IT was a tumultuous year. From sometimes dramatic staff movements to the migration of material from Germany, the face of the London numismatic trade changed in 2016.
More possibilities exist in the market than for quite some time.
However, this, the 24th annual tabulation of London’s numismatic sales compiled from the information supplied to ATG by the relevant auctioneers, also suggests considerable consistency.
Indeed, much of what was in the review of last year’s table (ATG No 2230) remains the same today. The annual hammer total has hovered around the £45m mark since 2011, while Spink continues to hold about a quarter of the total auction market (private sales are not included in these figures).
Bank notes, once a minor factor in the market, have become a major one across the last decade. In London alone, Spink offered 6294 lots in this growing field in 2016, selling for a total of £5.4m.
For the second year running Orders, Decorations & Medals (ODM) have shown a small decline, although – as demonstrated by the Channer Victoria Cross group bought by Lord Ashcroft for £200,000 at Dix Noonan Webb – the finest items are still ardently sought. DNW gained a considerable advantage, one perhaps yet to be made manifest, when key members of Spink staff joined the firm in April (ATG No 2237).
This year’s table (opposite page) features 11 auctioneers, an increase of one on 2015.
Another factor is that the total number of lots offered (but not necessarily sold) has risen by just over 8%, recovering from a 2015 decrease of close to 20%. The increased number of lots indicates more detailed cataloguing and the splitting of group lots. This may bring down average lot values, but it renders the catalogues all the more useful and appealing to collectors.
Another significant factor in the increasing number of lots is the arrival of the old, established German auctioneer Kuenker (Osnabrueck) with the second tranche of the Preussag collection of Germanic coins sold in collaboration with London Coin Galleries.
This £1.2m sale (2015’s catalogue totalled £6.5m) was held at a time when a new cultural property law in Germany may cause others to follow suit.
Although Brexit might prove a stumbling block, at least one other German house is actively considering the move. Germany’s loss would be to the benefit of London as a numismatic centre.
Securing a choice consignment can make a big difference. St James’s Auctions almost tripled its take on the previous year, having suffered about a 50% decrease on 2014. This firm has a well-established connection with Baldwin’s and in December announced that its auction division will merge with Baldwin’s.
Baldwin’s begins 2017 a different beast from 12 months ago. The firm has done well to manage only a 15% decrease in its turnover after a difficult year. Adding to its total was a further £1.2m of sales from two auctions in Hong Kong and one in New York. But Baldwin’s did not hold its usual early December sale in London, reflecting restructuring following the loss of several experts to newlyestablished firm Sovereign Rarities.
So far Sovereign has confined its activities to higher-priced coins for sale by private treaty but online auction sales are in the pipeline this year.
Elsewhere, positive statistics emerged from Greek and Roman coin specialist Roma (up 12.7%), Bonhams (up 27.47% following an 11% fall in 2015) and Morton & Eden, which catalogued 20% more lots on the previous year but increased its take from £2.27m in 2015 by about half as much again.
London Coins continues to thrive with a hammer total much the same as 2015, while TimeLine, whose main speciality is not coins, has increased its hammer take by just over a quarter.
It is with some sadness we report that Wilkes & Curtis has decided to cease holding sales. In its short life the firm held 13 sales with catalogues contributing much to the study of Islamic coins – a market that has burgeoned over the last decade.
However, Tim Wilkes and Matt Curtis are not disappearing altogether. Last autumn the firm collaborated successfully with the US dealer and auction house Stephen Album, a partnership that may develop.