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January 4, 2024
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Discover the World of Ancient Coins – Part One

Ancient coins are increasingly becoming a major player in the numismatic marketplace, and their affordability could make them an attractive option for collectors.

For the last few weeks, I have been preparing for the 2024 FUN (Florida United Numismatists) Show in Orlando, Florida. The show kicks off the numismatic new year in style with one of the largest bourse floors in the country, including hundreds of dealers from around the world.

As usual, we have a large and diverse selection of material for sale. Mid-American Rare Coin Galleries offers everything from Colonial coinage to Double Eagles. We also offer an interesting selection of ancient coinage.

When walking around most bourse floors at conventions these days, I am amazed by how many rare coin dealers now offer ancient coins. I would estimate that 20-30% of the tables at most shows have ancient coins as part of their inventory for sale. This is a huge change from just a few years ago.

In the past, most of the ancient and world coin dealers were closely grouped in a small section of the bourse floor. Now, ancient coins are sprinkled throughout the convention. Even the largest companies in the world (Heritage, Stack’s Bowers, APMEX and others) have staff and inventory devoted to ancient coinage.

There are many reasons for this huge change in the way American rare coin dealers view this important segment of the market. One of the most important has been the acceptance of third-party grading for ancient coins. The NGC Ancients coin program, led by David Vagi and Barry Murphy, has given buyers and sellers the tools to deal in this somewhat complicated part of the rare coin market.

Buyers are now more comfortable with ancient coins because of the expert attribution and grading that NGC offers. Some collectors and dealers of ancient coins wanted to hold and feel these relics of the past. Many, however, have decided the security of third-party certification far outweighs this single benefit.

Ancient coins are also extremely popular because of their historical importance. Most have great stories and colorful characters attached to them. Who can resist a silver tetradrachm struck around 300 B.C. by Alexander the Great? Few people in history had a greater impact on the world than this Macedonian King. He conquered most of the known world, and established Mints throughout his empire.

Julius Caesar is one of the best-known names in Roman history. The coinage of Caesar tells an intriguing story, including his ultimate fate, which is depicted on the famous "Ides of March" issue. The story of the Roman Empire is well told in its ancient coinage and collecting this area of the market is an endless pursuit.

 

Click images to enlarge.

 

November 2, 2023
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A Golden Opportunity

With gold on the rise again, Jeff Garrett explains why there is no better time to invest in the gold coin market.

In the last few weeks, gold has finally started to move in a positive direction, as it briefly topped $2,000 for the first time in months. Tensions over global conflicts and concerns about the massive federal debt have once again made gold look attractive as a safety play. Almost daily we have clients calling and asking about how to buy gold to protect their assets. It will only take one headline crisis for gold to move to the next level.

The most immediate effect of the recent gold rise has been an upsurge in coin shipments. I would also guess that companies with a strong web presence that are devoted to bullion have also seen an increase in business. Many dealers whom I have contacted have bought much more than they have been selling. That is one of the reasons that the premiums for bullion-related objects are near recent lows.

This oversupply is also playing out in the rare, or nearly rare, coin market. Generic date, common issues of United States gold coins are selling for very low premiums once again. Much of this surplus is fueled by an avalanche of pre-1933 gold coins flowing back to the United States from Europe. During the Depression and before, large quantities of US gold coins were shipped to Europe as a standard course of international trade. No one really knew how much US gold remained lurking in the vaults of European banks and other financial institutions.

 

LEFT: 1895 Double Eagle graded NGC MS 61
RIGHT: 1925 Double Eagle graded NGC MS 62
Click images to enlarge.

 

Starting in the 1950s, some US coin dealers began to repatriate these coins at a steady, but slow pace. In the 1960s and 1970s, some previously rare-dated Double Eagles appeared in these European shipments. Mega-rarities such as the 1924-D, 1925-D and 1926-S were found in quantity. A great narrative of this time period can be found in the seminal books on US gold coins by David Akers that were first published in the 1970s. Akers knew much of this information firsthand, as he had handled many of these mini-hoards.

