Roxbury’s Auction #90 - The New Phase Begins. Or Continues.
Roxbury’s auction #90 was not only the first numismatic sale held in Australia in 2014, it was the first to be held after the former customers of the Rare Coin Company were able to collect their portfolios.
If you’re not already aware, the release of that inventory is something of a big deal - prior to entering into voluntary receivership in June 2013, the turnover of the Rare Coin Company had been measured in the tens of millions of dollars for several years running. That relatively high turnover, coupled with the fact many of these former customers had been trying to sell for several years, as well as the fact that the Rare Coin Company was inarguably more active in certain segments of the Australian numismatic market than many other dealers combined, means that there is a real possibility of Australian coin and note collectors being spoilt for choice in the coming months.
Many market observers are not yet sure just how the market will cope with this possible abundance of supply, and Roxbury’s Sale # 90 was being taken as a first indicator.
The auction was well-publicised in the standard numismatic channels both in Australia and even around the world, as well as in the mainstream press in Australia. Attendance in the room was solid as it always is for Roxbury’s auctions, both by collectors and the trade.
So much of the satisfaction in collecting is in the experience as much as it is in ownership, and many collectors clearly enjoy the relaxed and professional approach that Bob and Jacquie Innes have. It may be unfair for me to say that only in Queensland will I attend an auction where there’ll be at least half a dozen people wearing thongs mixed through a crowd of people bidding on coins and notes valued up to few hundred thousand dollars each, however that was certainly the case this time round! That Bob sprinkles a few corny “Dad” jokes throughout the auction to lighten the tone when required most likely helps set an informal tone also…
Your average coin or note dealer has been proven many times to care far more about the availability of quality material at fair values than such niceties as customer service or the footwear of his fellow bidders, and my colleagues from the trade were out in force with the hope of nabbing a bargain.
Bulk and Junk Lots
Auctions generally kick off with a range of modestly priced items to establish a rythym to bidding - this can be crucial in building the confidence of bidders for the rest of the auction. A few lots in featured a Hogarth & Erichsen “Aboriginal” threepence - one of the rarities of the Australian token series. Bidding opened at $16,000 and closed at $32,200, and while the final price isn’t near a record for that particular item, it shows that interest remains keen for historic and important tokens in attractive grade.
The remaining bulk and mixed lots passed without fanfare, the auction really got interesting once the Australian pre-decimal coins began to be offered. Many collectors in this area of our market could care less regarding the demise of the Rare Coin Company - not out of any callousness or disregard at all, it’s simply that it hasn’t impacted at all on their area of interest.
Pre Decimal / Commonwealth Coins
This area of the market is also quite strong at the moment - now that the advent of PCGS grading has become the de facto standard for nearly all of the most serious Commonwealth coin collectors in the country, in every auction there is keen attention from the handful of dealers who literally make it their business to identify “raw” coins that have the potential to reach a high grade once “slabbed” by PCGS.
Just as well there was this competition, as there was numerous examples of certain dates and denomiantions within the sale. For some reason, the inventory of the Rare Coin Company included no less than a dozen 1912 halfpennies in mint state, ranging from spotted brown coins to those with stacks of red. Despite this abundance of choice, the clearance rate was solid - all of the coins sold, albeit at what I’d suggest were fair wholesale values to the dealers that bought them. These dealers ended up buying the vast bulk of the items in this section - a telling sign.
In times of uncertainty, dealers can sometimes be the only buyers that have enough confidence to buy. As much as anyone, they know how seldom certain items come to market, and have personal experience of liquidity that collectors may not appreciate. That this section of the sale had such a high clearance rate is a testament to the demand that dealers see from collectors for quality coins. While it was inevitable that some coins would sell cheaply in an auction like this, it was also inevitable that certain coins would fetch more than expected.
Setting aside the 1930 pennies that featured in a separate rarities section later in the sale, the most valuable lots within each denomination were:
Halfpenny: 1923 in good VF for $1,240 hammer
Penny: 1926 Penny with lots of mint red for $1,700 hammer
Threepence: 1923 in PCGS MS 64 for $3,000 hammer
Sixpence: 1924 in PCGS MS 64 for $2,600 hammer
Shilling: 1915-H in raw Unc for $8,600 hammer
Florin: 1912 in PCGS MS 63 for $8,000 hammer
There were close to 500 individual lots in the pre-decimal coin section, it took some time to work through and went off without a hitch.
Pre Decimal Proof Coins
The pre-decimal proof coin section didn’t fare quite as well however. I could visibly see a few dealers either mentally switch off or physically get up and leave when these coins came up, and while there weren’t any spectacular coins in this series, they were all commercial at a price so I would have thought activity would have been just as keen, perhaps only at a lower price level. The Perth copper proofs from 1955 and 1956 admittedly weren’t great, however even so, there was little interest in them even at the modest estimate they were listed at. As is always the case, latter dates with full red and devoid of spots, either in or out of a PCGS holder, sold relatively well.
Australian Gold Coins
The sections that included the decimal coins, world coins and notes, and jewellery, all passed without fanfare also. The next major section to feature were the Australian gold coins. My understanding is that the vast majority of the coins in this section were from the inventory of my former employer - Monetarium of Sydney. This business was bought by the Rare Coin Company in mid 2009, re-branded shortly thereafter and eventually closed down a few years after that.
