Rare Coin & Note Auction Review - Roxbury’s 96 and Status 324
Roxbury’s Auction 96 started out with a full house, as it nearly always does.
Auction 96 was the first Roxbury sale for 2016, so they had a few months extra backlog of inventory to work through - this extra material no doubt swelled the bidder numbers.
A packed room has not only been a good indication of solid buying interest, it can also be an indication of the type of material on offer. The items offered up by Roxbury’s in the early part of the day really was an eclectic mix - the usual range of material brought to most dealers around Australia - tradesman’s tokens and medallions, as well as bulk lots of foreign, copper and silver coins. There was also a decent range of inexpensive coin sets (both Australian and foreign).
This type of material warrants inspection more than individual coins and notes that might have been looted individually and photographed, this ensures that potential buyers will stick around to bid after they’ve looked through them. Individual lots are often assessed solely via the catalogue, so can be less likely to draw bidders into the room.
Once the opening session was out of the way, then the pre decimal coins were underway. These coins were in the main toned copper and bright silver - attractive enough, but not the kind of material that sets the market alight at the moment. The clearance rate for these sat at around 80%, with an absence of record prices for sure. The clearance rate noticeably dropped off for the pre decimal proof coins, I expect due to the fact they were still “raw” and not condition rarities. An attractive 1955 Perth copper pair did get away however, which was good to see.
Next up was something I really haven’t seen before, not in Brisbane nor any other auction I’ve been to! It was a serious collection of Maundy coins (Around 80 lots, so more than 300 individual coins). These sets are issued to the poor and sick in a centuries old tradition by the British monarch at Easter each year. These coins had been clearly accumulated by a collector that had taken their time to amass a collection in attractive and unimpaired quality - many lots even included the original leather cases they were presented in.
Most Australian numismatic auctions tend to have one or two Maundy sets in them, if at all - so this really was something of an event. In another demonstration of the ubiquity of collecting interest and knowledge in the 21st century, the clearance rate for this section of the auction was quite high, and the prices they made were strong to boot. At least two of the sets made prices pushing the $1,000 mark.
There was also a decent range of interesting foreign and British coins. The highlight was a seriously rare 1831 crown - impeccable condition, it brought a hammer price to match.
The Australian gold coins followed next, and I thought they were quite strong. One coin in particular was chased quite keenly - it made a $4,000 hammer price against a $1,500 estimate. Aussie sovereigns and halves may not be the flavour of the month at the moment, but rest assured - there is a dedicated band of collectors active in this field.
The auctioneer next had up a range of coin “rarities” - a Holey Dollar and an Adelaide Pound, as well as some early predecimal proofs and a 1930 penny. The Dollar wasn’t the most attractive example ever seen, neither was the 1930 penny, and both remained unsold as a result.
Some of the early pre decimal proofs did get away however, not at great prices to be sure, but they did sell. This area of the market is in the process of trying to find its way again - questions such as these are slowly being answered - what are collectors prepared to buy? How much are they prepared to pay? There’s an old saying - the first guy over the wall always gets shot, which is to say that we take a risk when we move in front of the pack.
When a market drops heavily, buyers are often fearful of getting back in - jump in too soon and you can pay way too much for something. Keep in mind we’re talking thousands of dollars per item in this area of the market, so that can be an expensive mistake to make. Hence jumping over the wall and taking a bullet.
Low clearance rates for such coins have been the norm in recent years, and this auction may well have been the first to have estimates and reserves that really reflected that fact. I look at what the predecimal proofs in this sale were listed at, and more to the point what they sold for, and just marvel at how far things have come back. Some of those coins made a quarter to a third of what they would’ve sold for just five years ago.
These are historic and rare coins mind you, not rubbish at all. I expect we’d all like to collect in an environment where everything rose in price and there wasn’t ever any potential downside to us spending our money, however the reality is that just ain’t and won’t ever be the case. An auction like this that sets new price levels is and really can be a cathartic and blood-letting process - it clears things up, and allows the market to heal and move on.
I believe vendors and auctioneers of comparable coins in the coming months will need to show the same courage and pragmatism that we saw in this sale if the base is to set in. Nobody with a shred of common sense accedes to take less than what their item is worth, however we need to keep in mind that this really is a buyer’s market at the moment, and such coins really do need to be incredibly good value if they’re to be sold.
Banknotes - Decimal, Predecimal, Specimen and Pre Federation
The auction then moved onto banknotes - an area far apart from gold, proofs and Mandy sets. There was an incredible array of decimal notes on offer, it was all taken up by bids which shows this segment of the market endures. There was a good number of specimen notes as well - decimal and predecimal. The clearance rate here was straight down the middle at 50% - checking over the ones that did sell and the ones that didn’t, the determining factor was that value litmus test I mentioned just before - vendors that try and hold out for that little bit more than what is great value for money find out pretty quick that buyers have no problems leaving them the hell alone.
We saw that with the pre federation notes as well - just 2 of the 27 lots offered up were actually sold! That is abominable by any measure, no question at all. The fact is, there are very few buyers that are prepared to take a decent position in this market at the moment, which means if we want to exchange them for ready cash, the price needs to reflect that. It should be clear by now that prefed notes need to be priced at or below their recent trading range if they’re to stand any chance of getting away.
Vendors in the predecimal note market have been doing that by and large for the past few years, clearance rates and prices realized reflect that. There wasn’t a huge amount of really top quality, fresh and original predecimal notes in this sale, but those that were sold well. Many of the star replacement notes that followed were tired - pressed, cleaned and or flattened, and in my opinion the estimates and reserves flattered them. The prices realized showed the reality however - such notes at such prices simply won’t pass muster.
And that was that for Roxbury’s Auction 96 - it showed that the numismatic market continues to function in a way where buyers and sellers do business at prices that are fair to both.
Status International Auction 324
This Status sale probably passed most collectors by - it was scheduled as a stand alone event (that is, away from a major show), and didn’t really have a lot of headline material to draw in interest that might percolate through the rest of the sale.
That said, around half a million dollars worth of material changed hands over the course of the five hours or so that it took to get done. You might not have thought such a result was going to be on the cards if you were in the room when the auctioneer got underway - apart from the staff at the front of the room, there was perhaps no more than 6 people in there with them!
A lot of bids in the Status auctions are submitted postally or online, a fact that renders such portents largely irrelevant. The main notable point about this sale is that the clearance rate was a mere 25% (in round figures), which is surely a lousy result by any measure!
While some might say that is definitely the case, I can tell you that Stewart Wright (the man in charge of Status) makes it quite plain that he sees his role as being one whereby he gets what he sees as being fair value for his vendors. He’s quite right to say that anyone can sell a coin or note if it’s cheap enough, however the auctioneer’s job is really only done if the vendor and the buyer are both OK with the price. One might argue that a 25% clearance rate shows that 3 out of 4 buyers thought the starting prices in this sale were too high, so perhaps it’s a numbers game.
I don’t know that we can take too much fresh knowledge about our market away from the results of this sale - exactly the same factors were at play in determining what sold and what didn’t as were at play in Roxbury’s. I was able to get a few items that’ll have a modest earn in them, however they were dang hard to come by!
Looking over the results for the Status sale, I can’t say any more about what’s going on in our market than what I’ve said for Roxbury’s - there has to be value, value, value.
Noble’s is next up in late July - there’s a MAJOR collection of PCGS-graded Australian predecimal coins included in it, as well as a raft of other rarities to boot I have no doubt at all. We shall see how things progress then.