October 19, 2023
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Perfectly Circulated Coins

Much attention in numismatics is focused on quality. One of the most common pieces of wisdom dispensed by experienced numismatists is to buy the best you can afford. For decades this advice has served most collectors very well. Top-quality coins have been all the rage. The popularity of registry collecting has focused an incredible amount of attention on the finest-known examples of 20th and 21st century series. Illustrating this point, a 1941-S Half Dollar graded NGC MS 67+ is worth about as much as a 1907 High Relief Double Eagle graded NGC MS 63.

 

A 1941-S Half Dollar graded NGC MS 67+ that realized $19,200 in July 2022 Heritage sale and a 1907 High Relief $20 - Wire Rim graded NGC MS 63 that realized $21,000 in a December 2022 Heritage sale.
Click images to enlarge.

 

The purpose of this article is to highlight the fact that the pursuit of quality is not limited to the top end of the Sheldon scale. Now more than ever, collectors are demanding attractive examples of coins at all ranges of the grading scale. Eye appeal has become the driving force for values. Some collectors are very price-sensitive, but most are more concerned with buying coins that look great for the grade. This concept includes circulated Colonial coinage to Territorial gold coins and everything in between.

Many collectors do not realize that they should keep quality in mind when purchasing circulated coins. Large Cent collectors have known this since the beginning of organized numismatics. A beautiful chocolate brown circulated Large Cent sells for much more than the typical coin that has dark color and scattered porosity. Finding a circulated 19th century Large Cent void of problems is a very difficult task. Nearly all show the scars of time to some degree.

September 21, 2023
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Rising Interest Rates and the Rare Coin Market

The effects of higher costs for borrowing money are rippling through the numismatic marketplace.

During the day, my office television is usually set on CNBC news for the latest financial headlines. For nearly a year now, the news channel has been hyper-focused on the Federal Reserve and interest rates. The talking heads obsess over every utterance by Chairman Jerome Powell and the effects on the markets and US economy each time rates have increased. Interest rates have skyrocketed at the fastest pace in recent history. Money that was nearly free now carries substantial costs for anyone needing a loan.

Rising interest rates have definitely impacted the rare coin and bullion market in the last several months. The costs for dealers to leverage their inventory positions have increased substantially, and many have told me they are trimming inventory in response. This leads to more supply on the market for everything from bullion-related coins to rare coins.

Some collectors also borrow money to buy rare coins, and this has now become prohibitively expensive. Until recently, collectors could use home equity loans for rare coin purchases with minimal interest costs. Those rates have now increased to 8-10% and could rise even higher if the Fed needs to continue fighting inflation.

 

 

The demand for gold and silver bullion, such as American Silver Eagles, has plummeted in the last several weeks. Premiums for these have fallen from over $15 per coin to just a few dollars. Prices for circulated Morgan and Peace Dollars have also somewhat dropped lately. This contrasts sharply with the near-manic demand for bullion in March, when two or three major banks failed. Customers were literally rushing to withdraw their money from banks to buy bullion. The news cycle has moved on from that near-disaster, and bullion is no longer a "must-have" for nervous individuals.

September 7, 2023
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Becoming a Professional Numismatist

If you want to work with coins for a living, here are some ideas on where to start.

One of the most amazing developments in numismatics recently has been the explosion of sharp young people entering the business. There are at least 50 to 100 new faces seen regularly at coin shows and other events. Many of these young people are already a competitive force at these shows, buying and selling tens of thousands of dollars' worth of rare coins. For those concerned about the future of the hobby, you now have less to worry about.

Nearly everyone agrees that social media has played an important role in connecting these young people to numismatics and each other. There is an alternate universe of numismatic action seen daily on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Whatnot and message boards. There are new online options being offered for numismatics at a frantic pace. It's hard for us older dealers to keep up.

The Professional Numismatists Guild, the most prestigious dealer organization in the country, has recently started a program called "NexGen" to encourage and enable young dealers. The program is being sponsored by former NGC Chairman Mark Salzberg. The first event for participants was at this year's ANA convention in Pittsburgh. The opportunity for world-class numismatic mentorship is amazing for these young dealers. The PNG is committed to helping develop the next crop of world-class rare coin dealers.

