How NOT to sell “the gem” in your coin collection … an example of a ‘numismatic’ marketing faux pas !

It is every metal detector’s dream to find something worth a million, although most of them do it for the exercise, the fresh air and the fun they have in researching their smaller finds. Its about the history.

I was very surprised and impressed to discover that most detectorists donate their finds to local museums – a wonderful example of how the journey and not the destination is what they are most excited by.  The Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) has been a huge success over the last decade and its Finds Database is the focal point for thousands of under-grad and post-grad student dissertations.

However, amongst all of the positive articles available for viewing on the web, was one of the most disappointing stories I have read to date. A detectorist found a single coin and because it was a single find, he was entitled to keep it – but, being the gentleman that he is, the finder offered to share the proceeds with the farmer on whose land he found the extremely rare coin.

1652 Massachussets

1652 Massachussets “oak tree” silver threepence

I don’t intend to be controversial nor is my gripe is purely about the money – my gripe is about the poor advice he got from people who should know better. Being a foreign coin, there would have been little interest in the UK amongst the professional archaeologists, the museums, or indeed the local coin collecting community … but the interest in the media was astounding, i.e. quotes between $400,000 and $1.7million were being mentioned.

  • Was the coin really worth that much ?
    • Quick answer = NO !
    • Several American collectors wrote comments stating that the coin was worth substantially less.
    • They also warned that the coin should NOT be cleaned, as cleaning would substantially REDUCE the selling price. The coin was “professionally” cleaned, so this would have enhanced its value – not decreased it.
      • Did any one listen ?
        • NO !
        • The Daily Mail has not got to where it is today by listening to Johnny Foreigner, or ‘jumped up’ Colonial fleamarket experts
        • After all, if they were really THAT clever, they’d have jobs in London !!!   Right?
  • Auction 31 – 16 December 2014 (St. James’s Auctions / (Knightsbridge Coins) Lot 636
  • USA, colonial, Massachusetts, oak tree threepence, 1652, oak tree, rev. date and mark of value
    • Estimate: 20,000 GBP – 25,000 GBP
    • Price realized: 5,200 GBP ($8,046) 
    • This is almost 75% below the lower of the two estimates !
  • How do stories like this get out ?
    • Quick answer = no one ever checks out the opinions with specialist dealers / collectors beforehand !
    • And everyone else just assumes the first article was written by a professional journalist who checked out the facts, so they copy the bits they think will grab their readers’ attention, i.e. the wildly inflated estimate.
      • Peter Spencer might have ‘authenticated’ the coin in question but the article does not say who estimated its value
      • Surely, someone must have thought to look up previous auction results for this coin ???
      • NO !
  • Why did the finder go to a ‘little known’ online auction in London with no track record in selling American Colonial numismatic rarities?
    • Anyone with a basic numismatic knowledge knows that a coin usually fetches the best price in a country where most collectors of that type of coin live, i.e. usually the country of origin.
    • Furthermore, anyone with an ounce of integrity would have advised the finder to go to a “top auction house with a proven ability to market rare coins” to their established book of buyers, i.e. one of the “Top 5” auction houses in America.
      • If it was a rare British coin, worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, I would have recommended he go to an auction of the calibre and experience of Baldwins, Dix Noonan Webb, or Spinks
        • A record £516,000 for royal coin: Incredibly rare sovereign bearing head of Edward VIII and struck before abdication sold at Baldwins (auction) – May 2014
        • A buyer has paid £460,000 at Spinks (auction) for a rare medieval gold coin which has broken the record for a British coin – June 2006
        • An Eastbourne metal detectorist is thousands of pounds better off after a unique Anglo-Saxon coin he uncovered fetched £78,000 at DNW auction this week – August 2015
  • And rare British coins also sell well ‘outside’ of London, as can be seen from the following reports:
    • Gorringes (auction) have set what is thought to be a record price for a coin in the UK provinces, taking £240,000 for a gold Queen Anne ‘Vigo’ Five Guineas of 1703 at their sale in Lewes – January 2013
  • This coin was a 1652 Massachussets “oak tree” silver threepence and very few are known to exist.
  • Rarity on its own does not equal high prices, i.e. there has to be DEMAND
  • For a coin of this rarity and quality, I believe there is a substantial demand … in the USA (but, obviously, not in London)

The US numismatic market is massive and American Colonial coins usually generate a lot of interest at the big auctions, although there are also extremely valuable rarities all the way up to and including modern times. Of the nine varieties listed on PCGS CoinFacts, three varieties are RARE.

  • This coin has been identified as NOE 23 (which is not one of the rare varieties)

1652 Massachusetts “Oak Tree” Threepence varieties:
Noe 23
Noe 24
Noe 25
Noe 26 – 3 to 4 known
Noe 27
Noe 27.1 – Rare
Noe 28
Noe 35 – 2 known
Noe 36

PCGS No Description Desig 50 53 55 58 60 61 62 63 64 65
18 1652 Threepence MS 13,500 15,000 17,500 25,000
+ 13,800 15,500 19,000
45357 1652 Threepence, No IN on Obverse MS 13,500 15,000 17,500 25,000
+ 13,800 15,500 19,000
45358 1652 Threepence, IN on Obverse MS

I have seen the examples of AU-58 and they are, in my opinion, not as good as the specimen found by Mr Stone.

As such, I would expect this coin to have sold for substantially more than $25,000 … I think $40,000-50,000 is what it deserved.

Why did the auction house sell a coin estimated at £20,000-30,000 for £5,000 ???

Apart from questioning the choice of a UK auction house for an American coin, I have to ask the question – “did the owner not put a reserve price on the coin?”

Whoever bought this coin is probably going to sell it in America for the correct price and make a massive profit in doing so.

In my opinion, the owner of the coin has been very poorly advised from the start

  1. he should have had this coin ‘graded and slabbed’ by a top USA grading house and …
    1. if the coin came back with grade less than anticipated, they should have appealed (before selling the coin)
    2. if the coin was, in the vendor’s opinion, much better than recently auctioned specimens, they should have waited for an appeal (or gone to another grader)
    3. when the vendor described this coin “Though this piece shows light corrosion from its burial, its strike and completeness of detail ranks with the finest examples of this Noe number extant.” – did he imply “as good as the AU-58’s” or simply “a very good AU-50”?
  2. most importantly, he should have sold this coin via a ‘top American specialist coin auction house’
    1. they would have known when and where best to sell it
    2. they would have taken it with them to top US coin fairs (for viewing by the top collectors)
    3. they would have known how best to describe it for the American marketplace
    4. they would have had a list of the leading collectors of this type of American Colonial coin
    5. in summary, I believe they would have got a much higher price for this numismatic ‘gem’

Lesson to be learned:

caveat venditor


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4 thoughts on “How NOT to sell “the gem” in your coin collection … an example of a ‘numismatic’ marketing faux pas !

    • I noticed the hype at the time and was shocked to see how little this elusive coin made at an auction in London. I think the owner was badly advised re where to sell it. With all due respect to the auction house, I think the coin should have been sold in America via a top US auction house … or even a top UK auction house with a US client base. There are lessons to be learned on a number of levels and it will be interesting to see what the new owner will do, i.e. keep it, or sell it via a top US auction house ???

      Liked by 1 person

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