Volume 59, Number 3, March 2022
A new way to collect? ONE of the big stories this month is the sale of the Henry III gold penny for £648,000 (£540k hammer). In addition to the sale of the coin itself an “NFT” of the coin also sold, for the lesser, but still very respectable amount, of £18,000 (£15k hammer). Now if you’re like me you won’t have much more than a cursory clue what a NFT or “Non-Fungible Token” actually is and, to be honest, an internet search on the subject won’t enlighten you much either. Apparently a NFT is, according to Wikipedia, “a unit of data stored on a digital ledger, called a blockchain, which can be sold and traded. The NFT can be associated with a particular digital or physical asset (such as a file or a physical object) and a license to use the asset for a specified purpose. An [sic] NFT (and, if applicable, the associated license to use, copy or display the underlying asset) can be traded and sold on digital markets. The extra-legal nature of NFT trading usually results in an informal exchange of ownership over the asset that has no legal basis for enforcement, often conferring little more than use as a status symbol” (see, I told you you’d be none the wiser). From what I can gather a NFT is a digital “token”, a representation of an original item, and NFT transactions are big business at the moment with some people buying NFTs of artworks for millions. Who bought the NFT at Spink and why they did so is not for me to speculate, I personally like to actually have my coins, hold them, look at them and a digital version holds no appeal for me whatsoever, no matter what the ownership of the NFT may confer. However, the idea of owning anything to do with such a rare coin undoubtedly appealed to someone and he or she is not alone, as the other big story in “News & Views” this month proves. That story is about the new venture from A. H. Baldwin & Son and Showpiece.com offering the chance to own “shares” in an Edward VIII penny. In this case you don’t own a blockchain-based NFT (although you do get a digital representation of ownership and a certificate) but you actually own 1/4000th of the actual coin (more if you decide to buy more shares—as far as I’m aware there’s no limit to the number you can buy). This is something Showpiece have done before: in association with Stanley Gibbons they are selling the British Guiana 1 cent Magenta postage stamp at £100 per piece—over 50,000 pieces have been sold to date. Selling your share in the coin, or buying more shares after the initial offering, will be done via a market place that Showpiece.com are in the process of setting up, although just as Stanley Gibbons retains a percentage of the pieces of the 1 cent Magenta, I would imagine that Baldwin’s will retain shares in the penny, meaning that nobody is able to buy the coin outright at any stage. We shall see. Who will this appeal to I wonder? After all, just as with the NFT you don’t actually get the coin itself, it will never nestle in your cabinet, never be something to moon over of an idle evening, all you will own is a share of something and, unlike shares in a company, you won’t get dividends, all you’ll have is your certificate and a hope (if you’re doing it as an investment) that the price of each share will rise should you wish to sell. Personally I don’t “get” the idea of the NFT, probably because I don’t understand it, but weirdly I do get the idea of owning shares in a coin. As a collector I, naturally, want a “full set” of coins, we all do. Some of us want an example from every single year, others just of each monarch or each obverse, etc., but whichever way you look at it, whatever criteria you put on your collecting, if you are a collector of milled era pennies you are going to want an example of an Edward VIII striking. But that isn’t so easy, we all know the story of the abdication and of Edward’s coinage, and know that getting our hands on an example of any of his coins is going to be very difficult and very expensive. So if you can’t have the coin, what do you do? Well, you can have a copy, you can have a picture, you can, these days, have a digital “token” in NFT form, or you can own an actual piece of the original coin. To me that makes some sense. OK, so I’ve said I like to physically hold my coins, and that’s true, so just owning shares in one isn’t ideal, but even stronger than that desire to physically possess what I collect, s the need (and that’s not too strong a word) to complete that collection—to have that “full set”. Knowing that I’d never be able to get that set unless I bought a share in that final piece would, perhaps, be enough to get me to set aside my aversion to not actually having the coin in my possession. Maybe that’s the motivation behind buying the NFT, that desire to complete the set somehow, and perhaps, in future, we’ll see many more of them coming up for sale as people strive to complete their collections. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll have whole numismatic auctions based not on actual coins but on Non Fungible Tokens instead. We collectors are a strange bunch (yes we are) and if I’m honest I wouldn’t rule anything out but, for now, I think I’ll stick to owning actual coins, after all how else am I ever going to realise my dream of having a “Scrooge McDuck” room where I can swim through the gold? You can’t do that with digital tokens, now can you?* *Disclaimer: please don’t try to swim through gold, it’s hard and it hurts, but don’t ask me how I know this.
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