Top end of the market
I asked a friend of mine, who is a coin dealer, if it the market was strong overall or if there are any weak areas. He said that at the top end, which includes coins priced at tens of thousands of pounds, the market is very strong. At this level there will be fewer buyers but there are enough of them for the best coins to sell for £100,000+. For example, the Anne Five-Guineas shown above that Spink sold for £220,000 in September. Some of them are keen collectors, whilst others are mega-rich buyers who are looking for alternative ways of investing cash.
There was a dip in prices in the later 1990s but from the year 2000 onwards most series have gone up in price. On paper lots of coins look like a wonderful investment, as graphs show a continuous rise in price year on year. Additionally, they are small and easy to store away in safes or bank vaults. Of course, a day may come when the bottom drops out of the coin market, which could lead to substantial losses. At the moment there is no sign of any weakness at the top end, so it is probable that those buying coins as an investment will continue to do well.
Bottom end of the market
Besides saying that the market was strong at the top end, my dealer friend said the bottom end had also advanced and this surprised me. Many years since, when I dealt in coins, I always found it very difficult to sell material that wasn’t in good condition. For example, the best price I could expect to get for sixpences of Elizabeth I in fair condition was around £2 and even at that figure few collectors were interested in them.
However, evidence in support of my friend’s view of the market comes from a recent auction. One of the big London auctioneers, Morton & Eden, had a sale a few weeks back, in which the star lots sold for very high prices. In the same sale were a number of lots made up of coins from a Civil War hoard deposited during the 1640s. Most of the hoard coins were unattractive and in poor to fair condition with few being any better. Nevertheless, despite the bad state of preservation, groups sold for very high prices.
For example, lot 578, 141 Elizabeth I sixpences, the price paid by the buyer was £5,520 (£39 each); lot 587, 57 shillings of Charles I, the price paid by the buyer was £4,200 (£74 each). Bear in mind that it took at least two bidders for the lots to be forced up to the figures they achieved. At these prices I’d want all the coins to be in fine condition instead of poor to fair. Could this be a sign of an increasing number of collectors entering the market at the lowest level? This might be the case, for coins seem to be regularly in the news.
Reports in the media about coins often concentrate on really modern issues and what rare dates can be worth. For example: an umpteen different types of 50p pieces have been struck and lots of people collect them. When did you last see a 50p piece with anything other than the seated figure of Britannia on the reverse? Over the last year or so when I look at those that come my way they are invariably the Britannia type, despite the fact there are lots of others. Other coins that have become ‘collectable’ are the 10p pieces with 26 different reverses, which were issued in 2018; I’ve only seen a single one of these in circulation. In addition to these individual coins is the never ending issue of proof sets and coins from the Royal Mint. Lots of people buy these as an investment, only to discover they are lucky to get half what they paid when they come to sell them.
Sovereigns and pseudo coins and medals
On top of all this are advertisements by bullion and gold coin dealers in newspapers, magazines and on television offering sovereigns and other coins for sale, often at inflated prices. As it that isn’t enough, I’ve seen several advertisements for pseudo coins and medals, which aren’t worth more than their weight in scrap metal. However, all this proves not only that people are buying what is on offer; it is also indicative of an increasing interest in coins. Hopefully, some of those that start with 50p pieces, 10p pieces and Royal Mint series will eventually move on to earlier coins that really are collectable. A shift in that direction might be why low grade hammered silver coins have increased in price over recent months.
Middle of the market
After saying that the market was very strong at the top end and that the number of buyers was increasing at the bottom end this just left the middle area, which is populated by the most collectors. I took it for granted that this would be the strongest of all but my dealer friend said this was the only sector that at the moment he found to be a bid slow. It wasn’t weak and he was still selling middle-range coins but he said his clients were choosier and weren’t spending as much as they had in the recent past.
Coins as an investment
Is there anything I would recommend as an investment at this moment in time? In the case of coins, the price of some might continue to rise but I don’t know of any series where that is guaranteed. Never forget the second half of the 1990s, when many dropped in price quite substantially. The same thing could happen again. Leading on from this, I wouldn’t recommend any series of coins purely as an investment. If you like something and think the price is right then buy it. It might go up in price or it might go down but if you get enjoyment from looking at it then that’s the main thing.