My Review of the 2015 Pocket Guide to Australian Coins and Banknotes
The Pocket Guide to Australian Coins and Banknotes is to many collectors what the form guide is to punters - a printed publication that you must have.
Whether it stays on a dealer's desk (like mine does) or in a collector’s back pocket when they’re out and about at a dealer’s shop or at a coin show, it’s a common acquisition for many collectors, no matter what they collect.
The 2015 Pocket Guide to Australian Coins and Banknotes was put into distribution in early August, so is now out and about, providing collectors with at least one educated opinion as to the current state of the Australian numismatic industry.
The questions I know that many collectors are asking is, “Is the Pocket Guide still relevant?” and “Does the Pocket Guide reflect the market, or does it set the market?"
My answer to each of those questions is a firm yes. The internet provides today’s collector with more information than we’ve ever had before, so the Pocket Guide perhaps no longer holds the hallowed unimpeachable place in collector’s minds that is used to. That said, printed guides remain relevant in all other numismatic markets around the world, and Australia should be no different at all.
As to whether the Pocket Guide is a thermometer or a thermostat, I reckon it fills both roles. It needs to reflect changes in the market if it’s to remain relevant (which it does), and it can also guide decision making regarding buying or selling, even if only within a certain range of collectors.
As to how well it does it’s job as a thermostat, that’s open to some spirited discussion! I’m of the opinion that the Australian collecting public is probably like the army drill sergeant of old days - perpetually vigilant and with an eagle eye for slip ups. We won’t issue praise when a job’s done well, but will sure jump up and down when we think it’s not.
Values in the Australian numismatic market have of course changed significantly in the past few years - the GFC effectively brought to a halt the longest and most comprehensive bull market ever seen in Australian coins and banknotes. It took some time for the market to realise that, however informed buyers and sellers are now doing business at levels that are a fraction of where they were at just 5, and certainly 10 years ago.
That said, there have been some eye-watering prices paid for some coins (think condition-rarity pre-decimal and decimal coins, as well as gold coins). So the market is up in some areas, down in others.
If the Pocket Guide is to be an accurate thermometer of the market, it needs to reflect these changes. Does it meet that mark? In my opinion, in several areas it does, in others it doesn’t.
I’ve had some correspondence with Greg McDonald over this edition, my feedback to him was that certain sections are on the mark - I might argue the toss over the value of a specific coin or note, but I can live with the figures in certain sections. This is probably as glowing an endorsement as a price guide publisher can expect!
In other sections however, I believe are not in line with where the market is at. Not wrong because they don’t reflect my retail prices, not wrong because I have some opinion about what something should be worth, but wrong because they simply don’t reflect the majority of the transactions in that sector of the market.
If we were to presume that the price guide should show retail figures that informed collectors would be prepared to pay an informed seller for a certain coin or note in a certain grade. A long-winded definition of value could be: "The estimated amount for which an item should exchange on the date of valuation between a willing buyer and a willing seller in an arm's length transaction, after proper marketing, wherein the parties had each acted knowledgeably, prudently and without compulsion."
This means the figures in the guide shouldn’t necessarily reflect what the top-end dealers charge uninformed time-poor buyers, it shouldn’t necessarily reflect what coins are advertised for in the glossy direct mail catalogues, nor should it necessarily reflect what a collector is prepared to accept when selling directly via Gumtree or eBay. Nor should it reflect what a vendor got in a quiet auction. Something in between these extremes is probably about the mark.
With all of that in mind, here are my opinions on the figures included in the 2015 Pocket Guide to Australian Coins and Banknotes:
Proclamation Coins - these figures are OK
Holey Dollar and Dump - these figures are OK (recent sales by Noble and Coinworks of higher graded coins could point to a higher EF figure, otherwise they're OK)
Port Phillip Patterns - these figures are OK
Adelaide Pounds - these figures are OK
Half Sovereigns (This is where it gets a bit gnarly):
The about Unc column appears to be missing!
I think the figures for the 1855 half sovereign in lower grades are OK.
I think the figures for the 1857 half sovereign are OK
1858 RR legend error - Unfortunately, I don’t believe these figures reflect the market. My own sales have been at significantly lower prices, there’s been at least 2 auction prices lower still.
Type II Halves, 1858-1866 - again, I don’t believe these figures reflect the market. The price data looks to be in the wrong columns.
Greg advises there’s a chance some of the data could have been unintentionally moved around when the document was updated, that could well be the case.
I can’t see that any changes have been made in values here, yet I know from personal experience that the market for these coins is down. Values for proof and pattern coins seem to have been omitted.
Jubilee and Veiled Heads, Edwards:
The changes made to the values for proof and pattern coins are OK, in the main they reflect the market. (I’d argue the toss on a few of them, but I’ll live with the changes made).
For circulated coins, the price changes made appear to be clumsy - simply adjusting prices by moving one column to the next doesn't reflect nuances of the actual market in my opinion. Again, this may have been caused by a software error when the document was updated.
To my eye, the figures in this section look to be unchanged. While this is undoubtedly the most active area of the half sovereign market, if the overall market for halves has changed, I expect it should be reflected here also. Some of these figures should be higher, not lower.
Values for the Type I's in higher grades have probably come down too far, values in the lower grades are OK however.
