A diamond celebration
Volume 44, Number 11, November 2007
There is nothing new... As we go to press in early October, gold stands at a 28 year high with no immediate signs of any slow down. At £359 an ounce (on October 2) it was 1980 when gold last traded at this level and its popularity is making headlines on both sides of the Atlantic. There are a myriad of reasons for this latest gold rush—issues of supply and demand, emerging markets, etc., etc., but by far and away the most obvious is the recent “credit crunch” and the jitters on the stock market and with the high street banks. Overseas readers may not be aware but, during September, Great Britain saw scenes reminiscent of the Great Depression as literally hundreds of people spent hours queuing outside branches of the Northern Rock bank when it was announced that the bank had asked the Bank of England for short term assistance to “fund its operations during the current period of turbulence in financial markets”. This generated something of a panic amongst savers with the bank, many of whom rushed to withdraw their savings—even those who had less than £2,000, an amount fully covered by current legislation—should something untoward happen to the bank. Nightly, the news bulletins were filled with images of snaking lines of worried customers all desperate to place their money elsewhere—some it seems may well have turned to that old stalwart, gold. Such behaviour is not, of course, a new thing; gold has always been seen as a good failback, has always been viewed as steady and dependable and, whilst the profits to be made on it aren’t in the same league as they can be when one dabbles on the stock market, the risks aren’t so great either and in turbulent times investors return to it as an old and trusted friend. Us humans have been doing this for centuries—buying land and “commodities” during the good times then, as things get leaner and trouble looms on the horizon, we quickly seek to transfer our assets into something trusted and portable. There is little real difference between the modern day run on the Northern Rock with its desperate savers clamouring to put their money somewhere safer and the merchants burying their hoards of gold and silver in the face of a Viking invasion some 1,300 years ago. Just as in the face of barbarian invaders back then, so land and non-portable goods were worthless and gold and other precious metals were turned to; and today, in the face of potential ruin (or at least a severe hit to the pocket) so gold is in favour once more. Admittedly much of the hype was media created and there was little chance that the Northern Rock or any other bank was about to go “belly up” but that didn’t stop the man in the street who seemed to want his money out of the institution and into something a little more stable. Of course, it isn’t only the “ordinary” punters looking to gold as a safer bet, large investment companies are also turning to the old favourite and so the price continues to rise. What does that have to do with numismatics? Well, the most obvious advantage is that those of us with the more common sovereigns and other gold pieces in our collections suddenly find their value increasing. Whilst many are undoubtedly bought and sold as “coins”, still more are traded solely on their gold value and today the price of a standard “Vicky Soy” is higher than it has been for years. However, it isn’t only those collectors who are lucky enough to own gold that will benefit from this, as the credit crunch hits the news more and more and “market analysts” are wheeled out to give their opinions on what we should and shouldn’t spend our money on, so, we find once again coins are newsworthy. True, we don’t condone coin collecting solely for investment but we can’t help but feel pleased when articles in the serious papers talk of buying gold coins rather than shares and when coins are being treated with a certain amount of gravitas as being an important part of a varied portfolio. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not now, nor ever will preach in favour of investment. I think coin collectors should collect for enjoyment, for the love of it rather than seek any purely monetary gain, but I’m no fool—I realise that anyone who spends their hard earned cash on coins is going to hope to get that money back at least. But more than that I see the current trend towards “alternative investment” as being only good for the hobby, the more coins are mentioned in the news and in the papers so more and more people will at least consider them as potential purchases. Certainly the big investment trusts will soon move on and, as the stock market becomes more stable and the credit crunch abates, so many will return to their old ways but, who knows, some buying gold to squirrel away now may well be bitten by the bug and hang around a while. They could do worse!
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