The Coin Analyst: Baseball Hall of Fame Signature Labels
Third party grading services offer real and replica signature inserts for 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame Coins. Do they add lasting value?
By Louis Golino for CoinWeek…..
One aspect of the much-discussed 2014 baseball commemorative coins that has not received very much attention yet is the special labels from PCGS and NGC that are signed by Hall of Fame baseball players and the artist who designed the glove that appears on the reverse of these popular coins, Cassie McFarland. The most important thing to know is that there are two types of signed labels being sold, and the prices for each type are very different.
NGC arranged to license the use of official facsimiles of Hall of Fame player signatures such as Nolan Ryan, and such coin labels say “authorized facsimile” on them. John Maben, owner of Modern Coin Mart said that these coins are selling well and that the Nolan Ryan and Cal Ripken, Jr. labels are the most popular. He also said: “The NGC Authorized facsimile labels are outselling the regular HOF labels by about 2 to 1. When buying from us, collectors know what they are buying. They have been very popular. We go out of our way to make sure buyers understand they are not hand- signed labels, which is in addition to what NGC has stated on the label itself.”
The second type of player-signed label being marketed by coin dealers currently is PCGS labels that have hand signatures from Baseball Hall of Fame players.
Then there are labels that bear the signature of the reverse coin designer, Cassie McFarland, which are for the most part priced lower than the hand-signed baseball player labels. On May 8 at the PCGS message board a thread was started about the McFarland signatures. Some posters maintained the McFarland signatures are real, while others said they are not. However, all the McFarland labels are indeed hand-signed.
On May 4 an e-Bay buyer paid a negotiated price below $798 for a set of BHOF silver dollars in PF/MS70, which the seller said was hand-signed by McFarland. There are at least a dozen current listings for coins with McFarland-signed labels with the silver coins priced in the $300 range and several recent sales also in that price range.
Modern Coin Wholesale is selling silver dollars and $5 gold pieces signed by McFarland. The silver coins in 70 grades are $325, but if they are also “First Pitch Baltimore” coins graded at the Baltimore coin show, they are priced at $1,150. The $5 gold coins in 70 with the signature are $2,500, or about $1,000 over the price of the same coin without the signature.
The PCGS population report includes the McFarland labels, but so far not the hand-signed baseball player labels, whereas the price guide has 9 player labels and no entry for the McFarland labels at least so far. The price guide has separate entries and coin numbers for each player-signed label and currently lists the $5 gold coins in 70 grades at $1450, which must be an error as a quick check of e-Bay and dealer prices shows that $1500 or so is what coins without the special labels sell for. The separate numbers for each player label help to facilitate registry set collecting.
According to the census report, there are 2,018 $1 silver coins with McFarland signature labels plus another 59 from the Baltimore show; 85 clad halves plus 74 from the show; and 151 $5 gold coins plus 14 from the show. These numbers will change over time.
Retailers for the hand-signed PCGS –graded coins include in particular L&C Coins, which specializes in modern and classic American issues, and at the wholesale level the coins are being marketed by Heritage Auctions.
Lee Crane, owner of L&C coins noted that “It’s an interesting market and something new when you combine a popular coin, the baseball coins, with Hall of Fame players. And you have two types of people who collect these coins—coin collectors and baseball autograph collectors.”
Mr. Crane added that after debating what would be the best way to sell the coins his company decided the auction route was not the best way since prices would be likely to come in either too low or too high, so they decided to price the gold coins at $5,500 or best offer on e-Bay. But that may have scared some people away. The accepted an offer of $3,000 for a gold coin from a buyer and factored in that and prices for the Baltimore-graded coins and decided that was the right pricing level for these coins.
So far L&C has coins with half a dozen Hall of Fame baseball player signatures, including Cal Ripken, Jr., Tony La Russa, Reggie Jackson, Ernie Banks, Frank Thomas, and Dennis Eckersley. On May 12 the coins were listed for sale on the company’s web site and prices varied depending on grade and the specific player signature. Half dollars in 70 grades are $275-325; silver dollars in 70 are priced between $450 and 600 and in 69 are in the $225-300 range, and the $5 gold coins in 70 are between $2,500 and $3,000. He pointed out that “It’s kind of scary for dealers and collectors because it is new ground.”
Mr. Crane also said they don’t have “a whole lot of them,” in particular less than 200 of the gold coins and around 400-500 of the halves and silver dollars. He added that “we don’t know if people are going to build registry sets” of these coins, but you won’t be able to get all Hall of Fame players since not all of them agreed to sign. There are some players who don’t want to sign because of their schedule rather than the amount of money involved. He expects the number of players to eventually reach over 20, including possibly legends like Hank Aaron and Sandy Koufax and new members like Frank Thomas and Tony La Russa.
On the baseball coins in general Mr. Crane said he tends to think demand for them will hold up even after the Mint resolves its shipping delays and more coins reach the market because as more players agree to sign, dealers will need to find more coins, and that plus registry sets will “help hold up prices.” He also thinks values for first strike coins may be greater than usual, as I suggested in my last column, because of the shipping delays. Finally, he stressed what a great job the Mint did with these coins and that a larger, perhaps one-ounce gold coin would have been interesting, though perhaps difficult to make.
Mark Ingold at Heritage Auctions, which is handling wholesale marketing for these coins, also commented on how well suited they are to registry set collecting. He mentioned four player labels he could confirm so far, including Andre Dawson, Bob Gibson, Ernie Banks, and Lou Brock. One industry insider said he expected there to be 29 different ones eventually.
At the moment, the marketplace does assign considerable value to coins with the hand-signed labels, especially the Hall of fame player ones. Clearly, a lot of the interest in these items is coming from people with an interest in baseball. Whether the labels will hold their value over time remains to be seen. But it is worth keeping in mind that there is a lot of overlap between coin collectors and baseball fans, a synergy that has been at the heart of the BHOF coins since they were launched.
To me these coins raise mostly the same issues about long-term value that the coins graded in Baltimore do, although hand-signed labels arguably much have greater collectible value. If I were a die-hard baseball fan and were interested in these coins, I would first do some research on how much any item with a particular player’s signature is worth, especially if investing large sums on hand-signed labels.
As with the Chicago ANA Buffalo reverse proof gold coins and the BHOF coins graded at the Whitman Expo in Baltimore, the marketplace and demand from buyers will ultimately determine the value of the coins, and if those other coins are any guide, it appears prices could remain quite steep. On the other hand, to me the McFarland label coins if obtained for only a small premium over the price of a regular coin seem like a good value for the more budget-minded buyer who wants a baseball coin with something extra.
Copyright © CoinWeek – May 2014
Louis Golino is a coin collector and numismatic writer, whose articles on coins have appeared in Coin World, Numismatic News, and a number of different coin web sites. His insightful retrospective on the American Silver Eagle was the cover feature of the February 2014 issue of The Numismatist. His column for CoinWeek, “The Coin Analyst,” covers U.S. and world coins and precious metals. He collects U.S. and European coins and is a member of the ANA, PCGS, NGC, and CAC. He has also worked for the U.S. Library of Congress and has been a syndicated columnist and news analyst on international affairs for a wide variety of newspapers and web sites.