Few dealers would have had the inventory of gold sovereigns and halves to match Monetarium, which explained why again there were multiples of certain sovereigns and halves in a range of grades in this auction.
It is obvious from the prices realised that there wasn’t anywhere near the same level of dealer interest in these coins as there was in the previous section - the range of buyers was largely different, and many coins that didn’t have an honest claim to rarity or spectacularity of grade sold cheap, cheap, cheap. In my mind I likened the activity in this section to an invitation-only party being opened up to all comers - those collectors and dealers in the room that did have interest marvelled at the lack of competition on most lots.
I don’t believe the highest value half sovereign brought any more than $1,500 hammer, while the highest value sovereign, an 1855 in Very Fine grade, made $,3600 hammer. These figures hardly tested the upper levels of the market, however the clearance rate remained solid which is positive.
Rarities - Australian Coins and Notes
The rarities section was always going to be of the keenest interest to most - some of the items in this section had been advertised by the Rare Coin Company at prices multiples of their published estimates, and it turned out that these were reasonably accurate.
The 1857 proof half sovereign had great eye appeal - incredibly sharp detail either side, with an attractive patina to boot. The rarity and historical importance of the coin drew in some interest from a range of sources, however the auctioneer advised that he’d refer the highest bid of around $60,000 to the vendor. The next lot was a Treasury series £10 specimen note dating to 1913. This is an important item - quite possibly amongst the very first £10 notes printed for the Commonwealth of Australia, one that had only turned up twice at auction previously. It found a new home at $62,000 hammer for a total of $74,400. Somewhat lighter than the slightly alarming $495,000 value it has in the 2014 McDonald guide, but in my opinion stronger than what other (albeit later) pre-decimal specimen notes have fetched in recent years.
The headline item for the sale, the unissued Type II £1,000 specimen note, opened for bidding at $150,000, and progressed as far as $205,000. The auctioneer advised that he wouldn’t sell it at that price, and would refer the high bid to the vendor for consideration.
Both of the 1930 pennies got away at levels in line with where they’ve been in recent times, so there were no surprises there. The 1923 Miller Collins £1 note without the imprint - a natural example of an important note with appeal to any advanced banknote collector, also got away above the estimate, but at a fraction of it’s catalogue value.
For some reason, collectors tend not to buy paper decimal notes from auction, prices are softer as a result. That said, the clearance rate in this (populous) section was as high as it was elsewhere, so they were all digested at their own level.
The area of the auction that had the most uncertainty hanging over it’s head was the specimen banknote section - there were more specimen banknotes in this one sale than there have ben in entire years previously, in fact there were more examples of certain specimens in this sale than there have been at any time previous.
Judging by the clearance rate and prices realized, collectors and certainly dealers are yet to develop confidence that they’ve found a price level they’ll lift from. Despite being estimated at levels I believed balanced their rarity and historical importance with their newfound availability, and despite the auctioneer testing for bids slightly below those levels, just 6 of the 26 lots here sold. Such notes have traded for multiples higher than the estimates in recent years, so it will be interesting to see where they sit in the coming months.
I believe the new price levels will be set by a new generation of collectors that will enter the market in the coming months, as it’s clear dealers and the current generation of collectors aren’t prepared to do so.
Pre-Federation and Pre-Decimal Banknotes
The Pre-Federation notes offered in this sale pretty much followed suit - admittedly there were a lot less of them included than there has been in other auctions lately, however that didn’t help the clearance rate any. There was no interest in the full-colour £1 specimen dated 1869 from the City Bank of Sydney, while the printer’s proof from the Federal Bank of Australia was knocked down well below estimate.
The pre-decimal note section also had some depth - more than 150 different lots were offered up here. The section started strongly, with a rare 1913 ten shilling note making a $13,000 hammer price. View this result in context however, that was just 24% of it’s present catalogue value. The clearance rate for this section was surely acceptable given the current market, however was not as strong as the corresponding coin section.
There weren’t that many lots of great quality in this sale, yet even so, the most dedicated note collector would have to acknowledge that even though the prices realized in recent auctions are rather soft at anywhere between 10% and 50% of current catalogue values, notes are selling at a decent rate, which indicates that the levels we’re at right now are an accurate relfection of where broad-based demand is from active collectors, as well as the dealers that supply them.
Prices for the star notes in this auction were also within the same range of their respective catalogue values as the pre-decimal notes - items above that range were consistently passed in.
The error and variety notes included in this were all quite popular - they fared far better than the Governor’s Charity Sheet notes that rounded the sale out. Only two of the ten charity sheet notes included in this sale sold - now that more and more collectors are aware of the actual origin of these notes and their rarity, prices are easing to reflect that.
I’m not yet aware of what the total turnover is for the sale, nor do I know exactly what the clearance rate was. Based on what I saw in the room however, Roxbury’s sale was a success. Vendors would have been pleased to get back into cash (although perhaps not the amount of it in some cases), and the buyers would have been pleased with their purchases. Yes, there will probably be some more turbulence as new value levels are found in some areas of the market, however overall it is business as usual. A good first step in the post - Rare Coin Company market.