In Noble Numismatics Sale 96 Sydneysiders have just had their first numismatic auction of the year, and judging by the results there the market seems to still be tracking as it has since the start of 2011. Which ain't necessarily a bad thing!
There are so many segments of the Australian numismatic market that it probably isn't fair, accurate (or wise!) to make sweeping generalisations about the health of the overall market, however after sitting through three whole days of numismatic auction mayhem (yes, three days from 9am to around 9pm, albeit with three breaks a day in between sessions), my conclusion is that the market is ticking along, albeit perhaps not on all cylinders.
Sessions 1 & 2 - Decimal Coins & Cheaper Pre-Decimal Coins
Coin collectors, and thus numismatic auctioneers are creatures of habit, and the first items to be put on the block at Noble's auctions are always cheaper Commonwealth coins and decimal coins. Think of these sessions as an appetiser before the main course - digestible nibbles to get everyone in the swing of things before the main courses.
Interestingly (despite the keen interest in silver and gold bullion & coins at present), attendance at these sessions was fairly lean - the number of people actually in the auction room was certainly lower than I expected. This didn't translate into lower prices however, competition was still keen and everything seemed to find it's level. (As much as anything does in an auction anyway.)
Session 3 & 4 - Tradesman's Tokens
I have to say I had big expectations for this session - it included the widest offering of tradesman's tokens that I've seen for a long time, and this is a rather active area of the market. There were 312 different tokens in this session (that gives you an idea of the scope of the collection and indeed the whole tradesman's token series), unfortunately the clearance rate wasn't all that high, and was slightly less than 40% (by my back of the napkin reckoning - one wouldn't want to use this method to re-engineer the Sydney Harbour Bridge however it suffices for our purposes).
I couldn't really see a pattern to the items that either sold or didn't sell - I have to confess that I'm not too active in tokens myself (apart from those that were struck in WA) so I can't really say what the prices were like, other than to say that based on the amount of bidding and the competition in the room, the market isn't setting new highs at the moment. Token collectors are in the main passionate and quite prepared to put good dollars into chasing items they need for their collection, the flipside of that approach is that they leave well alone anything that doesn't take their fancy. I understand that a couple of the collectors that have been more active than most in recent years didn't take an interest in these items for one reason or another, which may explain the results. I could see that the collectors that were in the room and were determined to buy were happy with what they picked up, which is a good sign.
Session 5 - Proclamation Coins, Gold Coins, Pre-Decimal Proofs and Commonwealth Coins
The evening sessions truly are the focal point of any Noble sale, and this one was no exception. The range of proclamation / colonial coins on offer here was limited relative to that which Noble's and other auctioneers have handled in recent times, however the vast majority of them sold. Just how the rise in the AUD will impact on demand in this segment is yet to be seen, however cheaper prices for items coming in from overseas could certainly bring forward some demand that's been hanging in the wings.
There was an exceptional Holey Dollar on offer, it may not be the finest known by any means, but it had a lot of eye appeal and a provenance stretching back some 80 years. Truly premium examples of our most historic coins are not parted with lightly, and the fact that this coin was passed in at the estimate shows me that the vendor had certain price expectation that he wasn't prepared to budge on. Who among us can blame them for that! A bit of patience will undoubtedly go a long way to finding the right buyer for that coin. There were a number of dumps in the sale shortly after that, and despite the grade of the latter coins not rating them among the finest known, they all sold.
Lot 1355 was the first Type I Adelaide Pound we've seen on the auction circuit in a while (in any condition), and this high priced rarity didn't find a buyer. Despite what the catalogues say, I don't believe the market is quite ready to accept the price this coin was offered at. Each of the four Type II Adelaide Pounds sold, although not for prices that would set the world on fire.
