Psst! Keep it quiet!
Volume 43, Number 3, March 2006
A recent headline in the Antiques Trade Gazette stated that the “ACC furniture index falls by a further 7%” with the accompanying story letting readers know that for the fourth year running the Antique Collectors’ Club has reported a fall in prices for standard pieces of antique furniture creating “the best buyers’ market for more than a decade”. Stories within the paper also point to a somewhat lacklustre trade in other areas – highlights of sales are reported but they cannot disguise the fact that in general things are not perhaps as rosy as the dealers might hope. Whether the items on offer are clocks or oil paintings there is no doubt that things could be better with many lots unsold and those that do sell generally fetching what they were a few years ago. This picture is backed up with a visit to any regular antiques fair where the same stock can be seen on dealers’ tables month after month and the long faces of the sellers are testament to the fact that once again they aren’t having a good day. Why then is the coin market bucking that trend so comprehensively? Without wishing to jinx things I feel I can confidently say that the coin market is enjoying something of a boom – and has been for some years, the same years that the furniture market (for example) has been taking a hammering. That the antiques trade is suffering should come as no surprise, house prices have levelled off, interest rates have gone up, the high street is suffering a hangover after the consumer binge of the last few years and the feeling of being “well-off” has worn off a little – it’s logical therefore that “luxuries” like Queen Anne chairs and George III tables won’t be quite as popular as once they were, but that doesn’t explain why coins continue to be so! I think that there are a number of explanations for the good times we currently enjoy and whilst they do owe something to economic factors – after all most of the coins we collect aren’t in the same financial league as a £30,000 Mahogany tripod table- finances are only half the story. True the fact that you can go to a coin show with less than £100 in your pocket and still come away with some very decent additions to most collections means that even if there is less money around (there isn’t – it just feels that way when our house prices stop rocketing, in fact we never actually “had” that money at all and interest rates haven’t gone up that much, think back to the 15% of the early 90s!) the coin market can conceivably still seem buoyant, all it takes is for 100 people with £100 to go into a bourse intent on spending and suddenly £10,000 is sloshing around, this doesn’t happen so much at antique fairs simply because £100 won’t go awfully far in the furniture or art world and often if £100 is all the customer has he’d rather stay away than put himself through the agony of seeing all the lovely pieces he can’t afford – and if 100 people with £100 stay away there’s no money changing hands at all. Apart from pure economics there are other factors to consider, not least the Internet. With most dealers either having an Internet presence or mail order facility and with eBay (amongst others) devoting an entire section to coins it has become increasingly easy to buy without the need to leave your front room and, unlike sideboards or dining tables, coins can be easily posted - out making mail order in whatever form an ideal way to transact business. You try shopping for an antique bedstead on-line and see how easy it is to have it pop through the letter box a couple of days later! In addition to the ease of buying you also have the fact that if you are setting out to purchase a gothic florin in EF then you know, roughly, what you are going to be getting. A photograph will give you a decent idea of lustre and, if you trust the grading, then you should have no problems; you buy the coin and pop it into your collection with nothing more to think about. With furniture, paintings etc there are a hundred and one other considerations regarding where it should go, how you should display it etc. Will it look right here or there? Will it match this? Will it go with that? Should it be near this window or that? So on and so forth – when was the last time you have to worry about whether that Gothic Florin “went with” the others in your collection?! Then you have the element that I think “makes” our hobby – the thrill of the search, that endless trawling through websites, lists and dealers’ trays in the often forlorn hope of tracking down that one date that has been missing from your farthing collection for years. We all know that when we do finally hunt down that elusive piece, when we finally do see that date shining up at us from the tray there is no feeling like it (well not in the collecting world anyway – I don’t want to over egg the pudding here!) and I can’t imagine that buying another piece of cranberry glass or Moorcroft tobacco jar, let alone another Queen Anne chair or oil painting to add to the collection can really compete with that. In short coins (and banknotes, tokens and medals too) have not suffered like other collectables because they are both relatively cheap and relatively easy to buy – add those factors to the thrill of the search and you have, I think, got the perfect collectable. Just don’t tell those pesky antique types – they’ll be numismatists before we know it.
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