Over $419 million of historic U.S. rare coins and paper money sold at major public auctions in 2020
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, a nonprofit organization composed of many of the country’s top rare coin and paper money dealers.
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. banknotes in 2020 totaled $50.6 million bringing the combined aggregate auction sales of rare U.S. coins and paper money the past year to over $419 million. This was the first year PNG included banknotes 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. Several major collections of high-quality coins and banknotes 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,” said PNG President Richard Weaver. “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 graded by Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) Proof-65 sold by Stack’s Bowers Galleries for $3,360,000 and a 1927-D Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle ($20 denomination gold coin) graded PCGS Mint State-65+ sold by Heritage Auctions 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 PNG Executive Director Robert Brueggeman.
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 graded Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) Proof-69 sold by Heritage for $660,000. That same coin brought $573,300 in a 2013 auction.
Other noteworthy records included a Draped Bust 1796 quarter-dollar graded PCGS MS-64 sold by GreatCollections for $303,750, about 20% higher than its price guide value. A similarly graded one sold for $141,000 in 2015. An 1896 Morgan silver dollar graded PCGS MS-68 sold by Legend Rare Coin Auctions in 2020 for a record $30,550; $5,550 higher than its price guide value at the time.
The two most valuable individual U.S. banknotes sold at auction in 2020 were an 1863 $100 Legal Tender Note graded by Paper Money Guaranty (PMG) Gem Uncirculated 65 EPQ (Exceptional Paper Quality) sold by Stack’s Bowers for $432,000 and a 1934 $10,000 Federal Reserve $10,000 Note graded PMG Gem Uncirculated 66 EPQ sold by Heritage for $384,000.
Heritage sold a total of $183 million of U.S. rare coins and $33.5 million of U.S. banknotes at auctions in 2020, and Stack’s Bowers had $88.1 million in auctions of U.S. coins and $14.9 million in U.S. banknotes.
“The markets for collectibles have not merely survived the COVID-19 crisis, they have thrived. There is no doubt: collectibles are an asset class. A broad range of collectibles, including rare coins, banknotes, comic books and trading cards, have become highly liquid and fungible,” said Mark Salzberg, Chairman of Certified Collectibles Group, parent company of NGC (www.NGCcoin.com), the PNG’s official authentication and grading service.
In alphabetical order, the auction firms that responded to the PNG 2020 year-end questionnaire are: Bonhams (www.Bonhams.com); Early Cents Auctions (www.EarlyCentsAuctions.com); Fox Valley Coins (www.FoxValleyCoins.com); Ira and Larry Goldberg Auctioneers (www.GoldbergCoins.com): GreatCollections (www.GreatCollections.com); Heritage Auctions (www.HA.com); Kagin’s (www.Kagins.com); David Lawrence Rare Coins (www.DavidLawrence.com); Legend Rare Coin Auctions (www.LegendAuctions.com); Scotsman Coin & Jewelry (www.scoin.com); Sotheby’s (www.Sothebys.com): and Stack’s Bowers Galleries (www.StacksBowers.com).