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Monday, January 16, 2012


I've already written about the 5 billionaires who ransacked the Prospero Auction.  But of course there were other very high profile auctions, and at least some of those billionaires were active throughout.  Still, they didn't buy everything and as always happens some coins went for reasonable prices.

The ever popular Triton Auction began with a daring move by Nomos AG to offer a run of 19 Greek rarities and condition rarities with starting prices averaging about 200,000 dollars and running as high as 2.5 million dollars.  Though it appeared as if the auction sold out, in fact most of the coins were bought in by the company to save face.  It seems that billionaires prefer the thrill of actually bidding the coins up themselves.

The Triton BCD auction of Greek Silver went off the day before, and then oil sheik was active bidding some coins to ridiculous levels and buying as much as 40 percent of the auction himself.  What he didn't buy went at reasonable levels. The Greek section of the regular Triton was highlighted by a Croesus gold prototype stater that went for 175,000 dollars all in - not to the sheik.  There was not much Greek gold besides this piece, and the little offered was off condition and went for modest prices - as off condition pieces normally do, even in Triton.  A few Roman rarities brought excellent prices, and a plentiful run of high end Byzantine was well bid - though enthusiasm was dampened by the widespread knowledge of the recent 2000 piece Byzantine hoard.   Later in the auction some gorgeous medieval French gold pieces went for very good money, a Lion D'or of Phillippe VI going for 38,000 dollars to Ira Goldberg of Goldberg Auctions - and worth every penny.

The Sheik even showed up later in the week for Stacks/Ponterio auction which boasted a few uncharacteristically nice Greek gold pieces - which he bought for far less than Prospero prices as he was the only billionaire there.  Then he went online for the final offering of Triton and bought heavily in Roman, Byzantine and even some modern issues - so he's branching out.

Disappointments this year were found at the Manhattan Sale, and the Gemini Auction, both with some nice pieces, but very few marquee items to interest big bidders, and not enough true condition rarities to attract the interest of high end "normal" collector/investors.

The NYINC coin show that followed was truly abysmal this year, as most of the good material has gone into auctions both at the show and leading up to the show, so little of quality was left for the show.

Another problem was that the middle class investor/collector was notably absent - from the auctions and the show.  Because the middle class in being systematically crushed economically right now.  Nowhere is this so visible as in high end commodities and collectibles.  The middle class is struggling to eat and stay warm, and clothe and feed and educate their kids. They can only buy on credit.  There is no credit to be found in the land of Numismatics.  So they were not there.

There were more billionaires and millionaires than ever this year scowering the auctions and the show for investments.  But the middle class was gone.

What does this mean?  It means that to buy coins - real historical money - you have to understand the difference between a nice collectible, and a true high end investment - if you're interested in making money.  Because as more and more investors with real paper money are looking to convert it into Real Things, the "collecting middle class" are on their way to becoming the working poor, and they will soon be out of the economy altogether.

Dealers and investors who understand this can still do very well.  Those who don't will get killed along with the rest of the middle class.

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