pre-FUN B&M auction. The usual Heritage auction extravaganza was successful with tens of millions of dollars worth of coins, paper money, medals and tokens being sold. I will devote an article to the Platinum Night event, which will be posted on Friday or Monday. This upcoming article will include an a discussion of the Satin Finish 1907 ‘Rolled Edge’ Eagle ($10 gold coin) that realized an astonishing price of $2,185,000!
This is not the first coin to be auctioned for more than $2 million at a winter FUN Convention. In most years, the January FUN event is the leading convention of the year for rare U.S. coins. The summer ANA convention is usually, though not always, in second place in this category. The summer ANA event, however, includes a wider variety of coins and related collectibles, though there were some medals and world coins offered at the FUN Convention as well. A large auction of paper money was conducted by Heritage. In my column of Dec. 8, I discuss the general importance of FUN Convention auctions. I then refer to some of my past articles relating to FUN auctions and other FUN Convention related events in Jan. 2009 and Jan. 2010.
I. Purchases on the Bourse Floor
Although the official data suggests that attendance in 2011 was very similar in total to attendance in Jan. 2010, I am certain that collectors were much more actively buying on the bourse floor in 2011. More very expensive coins traded at the Jan. 2010 FUN Convention than did this year. I conclude, though, that more low and mid price coins traded in at the Jan. 2011 FUN Convention. The atmosphere on the bourse floor in Tampa was dynamic.
Wayne Herndon, Kris Oyster, Ross Baldwin and others mentioned that their respective firms sold numerous coins in the $50 to $2000 range. Oyster and Baldwin report selling a few that were much more expensive. I polled more than a dozen other dealers as well.
Jim McGuigan often sells coins in the $1000 to $100,000 range. At this FUN Convention, Jim found that he was generally selling coins priced below $2000 each. He did bid on several five figure coins in the B&M and Heritage auctions.
McGuigan specializes in U.S. coins dating from 1793 to the late 1830s. Jim reports that, since April 2009, “there has NOT been a lot of cool and fresh, early stuff in the auctions or on the [bourse] floor at major conventions.” I (this writer) tend to agree.
I find that fresh and choice 18th and 19th century U.S. coins have been in unusually short supply since the April 2009 auction event that Jim cites. At the August 2010 ANA Convention in Boston, however, there was an impressive selection of pre-1917 rarities and condition rarities on the bourse floor and in the auctions. Regarding rarities in Boston, please see my columns of June 30th, July 7th, Aug. 11th and Aug. 18.
In my view, there were fewer very expensive coins available on the bourse floor in 2011 than there were at any Jan. FUN Convention since 2005. Bob Green, who has sold a startling number of rare date gold coins, certainly found some. His firm, Park Avenue Numismatics, “spent $650,000 on the bourse floor for twenty two coins, mostly want list items,” including both 1796 ‘No Stars’ and 1796 ‘With Stars’ Quarter Eagles ($2½ gold coins). Green stopped short of asserting that markets for rare date U.S. gold coins are very strong overall. “Rare date gold continues to be strong for us,” Green states, “we have nurtured [such] a clientele.”
Green found that his “retail business on the floor was less than stellar; we sold a lot more high ticket [$25k plus] items last year. I [Green] attribute this to the change in venue. There were more buyers of high ticket items in Orlando.”
Essentially, Green’s remarks, which I heard after I had already analyzed the bourse floor activity, further substantiate my conclusions. Green sells mostly rare date gold coins that tend to be expensive. In Tampa, there were a large number of collectors buying copper, nickel and silver coins for $25 to $2000 each. At his firm’s table, Green noticed that a stream of buyers were asking for common gold coins, which he does not emphasize. Green’s firm did, though, sell a significant number of better date gold coins “for under $5000” each in Tampa.
