The last major numismatic auction of the year was Noble Numismatics auction 113. Held in Sydney in late November, it ran across 4 days from 930am until at least 930pm each day. That is a marathon event in anyone’s terms - no less than 5,783 lots were offered for sale.
The very last numismatic auction of the year was IAG’s Online Auction #8 - there were far fewer lots in it to be sure, however it had a much quicker turnaround time, which is what many collectors (both buyers and sellers) are interested in these days.
It is interesting that the format of these two auctions are at both ends of what is a spectrum of business models now operating in the numismatic world - some auctioneers are edging towards smaller and more frequent sales, while Noble’s are quite content to continue holding three much larger sales per year.
The results at Noble’s continue to be solid, so I don’t expect their model to change any time soon. $3.8 million in coins, notes, medals and related items were sold, And while clearance rates varied quite widely in each session, the overall clearance rate was 82%. I’ll cover the IAG results after Noble’s.
The most valuable item in the entire sale was a sword with related militaria items awarded to a former Lieutenant Governor of NSW, Sir Maurice Charles O’Connell. This lot alone made $190,800, and was purchased by the ANZAC memorial at Hyde Park in Sydney.
The decimal and pre-decimal coins at the outset of the sale were active as always. The range of tradesman’s tokens in this auction was relatively limited compared to previous auctions, however there was some keen bidding activity on the few tokens that were included.
A small number of colonial love tokens were offered, several were contested very keenly - to the tune of many thousands of dollars. This is an area of the market in which one needs to be very well-informed if one is to survive - values can vary widely very greatly depending on whether the token was to someone that actually lived in Australia or not, and it isn’t always unequivocally apparent whether that is the case. When a few informed collectors do their homework and establish that a particular token does indeed relate to a convict that lived in Australia, the results can be very spirited. In such sessions the very next lot, which looks to the uninformed observer to be ostensibly as suitable as the previous one, can be passed in at a few hundred dollars! These love tokens are best left alone to those that study them deeply I expect.
There was a huge range of proclamation coins in the Tuesday evening session - far more than average. Bidding activity was strong, even on coins that had impairments or had been cleaned. The Holey Dollar in this sale found a new home, as did two of the better Dumps on offer. This evident liquidity is positive for the market, no doubt.
The Adelaide Pounds in the Tuesday evening session were quite soft - 3 of the 4 on offer were passed in. The remaining gold sovereigns and half sovereigns were active within recent market ranges - well-graded coins that had original surfaces and were well priced had a lot of interest, while coins that had hairlines or were priced above the current range were left alone.
The pre-decimal proof coins in this sale continued to be patchy - even unimpaired coins were left alone. Not all of the pre-decimal proofs in this sale were in superior quality to be sure, it isn’t unusual at all for collectors to walk away from them. I was surprised however that the better examples (with orignal lustre and surfaces) didn’t attact much interest however. The three kookaburra patterns in this auction seemed to have estimates that were well above the market’s expectations, each of them was passed in which indicated that was clearly the case.
The Commonwealth / pre-decimal coins included some attractive coins from a well-regarded collection that was handled by Noble’s some years previously. Coins that have been off the market for an extended period of time are effectively assessed by potential buyers these days against the PCGS grading standard, which can mean that certain coins that were keenly chased years ago are left completely alone today. Picking through each lot to identify value is a challenging task, and one not for the faint-hearted. The clearance rate for this session reflected that, not too many coins were chased beyond their reserve.
There weren’t any major collections in the world coins and notes this time round to draw particular attention, however they were popular with specialists in those areas.
The Australian pre-federation banknotes in Noble 113 were varied with respect to their form, price range and quality. Based on that bidding activity, I now believe this market is far healthier than it was 6–12 months ago. Let me be clear - prices are no higher, and in some cases are lower than they were over that timeframe, however bidding activity is now spread far wider than it used to be, and that is a clear indication of rising demand.
Certainly, that demand is rising off a low bottom and is in some cases no doubt weak and speculative, however it is positive nonetheless.
Activity was solid across the board when it came to the pre-decimal notes in this sale, regardless of the quality level and price range. Demand for heavily circulated pre-decimal notes didn’t ease at all following the high-profile corporate liquidations in the past few years, bulk lots of those remain as keenly sought as always. I’m noticing that the price range over which pre-decimal notes sell for is starting to narrow - more auction results are slowly rising relative to accepted retail values, which is again a positive sign.
