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The Professional Numismatists Guild has reported that over $419 million in historic US rare coins and paper money was sold in 2020 public auctions. This was achieved despite the cancellation of many coin shows due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Based on responses to a questionnaire that PNG sent, they found that US coins sold in major auctions totaled almost $369 million. This was a marked increase from 2019, which saw $325 million in sales. US banknotes sold in 2020 totaled $50.6 million. This brought the cumulative total to $419 million for coins and paper money sold in auctions.  

“With most of the scheduled coin shows and conventions canceled after early March, much of the auction sales activity successfully moved online which already was a growing trend the past decade. Several major collections of high-quality coins and banknotes started coming to market in 2020 as previously planned, and as the pandemic intensified the market also provided liquidity for some collectors who needed cash,” PNG President Richard Weaver said. “This is the strongest rare coin market we’ve seen in years.”

Eight rare coins sold for $1 million or more in 2020. The top two were an 1804-dated Draped Bust Class I silver dollar graded PCGS Proof-65 sold by Stack’s Bowers Galleries for $3,360,000 and a 1927-D Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle ($20 denomination gold coin) graded PCGS Mint State-65+ sold by Heritage Auctions for $2,160,000.

“While prices held steady or slightly declined during 2020 for some U.S. coins in easily available lower grades, more than 600 noteworthy coins that are among the finest known of their kind from early American to modern set price records at auctions. The emphasis was on historical significance and finest quality,” PNG Executive Director Robert Brueggeman said.

Noteworthy sales included a 1907 High Relief, Wire Rim Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle graded Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) Proof-69 sold by Heritage for $660,000. A Draped Bust 1796 quarter-dollar graded PCGS MS-64 sold by GreatCollections for $303,750. An 1896 Morgan silver dollar graded PCGS MS-68 sold by Legend Rare Coin Auctions for a record $30,550.

The two highest U.S. banknote sales were an 1863 $100 Legal Tender Note graded by Paper Money Guaranty Gem Uncirculated 65 EPQ (Exceptional Paper Quality) sold by Stack’s Bowers for $432,000 and a 1934 $10,000 Federal Reserve $10,000 Note graded PMG Gem Uncirculated 66 EPQ sold by Heritage for $384,000.

For the auction houses themselves, Heritage sold a total of $183 million of U.S. rare coins and $33.5 million of U.S. banknotes at auctions, and Stack’s Bowers had $88.1 million in auctions of U.S. coins and $14.9 million in U.S. banknotes.

“The markets for collectibles have not merely survived the COVID-19 crisis, they have thrived. There is no doubt: collectibles are an asset class. A broad range of collectibles, including rare coins, banknotes, comic books and trading cards, have become highly liquid and fungible,” Mark Salzberg, Chairman of Certified Collectibles Group, parent company of NGC, the PNG’s official authentication and grading service, said.

The auction houses that participated in PNG’s questionnaire were Bonhams, Early Cents Auctions, Fox Valley Coins, Ira and Larry Goldberg Auctioneers, GreatCollections, Heritage Auctions, Kagin’s, David Lawrence Rare Coins, Legend Rare Coin Auctions, Scotsman Coin & Jewelry, Sotheby’s, and Stack’s Bowers Galleries.