 

 

Perhaps you are new to the game of numismatics and have thought about trying to become a professional rare coin dealer. Regardless of your age, numismatics offers a lot of ways to make a living. Knowing where and how to start can be the hard part. You will also need the skills to make it in the world of professional numismatics. Everyone's path will be different, but the following may help you navigate the world of becoming a professional.

August 24, 2023
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Reading the Coin Market’s Pulse in Pittsburgh

Observations on the ever-changing state of the coin market through the lens of the 2023 ANA World's Fair of Money.

Based on results from the recently completed ANA World's Fair of Money in Pittsburgh, the rare coin market is alive and well. Attendance was moderate for the annual convention this year compared to the Rosemont, Illinois venue, but those in attendance were there to do business. Our company started showing coins Sunday to a few select dealers, and we were constantly selling coins through Saturday when we were packing up.

These are a few observations on the current state of the US rare coin market, as seen on the bourse floor in Pittsburgh.

 

 

1. Collectors are dominating the market

After our initial dealer sales on Sunday and Monday, we had a steady stream of collectors buying one or two coins at a time. Our sales required two bank bags to hold the completed invoices by the end of the week. Collectors were looking for affordable collector coins in the $500 to $5,000 range.

2. Quality is paramount

The above-mentioned collectors all had one thing in common: They want coins with good eye appeal, regardless of the grade. Coins in no-grade holders sat in the cases like date-expired produce. Price is not the prime consideration for collectors; it's quality. This is regardless of the third-party company who has certified the coin.

August 10, 2023
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The Most Exciting Moment of My Career

One does not quickly forget placing a multi-million-dollar winning bid on one of the rarest US coins.

This week's 2023 ANA convention marks the 20th anniversary of the rediscovery of the missing Walton 1913 Liberty Nickel. I was asked to be part of the team that authenticated the coin for the Walton heirs who had come forward with the coin. Ten years later, in 2013, my company purchased the coin at auction. My purchase of the 1913 Liberty Nickel was one of the most exciting experiences of my numismatic career. The following is a detailed account of what happened that night.

Over the years, when asked about the most expensive coin I have ever sold, my mind quickly races with memories of April 25, 2013. Our team was attending the Central States Convention in Rosemont, Illinois, and the show had just concluded for the day. An important auction was being held that night at the convention, with the star lot being one of the legendary 1913 Liberty Nickels. Only five examples are known of this classic rarity, and for decades it has been one of the most coveted United States coins. The example being offered that night had been missing since the 1960s, until its rediscovery in 2003. The Walton family decided to part with the coin, and a room of about 300 people were waiting anxiously for it to cross the auction block.

 

1913 Liberty Head Nickel once owned by George Walton
Click images to enlarge.

 

I was on the way to dinner with my son, Ben, when my cell phone rang. One of my closest dealer friends, Larry Lee, was calling back about an inquiry I had made days earlier. Larry had several important retail clients who I thought might be interested in owning a 1913 Liberty Nickel. In actuality, Larry had decided he wanted to own the "holy grail" of numismatics himself. Larry agreed to split the coin with me, with him owning the majority interest.

July 27, 2023
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Cherrypicking

With so many ways to go about collecting coins, Jeff Garrett shares suggestions on how to tackle collecting die varieties.

One of the most highly anticipated numismatic books of the year is the soon-to-be-released Cherrypickers' Guide to Rare Die Varieties of United States Coins, Sixth Edition, Volume II. The book is to be released August 1, 2023. I am sure Whitman Publishing will have copies available for sale at the Pittsburgh ANA World’s Fair of Money. The book is very complex and has been in the works for quite some time. Congratulations to Editor Larry Briggs and the Whitman team on the herculean efforts to bring the book to press.

Collecting coins by die variety is usually for more advanced collectors, but there are many ways to participate in this fascinating segment of numismatics. In the last several months, a client of mine has become quite involved with collecting Morgan Silver Dollars because of the 2021 and 2023 tribute coins. This client is quite studious and has spent considerable time learning the series. Every once in a while, he will ask a question about collecting Morgan Dollars that may seem obvious to seasoned collectors, but clearly is not to someone new to the hobby.

