Roxbury’s Numismatic Auction # 93 Review - February 2015
Leading into the 93rd Roxbury’s auction, there was a keen sense of anticipation - the catalogue showed an even balance of rare and exclusive material with affordable and collectable material, exactly what punters of every stripe want to see.
That enthusiasm was dampened (quite literally) with the development of Cyclone Marcia - a storm that initially had an equivalent rating to Cyclone Yasi, regarded as being the largest cyclone to hit Australia since 1918.
Fortunately, as history shows, Cyclone Marcia crossed back out to sea soon after crossing the Queensland coast, so didn’t affect the coastal population of South East Queensland anywhere near as badly as authorities first feared it would.
The practical consequence for those of us that were about 700 kilometres south in Brisbane at the time was that there were driving rains and winds - not entirely unheard of in that part of the world in that time of the year, and certainly nothing that needed to disrupt daily life. The forecasts did impact on flights inbound to Brisbane airport however, I understand that some flights down from North Queensland were cancelled, as were a number of road trips into Brisbane from regional Queensland.
So if the room was a little more lightly attended than usual, there was a perfectly good explanation. In these days of technologically-assisted remote bidding, even a near-empty room can be a poor indication of actual bidding activity, and business started off as usual.
I did observe that dealer attendance for the coins in this sale was lighter than usual, no doubt due to the apparent lack of potential condition rarities on hand. The coins that were there cleared reasonably well, as did the Elizabeth II proofs that followed after.
The world and British coins in this sale were a little more comprehensive and interesting than usual, I stifled a laugh at the feigned disinterest around the room among the old hands that were there - this didn’t stop some lots being driven up to double estimate mind you!
The New Zealand notes in the world note session didn’t fare anywhere near as well - long restricted in their distribution within an exclusive circle of Australian note dealers, New Zealand specimen notes reached were scaling dizzying heights up until just a few short years ago. Most native Kiwis had the good sense to leave the crazy Aussies to themselves, and the notes now appear to be in the process of finding their own level on a broader market again. As only 3 out of the 13 NZ lots sold, it might be argued that the reserves in this sale were a little on the high side.
The Australian gold half sovereigns and sovereigns fared a little better - the keenest collectors in this area of the market demand quality and value, many coins were passed in as a result. The coin rarities have their own section in a Roxbury’s sale, and include the rarer pre-decimal proof coins, patterns and key dates in the pre-decimal series. The coins included here sold within expectations (within my expectations at any rate), which is to say they were somewhat quiet. 1930 pennies remain liquid, patterns and proofs are selling, albeit at fractions of their catalogue values.
The lack of any firm interest in the heavyweight pre-decimal banknotes (a 1913 presentation 10/-, an issued £20, a Rainbow pound and an issued £50 note) shows that the most active collectors in this area prefer quality over population rarity at present - none of those 4 lots sold.
Decimal banknotes remain active - there were more than a few collectors and dealers preapred to wade their way through the 200 odd lots on offer to separate the wheat from the chaff, and pursue the unearthed treasures. Some good news was that the decimal specimen notes sold well - only the polymer $50 trial note that was apparently ex a CSIRO staff member (via a Sydney dealer some years back) was left alone. This is only the second time I’ve ever seen one of these notes offered for sale - the previous occasion was in the most recent Edlins auction in Canberra just a few months back.
My understanding is that they were used in various stages of the testing process leading to the introduction of our polymer Bicentennial note - something as incredibly historic as this is definitely going to be oddly appealing to anyone with a passing interest in polymer notes, there would have to be some questions about their availability however. I don’t believe the question of whether the Federal Police might sieze the notes has been fully addressed yet, nor is their total population known - just how many of these notes are sitting around in the junk boxes of former CSIRO staff? With those questions in mind, we can understand why collectors might be hesitant to throw down around $7,000 to pick up this note.
There were 35 pre-federation proof, specimen and issued banknotes in this sale, unfortunately just 12 of them sold. So what explains this relatively low clearance rate? This result really reflects just how much the balance of power has shifted in this market in recent years - well away from a restricted and managed supply via a tight group of dealers, to the situation we now find ourselves in, where a decent total number of pre-fed notes are in pretty much every numismatic auction that’s held.
I believe we’re getting close to the point where values in this segment are going to overshoot the bottom of the market. A low clearance rate indicates that buyers are either holding back or collectors simply aren’t interested in them. Pre-fed notes have always been the deepest end of the pool ever since Australian banknotes were first studied. In a time of generational change between collectors as we’re seeing at the moment, we shouldn’t be surprised that there isn’t the depth of appreciation for the history and rarity that many individual pre-fed notes have.
I reckon the estimates for the majority of the pre-fed notes in this sale were on the money, based on previous sales I would have eased the reserves back for the printer’s proofs and some of the specimens, the results here may indicate that we have some distance come back before the next generation of buyers feels fully confident in picking up a series of notes as part of a collection.
The results for the pre-decimal notes showed again that collectors active here insist on natural quality and value - they’ll stretch for the rarer notes, however even then keen interest is only expressed to a point. Decimal stars seemed to be ridiculously cheap this time around, unusual for a category of note that has long been widely traded right across the market.
The buyers that were active in this sale I’m sure would’ve been pleased with themselves, the vendors less so however. I understand that close to $800,000 in value changed hands on the day, which is a larger than average auction for Roxbury’s in recent times. It sure didn’t feel like that on the day however!