The sovereigns featured a few rarities, some bullion and a number of really nice collector pieces. Sovereigns have long been a favourite area of mine so I'm always in these sessions with my eyes wide open, this was an active session indeed. The clearance rate in one or two series wasn't great, however it was quite strong in others. I've long believed that the average sovereign collector really only buys a coin if they feel it's excellent value for money (perhaps more so than collectors in other segments), and I'm not entirely convinced that the catalogue values we have at present are accurate across the board. If auction estimates are set in relation to catalogue values, and the catalogue values aren't an accurate idea of the levels where most buyers are prepared to part with their cash, then a low clearance rate shouldn't be taken literally as a weak market. I missed a couple of sovereigns I was after, so the market for good sovereigns remains competitive. There weren't as many half sovereigns on offer here, however it did seem to me that there was less interest in them than in the sovereigns.
There was an extensive range of pre-decimal proofs from the QEII period on offer here, and for the first time, many of them had been graded by PCGS. Although the independent grading services offered by PCGS have been in favour with collectors for some time now, I think I'm correct in saying that this auction will go down as being the first Australian sale to include a good range of PCGS-graded coins. While a good number of them sold, we have to remember that certainly not all of them did! Simply because a coin has been independently authenticated and graded doesn't mean it's going to find a ready buyer at any price - this is something a lot of devotees of PCGS seem to forget.
It isn't going too far to say that the different results obtained by three pairs of 1963 Perth copper proofs is illustrative of the confidence that PCGS gives to some collectors. I saw the condition of the three pairs this way - the first pair were superb, and had been graded by PCGS accordingly, the second were "raw" (i.e. not independently graded) however for mine they were just as attractive as the first pair, the third pair were again raw however were toned in patches and weren't particularly attractive. Using round figures, the three lots made $2,100, $1,400 and $500 (including buyer's premium) respectively. Isn't that an incredible range of values for what were to the layman would have appeared to be three lots that were exactly the same. Is that range of prices going to be reflective of the market for Australian coins for ever more? I very much doubt it, but I think a few more results like this and it will be the sign of things to come for many collectors.
There were a whole heap of Commonwealth coins in this auction - you name it, copper, silver, florins, halfpennies, top condition and heavily worn, the whole lot. I've long had a largely unsubstantiated hunch for a while now that florins and pennies are more popular than the smaller silver denominations. The tale of the tape for this auction certainly reflected that - the clearance rate for the florins and pennies was significantly higher than that for the threepences as an example.
In the silver denominations, there were a number of high grade coins that caught the attention of more than one bidder, particularly when the coin had an attractive and original tone. There were a number of high grade coins that didn't sell however, some of these showed contact marks or surfaces that had been altered or impaired in some way. That valuable coins can be left without a buyer despite the fact they're rare and in incredible condition shows how important a strict set of purchasing criteria is.
For those of you that have been pooh-poohing the prices that have been posted in the McDonald pocket guide for the Foy & Gibson bags sold with the Melbourne Centenary florins back in 1935, you may be surprised to hear that one sold for a touch over $600 the other night! Why in God's name would someone have an interest in an old envelope? These little paper packets really capture the scoial history around the coin being issued, they're tough to get so they're really keenly sought now.
In the copper coins, good KGV pennies with plenty of colour made strong prices, as did anything else from the later eras now that I think of it. I was surprised that the high grade key dates didn't sell, despite some good interest in recent auctions, they were a little soft.
Session 15 - Australian Banknotes
Well, there's really no polite way to describe this session other than to say that it was pretty much like a crime scene. Blood on the walls, people screaming and grieving, the whole 9 yards. Although there were more people in the room for this session than there were in a few of the coin sessions, the majority of folks weren't waving their cards a great deal! The clearance rate was rather low, and most of those items that did sell went fairly cheaply. Anyone with a remote interest in banknotes should know that right now is a really exciting time to be active in the market - these days surely won't last and I reckon we won't know the market has picked up until these salad days are well and truly over. My advice is to get in while the going's good! This is quite clear when we realise that a couple of the key notes in this session did in fact sell, and sold in line with current expectations.
All in all, there were several million dollars in coins and notes that changed hands in Sydney this week - hardly an indication of a market that's down and out.