Green recounts that, to collectors at the FUN Convention, Park Avenue Numismatics sold “many $2½ Indians, including 1914 and 1914-D [dated] coins and a [key] 1911-D.” Further, Green “sold a boatload of [certified] MS-66 [grade] 1908 ‘No Motto’ Saints, six figures worth.” Moreover, Green’s firm sold quite a few “Charlotte and Dahlonega [Georgia] Branch Mint gold coins, most under $10,000 each.” In sum, “this year in Tampa,” Green’s firm had “more sales under $10,000 each” than in Orlando in Jan. 2010, but “much less sales over $25,000”!
In contrast, Matt Kleinsteuber of NFC Coins reveals that NFC did “almost all wholesale” at the FUN Convention and he was so busy that Matt did not even have time to “put coins out” for collectors to see. Matt found that “everything was selling, from $50 coins to more than six figures.” According to Kleinsteuber, NFC sold “35% more in total than we expected to sell”! The total for NFC was “seven figures”; Kleinsteuber asked that an exact figure not be published.
Matt declared that “CAC coins were hot and really moving” at the FUN Convention. Please see some of my articles and previous columns for discussions of the CAC (CAC at CoinFest; Brahin’s Saints; my column of June16th, etc.) Also, Matt said that “people were beginning to pay strong premiums for plus coins, but that market has not really matured.”
Demand for CAC approved coins and for some coins with plus grades is relevant to my longstanding position that pre-1934 coins that are ‘high end’ for their respective PCGS or NGC grades have become much scarcer over time and are bringing strong premiums over ‘low end’ coins. On the bourse floor, there were fewer expensive coins that were ‘high end’ for their respective grades than there were at FUN Conventions in Jan. 2007, 2008 or 2010. (Please see relevant remarks that I put forth after the August 2009 ANA Convention: The Widening Gap, Aug. 2009 Market Report — part 1, part 2.
I was really astonished by the lack of fresh material, in the field of choice and rare pre-1934 coins, on the bourse floor. For a coin to be ‘fresh,’ it must have been ‘off the market’ for five to seven years, or more.
In Boston in August 2010, at the summer ANA convention, I examined numerous rarities that I had never seen before or not seen for more than five years. I wrote about some of them in my column on Great Coins at the ANA Convention. Of course, there were a few great coins apparent on the bourse floor at the Jan. 2011 FUN Convention. Almost all of them, however, I had seen at some point during the last five years. This was also true of an unusually large number of the business strike coins that were sold during Platinum Night.
I cannot resist mentioning an 1885 Liberty Nickel that Joe O’Connor allowed me to examine at the FUN Convention. It is PCGS graded MS-66+ and is in a PCGS Secure holder. The 1885 issue is the key business strike in the series and this is the best 1885 that I have ever seen. It is awestriking.
On Friday, Jan. 7, the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) held its annual FUN luncheon, and, on Saturday, the Numismatic Guaranty Corp. (NGC) held its luncheon. All the Jan. 2011 FUN Convention events that I discuss in this column occurred at the Tampa Convention Center.
At the PCGS Luncheon, David Hall, the primary founder of the PCGS, revealed a plan to register the top coin collections of all time on the PCGS website, presumably with estimated PCGS grades. Additions to the PCGS Million Dollar Club, a listing of coins that are valued at more than $1 million each, will be revealed in 2011, according to Hall. For an explanation of the ‘million dollar club,’ please read my review of a meeting of a gold coin club, at which Hall was a featured speaker.
As the primary focus of the PCGS Luncheon was on the anti-doctoring technologies that are being implemented by the PCGS, I will wait and discuss these next week, along with some additional discussion of coin doctoring. Next week, I will also mention relevant remarks put forth by NGC Chairman Mark Salzberg at the NGC Luncheon. For some background on this topic, please see my columns of June 2nd and Sept. 8th, and also my two part series on the PCGS SecurePlus program (part 1 – part 2).
