This is the 25th year ATG has published a tabulation of London coin and medal sales. In 1994 the capital’s auction take totalled £9.3m (from 23,125 lots). It now stands at £42.6m*.
Recent years have brought a gradual, if uneven, increase in the annual turnover across the capital’s numismatic sales. It is a highly competitive market – interest in the medals in particular continues to grow among UK regional salerooms. However, a dip in 2017 has been largely restored with an increase in 2018 of close to 5%.
The change in the pecking order first observed in 2017 continues. Dix Noonan Webb has grown its market share yet further and its sales of £11.4m account for more than a quarter (29%) of the total. “Both the coin and medal markets are very strong, with more bidders, buyers and vendors than ever before,” said chairman and CEO Pierce Noonan.
The firm doubtless gained a considerable competitive advantage when key members of Spink staff joined in April 2016 but DNW is also in the strongest ‘half’ of the market with its emphasis on Orders, Decorations and Medals. A lot of material is coming for sale in the UK – much of it from older collectors who have decided to sell up – and the selling rates are startlingly high. DNW sought to put down further roots into the collecting community with the acquisition of the Britannia Medal Fair that is now run on a not-for-profit basis.
Nimrod Dix, deputy chairman and director of the medal department, said: “We are seeing new collectors, from both the UK and overseas. We saw a resurgence in the interest for both medals from the Peninsular War and also British orders.”
Among the latter, the July sale of the royal orders and medals of George III’s grandson, George, Duke of Cambridge (1819-1904), conducted by Morton & Eden was perhaps the most notable. These 81 lots achieved a hammer total just under £1.6m, accounting for much of Morton & Eden’s excellent year. Otherwise, centred around the Armistice centenary, it was a year of poignant military anniversaries.
In April Spink produced its largest-ever medals catalogue (more than 1000 lots that ran to nearly 500 pages) with a special section to mark 100 years since the founding of the RAF. After some post-sales it achieved a selling rate of 97%.
Despite the absence later in the year of David Erskine-Hill (who left to be the curator of the Ashcroft collection of Victoria Crosses with the retirement of Michael Naxton), Spink played a strong hand in the ODM market – its take rising by just under a fifth (18%). Marcus Budgen, who joined Spink in 2014, is the new head of department.
Spink’s vendors in the coin market have more options. With Brexit uncertainty contributing to a weak pound, more British dealers and collectors are preferring to sell their lots in other currencies.
This is surely a reason – at a time when the best British material has gone from strength to strength – its sales of coins in its London hub have fallen. British consignors were an important part of Spink sales in Hong Kong, New York and Tokyo (where Spink has partnered with Taisei).
It is perhaps telling that the record for a British coin has been broken twice in as many months – overseas. In November a gold proof of William Wyon’s 1817 Three Graces crown sold in Tokyo at Yen90m (£630,000), followed in January by a 1703 Vigo five guineas piece in exceptional condition sold at $900,000 (£703,000) – $1.08m (£845,000) including premium – by Baldwin’s of St James’s as part of The New York Premier Sale in Manhattan.
Like Spink, Baldwin of St James’s offers its vendors Manhattan as a selling centre. However, in London the firm, now entering its third year as a separate entity from dealership AH Baldwin, recorded a massive increase in its total (50.01%).
Both recent British record-holders are milled coins – those made in a machine press rather than hammered between a pair of dies. This method was first established in Italy during the late 15th century (and was briefly tried in the region of Elizabeth I) but came into general use in the British Isles only in the second half of the 17th century. A good reference is the Michael Gietzelt collection of British and Irish milled coins sold for over £700,000 at DNW in November.
This part of the market, which is now out-pricing much earlier (and sometimes much rarer) hammered coins, is jumping, but high grading is important. Christopher Webb, head of the coin department at DNW, said: “We are finding more than ever before that condition makes a huge difference to the price.”
John Millensted at Bonhams concurs. “Quality is king – buyers want the exceptional items. They are prepared to pay for them but the quality has to be there.” Bonhams showed a decent 15% increase over the year across its two sales.
Elsewhere, Sovereign Rarities held its first auction in September in association with shareholder The Royal Mint. It achieved a total of £2m from 613 lots of predominately British historic issues across all periods of coin production from the reign of Alfred the Great (871-99) to modern gold and silver proofs.
Managing director Ian Goldbart told ATG: “Top-quality English coins, especially the larger denominations, continue to be sought after, although demand for more common pieces has tailed off. There remains a supply constraint for really top grade material and while this continues, prices should remain strong.”
Roma, which concentrates almost exclusively on coins of the classical world, has shown a slight decrease (12.5%), but as they achieved a 40% rise during 2017 this need not be considered all that significant. Just one or two of the very high-value coins in this field can make all the difference.
The firm continues to work in collaboration with the German firm DF Grotjohann. This alliance is the practical reaction to changes in German law with reference to coins and antiquities and it is very much to the benefit of London as a numismatic centre.
* ATG's table is derived from the statistics supplied by the auction houses themselves.