I was going to start this article by stating that Noble Numismatics Auction 111 is the largest we’ve seen for some time, however that may not be correct - many of them are large, even if this one does have some incredible stock in it.
What is correct however is that Mr Noble will be doing his darnedest to stoke the furnaces of uncertainty amongst his vendors and buyers by describing it as being “the last of the big sales”. When I first heard Jim talk like this in the viewing room, I felt that he must be reading the tea leaves of vendor numbers or some such, however as he’s said exactly the same thing in the viewing room for the last 3 or 4 Noble sales, such comments are now taken with a healthy grain of salt.
Wry commentary aside, Noble 111 is certainly an important and bountiful sale - it marks the 40th anniversary of Mr Noble being in the numismatic auction business, and includes a wide range of great material that should suit every type of collector. To put this anniversary in perspective, 2016 is probably not far past the 40th anniversary of me being able to tie my own shoelaces, so Mr Noble has some longevity in the Australian numismatic market.
Over that 40 year period, Noble Numismatics has become a bastion of the Australian numismatic scene. If you haven’t seen a Noble catalogue before - they are thick, orderly and clear documents that evoke something like Christmas morning levels of anticipation in many Australian numismatists. The thunder of the postman’s delivery has somewhat been stolen by the advent of the internet - auction listings are posted online a few weeks before the physical catalogues arrive, however the Noble Numismatics catalogues still evoke continuity in the numismatic market that spans several decades.
There’s something about receiving a catalogue that’s been set out in the same order, in the same style and with very different material in it - it is fresh and traditional all at once.
Many, if not most, of the most important Australian numismatic collections have been handled by Noble’s - a full set of their catalogues is essential for any Australian numismatic library. Noble's handle ancient Greek coins with as much ease as they handle bulk lots of pennies, pattern florins, gold proof sets and Ethiopian banknotes - the entire gamut of the Australian numismatic spectrum.
This expertise speaks to their position in the industry, and the role they play in it.
So what type of material is padding out the Noble 111 auction catalogue? The coin section alone is deep in material.
Following the standard offerings of bulk-predecimal and decimal coins, there are some interesting and high-quality coins from New Zealand. The first evening session has an extensive collection of Australian colonial coins in it, and it followed by a few more items from the Bill Mira collection. For those of you that don’t know, Bill Mira was one of Australia's foremost numismatists, and he passed away just a few months ago. While the coins with the Mira provenance listed this week may not be counted amongst the finest of their type, owing one is certainly a direct link to a man that spent many, many hours and grey cells nutting out the background to Australia’s first coins and paper currency. Bill would surely be pleased to see his items find new homes this week, hopefully at strong prices, however more importantly to buyers that appreciate the role these coins played in fleshing out the story of Australia’s first circulating coins.
Following the colonial coins Bill prized in his own research, several collections of Australian gold coins are offered up. Some of the coins in this session are seen in their described quality perhaps every 5-10 years, if at all.
The rarity and past sales performance of any coin or note doesn’t solely dictate the way it will be received at auction today - although rare coins and notes are nearly always rare, what was popular “then" may not necessarily be popular now. As we’re in a phase of the market that is re-setting values across the board, it will be interesting to see how these historic, rare and attractive gold coins fare in the current market.
It doesn’t take any more than 2 bidders at an auction to set a record price, so I’m not banking on any bargains being offered up this week. That said, if any of the more important Australian gold coins offered up this week fetch close to their published estimate, there will be some very satisfied bidders indeed.
Moving on from the Australian gold, while there are a number of attractive and rare Commonwealth coins offered up in this sale, I don’t see this as being a hugely fertile area. Much of the “gas” has come out of the Australian pre-decimal coin market, so these coins will either appeal to bargain hunters, or those that are prepared to go against the grain.
Moving on from the Australian pre-decimal coins, we have the coins of the world (from ancient to current times). We all know that Australia is (numismatically at least) a rather small place in the grand scheme of things, so it should not be surprising this season contains a large number of fantastic coins. The market for coin in other parts of the world is quite disconnected from the Australian market, so on that basis I do expect to see some action in this area.
One of the things about Noble’s catalogues is that some incredible coins can be listed rather innocuously within a range of pedestrian material, and only the most specialised collectors are able to identify them. As we recounted earlier, it doesn’t take any more than two bidders to push the value of a coin to unexpected levels, all bets are off!
The note sessions contain a range of interesting foreign and Australian notes, from all periods of history. One important collection of Australian notes comes from a New Zealand-based collector. Interesting because such a collection crosses “international" boundaries, and that isn’t often seen. I haven’t yet seen the Noble 111 printed catalogue (just go online already I can hear you crying!), so have reserved my investigation until I see those items in the flesh.
I consider myself to be reasonably technically savvy, however the absence of a printed catalogue here, so close to a major auction that I expect to be knee deep in, indicates that I may need to bend with the times and design a “workflow” that takes the 21st century in account. And here’s us thinking that numismatics is a pursuit that takes us away from the complex technology of today!