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Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Amazing Prospero Auction of Greek Coins

Last night, at the New York International Numismatic Convention (NYINC) The New York Sale auctioned off the Prospero collection of Important Greek Coins.  The Highlight was a Pantikapaion Stater from about 350 BCE (see image above) that hammered down at 3.25 Million dollars.  It was sold to an oil sheik from Bahrain.  Bidding against him was a Lebanese billionaire, a wealthy private British collector represented by Morton and Eden, a private US billionaire collector, and a mystery bidder represented by the New York Sale.  Also bidding were a half dozen wealthy private collectors who, in the past, used to be able to dominate these auctions, but now they could hardly participate, along with the five most powerful dealers who were able to acquire almost nothing.  All night long, 500 lots went for fantastic sums to the five dominant bidders.

Is this a bubble?  In some ways, yes.  Some atrocious material sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars.  But many unique important coins also sold for record sums.  The atrocious material will never be worth much on the open market (if it ever gets back there).  But the important and beautiful pieces are still far cheaper than buying a Jeff Koons mass produced porcelain figurine of Michael Jackson looking like a monkey.

So the verdict is mixed.  The oil sheik seemed to be buying at random.  He acquired some great pieces, and some junk - often at around the same price (100 to 200,000 dollars).  The British client of Morton and Eden was much more discriminating.

Conclusions?  Every day more wealthy people are actively seeking to diversify out of paper.  Sometimes they trade their paper for junk, some times they trade their paper for amazing historical artworks.  But every day more and more of them are trading junk paper for tangible things.  The trend is only accelerating.

Maybe they know something.

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