AFTER 2010 saw the London market grow by a third it would have been a bold commentator to predict a further substantial rise in 2011. Nonetheless, coins and medals auctions in the capital saw totals rise by almost a quarter on the previous year.
With a 7.5% increase in lot volumes, this
shows a firm market performance.
This is my 18th consecutive year surveying
these results based on information furnished by London's auction
houses. In that first year, 1994, the total for the capital was
£9.26m. By 2011 it had risen five-fold to just over £45m.
How many other asset classes can boast
such a return?
Of course, a lot of this increase is due
to the burgeoning market in banknotes, which now form a major
feature of sales - not so when when this long series of tabulations
That said, banknotes have to be included
under the coins section in order to compare like for like. However,
to paint a clearer picture it should be reported that Spink sold
5600 lots of banknotes for a total of £3.6m, while the other major
player in this field, Dix Noonan Webb, took just over £515,000 for
just over 1200 lots.
The rarest ancient and Islamic coins have
also helped boost the 2011 totals, after fetching unprecedented
prices over the last two or three years. This could well prove a
flaky trend as these high prices are the result of only a very few
buyers pursuing the rarest coins. Indeed, it is possible that this
is caused by a single buyer who is operating internationally,
effectively dragging a few bold buyers into the fray.
As an example of how a single price can
make a dramatic change to the market, take the £3.1m (estimate
£300,000-400,000) taken last April by Morton and Eden for a rare
variety of an early Islamic dinar. The common variety of the same
coin may be bought for £250 or a shade less.
Turning to the classical Greek field, Dix
Noonan Webb sold a rare gold stater of the Cyraniacan city of Barke
(c.360BC) last September for £330,000 (estimate £20,000-30,000).
Remember that the estimates on both these lots were responsible to
As recently as two years ago I would not
have predicted that the wider world's financial troubles would pass
the numismatic community by, but the evidence is in the figures
And it is not just London that is
benefiting - 2012 has already seen some spectacular sales, notably
Baldwin's Prospero offering in New York.
While coins and commemorative medals are
up by just over half (52.26%), thanks in no small part to the
landmark prices just cited, orders, decorations and medals
have fallen off by just over a third (34.6%). Not to worry, though,
as this is just a market correction on 2010's mini boom, which
resulted in an increase of 50% on 2009.
Viewing the results, it can be seen that
not only has the 2011 order of seniority changed - to an extent
caused by unusually high individual prices - but at the lower
end of the market there are newcomers bringing business to London
that might otherwise have gone elsewhere.
DNW have returned to the
top of the table (£12.1m total / 26.77% market share) and this is
because they have bucked the trend in ODM by increasing their sales
by over a third (+37.2%) and have made a marked increase in their
coins and medals (+20.73%) totals. Again, banknotes have played
their part in this success, accounting for 6.64 per cent of this
Morton & Eden came
second (£11.8m total / 26.09% market share) - they were third in
2010. Of course it must help to sell a lot for an unexpected £3.1m
(see above), but even omitting this price they still come a smidgin
below Spink in the coins and medals field. In the ODM area Morton
& Eden are much reduced, but there is probably no single reason
There has been a slight decline in
Spink's fortunes (£9.65m total / 21.34% market
share). Over all they are down a fifth (-21.1%), but one must
remember that these are London sales and the company have been
putting their energies into sales abroad and also into vastly
developing their philatelic side globally, even acquiring new
firms. Their London banknote total is £3,600,760, a significant
45.72% of their coins and medals tally, or 37.3% of their London
St James's total fell in
2011 (£2.97m total / 6.56% market share) but again this is simply
the follow-on from their huge 2010 increase of almost two-thirds St
J's achieved some remarkable results with Charles I gold coins and
particularly with gold triple unites of the Oxford mint.
It would seem that there are two reasons
for Baldwin's (£2.63m total / 5.81% market
share) overall reduction of a quarter (-24.0%). In 2010 they had
the three-part sale of the Michael Hall collection of commemorative
medals to boost totals by £729,901 (1794 lots). Such dispersals do
not occur often so this is a one-off spike in the graph. Like
Spink, their attention also turned to the international scene, and
understandably so. For a start, Baldwin's were very preoccupied
with the massive Prospero sale of classical Greek coins on January
4 this year in New York which garnered $21.36m (£14.57m). And in
New York (one sale) and Hong Hong (two sales) they took the
sterling equivalent of £5,520,185. The exchange rates are
calculated as on the relevant days. Their world total auction take
comes to the equivalent of £8.12m for 2011. As noted, before
January 2012 was out, this had already almost doubled.
London Coins are well up
(£2.43m total / 5.36% market share). They offer mainly British
material and their increase in take (29.5%) with only a 15.85%
increase in lots is a clear indication of the firmness in the
market for British coins.
The newcomer to this tabulation is
Roma (£1.96m total / 4.33% market share), who held
a single sale in each of the last two years. They offer almost
exclusively classical material in beautifully produced catalogues.
This house is clearly a burgeoning force. With a £1.9m take, that's
almost ten (+982%!) times their 2010 total. And that doesn't take
account of the significant number of after-sales achieved.
After-sales seem prevalent among Classical
Greek and Roman material. This must be because these coins are very
hard to estimate.
Bonhams (aka Glendining)
have made steady and consistent progress over quite some years
(£1.55m total / 3.43% market share). That they do as well as they
do shows great dedication. They have a small staff and being
located in Knightsbridge are geographically removed from the very
centre of London.
Timeline (£122,013 total
/ 0.03% market share), who hold their sales in the Swedenborg
Centre - handy for the British Museum - showed a decrease in their
coin take, but this is because they have been concentrating on
mainly small antiquities without taking on any additional
It may be a comparatively small total, but
they have achieved well over properly estimated prices,
particularly for English material dating from the departure of the
Romans (c.410AD) and the gradual establishment of Anglo-Saxon coins
some two and a bit centuries later. There is a reason for this.
Their antiquities side has been very successful in jewellery and
the like. Looking at the overall picture for 2011, there seems to
be no reason for this market to weaken in the near future. One
significant auction sale tends to attract others.
A key factor in London's recent success
has been the very successful sales of classical coins which have
tended to be the preserve of Switzerland and the New York. In
addition, the tightening of antiquity laws in the US may well see
more of this trade diverted to London. Meanwhile, the various
London coin fairs continue to increase their gate, and despite
fluctuations seem to reflect the generally ascertainable