Type II, Shields and Young Heads:
In my opinion, the changes made in these sections are just wrong. It looks like they’re unintentional, and could be the result of that software gremlin.
There’s just no way that (accurately graded) UNC and better coins can be bought for the prices indicated. It’s a shame, as auction prices show that previously-published prices were too high. I don’t think accurate values should be well below current auction prices, much less current retail figures. It’s a real shame, as figures did need to come down to reflect the market, just not that far. If these figures do actually reflect the market, find me some coins that those prices as I’m a buyer!
Jubilees: the figures in this section are unchanged for some reason. If the whole sovereign market has dropped, these should have come down also.
Veiled Heads, Edwards and Georges:
Again, the changes made in this section really don’t reflect the market - I presume they’re unintentional. figures did need to come down to reflect the market, just not this far! This is a very active area of the market, if anything prices for better quality coins are stronger than they ever have been.
I think the inclusion of the 1920-S story is great, however recent auction results have been lower than in previous years, not higher (I believe the figures quoted should reflect that).
I’d like to see the proofs moved to their own section, they deserve it and it’ll make it easier to understand the circulating coin section. I reckon the figures for the 1916 mule have come down too far - auction sales have been higher than those indicated.
Figures for the 1923 in lower grades can stand to come down further.
For the circulating coins, Choice Uncirculated and Gem figures simply do not reflect the market for PCGS condition rarities. Values for such coins are the strongest they’ve ever been, not lower! Yes, those coins are PCGS graded, however that is the majority of the market at present - the guide should reflect that fact, even if the term Choice Uncirculated is translated into MS63RB and Gem Uncirculated reflects 65RD figures.
I now think the QEII proofs could show values across 3 grades (about FDC, FDC and condition rarities). This would show the reality of the breadth of the market - lesser coins are bringing less, really top coins are bringing much more than they ever have.
My comments for circulating pennies are the same as they were for halfpennies.
The 1930 penny looks to be up in Fine condition, but down in other grades - this simply doesn’t reflect the market.
Threepences to Shillings:
My general comments are as for the copper coins.
My general comments are as for the copper coins. Figures for the 1932 florin are down far too low in VG - Fine. Key dates have come back in recent years, however you couldn’t buy a 1932 florin at auction for double what is quoted here.
The figure for the proof Canberra florin doesn’t reflect the demand for this coin in different grade ranges (a FDC, FDC and condition rarities). There have been a number of coins sold at auction for much more than $15,000 in recent months.
The figures here appear to be OK. I’ve seen the Type 12 Kookaburras sell for the figures quoted, but haven’t drilled into the other types in detail.
Hay Internment Tokens:
This market has come down significantly, unfortunately the figures do not reflect that. I think it’s a great idea to include the other military-themed items, however the information describing them could be too detailed for a pocket guide.
This section is far too complex for mine - I think there's a case for splitting out the legal tender coins struck for circulation, and the NCLT (non circulating legal tender, such as coins ex proof sets, off-metal strikes etc). Greg advises that he arrived at this structure following vehement input from the most active collectors in this area, in which case if it suits them, all good and well.
I know the 1966 20¢ with the wavy baseline is now collected in all grades, more figures could be included, rather than less.
It’s not an area that I’m particularly active in, however I know that interest in decimal error coins is way up - the values included simply do not reflect what these coins are selling for at auction.
I know that individual decimal proof coins are now collected in a range of grades (even if only for the early dates), as a result, I reckon 3 figures could be included for these coins in future (about FDC, FDC and condition rarities).
Pre Federation Banknotes:
Values in this area have been removed, which is a real shame as there is a genuine demand for guidance on prices in this area. In my opinion, the classification system used for pre fed notes in previous editions of the Pocket Guide was far too complex, but rather than discard that section completely, I reckon it should be simplified and brought in line with reality.
Prices in this section are probably about right. I'll argue the toss about certain notes inc certain grades, however this is probably the most accurate section I’ve seen in the entire book. That’s not to say I agree with it completely, however a change needed to be made, and it looks like the changes have been reasonable.
Specimen and proof predecimal notes have been completely removed also. Just as with pre-federation banknotes, this market needs to be covered - there is demand for guidance on prices in this area. It is a difficult market to track (I know!), however it isn’t an impossible task.
Paper decimal notes:
Prices in this section are probably OK - the figures for standard prefix notes could come down further to reflect what they bring at auction.
Polymer decimal notes:
I believe prices in this area should be revised, simply to reflect what they bring at auction. Sure, these notes may sell retail for the figures indicated, however 7 times out of 10 they’ll bring far, far less at auction. The figures should be adjusted accordingly.
Paper and Polymer Specimen Notes:
Figures here are probably OK - I’ll argue that some are higher, and that some are lower than the current auction market, however in the main they're in the right range. That is probably as good as can be expected give the current volatility in the market.
All up, I reckon once the errors have been fixed, the changes made are a real step in the right direction in getting the majority of the market on the same page.
In summary, I believe many of the changes that’ve been made have done a lot to inform collectors as to where the market is now at.
It’s unfortunate some technical issues have resulted in some unintentional price changes - we’ll need to wait for the next edition to get an accurate idea of where market values are in those areas. I believe with some continued input from interested observers, figures can be made more accurate in those areas that have been updated, but are still shy of the mark.
So what do you think? Let me know what your thoughts are about the book overall, or the pricing in any particular section.