A major auction of Australian sovereigns was held by St James's Auctions in London in early March - something to the surprise of a few people in the trade here.
Not only did the auction include at least 3 coins that would headline any Australian numismatic auction of note, it included previously-unpublished research into the 1920 Sydney sovereign - Australia’s most valuable gold coin. Please click this link to read our article covering this ground-breaking research.
The George Collection was broken up into 139 different lots, 124 of these sold for a clearance rate of 89.21%. The total value of the items sold came to A$1,557,126, including buyer’s premium and excluding the value of the 15 items that did not sell.
The top 10 items sold from the George Collection, ranked according to the nett price paid in AUD, are as follows:
|5||1920 Sydney about Unc||$966,000||$600,000||161%|
|35||Type Ia Adelaide Pound Extremely Fine||$143,520||$280,000||51%|
|36||Type II Adelaide Pound Extremely Fine||$41,952||$52,000||81%|
|9||1922 Sydney about Unc||$36,432||$44,000||83%|
|72||1886 Melbourne about Unc||$32,016||$38,000||84%|
|13||1926 Sydney about Unc||$28,704||$49,000||59%|
|42||1860 Sydney about Unc||$26,496||$12,500||212%|
|11||1923 Sydney Extremely Fine||$22,522||$24,500||92%|
|38||1856 Sydney Extremely Fine||$21,197||$19,750||107%|
|10||1922 Melbourne about Unc||$18,989||$23,000||83%|
Although our price guides get a regular pasting from collectors of every stripe about their lack of accuracy, I believe they can serve a purpose by acting as a benchmark against which auction results can be measured.
We need to interpret the above figures with a couple of facts in mind:
The adjectival descriptions used by British numismatists to describe the coins they handle can be quite different to the adjectival descriptions that an Australian numismatist might use.
As I’ve said before, this doesn’t necessarily mean that British numismatists are more conservative in their grading opinions than we are down under, it simply means their standards are different to our own.
The reason I mention this divergence now is to emphasise that the catalogue values I’ve added in may not be accurate if the coins were higher or lower grade according to the Australian adjectival grading standard. Given the divergence of values across that list of 10 coins, I’d suggest there’s a pretty good chance of that having happened.
If we accepted the above auction results and comparisons re catalogue value without qualification, we might conclude the following:
1. The 1920 Sydney sovereign remains one of Australia’s most desirable rare coins. Although the 1920 Sydney brought a price well over the current McDonald value, it was incredibly close to the A$1,000,000 that the 1920 Sydney sovereign from the Bentley collection brought when auctioned by Baldwin’s Auctions of London in September 2012. This shows that interest in the 1920 Sydney hasn’t waned in the slightest over the last few years, despite the apparent softness in other areas of the Australian numismatic maket.
2. Sydney Mint sovereigns are performing extremely well at the moment. Based on what I’ve seen of the auction market for comparable coins in Australia in recent years, I believe these results can be explained by under-stated British adjectival grades, or stronger demand outside Australia than within. Keep your warm regard for these 2 apparently strong results tempered by the knowledge that 9 of the fifteen coins in this section were passed in.
2. Rare date KGV sovereigns in mid grade are not strong. I don’t believe this is a fair characterisation - these coins are so incredibly rare in any grade that it’s hard to build up a body of auction activity for them over a period of time upon which accurate catalogue values can be built. That these coins still managed to bring prices measured in the tens of thousands of dollars (as they have for decades), when values in other sections of the Australian numismatic market have dropped considerably, is a great show of just how much underlying collector demand there is for them.
3. Adelaide Pounds (both types) are not strong at all either. Based on the activity I’ve seen for comparable coins here in Australia over the last couple of years, this conclusion is probably going to hold some water. Type II Adelaide Pounds in all grades have come back considerably in value since an apparent peak about a decade ago (just after the 150th anniversary of them having been struck), Type I’s have been far and few between in recent years, so it’s far harder to get a bead on where that market is at locally. In my opinion, a Type I Adelaide Pound in EF or better condition is a premium example of what is one of Australia’s most historic and important coins - they have certainly sold for more than the price realised in this grade, so this looks to have been a great buy.
The balance of the results showed keen interest in certain series - Edwards in particular. That each of the Edwards brought between A$575 and A$970 shows that the days of them being regarded as semi-bullion coins even when in mint state condition are long behind us. There was keen competition for certain coins in the Jubilee Head series, although that wasn’t seen across the board. I’ve been a little puzzled by the incredible premiums paid for certain varieties in the Jubilee Head sovereign series, however the fact that the 1888 Sydney with the 1st bust / Normal JEB obverse and short tail reverse made A$4,858 nett shows that there are are more than a few sovereign variety collectors that readily appreciate the rarity of certain nuances in the dies used throughout this period.
Overall, I’d expect that the vendor of these coins would have been pleased with the results of this auction - yes, there were a few unsold items, however I believe that shows an enduring appreciation for the value of those coins, rather than an exasperation with the market. I understand that the vendor has been deeply involved in the Australian numismatic market for the past few decades, so he’ll be quite happy to sit on the 1855 Sydney sovereign until the market recognises just how important and valuable it is.
What it says when one of Australia’s most experienced dealers in rare coins and notes chooses an auction house on the opposite side of the world to auction his collection, I don’t know. Does it reflect knowledge of a stronger market in Australian gold coins in the UK, a lack of confidence in the current results being obtained via the domestic auction scene, or a simple desire to exit this collection discretely? Each are good questions for the rest of us to ponder.