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Record Auction Sales Despite Pandemic

More than $419 million of historic U.S. rare coins and paper money sold at major public auctions in 2020
The most valuable U.S. rare coin sold at auction in 2020 was this 1804-dated silver dollar for $3,360,000. Photo courtesy of Stack’s Bowers Galleries.

The most valuable U.S. rare coin sold at auction in 2020 was this 1804-dated silver dollar for $3,360,000. Photo courtesy of Stack’s Bowers Galleries.

It was the year of pandemic-related cancelled coin shows, but 2020 still resulted in one of the strongest U.S. rare coin and paper money markets in recent years, according to a year-end survey of major auction houses conducted by the Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG).

Based on responses to a PNG questionnaire, the aggregate prices realized for U.S. rare coins sold at major public auctions in 2020 totaled nearly $369 million. The aggregate total was $325 million in 2019, $345 million in 2018 and $316 million in 2017.

Major auction sales of U.S. bank notes in 2020 totaled $50.6 million, bringing the combined aggregate auction sales of rare U.S. coins and paper money the past year to more than $419 million. This was the first year PNG included bank notes in its annual survey.

“With most of the scheduled coin shows and conventions canceled after early March, much of the auction sales activity successfully moved online which already was a growing trend the past decade,” said Richard Weaver, PNG president. “Several major collections of high-quality coins and bank notes started coming to market in 2020 as previously planned, and as the pandemic intensified, the market also provided liquidity for some collectors who needed cash. This is the strongest rare coin market we’ve seen in years.”

Eight individual rare coins were purchased at auctions for $1 million or more in 2020. The top two were an 1804-dated Draped Bust Class I silver dollar that sold for $3,360,000 and a 1927-D Saint-Gaudens double eagle ($20 denomination gold coin) that sold for $2,160,000.

“While prices held steady or slightly declined during 2020 for some U.S. coins in easily available lower grades, more than 600 noteworthy coins that are among the finest known of their kind from early American to modern set price records at auctions. The emphasis was on historical significance and finest quality,” said Robert Brueggeman, PNG executive director.

Among the many notable examples of record-setters and price increases in the market was a 1907 High Relief, Wire Rim Saint-Gaudens double eagle sold for $660,000. That same coin brought $573,300 in a 2013 auction.

Other noteworthy records included a Draped Bust 1796 quarter-dollar sold for $303,750, about 20 percent higher than its price guide value. A similarly graded one sold for $141,000 in 2015. An 1896 Morgan silver dollar sold for a record $30,550; $5,550 higher than its price guide value at the time.

The most valuable individual U.S. paper money sold at auction in 2020 was this Civil War-era 1863 $100 Legal Tender Note for $432,000. Photo courtesy of Stack’s Bowers Galleries.

The most valuable individual U.S. paper money sold at auction in 2020 was this Civil War-era 1863 $100 Legal Tender Note for $432,000. Photo courtesy of Stack’s Bowers Galleries.

The two most valuable individual U.S. bank notes sold at auction in 2020 were an 1863 $100 Legal Tender Note sold for $432,000 and a 1934 $10,000 Federal Reserve $10,000 Note sold for $384,000.

“The markets for collectibles have not merely survived the COVID-19 crisis, they have thrived,” said Mark Salzberg, chairman of Certified Collectibles Group. “There is no doubt: collectibles are an asset class. A broad range of collectibles, including rare coins, bank notes, comic books and trading cards, have become highly liquid and fungible.”

In alphabetical order, the auction firms that responded to the PNG 2020 year-end questionnaire are: Bonhams; Early Cents Auctions; Fox Valley Coins; Ira and Larry Goldberg Auctioneers: GreatCollections; Heritage Auctions; Kagin’s; David Lawrence Rare Coins; Legend Rare Coin Auctions; Scotsman Coin & Jewelry; Sotheby’s; and Stack’s Bowers Galleries.

The Professional Numismatists Guild was founded in 1955, and its member-dealers must adhere to a strict code of ethics in the buying and selling of numismatic merchandise.

For more information and a list of PNG member-dealers, visit online at www.PNGdealers.org or call the PNG headquarters in Temecula, California at (951) 587-8300.