Thursday, April 2, 2009

Reflecting on Baltimore: Steady as she goes…

April 2, 2009
Posted by Noah

There are a tremendous number of cool things going on at Heritage at any given moment, and this exact moment happens to be one of the best since I started. There are so many interesting auctions and singular lots coming up that I don’t even know where to start. So I figured that I wouldn’t even try. In fact, given that it’s a beautiful and temperate Thursday here in Big D, and we’ve just concluded our Baltimore U.S. Coin Auction, I wanted to share a few thoughts on its success – to the tune of close to $14M – relative to the rest of the market.

First, though, I just want to say Baltimore! Baltimore! One of the very best American cities there is, without a doubt. It has its problems, like any major metropolitan area, but I can safely say there are few American cities I have enjoyed visiting more. I was last there for the opening of the Geppi Museum at Camden yards a few years ago, but had been there frequently before then to visit relatives, play a little golf, eat about a million oysters and blue crabs, spend hours at the Visionary Art Museum and the aquarium and to spend some time schmoozing at the Baltimore Antiques Show. I only wish the company felt the need to send a writer – I volunteer! – to the auction to provide up-to-the-minute dispatches.

Now that I’ve got that out of my system, I have to say that the results of the auction were pretty heartening in these corners, with the total approaching $14 million. That’s about in line with the high-end of expectations for such an event, but in such a climate who could really know anything? Once again, however, the market proved steady and reliable. It’s not the most high-profile auction of the year, but it certainly isn’t the lowest. In fact, the Baltimore event is an excellent harbinger of the overall state of the numismatic market, and sets the stage for some spectacular coins at Central States at the end of April – a Class III 1804 U.S. $1, anyone?

Facts is facts, and here’s how it was put by Greg Rohan in the post-auction press release:

“We’ve seen sustained steadiness in the U.S. coin market over the course of the last seven months. When numerous other markets are continuing to sink, or just tread water, coins have continued to be reliable ballast to a large number of portfolios.”

In other words, steady as she goes, which makes us all smile. At $322,000, a 1795 $10 13 Leaves MS63 PCGS led the way, a fantastic representative of such an historic date. That’s a pretty big matzoh ball to plunk down for a piece of gold, but within reason, given the rarity of the example. Not exorbitant for the piece, and not too low. Like baby bear’s porridge, it’s just right, at least by my reckoning.

There are certainly more glamorous things to collect – see above, regarding the tremendous amount of cool things going on at Heritage at any given moment – and there are certainly ways to make a faster buck, though we’ve all witnessed what that ultimately yields. It is the middle path right now that will yield the best results, maybe even skewing a little more conservative, making coins an especially good bet as bad deals unwind themselves, and the world economy with it. The wind may blow Wall Street up and down according to the prevailing sentiment of the day, but it’s the smart investors and numismatists – usually one in the same – who are going to face calm seas and stormy weather the exact same way: sanguine about their prospects, a steady hand at the wheel with the other firmly gripped around the best coins they can afford. A ship may sink, even rot, but that just makes those coins sunken treasure in the end.

I’m sure we’ll be hearing a bit more about Central States in coming Coin Monday posts from John Dale in the coming weeks. I look forward to seeing what he thinks.