There were few decimal specimen notes in this sale, those that were included were largely imperfect in some way - in my opinion, the prices realised reflected that.
There was a lot of interest in the paper and polymer decimal notes in this sale. Due to their relatively low value (and I do mean relative to pre-federation or pre-decimal notes), decimal notes tend to be offered in groups or collections. It has been the cast in recent years that decimal notes in less than UNC condition are impossible to sell, however that is less and less the case in recent months.
Many lots that I would have thought would be of little interest to collectors was bid on multiple times, and while I might think those bids are “crazy”, they do seem to be an indication that broad-based interest in these items is rising. It could be argued that as such notes are mainly being bought by vest-pocket dealers, internet-only dealers or eBay speculators, that isn’t “educated” demand. As far as I know, markets don’t particularly care where demand comes from, so dollars changing hand for these items is as legitimate a transaction as any other. A small percentage of the collectors buying these items will invariably spread further afield, I fully expect this trend to continue as the remaining notes in the NGB series are released into circulation.
The Les Carlisle collection of historical medals was the focus of activity on Thursday. Les is a stalwart of the numismatic scene in Sydney (and indeed Australia), with his assiduous research and publishing in the field of historical and commemorative medals. Historical and commemorative medals have been struck for many different subjects, events and geographical areas, which means that the field can relate to all kinds of Australian collectors.
Reviewing the prices realised demonstrates that this is a fascinating and largely inexpensive field for collectors to become active in - few items brought more than a few thousand dollars apiece, however many were keenly contested. This can be testament to just how rare some of these medallions are, and also how coveted they can be by collectors that are active in very specialised areas. The highlight of the collection was the Halloran medal dating to 1824 which made a $30,000 hammer price. There are only 8 of these medals in existence, they are among the earliest items of Australian silverware produced on Australian soil. The clearance rate for Les’ collection was quite high, a number of the lots that I had ear-marked in my catalogue made hammer prices well above their estimates.
Although Noble Numismatics 113 was not the last auction of the year, it was of course not the final one. IAG’s last auction of the year was their 8th online-only sale, which is an entirely new format for the major auctioneers to use. Online sales have been a function of the Australian numismatic market for close to 5 years now, so they’re nothing new at all.
I do believe however that they have not yet gone mainstream in the way the IAG auctions (or other online auctions) are poised to do. Online sales have the tendency to get lost in the white noise of the internet, whereas the “traditional” numismatic auctions are heavily-promoted, stand-alone events that aren’t missed on the numismatic calendar.
IAG’s 8th online auction has so far turned over in excess of $300,000 - not a large sale when compared to traditional auctions, however certainly a respectable result, and one that could be built on.
As a regular buyer from auctions myself, I’m not 100% sold on the online model, if only because I believe it is fundamental to physically check a lot of material before buying it. Add in the additional lead time that comes from buying from an auction house (perhaps a week or two), and I expect I will be travelling interstate to bid in an online auction at some stage within the next two years - this madness will allow me to view the items I’m interested in, and take delivery directly after the sale. Such travel does of course stand to completely negate the benefits of holding an auction online, however I fully expect I won’t be alone in doing this. Perhaps we’ll all be bidding on our laptops in a room around the corner from the auction house? Time will tell, but I won’t be surprised.
Fortunately progress is not determined by one type of customer, and it’s clear to me that many, many collectors are quite comfortable with bidding with the major auction houses online. Not just for inexpensive lots either - IAG Online #8 featured at least 4 lots that made hammer prices greater than $10,000, and many more between $5,000 and $10,000.
One statistic in support of that action is that the average lot value for IAG was $569, whereas the average lot value for Noble’s 113 was $657 - there certainly isn’t daylight between those two numbers!
Sales across each market segment seemed to be quite acceptable - prices were as solid for pre-decimal Commonwealth coins as they were for pre-decimal proofs, as they were for pre-decimal banknotes and error coins.
Certainly, a clearance rate of 77% indicates that 23% of lots by number were not sold, so there is room for improvement. I’ll be watching this space keenly in the months to come to see how the market shapes the way auctioneers operate in future.