His most recent inquiry was about the subject of Morgan Dollar varieties. The question is a very good one: what are varieties and which coins are part of a complete Morgan Dollar set? This same question could be asked for about every series, and the answer is actually quite complex.

 

1887/6 Top-100 VAM-2 Morgan Dollar from NGC Coin Explorer
Click images to enlarge.

 

According to the NGC website, the term variety is defined as follows: A variety is a coin that differs from its basic design type in some distinctive way and is thus differentiated by collectors. This is a good definition of the term, but it does not necessarily give an indication about how to collect them. Collecting by die variety is about as old as the hobby itself in the United States. Many of the most active early collectors of US Colonial coinage and Large Cents collected by die variety. This part of the market is very mature and there are thousands of collectors devoted to owning as many different Large Cent varieties as possible.

July 13, 2023
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America's Greatest Coin Show!

As the ANA World's Fair of Money quickly approaches, Jeff Garrett reminisces about the importance of the major rare coin convention.

 

In the next few weeks, everyone in my company will be making plans for the upcoming World’s Fair of Money that will take place in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania from August 8-12, 2023. The show is put on by the American Numismatic Association (ANA), with the organization holding the annual convention since the early part of the last century.

The ANA World's Fair of Money is by far the most important rare coin convention held each year in the United States. Dealers and Mints from around the world attend to display their wares. Nearly 10,000 collectors are expected to attend the 2023 Pittsburgh edition of this important convention.

This year’s World’s Fair of Money should also see more international players on the bourse floor. When the show is in Rosemont, Illinois, many of the world dealers and Mints meet in downtown Chicago, which somewhat diminishes the show. I look forward to seeing many familiar faces from my travels to coins shows in Europe. Of further interest to the international crowd will be the annual Coin of The Year (COTY) awards ceremony, which will be held at the ANA World’s Fair of Money for the first time. The annual award event usually takes place in Berlin, Germany.

There will also be thousands of rare coins and currency sold at auction in the week following the show. Heritage Auctions and Stack's Bowers will be showing lots during the convention. This year’s sales will likely exceed $75 million. This includes coins from the Harry S. Bass collection that will be sold during the show. Live auctions of major collections are becoming a thing of the past. The Pittsburgh auction will be a unique opportunity if you have not seen one in person.

 

 

One activity that is always highly recommended for dealers and collectors attending the World’s Fair of Money is to examine auction lots. The summer ANA convention traditionally is among the largest, rare coin auctions of the year. I have stated many times in my past articles the educational value of examining auction lots. There is no better way for the average collector or dealer to understand the nuances of coin grading than to look at lots of rare coins. Seeing why some coins of the same grade bring different prices is very enlightening. In recent years, auction prices have become one of the major factors when considering coin values.

June 23, 2023
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Collecting Twenty Cent Pieces (1875-1878)

Considering a new series to collect? Here is a brief guide to collecting US Twenty Cent pieces, an intriguing "oddball" denomination.

One common theme of the many subjects we have discussed over the last several years has been deciding what to collect. This simple task can actually be difficult for many new collectors. Most are drawn to coins they might be familiar with from an earlier encounter with the hobby. For example, a lot of people collected Lincoln Cents in Whitman folders when they were young. When later rediscovering the hobby of numismatics, they might try assembling a complete collection of high-grade Lincoln Cents. Other collectors seek more challenging segments of the market to collect.

For most, deciding what to collect depends on several common factors most are familiar with:

  • Historically interesting
  • Attractive design
  • Affordability
  • Possible to complete
  • Availability for purchase

 

The above are just a few of the criteria collectors may consider when exploring new series to collect. Not all series of United States coinage click ALL of the boxes mentioned, and sometimes compromises must be made to delve into a new series. The United States Twenty Cent pieces are one such short but complicated series.

The Twenty Cent piece minted from 1875 to 1878 is one of those well-intentioned coins for which the US Mint will be perpetually regretful. The new denomination was intended to halt chronic short-changing in the Western states but was more likely an appeasement to Western silver miners who lost much of their business when the Mint eliminated some of the silver coins in the Coinage Act of 1873.