Volume 47, Number 12, December 2010
Going mainstream I OFTEN mention in this “Comment” about the autumn being the start of the new numismatic “season” and indeed it has traditionally been the case that some of the strongest sales and best attended shows have been in the late September/October/November period. However, even I, a seasoned veteran of such new seasons, have been taken aback this year by the sheer strength of the market. Take a quick look at the Market Scene pages in this month’s magazine and you will see no fewer than seven pages crammed full of the reports on no fewer than 12 sales from four London Auction Houses—sales that each did exceptionally well in the few days before Coinex. I won’t divulge the details here and steal John Andrew’s thunder, but it is sufficient to say that large amounts of money changed hands in those salesrooms with buyers being found for just about everything numismatic, from cut and countermarked coins through medallic portraits and on to more “standard” coins and banknotes. Such was the strength of the sales that you could be forgiven for thinking that all the money in the hobby was being spent at auction. But no, reports from Coinex itself demonstrate that over the two days of the show there were more than enough collectors in the room prepared to part with their cash to make the show a great success—a success repeated at the recent London Coin Fair which had a buzz about it that seems to belie any talk of cuts and recessions. And it isn’t only in the capital that such a buzz is to be found—the provincial auction houses are all still reporting excellent figures, with the fairs likewise. Eddie Smith’s most recent Leeds show saw more attendees both through the door and “stalling out” than ever before. The doomsayers have been predicting the end of this numismatic bubble for months . . . telling us all in leaden words how the price of gold will force people out and how the moment the stock market comes back to strength those with money will rush back to their old stomping grounds in the City. But that hasn’t happened. Gold still rises (as does silver—pro rata it has risen more than gold although it isn’t such a headline grabber) and the Stock Market is almost back at pre “Crunch” levels and yet as the salesrooms and bourses show there is still an insatiable appetite for coins, banknotes, et al. There is a recession on out there of course; cuts will bite and unfortunately many people in the UK may find the next few months, indeed years, quite tough. But this is a strange recession—on one hand the low interest rates have led to some people having more cash in their pockets than ever before as mortgage rates come down. That cash has to go somewhere and with the public mistrust of banks and financial institutions they are turning once again to the things that people have turned to for centuries when things get a bit rocky: physical money in the form of coins and notes. On the other hand, those without mortgages and with savings are finding their money is no longer growing as once it did because of those very same low interest rates and so are turning to more reliable, and more fun, ways of getting a return and they too, distrustful of the sharp tongued sharks in suits who got us in this mess in the first place, are looking at something they consider more solid: good oldfashioned physical money. In times of financial uncertainty people like to keep their money close, like to be able to actually see what they own, and those who realise that keeping wads of banknotes under the mattress is all very well but hardly ideal, are taking that to the next level as they sit in eager anticipation in auction rooms and happily search through dealer’s stocks and at the fairs for their next acquisition. They are the new collectors and there are a great many of them. Don’t be fooled, these buyers are not from the corporate investment funds, the pension planners keen to diversify — most of those have long since gone back to stocks and shares now the FT index has stabilised. No, these are simply ordinary people unsure of what to do with their money now that they no longer have the faith in the banks that once they did. How many catch the long term numismatic bug, as we all have, remains to be seen. Personally I think it will be far more than many of us think. I’ve seen these new collectors at sales and met them at fairs . . . they like this hobby and I fear our secret is out: coin collecting isn’t just for us funny, fussy few anymore—it’s gone mainstream.
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