Remarks pertaining to coin doctoring constituted a small part of the proceeding of the NGC Luncheon. Mark Salzberg, the chairman of the NGC, and Scott Schecter, vice president, talked about the NGC Set Registry, including planned enhancements, and other topics.
Schecter explained innovations on the NGC website: the “collection manager,” a versatile price guide which allows for a multitude of price comparisons and historical charting of prices over the past five years, and the VarietyPlus® program, which includes explanations and pictures of a growing number of die varieties in most series of U.S. coins. The NGC collection manager enables collectors to keep inventories of their respective collections in password protected, non-public sections of the NGC website.
The NGC Luncheon was not only about U.S. coins. Salzberg emphasized the headway that the NGC has made in certifying coins of the world, especially scarce Chinese coins. A rapidly growing number of collectors in China are buying NGC certified Chinese coins. Indeed, numerous auction records for Chinese coins were shattered when B&M recently auctioned, in Hong Kong, a collection of NGC certified Chinese coins.
III. Vividly Toned Commemoratives
At the NGC table, there was a display of forty-two commemorative half dollars that, for the most part, are of superb gem quality and feature wonderful natural toning. Matt Kleinsteuber finds the Monroe Half in the display to be “amazing” for a Monroe, which “usually comes dull and drab.” Indeed, Matt exclaims that the display a as a whole was “mesmerizing and absolutely breathtaking”!
According to Scott Schecter, these colorful halves were on loan from four collectors and one dealer/collector. The most famous of the four collectors is Gregg Bingham, who played linebacker for an NFL team, the Houston Oilers, in the 1970s and 1980s. He is widely believed to have been the best linebacker in the history of the team. The Oilers franchise was the predecessor of the Tennessee Titans and is not related to the Houston Texans organization, which is an expansion team.
Matt and I are in agreement that the star of the NGC display was Bingham’s Proof 1892 Columbian Half Dollar that is NGC certified ‘Proof-68* Cameo.’ It is an “awesome coin.” I (this writer) am also very fond of Bingham’s Bay Bridge half, coins of this issue that are usually not charming. Bingham’s Bay Bridge half is exceptionally pleasing. Furthermore, Bingham has two MS-68 grade Cincinnati issues, one that was in the display and another that Bingham showed to me privately. For the Cincinnati issue, both are almost unbelievably appealing.
Vintage or ‘classic’ commemorative half dollars were minted from 1892 to 1954, though not in every year. A ‘type set’ comprises of fifty coins, forty eight halves plus an Isabella Quarter and a Lafayette silver dollar. A ‘date’ set requires one hundred and forty-four coins.
Kleinsteuber points out that “the market is dead for commemorative halves that grade MS-66 or lower, [especially] for white ones.” In contrast, “people are lining up,” Matt says, “to buy MS-67 or higher [grade] commems that have great [colorful] toning.” If the forty-two halves that were on display were ever offered in an unreserved auction, the bidding activity would be wild and crazy.
IV. Auction to benefit the Smithsonian
On Thursday, Jan. 6, just prior to the beginning of Heritage’s Platinum Night event, the owners of Heritage Auction Galleries and officials from the Smithsonian Institution hosted a reception. It was announced that Heritage will conduct an auction solely for the purpose of raising funds for the Smithsonian Institution to post information relating to the ‘National Numismatic Collection’ on the Smithsonian’s website.
This auction will occur in about a year at the Jan. 2012 FUN Convention in Orlando. Collectors and dealers are being asked to donate coins to be auctioned. Jeff Garrett, the author of a few books relating to coins, was credited with formulating the idea for this event. Some famous numismatists, including Martin Logies of the Cardinal Educational Foundation and large cent legend Walter Husak, were in attendance at the reception.
Heritage will not charge or collect any commissions whatsoever, and Heritage will underwrite the operating costs of this auction. The full price for each lot sold will be donated to the Smithsonian to be used to make information about the coins and other numismatic material in the Smithsonian accessible to people throughout the world via the Internet.
©2011 Greg Reynolds