It all comes together in a few hours on one day—the months of acquisition, cataloging, preparing, printing, watching, answering queries—and then it is all over. Few processes in business (and perhaps in life) provide such finality.
My day started early as I viewed a London auction and was amazed to see a coin estimated at £6000 to £8000 hammer down for £26,000. Some background research I had done on other examples of this rarity suggested that the estimate range was pretty close. But there you are….
I have found that viewing auctions online is an excellent way to understand more about the coin market. There is something about having to sit while each lot is offered and have the time to think about what is going on in the sale. I have always paid attention to “prices realized” in sales of material that parallels our own numismatic focus. But studying a sheet of prices with a catalog in hand does not facilitate this time of rumination.
So today I did something different. I viewed our own sale from beginning to end, something I ordinarily leave to Lief and Marnie. The estimate levels are a major concern to me. I try to reflect the market as I understand it. Extremely low estimates can inspire bidding but then we have to follow the Heritage sale practice of announcing reserves a few days before closing, and extremely high estimates can discourage interest. So our goal in our catalogs is to estimate on the moderately conservative side of current prices and values. Our consignors deserve this and our clients often depend on it.
So, how did we do? And does it reflect the market accurately? Are some of the prices realized “black swans”? Did some pieces not sell that should have? I am generally satisfied if our results are in the ±10% range of estimates overall. For this sale, for the lots sold overall prices realized were just over 5% above the estimates—pretty close overall.
The key word here is “lots sold.” As you can see in our aftersale, a fair number of lots did not sell. It is hard to know whether this was because of the estimate, lack of interest in the area, too much of one kind of a thing. There are many possible explanations.
All the gold coins sold well, a short section admittedly. The ancient Greek and Roman sections sold generally well also. The Himera hemilitron (Lot 11) did not sell even though the opening bid was several hundred dollars below what it was sold for previously. Yet the Ptolemy I tetradrachm went for twice estimate. Overall though, estimates and prices realized averaged out fairly evenly. And there are very few coins from this section in the aftersale.
The Anglo Saxon area is a two sided story. The early material, mostly from the Douglas Bayern Collection sold well with several of the pieces going well over estimate.
Beginning with the heavily pedigreed Lot 104 Coenwulf portrait penny (Major sales: Drabble and Ryan and CNG Triton XVI where it sold for $1800 plus buyer’s fee) which drew no interest at an opening level just above its 2013 net cost sale price, proceeding to a couple of rare non-portrait pieces (Alfred and the ex Argyll Edward the Elder) followed by the superb Eagar portrait piece, the rarities were soft. The Harthacnut, a piece for which I apparently paid too much, did not sell even though it is exceptional. I do not know where the tranche of this type came from but I have seen several on the market recently. It won’t be long before they are all gone away.
The short story on this section: I overestimated (and overspent a bit in anticipation of this auction).
Early Norman: A William I two stars penny and a William II profile penny achieved amazing prices. Several bidders saw more here than I saw (though I did know they were great coins). Offering several Tealby pennies in a sale seemed risky but I wanted to expose all of Bayern’s carefully assembled collection in one catalog. I was happy to see they did well.
Tournai: In all my years in business this is the first time I have handled this short-lived series. I bought the regular issue at the Motcomb sale in London paying a price that I thought was strong. When I estimated it, I estimated it at under what I paid for it thinking I might have been too enthusiastic. The other two Tournai related pieces had not sold in the sale itself. So, after doing some checking and thinking, I bought both, along with several other pieces that had not sold on the floor. With further research (Carlyon-Britton, Stewartby, et al) I came to the conclusion that lot 143 was a “sleeper.” No one had seen how special it was, a unique pattern during a time of transition. Is it worth the estimate? ‘Hard to say but I know what I paid for an Elizabeth I pattern shilling a couple of years ago and it was way more than this and there were many more of that type than of this unique piece. So it goes…if it does not sell, it will be in my estate.
Hammered English was generally solid. The Charles II first hammered issue shilling (Lot 160) is a beautiful piece and I was surprised it did not sell. This was a hastily produced issue and few choice pieces survive. This piece is essentially Mint State.
The Frank Robinson material: a few of our clients have figured out that his collection is a remarkable opportunity to buy choice coins at reasonable prices. He protests that he was always a “cheap buyer” but he had an excellent eye and the depth of knowledge that a highly committed collector brings to his hobby. He also bought at a time in British numismatics where condition was not the huge premium factor that it is now. His collection is a pleasure to handle and a major opportunity for collectors. Most of the Maundy sets sold. Some of the sixpences and shillings are still around. Check out what dealers with price lists are asking (I do) and then look at what these are priced at in the aftersale.
Irish: Too many Ormond pieces and they are crude: half sold, half did not. When you see so many at one time it is easy to think they more common than their overall frequency of appearance might suggest. Common they are not. And this was a once-in-a-career purchase. I could have eked them out but I thought seeing them all at once and marveling at the variety was worth the risk of putting in 16 pieces. The VOCE POPULI pieces are the same story: more than I have ever seen at one time, particularly in such choice condition. Most sold but lots 297 to 300 are pieces I thought were choice.
Douglas Bayern’s collection of French and European material sold well. The quality was appealing, the history fascinating and the estimates conservative. One of the rarities did not sell, Lot 335, Italy, Carolingian. The estimate is well borne out by recent prices—the opening was well below what these pieces bring.
Trade tokens? Most sold well. The few that remain are exceptional. It may just be that those who followed this sale already have them. The generally mint-state silver shillings came from Baldwin’s legendary basement—the tail-end of a huge stock that went back to the early 20th century.
All in all, a fascinating day critiquing my own work. Some hits, some misses. But then, if this were a market with a daily bid/ask spread for carefully slabbed items “expertised” by a processing assembly line, where would the need for decades of experience, knowledge, and enthusiasm be?
4:30 P.M. Auction 37 sale day
Davissons Ltd uses a soft close for its auctions, which means no lot closes until everyone is done bidding. Every time a bid is placed within the final 40 seconds of a lot closing, the timer is reset to 40 seconds. This continues until no bids are placed for 40 seconds, at which point the lot closes. There will never be more than one lot closing at once, as the next lot is not allowed to begin closing until the current lot closes.
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