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Good year for U.S. rarities

How big is the U.S. rare coin business?

I have been asked that over and over again in my career.

There is no official record keeper, so we have to rely on estimates from organizations like the Professional Numismatists Guild.

Yesterday it issued a press release with an estimate of approximately $5 billion.

What comprises this estimated figure was explained by Terry Hanlon, who is PNG president.

“That includes auctions and private transactions made at coin shows, by mail order, online and at coin stores, but does not include numismatic bullion items or the modern coins sold directly by the United States Mint,” Hanlon said.

Of that sum, $536 million was generated by U.S. rarities sold at auction. This figure is up by over 36 percent from the level achieved in 2013.

That is an impressive percentage jump. It would seem that the coin business is a rip-roaring place to be.

However, there is an element to evaluating the coin market that seems awfully similar to how Americans view the state of the economy. They know it is growing again, but it might not feel like it personally.

This aspect of the state of the coin business was fully recognized by Hanlon and the PNG.

“In the second half of the year, there was some softness in prices for relatively ‘common’ coins as gold and silver prices dropped, but the market for truly high-quality, historic rare U.S. coins continued to do quite well,” Hanlon said.

The PNG also listed top dozen auction lots of 2014. This is very similar to what Mike Thorne did for Numismatic News in the issue that went to press just before Christmas, a few days prior to receipt of this press release.

Perhaps it is an example of the old saying, “great minds think alike.”

In any case, there is nothing wrong with highlighting the highlights twice.

Here are the top dozen as provided by PNG:

• 1787 Brasher doubloon with designer Ephraim Brasher’s “EB” punchmark on the eagle’s wing, graded by Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) as Mint State-63, $4,582,500 (Heritage Auctions).

• 1913 Liberty Head nickel, NGC Proof-64, $3,290,000 (Heritage Auctions)

• 1927 Denver Mint Saint-Gaudens $20 gold, NGC Mint State-66, $1,997,500 (Heritage Auctions).

• 1804 Draped Bust dollar, Class III type, NGC Proof-63, $1,880,000 (Stack’s Bowers Galleries).

• 1861 “Paquet Reverse” double eagle, graded by Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) Mint State-61, $1,645,000 (Heritage Auctions).

• 1792 pattern cent (Judd-1, Pollock-1), NGC Mint State-63+, $1,410,000 (Heritage Auctions).

• 1776 silver Continental Dollar, “CURRENCY” and “EG FECIT” variety, NGC Mint State-63, $1,410,000 (Heritage Auctions).

• 1927-D Saint-Gaudens double eagle, PCGS Mint State-63, $1,292,500 (Heritage Auctions).

• 1797 half dollar (Overton-101a) PCGS Secure Mint State-65+ PCGS Secure, $1,292,500 (Heritage).

• 1792 half disme, Judd-7, Pollock-7 variety, PCGS Secure Specimen-67, $1,292,500 (Heritage Auctions).

• 1794 half cent PCGS Mint State-67 red and brown color, $1,150,000 (Ira and Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles).

• 1811 half cent, PCGS Mint State-66 red and brown, $1,121,250 (Ira and Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles).

Prices here include the buyer’s premium.

PNG noted the auction companies that responded to its questionnaire about 2014 auctions of U.S. rare coins. They are: Bonham’s, David Lawrence Rare Coins, GreatCollections, Heritage Auctions, Ira and Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles, Legend Rare Coin Auctions, Scotsman Coin and Jewelry and Stack’s Bowers Galleries.

That’s quite a list. PNG is quite an organization. It has been around since 1955.

To find out more about it, visit: It is worth the time you will spend to do this, especially if you find a dealer in your area that you would like to do business with.

Buzz blogger Dave Harper is winner of the 2014 Numismatic Literary Guild Award for Best Blog and is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."