Opinion: who's buying coins for millions?


12 April 2021
As anyone who reads the numismatic press can tell you, a tremendous amount of rare coins are being sold globally, so who is making these eye-watering purchases and is it a sign that the coin market is healthier than ever? In his regular column on the US coin trade, Jeff Garrett finds out

During the recently completed auction that was conducted by Heritage in Dallas, Texas over $90,000,000 worth of coins traded hands. The auction featured coins from around the world, with many bringing record prices. 

There were dozens of coins selling for hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars.

  • An amazing gem example of the 1787 Brasher Doubloon sold for over $9,000,000.
  • A Henry III (1216-1272) gold Penny found a new at $720,000.

In short, there were some serious buyers in action. For many, this was an amazing phenomenon to witness, and has sparked renewed optimism for the entire numismatic market.

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Not your average collectors

The average collector you would meet at a coin club probably spends a few thousand dollars each year on their collection, many much less. The thought of paying more for a coin than their house costs would be quite absurd to most collectors. Obviously someone is buying these coins. 

For the most part these mega collectors are very private. Many prefer to bid online or through an auction representative.

Understandably, most dealers who work with these types of clients are very protective of that relationship. You will rarely see an individual sitting in the auction room personally bidding for million dollar coins. Sometimes their involvement is only revealed when their collection comes to market years later. 

There are a few high profile collectors, but this is not the norm.

Mega collector Deloy Hanson from Salt Lake City has very publicly declared his intention to build the best collection ever assembled of US coins and has spent hundreds of millions in that pursuit.

Although many of these mega buyers remain anonymous, one thing that is certain is that there are lots of them.

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Wealthy individuals target rare coins

The most likely explanation for the above observations is the incredible increase in the net worth of the world’s wealthiest individuals. The top 1% of the world’s wealthiest has seen their earnings increase at a much higher rate than the rest of the people on earth. According to Forbes magazine, there are now well over 2,000 billionaires in the world. 

Recently, Jeff Bezos (Amazon) and Elon Musk (Tesla) are each now worth over $175 billion. That is staggering wealth! Many of the world’s billionaires and the thousands of individuals with somewhat less resources have been buying tangible assets. Rare coins have become the target of many. 

Rare coins offer many advantages for wealthy collectors seeking alternative investments.

The hobby is relatively transparent with a great deal of information easily accessible. With moderate effort a collector can educate themselves enough to make intelligent purchases.

Auction Results… discover the latest prices paid for coins at auction houses around the world and online.

Rare coins are also one of the most liquid collectibles with the buy/sell spread being much less than for other areas of collecting. Fine art is great, but try selling a painting you bought a few months earlier and the price might approach 50% if you are lucky. 

Rare coins also offer an unmatched element of portable wealth. There are very few collectibles or pieces of art worth millions that will fit in your pocket. Some collectors who fear the worst find this to be very attractive. This could be especially attractive in parts of Asia that are seeing increased Government oversight. 

A great number of serious collectors have spent millions on their collections in a relatively short time. The world moves faster these days and numismatics is no exception.

This trend even applies to great rarities such the 1913 Liberty Nickel and 1838 Una and the Lion. These types of coins used to trade hands generationally. Now a collector might purchase one of these great coins and re-offer the coin into the marketplace a few short years later.

A wise investment

In addition to who these collectors are, many wonder why they would spend so much money on numismatics. When one such collector was asked this question he stated that a similar investment in the fine art world would barely make a ripple. His rare coin collection is now world class and one the finest ever assembled.

Who would not rather own $50 million dollars worth of rare coins instead of a balloon dog sculpture (Jeff Koons auction record 2013 $58.4 million). Sort of makes sense to me!

Further reading
Edward VIII sovereign becomes most expensive GB coin

An Edward VIII Gold 5 Sovereign has sold for $2.28 million

Rare Elizabethan coin fetches over £16,000

A rare coin from the reign of Elizabeth I sold for £16,120 at Dix Noonan Webb

Auction results round-up

Discover the latest prices paid at auction in our regular round-up of coin sales.