A happy situation
Volume 41, Number 8, August 2004
There was a time when buying or selling coins was reasonably straightforward. Generally speaking if you wanted to deal in less “exclusive” items you went to your local antique shop, if you were looking to buy or sell the “nicer” pieces you went to a specialist coin dealer or an auctioneer – and in the case of the latter that generally meant a London Auction House, either Glendining’s, Christies or Sotheby’s. It was to one of these “big three” that the larger collections would go and inevitably buying at auction was seen as a little bit elitist, something for the well off; if the man in the street wanted to add to his collection he would buy from a shop in just the same way as he might buy a pound of sprouts! In the last two decades though things have changed, with the advent of Spink as Auctioneers (they had always been dealers but auctions are a relatively new thing for them) the big three became the big four, Bonhams, famed for antique sales started looking at coins and so there were five; then Dix Noonan Webb burst onto the scene making it the big six. Christies bought up Spink making it five again, Bonhams merged with Glendinings to make four once more and Sotheby’s closed it’s coin and medal department making it the “big three” again, then Morton and Eden came along and, working in conjunction with Sotheby’s, made sure that three was four again pretty quickly However the changes did not stop there and by the latter part of the twentieth century no longer was it a simple choice between taking your collection to a big “London House” or your local dealer; the internet made selling your coins yourself an easy prospect and slowly but surely established dealers saw the virtues of auctioning coins rather than simply selling them from a list. Postal auctions burgeoned and new auction houses began to spring up – suddenly there were far more choices facing the numismatist. The smaller Auction houses have always been in existence of course but in recent years their popularity has increased dramatically – Croydon Coin Auctions, Warwick and Warwick, London Coins Auctions (who we feature in Market Scene for the first time this month – such is the strength of their recent sale) and many others have enjoyed unparalleled success in the last few years and with the advent of two new Auction Houses this very month – Bloomsbury Auctions who have successfully “poached” two of Glendining’s leading lights and Knightsbridge Auctions a spin off of Knightsbridge Coins, with a first sale that is certain to capture the imagination, it seems that the trend is set to continue. So is this good news or bad for the collector? Well choice is always a good thing and as more auctioneers appear so market forces may well dictate levels of commission etc and already we have seen some of the newer sale rooms offering low buying and selling commission rates in order to attract new customers, (that said the larger houses quite rightly point out that they have a commanding market position, have large mailing lists and large advertising budgets to promote sales and thus they are able to attract customers without resorting to reducing fees!). A wider choice means that coins that might otherwise remain hidden now come on the market (the internet, despite all the obvious disadvantages of not being able to view coins, worrying about the seller etc etc has certainly encouraged many people to sell when they might otherwise not have) and it also means that we now have more opportunity than ever to acquire new pieces. In the past when, there were only a few coin sales a year, it was a long wait from one to the next, a long time to go without being able to add to our collections – now with dozens of sales being offered by dozens of auctioneers it is easier than ever to pick up that last piece, find that elusive shilling or florin. Unfortunately there is a down side – as more and more people sell at auction rather than straight to their local dealer so prices inevitably rise – after all if a dealer can’t buy from the public he too must buy from auction just to stay in business, if he does that then by the time he’s added the buyer’s premium and his mark up we find prices getting beyond us. In addition to this age old problem of dealer vs auction house we also have the new problem that actually choice isn’t always such a good thing after all – when there were just four sales, or less, a quarter, perusing the catalogues was easy and it was unlikely you would miss that coveted coin that you’ve been searching for for so long. With 20+ sales a quarter, plus the internet and the postal auctions keeping abreast of exactly what’s on offer isn’t always as simple as once it was. To anyone who has studied coin sales trends in the past twenty years there can be little doubt that the face of our hobby, how we buy and sell coins, has changed dramatically. We all have our favourite way of adding to our “hoard” whether it be studying ebay every hour, buying only from auctions in the hope of getting that bargain or dealing with the same friendly face on a one to one basis as we have done for years and each one of those methods has much in it’s favour, none is inherently better than the other. It doesn’t matter whom you deal with or how, what matters is that no matter how you buy or sell you are happy with the transaction that has taken place. If you are then you can’t say fairer than that – can you?
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