2021 has been a notable year in so many ways, especially as the second year of the first pandemic in a century that continues to shape all our lives not just in terms of medical matters but also our financial circumstances, and in many other ways.
It was also a very notable year in coins, and that too has been shaped indelibly by COVID-19. Early on in this global crisis, many people involved in selling coins were worried that canceling coin shows and conventions and shutting down parts of the economy might cause the coin market to crash because people would not be able to afford to buy coins.
But instead, it has turned out to be a new golden age for coins and precious metals. First, a bullion bonanza emerged in 2020 driven by people seeking hard assets at a time of economic and market volatility. By August 2020, spot gold had hit an all-time nominal high of $2,070.
When this sharp rise in demand for physical precious metals was coupled with disruptions at almost every mint and coining facility in the world, which was then exacerbated by the ongoing shortage of silver planchets as production resumed, premiums for all bullion — coins and even bars and rounds — rose to some of the highest levels seen in many years. While the premiums have come down to a degree, especially on coins like type 2 reverse American silver and gold Eagles, they remain elevated by historic standards on the wholesale and retail levels and demand continues to be very strong for physical metals.
Hot Coin Market
In the meantime, a more important and likely longer-term development emerged — an especially strong market for collectible coins, especially those that are rare or scarce, across almost every series of classic and some modern U.S. coins and many world coins too such as silver and gold Mexican Libertads, which only seem to become more expensive each year. Some of the Royal Mint’s coins in this period have done especially well too like coins that reproduce classic designs by William Wyon from the 19th century that went from hundreds to thousands of dollars.
Strong prices are certainly not the only factor supporting the current market, which also involves much greater competition than usual at auctions, especially for more interesting and desirable coins and grading companies being overwhelmed with submissions and getting backlogged even on just opening packages of submissions and despite efforts to expand their capabilities and the influx of new collectors in the past two years.
As for older American issues, it’s hardly been just the headline-grabbing auctions and private sales of coins like the record-breaking, only legal example to own of the 1933 Double Eagle that sold for almost $19 million last summer and similar sales of uber-rare coins of great historic importance like the 1913 Liberty nickel and 1804 silver dollar.
It’s also everything from key dates and other coins of many popular 19th and 20th-century series always in demand like the 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent or both types of the 1916 Standing Liberty quarter to almost every Morgan and Peace dollar — even the most common issues that not that long ago were $30 for a decent mint state example to more than double that today. And substantial gains have been made in coins not especially scarce like 1882-1884 GSA Morgans from Carson City in better grades and thanks to dealers that used them to help promote the 2021 versions, almost every 1921 Morgan and Peace dollar in every grade has also seen major increases this year.
In the past, coin promotions were typically followed by a return to prior levels, but demand is so strong for the two most popular silver dollar series that that may not happen this time, especially since another key trend of the pandemic coin market is the number of newer, often younger, and, to an extent — female — collectors entering the market and people who were previously collectors returning to numismatics over the past two years.
This has been happening because people were spending more time at home and wanted something interesting to do rather than just streaming their favorite shows and films ad nauseum and had more money to do that because of stimulus checks and not spending as much on entertainment, dining out, transportation, and other things.
In addition, the stock market has continued to hit new highs despite the periodic run of down days, and smart investors know they should take some of those gains and use them to diversify their assets, especially if they have the knowledge to put them in genuinely scarce, solid quality older coins — both American and foreign.
And there may still be some bargains out there from high-grade, better-date classic U.S. commemorative coins to some older European material that sells for a fraction of what American pieces from comparable eras bring, i.e., such as silver thalers from the 18th century or earlier compared to colonial or early American Republic issues.
Many experts also believe coins like better-quality Seated Liberty and Barber coinage, Carson City gold coins of all grades, and better-date Saint Gaudens and Liberty $20 gold coins have more room to increase in the coming years (none of which will come cheap), according to NGC’s Jim Bisognani, who surveys coin sellers and experts on what is hot.
As we approach the start of 2022, what can collectors look forward to? First, many mints do continue to face a silver planchet shortage and need to take special measures to keep their employees safe, but most mints have resumed to largely regular minting schedules.
The upcoming World Money Fair, normally held in Berlin at the end of January/early February, will for the second time be done virtually and will be delayed. As for the big ANA shows, it is too soon to know whether they will continue resuming as they did this year, or face cancellations as the Omicron variant spreads.
The Spanish Mint (Real Casa de la Moneda) has launched its first gold bullion coin — the 2020 Iberian gold Lynx — a 1.5-euro, one-ounce .9999 fine gold piece with a Reverse Proof finish and a very low mintage of 12,000 coins. It is apparently being sold in Spain for 10% over the gold value, and in the U.S. the exclusive distributor is Kagin’s, which is marketing graded examples primarily.
Apart from this coin and the gold Philharmonics issued by the Austrian Mint, most European mints produce gold collector coins rather than bullion, though there are also French Mint gold coins sold at their face values, which are higher than their bullion value.
The U.S. Mint, which has already revealed most of its plans for 2022, is launching two commemorative programs that have should have better potential to resonate with collectors than some of the recent ones. This includes the Negro Leagues and Purple Heart Hall of Honor programs that feature many excellent designs and focus on two important organizations that helped shape our country.
The Mint seems to have listened to collectors when it comes to the new Morgan and Peace dollar coins which will be issued only in Proof next year, and they plan to sell them via their enrollment process, which should make the ordering process go much better than it did this year.
Then there are the five first-year coins of the American Women quarters series that some longtime male collectors appear uninterested in, but I believe there will be plenty of people who do like and collect them, especially with the influx of newer and younger collectors.
And the Mint has announced those coins will only be issued in clad and silver regular quarter-size with no plans for five-ounce silver bullion versions. The Treasury still has the authority to issue those, or to do them with other finishes and in fractional silver versions, but that seems unlikely for now. My own recommendation would be to do one Proof five-ounce silver coin per year that honors all five women featured on that year’s coins.
Those are just some highlights of what is coming in this third year of a pandemic coin market and numismatic hobby, and there will undoubtedly be all kinds of twists and turns we can’t even imagine today.
Best wishes to all readers for a healthy and prosperous 2022!
Louis Golino is an award-winning numismatic journalist and writer specializing primarily in modern U.S. and world coins. His work has appeared in Coin World, CoinWeek, The Greysheet and CPG Market Review, The Numismatist, Numismatic News, FUN Topics, The Clarion, and COINage, among other publications. His first coin-writing position was with Coin Update.
In 2015, his CoinWeek.com column, “The Coin Analyst,” received an award from the Numismatic Literary Guild for best website column. By 2017, he received an NLG award for best article in a non-numismatic publication with his “Liberty Centennial Designs,” which was published in Elemetal Direct. In October 2018, he received a literary award from the Pennsylvania Association of Numismatists (PAN) for his article, “Lady Liberty: America’s Enduring Numismatic Motif,” that appeared in The Clarion in 2017.