By Charles Morgan for CoinWeek...
Douglas Winter's love for numismatics began at the young age of seven. He has actively traded in coins since the age of ten, and has since devoted much of his life immersed in the the study of coins. Winter is a U.S. gold coin expert, nationally-known coin dealer, Red Book contributor, and award-winning author of several essential numismatic books. His works include the recently published third edition of Gold Coins of the Dahlonega Mint: 1838-1861(2014).
We sat down with U.S. Gold Coin Expert Douglas Winter recently to get his take on several recent happenings in the rare gold coin market, including several important offerings at this year’s American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money.
Charles Morgan: Doug, at the ANA World’s Fair of Money there was the high-profile auction of Mint State U.S. $20 Liberty Head double eagles put together by New York collector Robert Galiette. We’re told that the collection brought $1.4 million. What did you think about the coins in that collection and the results of the auction?
Doug Winter: My guess is Robert was fairly happy with the results.
Typically in an auction like that there are coins that are runaways, there’s a number of coins that bring about what you think they will, and a few that bring less.
As a buyer in the sale, I think I bought maybe five or six coins out of the collection. I focused on the Type I’s.
Overall, I thought the collection was outstanding. My hat is off to Robert for putting in the effort of marketing the collection. Obviously it was a multi-year plan.
It was an old school, yet modern approach to doing the coins. Old school from the standpoint of Robert being involved in the process for 10… 15… 20 years. He formulated a game plan. He stuck with it.
The idea of doing the book with David Bowers was terrific. It was a great addition to the literature on gold coins.
CM: We wrote a piece about it…
DW: Yes, I read that! You guys did a great job explaining why it’s a great book. It’s one of the first books on the topic that I’ve read that explains the coin’s role in the economy. It’s a great read in my opinion.
CM: One of the things Robert pointed out in his public remarks, and also in his private discussions with me, was that many people don’t realize how few Mint State circulation strike double eagles were actually in the great collections.
Where did these coins come from and how difficult would it be for someone to actually put together a complete uncirculated set of double eagles?
DW: What is so interesting about this area of the market is that, more than any other popular area, the events of the last 20 or 30 years have totally transformed it.
When Bass, Eliasberg and Browning were specializing in coins, a lot of these dates were nonexistent in high grades. That’s changed with the repatriation of coins from Europe and from the shipwreck recoveries. These events have completely transformed the rarity coins in this series.
Type I coins are more available thanks to what has been pulled up from the bottom of the ocean, while many excellent Type 3 coins have been brought back from Europe.
CM: So how much material do you think remains in Europe?
DW: A ton. I still think there is a lot of material in Europe and in other overseas sources. Scads of significant gold coins.
A lot of what gets put out these days are 1904-P Liberty Head $20s and common-date Saints--but there is a surprising amount of good material out there.
CM: So how does this cache of classic U.S. gold wind up back in the United States?
DW: There are a few American dealers who have full-time representatives in Europe.
It’s not easy doing business there. The few times I’ve gone to Europe to buy coins have been a fiasco. You can’t just walk into a bank or coin dealer and say, “Sell me your good gold coins.” You have to have contacts. You have to buy lots of stuff. It’s a very competitive market.
There are four or five American companies that have full-time representation over there that export significant numbers of coins back. It’s a cash intensive enterprise. When gold flops, you can be caught in a bad position. It’s not something that everyone can do… but for the handful of people, who have figured it out, it’s a lucrative way to buy in the coin market.
CM: When one thinks about U.S. gold coinage and the personalities most tied to the field, two names are bound to come up: you, and David Akers. What was your relationship with David Akers and how did his series of books change the landscape for collecting classic U.S. gold?
DW: I met David when I was in my twenties. He was someone I was always in awe of. I was intimidated by him at first. He was also very helpful to me and was definitely somebody that inspired me.
One of the ways he inspired me when I was younger, in my 20s in the 1980s, was the way Akers would walk in to an auction and he’d buy the three or four coins I could only dream about buying… and then he’d get up and leave.
I thought, someday I want to get to the point where I don’t have to sit through a 3,000 coin auction to find a coin here and there that slipped through the cracks.
His books were a huge bellwether for the market. For the first time, Akers put all the information about classic U.S. gold in one place. For a lot of people, the books stirred an interest in gold coins. And while I don’t use the books anymore because they are more or less out of date, I can say that if you read the comments Akers made about the coins 30 years ago, they turn out to be amazingly accurate.
CM: You co-authored your own series of U.S. gold coin guides with Michael Fuljenz. How did your approach differ from what David Akers had put together?
DW: I used the Akers books as a little bit of an inspiration, actually. But what I’ve always tried to do with any book that I’ve written is I’ve tried to make the books a guide that can be used by collectors at all levels. I want my books to be useful for beginners and experts. So, my goal wasn’t to provide historical background or mint research, but instead, what I’ve tried to do is to give collectors a feel about each issue in a series: what it’s strike is like, how the surfaces come, what range of colors should you expect, how to gauge the quality of the coin’s luster.
My books are written to give collectors an idea of what they are looking at and what they should be looking for. They are essentially buyers’ guides. If you are making a decision to buy a coin, the information in the books Mike and I wrote is useful.
CM: Do you think the two of you will revisit that series and update them?
DW: I’d love to, but the problem is time. These days I’ve put more focus on writing shorter articles that go up on my website and on CoinWeek. But some of the things I want to do in the next couple of years: Redo my Carson City book because it’s hugely out of date. Do another edition of the New Orleans book. And I’d like to write something on San Francisco coinage, but that’s a really time intensive endeavor.
CM: Speaking of buyer’s guides... Is there one piece of advice that you’d give to collectors, who may be experienced in other areas of the hobby but haven’t collected gold coins yet?
DW: My best piece of advice is to start out with as much information as you can get your hands on. You want to learn about what it is you want to collect before you actually start to collect it. With gold, you want to start out with a realistic focus. Coming into the specialty thinking, “I want to do all Liberty Head gold and do it quickly” will get you nowhere. An area like that will take years and years to learn.
Start out with a micro-focus. Start out with S-Mint gold dollars, for instance, and then expand. That’s the best way to do it.
Also, learn the dynamics of the marketplace. Right now, the most challenging aspect for collectors are two things: originality and how to properly price coins.
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