January’s New York International Numismatic Convention certainly began the decade with a bang – but hopefully won’t be followed by a crash. The British coin market is seen as a constant within global numismatics, thousands of interested buyers located all over the globe giving consistently strong results; however, some of the prices realised in New York dropped even the most seasoned of jaws.
Classical Numismatic Group’s Triton XXIII auction boasted a strong array of British coins, the most notable an incredible William IV gold pattern Crown (or Five Pounds). This piece was graded PR62 Ultra Cameo by NGC and strong bidding took it to a hammer price of $425k, smashing the previous record of $260k for the PR63-graded example offered by Stack’s in August 2013. The seven-year lag between specimens in a fiercely collected market led some to speculate that the coin would attract an even higher result, but a $165k increase for a lower grade specimen well-within a decade is impressive by any standard. A refreshing reminder that high-quality hammered rarities still have a strong collector base was provided by a run of Anglo-Saxon Pennies, an Eadger portrait type bringing $25k and a superb Alfred the Great ‘Londonia’ example fetching $55k, whilst a Richard III York Groat and rare Halfgroat hammered at $13k and $10k respectively.
The 1937 Edward VIII Crown, the prize of the Neil Smith collection of British silver portrait coins offered at the New York Sale, brought a hammer price of $300,000 – the highest in the auction, an unsurprising result considering the recent news that the Edward VIII Sovereign from the same proof set sold privately in January for £1 million/$1,300,000. Meanwhile, the sale saw some extraordinary prices paid for high-grade examples of usually nondescript coins, such as $50k for an Anne 1703 ‘Vigo’ Crown and $40k for a Charles II hammered Halfcrown (both of which were uncertified). Interestingly, famous rarities such as the Henry VII Testoon and pattern Briot crown of Charles I halted at $36k and $23k – significantly lower than previous results. Both examples were appealing but had been gilded, indicating that technical quality was being favoured over rarity by bidders.
Perhaps the most astounding results of the entire convention were for two Una and the Lion 5 Pounds offered by Heritage Auctions. With around 400 examples struck, these coins are not especially rare, but illustrate perfectly that supply, demand and quality are everything in this industry. Like it or not, numerical grades matter for these expensive proof-only types and so both examples were third party graded, the first as PR61 Ultra Cameo by NGC, the second as PR64 Deep Cameo by PCGS (the first PR64 to be seen at auction since January 2015). These two coins sold for $300k and $690k respectively, the latter now representing the single highest price ever realised for an 1839 5 Pounds offered by itself. Heritage’s sale also saw its own excellent result for a Vigo Crown, an example graded MS65 by NGC bringing $54,000 all-in. As usual, eye appeal and grade were rewarded by incredibly spirited bidding.
Some have expressed concerns that these results may represent unsustainable growth. However, it is important to keep in mind that the development of the British coin market has been so consistently strong that after such high prices, even a slightly underwhelming result can lead to irrational fears that the market has reached its peak. This occurred less than two years ago regarding the Una and the Lion 5 Pounds, where a PR61+ example fetched a subdued $170k hammer at auction just months after a PR62 had achieved $300k. Rumours grew that demand had fallen, and the following month a PR62 piece sold for even less, just $150k. This was in September 2018; roll on just over a year later, and you have January’s extraordinary record-breaking results. Markets rise and fall, but collector demand for high-quality British coins remains constant.
NYINC’s results suggest a potential buying opportunity for extreme rarities in lower grades, for if and when the pendulum swings back in their favour. Remember: if you buy an example of an extreme rarity, one day collectors will have to come to you to complete their collection.
Article originally published in Coin News magazine, Token Publishing -