It takes one word for Mike Printz of Harlan J. Berk, Ltd. in Chicago to sum up the classic commemorative coin market:
Classic commemoratives issued from 1892 to 1954 have been weak for some time, said Printz, senior numismatist at the firm.
“I had a gentleman email me, telling me to notify him if classic comemmoratives ever pick up,” he said.
The collectors are in the market, but at a certain price level, he said.
“If they’ve seen prices come down and down, they don’t know where it will stop,” Printz said.
That makes them hesitant to buy.
“The question is: what do you pay?” Printz said.
However, commemoratives that are nice and priced right will sell, he said.
John Brush, vice president at David Lawrence Rare Coins, Virginia Beach, Va., said that commemoratives have been a weak market for some time.
“I feel that for the past five years the commemoratives are a slower seller and the price has not come down,” he said. “I can’t help but think that it can go nowhere but up.”
Collectors are interested in the higher grade coins though, he said.
“I think that the high quality commemoratives are selling for a bit more and the lower grade ones are selling for a bit less,” Brush said.
Some buyers are focusing on the highest grade coin they can get for their commemorative set, he said.
“We always tell a customer to buy a coin that they like because chances are that someone else is going to like it too,” he said.
Collectors should avoid buying a coin just to fill a hole in their set quickly, he said.
“The higher grade coins, especially the finest known, do really well,” Brush said.
Julian Leidman, owner of Bonanza Coins, Silver Spring, Md., said that there also was interest in circulated commemoratives for a reason.
“Generally, people want uncirculated coins, while some people want circulated coins to make a circulated set,” he said. “Some commemeratives are even rarer in circulated grades than in uncirculated grades as many didn’t circulate.
“Others, like the Columbian Exposition or the Booker T. Washington half dollars did circulate.”
Building commemorative sets is popular and allows collectors many options on what to collect, he said.
“The type sets are fabulous as you get all the types of commemoratives, meaning instead of buying 18 Booker T. Washington halves, you only need one,” he said.
The gold commemoratives are expensive though, mainly the $50 Panama-Pacific Exposition coins, he said.
“It’s strictly a collector base interest in them, so you have a finite number of sets that can be made,” Leidman said. “Some 2,000 sets for silver commemoratives, only about 600 sets if you include the gold.
“A well-heeled collector may want to buy all of them though.”
Other collectors were only interested in certified commemoratives, particularly buyers on his website, he said.
“The people who come into the store don’t care if its certified or not,” he said.
When it comes to commemoratives, buyers’ interests vary, he said.
“There’s no right or wrong way to collect commemoratives,” Leidman said. “A person collecting Wisconsin coins may want a Wisconsin Territorial Centennial half dollar. A collector buying Maryland coins may want a Maryland Tercentary half dollar.”
Brush said that the 150th anniversary of the Civil War had sparked buyer interest in Civil War themed commemoratives.
“Civil War types of commemoratives like the Gettysburg, Antietam and Grant coins sell well,” he said.
The more plentiful commemoratives the Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver half dollars aren’t big sellers, he said.
“The first classic commemoratives like the Lafayette dollar, the Isabella quarter and the Columbian half dollars also sell well,” Brush said.
Leidman said that he thinks commoratives make a great set with many different designs.
“I think there’s a lot going for classic commemoratives, so I would urge some to check out the series as it’s very enjoyable to collect,” Leidman said.
This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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