Market plateaus amid pandemic with hopes high for 2021

By Jesse Robitaille

This is the final story of a two-part numismatic year in review.

In late 2019, after speaking with several leading collectors, dealers and auctioneers, CCN wrote Canadian numismatics was “on the upswing” as it entered the 2020s.

After dozens of shows and the sales of two high-end collections in 2019, the past year has been marred by pandemic restrictions that pushed virtually all dealers and auction houses online. Nearly all of the more than 60 shows slated for 2020 were cancelled due to COVID-19, and with collectors hesitating to test their collections’ values at auction, the flow of material has been stymied.

Compared with auction results in 2019 – including $735,000 for one of only two known 1911 silver dollars – this year’s sales are markedly lower; however, it’s mostly due to timing.

In 2019, the sale of the Cornerstone Collection of rare and high-grade specimen coins and the George Cook Collection, considered “the most comprehensive and complete collection of Canadian coins,” realized more than $10 million altogether.

Offered as a fixed-price catalogue, the Cornerstone Collection sold nearly all of its roughly 250 lots between its spring 2019 launch and this December, realizing more than $5 million.

The Cook Collection – despite concerns about its coins being cleaned – brought more than $3.2 million US (about $4.2 million Cdn.) across 439 lots. The collection’s top-selling lot – and the highest price paid for a Canadian coin at auction in 2019 – was the 1911 $1 pattern coin acquired in a joint deal by two Canadian dealers – Nova Scotia’s Sandy Campbell, who offered the Cornerstone Collection, and Winnipeg’s Ian Laing.

According to Campbell, who has been in the numismatic business for 40 years, it’s “tough to assess” the strength and depth of the Canadian numismatic market in late 2020, about nine months into the worst pandemic the world has seen in 100 years. Not only have auctions been pushed to the brink with online-only offerings and no in-person viewings, but shuttered coin shows – and occasionally even dealer storefronts – have nearly dried up the flow of material.

While today’s numismatic landscape features a “very different marketplace, it’s still a very strong market,” Campbell said, adding there’s “absolutely been an increase” in interest, the latter of which is “related to people sitting at home with nothing to do.”

“The landscape has changed dramatically with COVID, but the activity is much stronger and deeper than anybody would have expected through a pandemic,” said Campbell, who typically works about 25 shows a year but added this “big part of our business model totally disappeared.”

Campbell, who owns Proof Positive Coins in Baddeck, N.S., said his sales “have not really been affected,” but he’s still depleting inventory, something he’s “not really comfortable with because I still see a very strong market – especially for the right items.”

“I think the market is actually stronger than it was a year ago – if there’s anything to put in the market. There’s just not a big movement of large amounts of material to feed the market, but anything that’s new, neat or different is going to sell to the first guy to put his hand up.”


The lack of material – mostly due to the pandemic-driven constraints of collectors being unable or simply not wanting to sell at this time – is hampering dealers, auctioneers and collectors alike.

“It’s nearly impossible for me to buy anything right now, so the market is hungry for coins, but there’s nobody really willing to participate,” said Campbell. “The people that were thinking of selling aren’t putting it in auction, and they’re not going to ship it to me in a package. They want to see me one on one at a show or have me come visit them, and those things just aren’t happening.”

Auction houses are in a similar position, he added.

“People can’t come and view the lots, so nobody really wants to put their material in an auction. I don’t think you can look at any auction results and say, ‘This is what’s going on in the marketplace.’ No one’s going to put their collection in an auction right now. Why would you? There’s no venue, and you can’t have people viewing the coin.”

As for the material that has been offered at auction, the results have been “quite strong,” Campbell added.

“It’s just the lack of material – it’s a dog’s breakfast, the auction situation right now. The bottom line is no sane collector will put their material in an auction right now.”

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